In our new feature series, Defining a Generation, we take a look back at the current gaming generation as it winds down to its conclusion at the end of the year. We will be spotlighting the titles that really made this generation what it was. These games, whether top sellers or frustrating disappointments, from the sublime to the ridiculous, will have one thing in common; they embody, in part, the essence of what this gaming generation stood for; what made it unique. Join us as we take a magical mystery tour of the 360/PS3/Wii generation!
Elder Scrolls: Oblivion…How do you begin to describe the impact it had on this generation of gaming? I’ll be honest, when I sat down to plan how to tackle the task of doing the grand old beast justice there were a lot of words swirling around in this old head of mine. Words like ‘behemoth’, ‘epic’, ‘astonishing’, ‘vast’, ‘grand’, ‘revolutionary’ and just plain ‘awesome’ came and went as I tried to quantify just what Oblivion meant to me and the industry as a whole. One by one I took those words and turned them over in my mind; examining each one, only to discard each one in turn as not worthy. Not a single one came close to really capturing the game.
And then it came to me…
Elder Scrolls: Oblivion was a game-changer.
Now, in this modern world of tired old sporting clichés in which pretty much every word or phrase has been saturated into oblivion (if you’ll excuse the pun) this might seem trite and hideously banal.
But to me, the phrase embodies everything about the game.
Think back, to the release of the 360 if you will. While today’s console industry is pretty much a duopoly, with Xbox and PlayStation titans standing astride the industry, certain in their spots of domination; 2005 found the new Microsoft console amid many doubts. Its predecessor had been on the brink of disaster before the emergence of Halo as the darling of the FPS genre and there were many questions its younger brother. Could Microsoft pull off a successful follow up or would they succumb to second console syndrome was but one of many, many question surrounding the 360 at the time.
One legacy left to the 360 from the original Xbox was considerable niggling doubt over its RPG pedigree. The PS2 had always seemed to have the significant edge over the big black box when it came to that particular genre, not least down to the absence of the Final fantasy from the system. What the 360 needed was a title to really put it on the RPG map.
And with the arrival of Elder Scrolls: Oblivion in March 2006, 4 months after the console launch, boy did it ever get it.
Almost overnight Microsoft’s console went from a virtually elf-free zone to being the premier destination for ork-stabbing hijinks.
The game itself was praised highly for its extremely engaging gameplay, which at the time was unprecedentedly varied, with the protagonist developing their skills organically through repeated use, rather than the previously standard points-allocation at level up mechanic. This was coupled with a truly astonishing world environment of such scale and beauty as had not been seen up to that point. Yes, the game framerate chugged a fair bit at times and players grew to, at best, put up with the constant loading screens, but all were captivated by the splendour and detail of the game.
What further enhanced the appeal of the game and set it apart from many of its predecessors was the freedom and variety it presented. ‘Don’t fancy following the plot?’ it seemed to say ‘that’s cool, just go, have a wander. Just go nuts and I’ll be here waiting with my narrative hooks when you’re ready’. Where other games would lead you by the nose, Oblivion revelled in leaving you to your own devices, often requiring you to traverse great distances between tasks, just to let you experience the world. More Grand Theft Longsword than Lord of the Scrolls, Oblivion did more than any other game to truly modernise the traditional fantasy RPG.
While the game may, these days, be somewhat overshadowed by what has followed, especially its successor, Skyrim, it cannot be overstated how much Oblivion gave to the 360 specifically and the console industry as a whole.
In a time of doubt it gave the 360 a solid exclusive flagship RPG franchise to hang its hat on. Not only did it help dispel the image of Xbox consoles as the home of inferior RPGs, it also really reinforced the image of the console as a whole, lending it credibility at a time of genuine uncertainty. It must also not be missed that it helped to assert the image of a new console generation to the public. Huge in scale and refined in visuals, the game was an ample demonstration of what the new console was capable of and really stood apart from the previous generation’s games.
While in retrospect Elder Scrolls: Oblivion’s graphical pop and sizzle may look much less impressive in light of current games, it remains true that it was a true innovator in its day. It’s not unreasonable to assert that without its timely arrival the whole trajectory of this console generation could have skewed quite differently.
Elder Scrolls: Oblivion was a game-changer in every conceivable way. It changed the face of RPG games in general, the perception of the 360 console as a medium for the genre, the credibility of the console as a whole and helped validate and confirm the arrival of the new console generation.
For all those reasons and because it was a damn fine gaming experience, Elder Scrolls: Oblivion deserves to be remembered as a title that defined a generation.
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Paul Izod is a lifelong gamer. Since he was old enough to tap at his Dad's PC's keyboard he's been a gamer. Dedicated and often opinionated, you can be sure he'll always have something interesting to say about the subject at hand. Find him on Twitter at @PaulIzod or @FaultyPixelUK or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org