It’s been awhile since I did any video game reviews, and since my purchase of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, I’ve been to do one. But before I could cover the latest fantasy installment from Bethesda studios, I figured I should build up to it. After all, its predecessor was a big hit with me in its time, and I got countless hours of gaming enjoyment from it for many years before I retired it.
Such is the nature of these games, they are the gift to yourself that keeps on giving! In any case, Oblivion was the first Elder Scrolls that I ever played. Prior to it, I didn’t even know about the series and didn’t have the slightest idea of what it was about. My thanks to my friend Doug for introducing me to this, and others like it!
As the fourth game in the series, Oblivion takes place within the fantasy universe known as Tamriel. In previous games, players were introduced to several different provinces in the realm, and were treated to snippets of the ongoing history behind it all. It would be no exaggeration at all to say that universe is as vast as anything envisioned by Tolkien or Martin, and was most likely inspired by one or both.
The realm of Tamriel is made up of nine provinces – Cyrodiil, Morrowind, High Rock, the Summerset Isles, Hammerfell, Black Marsh, Skyrim, Valenwood, and Elsweyr. Each serves as the home of a specific faction in the series, such as the Dunmer (Dark Elves) of Morrowind, Orsimer (Orcs) in High Rock, Altmer (High Elves) in the Summerset Isles, Argonians (reptile people) in Black Marsh, Bosmer (Wood Elves) in Valenwood, and Khajit (feline people) in Elsweyr.
There are also several factions of “Men”, which include the Bretons of High Rock, the Redguards of Hammerfell, the Nords of Skyrim, and the Imperials of Cyrodil. At some point in the series’ history, the Mede Empire was formed by uniting the provinces of Men with the Khajit, Argonians and Orcs, either through conquest or alliances, and the Imperial City established as the administrative center of Cyrodil.
Beyond the Mede Empire, which is made up of Cyrodiil, Morrowind, High Rock and Skyrim, there lies the recently-independent Hammerfell. In addition, there is the competing and often hostile Aldmeri Dominion (comprised of the other four provinces) which is ruled over by the Altmer (High Elves).
At one time, it is indicated, High Elves ruled over much of Tamriel as the Ayleids, an empire which has since fallen into ruin. Another extinct civilization is the Dwemer, a highly-advanced society of Dwarves who were masters of machinery and automation, and who apparently knew much of the Elder Scrolls. Throughout the various games, these civilizations ruins provide all kinds of treasures and the keys to ancient mysteries.
Within the realm, the established religion is the worship of The Nine (echoes of the Seven in GOT), gods that represent various virtues and powers. But of course, other faiths exist as well, such as the Nords faith involving dragons, mythical beasts which are apparently extinct at this point. But the other major faith is the worship of the Daedra, gods of “First Causes” that predate the Nine and are both good and evil.
The Daedra and their intervention serve as a major motivating force in the game, contributing to both the main storyline and missions of lesser import. At many points in the series, the coming of a Daedra lord to the mortal realm is the main plot line of the story, usually as a fulfillment of some major and ancient prophecy.
At the center of it all however, are the Elder Scrolls themselves. These are rarely ever featured in the game, but serve as a plot framing device, where the events in the game “were foretold in the Elder Scrolls,” basically. These objects, which were apparently forged by the gods themselves, contain incredible power and are often incomprehensible to mortals.
The story opens with an intro movie showing the last Emperor, Uriel Septim (voiced by Patrick Stewart), talking about how since the dawn of time, the Tamriel has been shut off from Oblivion – the hellish realm where the Daedra rule. However, he is haunted by dreams that the gates are about to open again, fulfilling an ancient prophecy that also foretold of the death of the Septim dynasty.
The game then begins with character selection, where you are required to specify your race, gender, class, etc., before things proceed. Once that is complete, you find yourself in the Imperial City dungeons, having been imprisoned for reasons you don’t fully understand. Believing the guards are coming for you, you are then surprised to see members of the Blades – the royal guard/secret police of the Empire – come to your cell with the Emperor himself.
You then overhear them saying that the royal heirs have been murdered, and they are apparently looking to smuggle the Emperor out through a secret tunnel that runs underneath the dungeons. You cell, which was supposed to be vacant, holds an entrance. After telling you to stand back, the Blades let the Emperor in, and he spots you and tells you he has seen you in his nightmares. After this introduction, he asks you to come with them.
In the tunnels, you are beset by a number of agents that belong to a sect known as the Mythic Dawn. You are also able to learn from Uriel what is going on. He says that the Dragon Fires, a holy beacon which keep the planes of Oblivion and Tamriel separate, have gone out. They need to be relighted if Tamriel is to survive, but agents are pouring over the city trying to kill him and his sons.
Thus, the Blades are trying to get him to safety. After defeating the last of the Dawn agents in the tunnel, the Blades take off down a separate tunnel and leave you behind. However, you are able to follow them indirectly by passing through a series of side tunnels that are occupied by Goblins. This gives you a chance to collect gear and bolster your skills, and eventually you rejoin the main party.
You are soon cornered, at which point Uriel hands you the Amulet of Kings, the very thing that keeps the doors between Tamriel and Oblivion shut and can only be worn by someone of the Septim line. He tells you that their is one remaining heir, orders you to take the Amulet to a man named Joffrey who knows where to find him, and that only you and he can “close shut the doors of Oblivion”.
The Emperor is then killed, and you are forced to find your way out of the sewers with the Amulet in hand. Once you’re out, you find yourself just outside the Imperial City and must then travel to Weynon Priory in the west. Inside, you meet Jauffre, a monk who is also a member of the Blades, and tell him what happened. He reveals that the secret heir alluded to by Uriel is a man named Martin who is serves at the Temple in Kvatch.
Ergo, that’s where your headed next. But when you arrive, you find the city is in ruins, with a refugee camp at the base of the hill and the guards camped beyond the gates and trying to hold the line against an open Oblivion gate. The guard captain tells you that a patrol was lost inside, and he and his men cannot retake the city so long as it is open. Battling through the hellish environment against Scamps, you find the last remaining patrol soldier and make it to the tower where you remove the Sigil Stone, thus collapsing the gate.
Back outside, you and the guards enter the city gates and begin retaking the place from the Daedra. After clearing the front courtyard, you find Martin (voiced by Sean Bean) inside the Temple with a group of refugees. You tell him your story, and his secret, and he agrees to come with you as soon as the city is clear and the refugees can be evacuated. Fighting your way further, you clear out the rest of the city and the main castle, where you find the Lord dead.
With Martin, you report back to Weynon Priory, which is under attack. Between you two and Jauffre, you manage to kill the enemy, but discover that they have stolen the Amulet of Kings. Once again, it appears the enemy are one step ahead. But with Martin alive, the three of you report to Cloud Ruler Temple, the Blade Stronghold in the north of Cyrodil, where Martin will be safe.
Once there, he takes charge of the Blades and you are given the option of joining them. With that complete, you are told to report to the nearby town of Bruma where enemy spies have been spotted. Once you kill them, you discover one of them is a resident in the town and search their house. Upon finding a letter, you learn they are part of a cult known as the Mythic Dawn who worship the Daedra lord of Mehrunes Dagon, Lord of Destruction.
Their plan is to open the gate of Oblivion so Dagon can reclaim Tamriel, and they intend to kill the Septim line since it is their blood that has been keeping the gate closed for ages. Intrinsic to this is opening a major gate outside of Bruma, destroying Cloud Ruler Temple, and now killing Martin. They are led by a Dark Elf named Mankor Camoran, a mage who has apparently been alive for centuries.
Your next mission is to the Imperial City where you meet Baurus, one of the agents that was there when the Emperor was killed. He tells you that the enemy’s lair is somewhere in Tamriel and you must find it. The key appears to lie in Mankor Camoran’s volumes known as The Commentaries on the Mysterium Xarxes – a series of books about a tome of ancient power.
Already, you have found two while searching the spy’s house in Bruma, and the third is apparently on special order at the city’s book store. Meeting with the man who ordered it, you compel him to cooperate and hand it over. He tells you he had a date to meet with Mythic Dawn representatives to get a copy of the fourth and final volume.
Posing as this man, Baurus meets with Camoran’s son and daughter while you keep watch. His cover is blown when their escorts spot you and you are forced to fight it out. After killing them, you manage to retrieve the fourth and final copy and go to the Mage’s Guild and ask them for help discerning its clues. You realize that a secret message is inside the book that tells you to go to the city’s cemetery at noon when the sun will be above the White-Gold tower.
When you do this, you see a map on the mausoleum wall that shows you the location of the Mythic Dawn’s lair. After arriving there, posing as another applicant, you come to see Mankor Cameron himself, who is wearing the Amulet of Kings. After giving his people a speech, he opens a portal to “Paradise” and leaves, taking the Amulet with him. Grabbing the Mysterium Xarxes, which he left behind, you fight your way out of the cave and head back to Cloud Ruler Temple.
Once there, Martin tells you that he may be able to open the portal to Camoran’s Paradise so you can retrieve the Amulet finally. He begins reading the Xarxes to discern what he would need to do this. In the meantime, you are told to report to Bruma where another gate has opened. Alongside the city guards, you go in and shut it again, but know that this is a temporary victory.
Given that the Dawn’s long-term plan is to open a major gate outside of the city and lay waste to Bruma and Cloud Ruler Temple, you know that time is limited. You are thus given two main missions. The first is to collect the items needed to open the gate to Camoran’s Paradise, the second is to go to every other city in Cyrodil and convince the local lord to free up soldiers to send to the defense of Bruma.
The first mission requires you to go to several locations, securing a Daedric artifact, the blood of Tiber Septim (the first Septim Emperor), and an Ayleid crystal. The second requires you to travel to all the major cities – Anvil, Chorrol, Skingrad, Cheydinhal, Bravil and Leyawiin – and close the gates outside of these cities. This gives you a chance to see each town and learn of their particular makeup and issues, as well as pick up additional side-missions.
With all of this complete, Martin tells you that there is only one other thing that he needs – a major Sigil Stone. This requires that you allow the Mythic Dawn to open a major portal outside of Bruma, and for the soldiers to hold the line while you go in and grab hold of the stone. A major battle ensues, and you are forced to grab the stone before the Daedra are able to bring out a massive siege engine and lay waste to Bruma, as they did Kvatch.
With the final item secured, Martin opens the portal to Camoran’s paradise inside the Temple, and you go through. Once there, you see a Edenic like environment, where Camoran’s followers live, but are forced to endure constant death as Daedric creatures hunt them and they are resurrected. They tell you how to make your way to Camoran’s seat of power – Palace Carac Agaialor.
Once there, you confront Camoran’s and his two children – Ruma and Raven – and do battle. Once they are killed, you retrieve the Amulet, and Paradise collapses. You are returned to Cloud Ruler Temple where Martin takes the Amulet, as Emperor, and you plan to return to the Imperial City to light the Dragon Fires and seal the gates between Tamriel and Oblivion once and for all.
At the palace, you are greeted by High Chancellor Ocato – leader of the Elder Council – but the meeting is cut short when the guards announce the city is under attack. It seems that Oblivion gates are opening all over the city and Daedra are pouring through. With no time to lose, you head for the Temple District so Martin can light the fires, but once there, you see Mehrunes Dagon, who has passed into your world, laying waste to the district.
Martin believes all hope is lost, but a last minute suggestion from you that the Amulet might be able to help gives him an idea. Asking you to escort him inside the temple, which is dangerous considering it involves getting around Dagon’s massive figure, he goes to the center and breaks the Amulet, combining the kings and dragon’s blood with his own. He then transforms into a massive avatar Akatosh, the principle diety of the Nine, and does battle with Dagon.
Dagon was defeated after the avatar of Akatosh – a massive fiery dragon – chomped his neck and sent him back to Oblivion. The avatar then turned into stone, signalling that it too had departed Tamriel and Martin was now dead. However, his sacrifice had won the day, and permanently sealed the doors between Oblivion and Tamriel shut forever. The Oblivion Crisis, as it would come to be known, was over, and a new age begun
Having taken part in the final battle and see the victory of Imperial forces over the Daedra, you are named Champion of Cyrodil and given a special suit of Dragon Armor. In addition to being named Hero of Kvatch and Hero of Bruma, you now hold a rank reserved for a very select few. With the game now over, you are free to roam and pick up any additional quests.
Outside of the Oblivion Crisis, gamers have the option of participating in numerous quests, most of which revolve around joining a Guild. These include the Fighters Guild, the Mages Guild, the Thieves Guild, and the Dark Brotherhood (an assassin’s guild). Membership in each allows you to go on additional quests, earn ranks, rewards, learn new abilities, and take part in other adventures.
The Fighter Guild quest culminates in you taking on a rival mercenary organization – the Blackwood Company – when it becomes revealed that they are abusing a narcotic known as Hist Sap that makes them bloodthirsty and unpredictable. The Mages Guild quest culminates in your facing a group of Necromancers led by the “Worm KIng”, an evil mage determined to destroy the Imperial Mages.
Joining the Thieves Guild makes you an agent of the Gray Fox, a recurring figure in the game, who provides protection for all of Cyrodil’s beggars and uses them as his eyes and ears. After participating in a number of lucrative thefts, you meet the Gray Fox and assist him in his scheme to recover his lost identity – Count of Anvil. As payment, you get to keep his magic cowl, the very thing that deprived him of it in the first place.
Finally, the Dark Brotherhood is an order that you can join the moment you murder someone in cold blood. A visitor then comes to you while you sleep and extends an invitation. Once you join, you are given the task of assassinating anyone who been named in a Black Sacrament – a dark ritual that marks people for death. In time, you have the option of becoming a vampire, and gain the favor of the Night Mother – their patron goddess.
And of course, there are many, many side missions where you have the option of performing tasks for various Daedra. Depending on the lord in question, these can be beneficial, harmful, or just plain mischievous, and all lead to certain benefits and rewards. And of course, there are plenty of missions to be had simply by adventuring around and helping people out.
There are also additional quests which I have played – Knights of the Nine, The Shivering Isles – but I really didn’t like them too much. In the case of Knights, you are tasked with resurrecting the order of the Knights of the Nine, collect sacred weapons, armor, and artifacts, and fight against an Aylied deity that is returning to Tamriel.
However, the production value on this game was really not as goo as the main one, and the storyline seemed awful… Christiany. I mean really, the armor and finery you wear make you look exactly like a Crusader, and by the time you are finished with the main campaign, yet another quest involving a resurrected evil seems tired and played out.
In the case of the Shivering Isles, the storyline is a bit more weird, and much more psychedelic. Here, you enter into the realm of the Daedric lord Sheogorath – Prince of Madness and ruler of the Shivering Isles – to battle with him and become the new master of the Isles. Here too, found the production values weak, the quest kind of pointless, and the story and setting really odd.
I guess it goes without saying that this game is incredibly dense and detailed. And of course, the back story is lengthy and intricate, but as long as you do your due diligence, it’s not that hard to follow. And though it does have its fair share of fantasy cliches, it’s a very inspired piece of work with plenty of historical and cultural allusions.
Many times over, I was reminded of LOTR and other prominent genres, and combined with the depth and density of it, it was little wonder why I got so many hours of enjoyment out of it. Between all the spells, weapons, abilities, upgrades, and opportunities to learn about the Elder Scrolls universe, its a truly immersive and entertaining game.
Between the main quest, secondary quests, and the hundreds – if not thousands – of additional quests, it really seems like the game has enough material to keep going indefinitely. But eventually, you are likely to map out every corner of Cyrodil, obtain the very best items, and get to the point where no enemy can possibly best you. And chances are, you’ll lose interest before then anyway, so it all works out.
And it was my experience with this game that led me to finally get around to buying The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim not that long ago. Here too, I’ve received endless hours and enjoyment, and will be reviewing it soon enough!