Oblivion was a complete and total mess. It was extremely buggy, to the point where some quests practically couldn’t be completed without consulting a walkthrough. The level-scaling system completely destroyed game balance and eliminated the entire purpose of leveling by making you feel like you were running in place rather than progressing (and in fact causing you to fall backward if you were busy leveling non-combat skills). They didn’t have enough voice actors or unique locales to match the massive size and scope of the game world. There was still some fun to be had if you could look underneath all the glaring issues, but doing so wasn’t easy.
But aside from all that, my biggest problem with Oblivion was a general lack of immersion. This is a problem every Bethesda game has had since Morrowind. NPCs talk and animate in utterly artificial ways, talking to an NPC caused the rest of the world to pause, they would often say things that directly contradicted their previous sentences, and of course the bugs and horrible voice acting didn’t help at all. I’ve heard people say that Morrowind is infinitely superior to Oblivion, but I’ve also heard that my biggest issues with Oblivion were even worse in Morrowind, so I have yet to give it a shot.
So as I said before, I was not looking forward to Skyrim before its release. I bought it a few days ago due to the overwhelming amount of praise I’ve heard from critics and gamers across the Web, some of which are my friends.
Let me tell you about a few features from Skyrim that have really stood out to me.
I walked into a room that felt strongly reminiscent of Fight Club, in that two people were fistfighting and a crowd was standing in a circle around them. I talked to an NPC on the sidelines and as he talked I could still hear the two brawling to my right. The game even let me pan the camera over to see the two punching each other.
Holy snickerdoodles! I exclaimed. The world doesn’t wait for me to stop talking anymore!
This probably sounds like a minor tweak, but so far it’s my favorite change they’ve made between Oblivion and Skyrim. When you talk to an NPC the game doesn’t enter “dialogue mode” and pause everything else around you. That was the most immersion-breaking aspect of Oblivion for me, which is saying a lot.
I walked out of a shop one day and was immediately attacked by thugs. I killed one of them and looted his body, finding a “contract” before I fled because the other thugs were too powerful. After they ran me out of town I read the contract and found that one lady in the town had hired them to beat up “that thief Daikatana.” (Oh yeah, by the way, I named my character Daikatana.) I thought for a moment and realized that she was one of the several people whose houses I’d burglarized a day or two ago.
Holy fudgemonkeys! There are consequences for my actions!
I’m still not sure whether that was a scripted sequence or whether she somehow figured out it was me that stole from her. It would make perfect sense; after all, if some mysterious dark elf woman happened upon my town one day and then that night all my valuables vanished, I’d be a bit suspicious too. But then again, she seemed suspicious of me from the start, so it’s possible that she would have hired bad guys to attack me out of paranoia no matter what. Or perhaps she’s the only NPC paranoid enough to assume it’s me when her stuff gets robbed.
But the fact that this happened at all and is making me question my own actions is a great sign.
I looted a barrel sitting out in the street because it didn’t count as stealing. Once I was done I overheard a woman nearby say something along the lines of “Look at her, she’s digging through refuse. Is she really that desperate?”
Holy asparagus! NPCs observe and respond to my in-game behavior! When was the last time we’ve seen that?
A big, expensive item was sitting on display in a shop. I knew I couldn’t snatch it right in front of the shopkeeper, so I lifted the item to take it into a corner and steal it there. The NPC immediately looked at me and threateningly said, “Put that down.”
Holy cheeseburgers! The NPCs aren’t complete morons now!
This is by no means a complete list, but the bottom line is that Skyrim is basically what I wanted Oblivion to be: an epic, immersive, cohesive experience that draws you in and refuses to let you out. It’s huge, but it also works, even when looked at in close detail.
I haven’t even talked about the gameplay mechanics yet, but rest assured I probably will in the near future. (Despite the fact that saying I’ll do it in the near future virtually guarantees that I won’t do it.) In short, it’s really damn good.