Wednesday, March 29, 2006

More Oblivion

I'm now at twenty-two hours of play in Oblivion, still ignoring the main quest, and still having a great time. I also find myself wanting to break away from whatever I'm doing and go play, even if it's only for fifteen minutes. That's always a good sign.

This game is also selling through the roof. All you have to do is look at the number of posts on the Elder Scrolls forums to know that. This game is a gigantic hit, and maybe it will breathe some life into offline RPG's, because clearly there's still an enormous market for them.

I'm working my way down from the Colovian Highlands to Skingrad through the Imperial Reserve, and I'm seeing places to stop so frequently that it's going to take hours of play time to get down there. There are hundreds of outdoor locations to explore in this game, and each one seems to have some meat on it. This is clearly the richest, most detailed game world ever created for an RPG.

I know there are strategies for fast leveling, skill maxing, etc., and there's apparently some sort of infinite gold bug. I see forum threads with these titles, but I've purposely ignored them. Sure, there are exploits in this game (like almost any large game), but I have no desire to use them. Oblivion is so beautifully constructed that I don't want to waste the experience--I just want to play.

Much has been made of the "radiant" A.I. I'm not sure if it deserves an extra adjective, but it's certainly interesting. I was away from my horse last night and heard a commotion. When I turned back I saw a wolf attacking my horse. I started running over there and arrived just in time to see my horse give the wolf a ferocious kick in the head--killing him. The idea that my horse can sometimes (but not always) defend himself is just outstanding, and it's one of many moments where people or creatures acted with an intelligence that I wasn't expecting.

Then there are the NPC's. Andy Stingel (DQ Hall of Fame charter inductee) sent me this note:
I just spent more than 30 minutes of real time tailing an NPC who happened to leave town at the same time as I did. He stuck to the road and was attacked a few times by wolves, which he killed. At one point we could hear sounds of combat in the forest nearby--he stood and listened for a moment, then charged in and attacked a bandit who was fighting another NPC. The bandit turned on "my" NPC and whoever he was attacking ran off. "My" guy killed the bandit and continued on his way.

It's those kinds of details, in a game that is full of them, that make the world seem so vibrant. Seeing hunters stalking deer, or bandits fighting each other in the forest, effectively blurs the line between an artificial world and a dynamic world so well that it's easy to get lost when I play.

One other cool moment: I sold some rare statues to a merchant. I'm standing outside the city gates (of a different city) when I'm approached by a man who says that word has gotten around that I'm selling the statues. He represents a collector in Imperial City who's interested in buying them from me if I find any more. The whole encounter had a very furtive, non-scripted feel to it (even though it was clearly a triggered event), and it just reinforced for me that Oblivion was designed and developed with a level of skill (and clearly, dedication) that is remarkable.

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