The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion: Game of the Year Review (PS3)

Although Bethesda Softworks may seem like a niche publisher, one could easily make the argument that its few releases are simply a matter of quality over quantity. Granted, the company has historically struggled with patching issues, but other than that, there’s a reason Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series has won numerous game of the year awards. The latest outing, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, is no exception, and upon its release in 2006 garnered accolades from nearly every outlet, including ours. So is it any surprise to see Oblivion: Game of the Year Edition now on shelves for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3? Not at all. And we couldn’t be happier for its release.

Oblivion: Game of the Year Edition includes the original game of Oblivion, as well as the first bonus content, Knights of the Nine, and the expansion pack, Shivering Isles. Although Xbox 360 and PC gamers previously had access to this content via Xbox Live Marketplace and the Elder Scrolls Web site, this is the first time it’s all been gathered under one roof, so to speak. Likewise, Playstation 3 owners first tasted Oblivion with a single Blu-ray Disc that included the core content and Knights of the Nine, but Oblivion: Game of the Year Edition marks the first time PS3 gamers can get their hands on all 30-odd hours of the Shivering Isles expansion.

Yes, that’s right: a 30-hour expansion. Knights of the Nine is no play-time slouch either, and the result of having both massive content packs alongside the core game is a single, seamless experience totaling well over 250 hours. To put that into context, that’s the equivalent of playing Oblivion: Game of the Year Edition 40 hours per week for at least a month and a half. And loving every minute of it.

Oblivion is the king of all open-world games, a fantasy role-playing experience unlike any other. In this editor’s humble opinion, Oblivion is the best game ever made, bar none, and the Game of the Year Edition ups the ante even further. The core game of Oblivion, with all its random encounters, dungeons, quests and guild associations, provides more gameplay options than most complete holiday game lineups, and Knights of the Nine introduces yet another new faction. In this faction, noble characters can learn more about the history of the Ayleid ruins and lead an order of holy knights against demonic hordes as they try to secure the holy weapons of the Divine Crusader.

Shivering Isles, on the other hand, expands on the concept of an entirely separate plane (a la Oblivion) by introducing the realm of Sheogorath, the evil “Prince of Madness.” This new plane is split into two areas, Mania and Dementia, and as one might expect from such environments, the new levels and enemies are at once bizarre and enchanting — in a psychotic sort of way. And, like the original game of Oblivion, it’s up to the player to decide whether to choose the righteous path or go down the path of Sheogorath, who asks players to defend his realm and its inhabitants from destruction.

Aside from the sheer amount of content, the nicest feature of Oblivion: Game of the Year Edition is the fact that it works seamlessly with any previous game save. So, for instance, if a player has invested 150 hours into a specific character, that player can insert the Game of the Year disk and have literally no interruption in his or her story. In fact, only two things will make players realize the Game of the Year disc is any different at all: a “loading extra content” message when the game is first powered-up, and the sudden mention of new quests, landmarks and realms. Many games boast about seamless expansions, but this is one game where the hype really is true.

Because the Game of the Year content is seamlessly integrated with the core game, it should be no surprise that Oblivion: Game of the Year looks and sounds no different from the original one-year-old product. The Shivering Isles, with their unique locales, do see a bit more polish and geometry in certain areas, but for the most part, Oblivion: Game of the Year just looks and feels like more of the same. That statement should be far from a detractor, though, because Oblivion was one of the best-looking games of 2006, and even one year later holds up remarkably well in the graphics and audio department, particularly on the PS3, which benefits from higher-resolution textures and longer draw distances.

Aside from being the best multimedia experience ever created for a home audience, Oblivion: Game of the Year proves without a doubt that videogames can be art, and a very fine art at that. The only thing that might justifiably deter people from buying this game is if they already purchased the additional content and expansion pack and still have the original game in their possession. For all others, however, there’s really no excuse. Oblivion is more than a game; it’s a fantasy-world experience unlike any other. Game of the Year? More like game of the decade. But hey, we didn’t name this one; Bethesda did.

– Jonas Allen

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