Oblivion PS3 Review
It's been a year since Bethesda's ground-breaking RPG The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was released on the PC and Xbox 360. Since its release, the game has racked up millions in sales and mountains of critical acclaim; the sales are really the surprising thing, since RPGs from Western countries don't often do nearly this well. And now, Bethesda has released Oblivion on Sony's powerful Playstation 3 platform. Does this port have everything the PC and 360 versions did? Can the PS3 handle the massive demands of this open-ended and beautiful RPG?
The basic story here is that you start out as a prisoner underneath the Imperial City, the capital city of both the province of Cyrodiil and the empire of Tamriel as well. Your lucky break comes when the Emperor (voiced by Star Trek's Patrick Stewart) himself comes through to escape assassins. You'll get swept up in the quest pretty quickly and will find yourself rushing to save Cyrodiil from an invasion by an evil Daedric prince, but that's just the main quest. You can pick that up, progress in it when you want, then forget it about it for a while. There are many hundreds of quests, fights, and other things to do, and the game gives you plenty of opportunities to drop what you're doing and switch to something else.
One important thing to note here is that Oblivion includes dozens of unique changes and additions to keep the game accessible for players who might not have played past Elder Scrolls games or even just RPGs at all. From an informative quest log to excellent maps and a waypoint system directing the player to their next objective in a quest, Oblivion does a fair amount of hand-holding and makes the action and RPG systems the challenging part. Rather than forcing the player to search for the next link in a quest line, the game will tell you where you need to go and give you an easy-to-see market on your compass. Want to abandon a quest and switch to something else? It's one button press away in the journal, which tracks everything you've done and need to do to finish, well, everything there is in Oblivion.
And that's a lot to do. There are probably 100 hours worth of great gameplay here when all the side quests and new things to do are put together. From your start as a forgotten prisoner in a cell beneath the Imperial City to your rise as master of magic and combat, you'll save the world and change a lot of lives. There are things for both "good" and "evil" characters to do, even though there's no real measure of how bad or good you are. You'll also find that it's quite possible to do every quest in the game so you're not really picking one side or the other.
One unique part of Oblivion that many RPGs don't have is the first person view and action-oriented gameplay. You won't be picking attacks out of a menu here: everything is in real time, and you're going to need to be quick with your controller, switching between hotkeyed spells and weapons to fight multiple threats at once. Is that a lich across the hallway? Time to put on your magic-resistant armor and jewelry and fire from a distance. Strong fighter coming your way? Put away the claymore and get out your shield and a smaller, faster weapon.
Then there is the customization. One of the best parts of Oblivion is that you can create your own character class, then take it out into Cyrodiil for a unique experience. Put on armor and weapons with magic enchantments that you have fine-tuned. You can even custom-create spells, sometimes with multiple effects, to buff yourself up or kill your enemies with. Even both simultaneously. You won't have access to all of this stuff right at the start, but Oblivion does give you a chance to do this once you get enough support together to join the Mage's Guild. You can also buy one of quite a few houses in the 9 major towns all over Tamriel's capital province of Cyrodiil, then decorate it however you want. Buy a horse to ride. Stash your loot, whether it was ill-gotten or legitimately gained, at your house. Put it on display if you want.
The number of ways you can better your character in Oblivion really adds to its depth. Going for a strict thief type, you can break into people's homes at night, while they're sleeping, picking the locks and taking their stuff, then selling it at the best prices you can persuade your local fence to give you - when you get into a fight, sneak attack them with a weapon or pull out a bow to finish them off from a distance. Or, you could go full on combat. The way of an adventurer will have you diving into dungeons, Oblivion gates, and Ayleid ruins to kill your enemies and loot your treasure right off their bodies - this can be done by any combat-heavy character, be it fighter, assassin, or mage, or anything between. Or just be a slave to your journal and find and finish every quest you can. All these choices are rewarding and fun and when added up, will take you quite a few weeks to get through.
The PS3 version of Oblivion looks basically about as good as it did on the Xbox 360. There's one exception in that there's a small bug that was fixed that helps to add detail to terrain off a little bit into the distance, a fix that's coming to the PC version in an upcoming patch (but we've heard no word so far on an Xbox 360 update). Otherwise, we get the same level of detail at the same 720p HD resolution with high dynamic range lighting and a modest amount of antialiasing to keep the jaggies away. Frame rates are not rock-solid on the PS3, but they weren't on the 360 either. I did some side-by-side comparisons between the two versions and found that the PS3 version looked overall a tad better, but not enough to make any real difference. The "Full HD" 1080p resolution that Sony touts for many PS3 games is unfortunately not supported by Oblivion (probably because the frame rate here would likely drop into the single digits) so we only get 720p.
Another issue is with the downloadable content. Both the PC and 360 versions have had multiple add-on packs released over the internet or on Xbox Live for prices ranging from about $1 to $10. The PS3 version currently supports no downloadable content at all, although they did include the $10 Knights of the Nine mini-expansion on the PS3 while keeping the price at $60. Unfortunately, there's currently no way to get the other add-ons, like Mehrune's Razor or Wizard's Tower, onto the PS3 version - money or not. Bethesda is working with Sony to set this up, but it's not a sure thing yet. This is especially important with Shivering Isles, the first "true" expansion pack for Oblivion set to be released in about a week. If Sony and Bethesda don't get something figured out as far as downloadable content, you will only be able to play Shivering Isles on the 360 or the PC.
The PC version of the game has definitely proven to be the best one from a longevity standpoint, especially if you've got a computer that can handle it with high detail and at a good resolution. The reason for this is the user-created mods, many of which are excellent. Some do take a bit of work and, in some cases, a little research in getting some of them installed properly, but the really good ones can vastly improve some elements of the game and change all kinds of elements to really make Oblivion your own. There is no mod support at all on the PS3 or 360 versions of the game.
You might wonder if Oblivion on the PS3 is worth buying if you've already spent dozens (or hundreds) of hours on the PC or 360 versions. Unless you were playing the PC version on a lower-spec computer with many graphics options turned off, then no, it's probably not worth picking up the PS3 version. It's exactly the same game with very similar graphics and performance, and no new features have been added. The inclusion of Knights of the Nine, which will last you between five and eight hours, is a nice "free" bonus, but otherwise the PS3 version is pretty much the same but without mod capabilities. Still, what this game lacks for in screen resolution, it makes up for in its excellent open world, beautiful art design, and grand architecture.
The relatively small problems that the PS3 version of Oblivion has don't really take away from the fact that this is one of the most ambitious and enjoyable RPGs ever released. That ambition was realized in many areas of the game, and while others, like the Radiant AI (which was designed to give each character a real life with a daily schedule of things to do and time to sleep) wound up being a bit of a let-down, this is still one of the best games you can find on store shelves. If you love RPGs and haven't gotten a chance to see it on the PC or Xbox 360, then do yourself a favor and slap down the cash for Oblivion on the PS3.