I know people who won’t bother reading past the title will say, “Yeah but Morrowind was better.“ And that’s great. No, really. I say that without a hint of sarcasm. You want to love Morrowind? Go right on ahead. However, I request you do me the courtesy and not expect any Morrowind comparisons nor discussion here. I simply never played it and as of this writing, have no designs towards playing it.
You see, my first foray into The Elder Scrolls was…well, let me take a step back. It was spring 2006 and I had just turned 18. My parents had surprised me with an Xbox 360 and I was playing the crap out of Perfect Dark: Zero with my buddies in couch co-op. I was amazed by the graphics and how shiny everything looked. I was enthralled with the Xbox 360. However, this was the only game I had on the brand new console at the time. And like any good gamer, I was looking to expand my library.
One of my friends had Oblivion on PC and so I watched him play. However, he had one of those crappy Dell PCs which was clearly underpowered to play the game, and this left a terribly poor impression of the game on me. As far as I was concerned, Oblivion looked awful.
Then one day after work, he and I stopped by our local GameStop whereupon I cast my gaze on the shelf behind the checkout counter. Lo and behold, there sat Oblivion for the Xbox 360, seducing me with its shiny box. To this day, I can distinctly recall the conversation I was having in my head.
“You saw it on your friend’s PC and it looked horrible.”
“Yeah, but maybe it was just a bad first impression.”
“Do you really want to spend your hard earned $60 on a gamble?”
“Yeah, maybe I do.”
And so, I asked the clerk behind the counter for Oblivion, checked out, and then my friend and I were off to my house. I remember driving home, hoping to myself that I had a poor first impression and that I would actually like the game. It was the biggest gamble I had ever taken. And boy, did it pay off big time.
We popped the disc into my Xbox 360 and the menu loaded as the music swelled. I still remember the first character I created, a Dunmer (Dark Elf). Because we had no idea what were doing at the time, my Major Skills were some random assortment of skills I picked in a half panic in the class creation screen.
We helped Patrick Stewart, saw him die by the hands of the Mythic Dawn, and then received the Amulet of Kings from Baurus. We made our way through the sewers, killing all those damn rats, and then finally reached the exit. As we exited the sewers and entered the world, I audibly gasped.
This image is forever seared into my mind. This view was genuinely an inflection point in my life. That’s not hyperbole. Before this moment, I was a gamer. I loved games. I played games. But at this precise moment, this crystalline sliver in time that has so wonderfully burrowed its way so deep into my heart, my life had changed. Want proof? I’m sitting here writing about games and I attribute this directly to Oblivion.
In that instant, Oblivion showed me what games really were. They were more than just something you played for fun. Games had the power to transport you to a completely different world. At that moment, Cyrodiil was real. I wasn’t on my couch. I was there, sword in hand, Vilverin in front, and beyond that, the wild expanse of Cyrodiil.
I vividly remember seeing Mount Gnoll in the background and wondering out loud, “Can we walk there?!” My buddy and I sat there, mouths agape, staring at the world in front of us. The impact was so very real. And so, we set off towards the mountain, almost daring the game to stop us.
But it didn’t stop us. We kept walking, and walking, and walking until we reached Mount Gnoll. We couldn’t believe it. We had actually seen something on the horizon and walked to it. What’s more, we had done so uninterrupted. This was completely mind blowing and honestly, still is. Thanks to this game, I have since played my share of open world RPGs (unquestionably my favorite type of game), but none have had the sheer impact of Oblivion. Nothing compares to that first moment stepping foot outside the Imperial sewers to come face to face with the world.
And what a world it is. I cannot begin to describe how much I love Cyrodiil. The rolling hills, the snow swept Jerall Mountains, the massive Great Forest, the grassy plains of the Colovian Highlands, the beautiful sunsets at Anvil, to the rain-soaked bayous of Blackwood. I love it all. Cyrodiil is my ideal fantasy world, a beautiful idyllic place filled with green, so much green.
So much of that beauty is represented through the brilliant score. To this day, the Oblivion soundtrack remains my favorite soundtrack — film or otherwise. Jeremy Soule really knocked it out of the park. I’m listening to it right now whilst I write this editorial. Wandering around the Valus Mountains at sunset, only to hear Auriel’s Ascension or Peace of Akatosh play through my headphones is almost indescribable. It’s moments like this that well and truly changed my perception of games, and it’s these moments that continue to leave me speechless these 12 years later.
The incredible quests no doubt have a role to play. The Ultimate Heist is unquestionably the greatest quest I’ve ever played. In fact, Oblivion is filled to the brim with unbelievably memorable quests. Just finding the Thieves Guild was an amazing adventure in itself. And who can forget Glarthir?
All these things combine to amplify one crucially intangible component — the magic. And no, I’m not talking about the literal magic that exists in the game. Oblivion has some magic about it that I legitimately cannot put my finger on. The game is much much greater than the sum of its parts.
There is something about this game that constantly pulls me back 12 years later. It’s not the world, music, freedom, or quests themselves that are the magic I speak of. It’s the impact these things had (and continue to have) on me that add to this intangible magic. But what is it that makes this game feel so special?
I’ve been thinking about this game for 12 years and I don’t believe I’m any closer to solving this question than I was when I was 18. My best guess right now is that Oblivion was the first game to show me what games could truly be. It satiated my love of exploration, graphics, freedom, and so much more. It’s the first game that opened me up to RPGs. It’s the first game that showed me what open world games could be. It inspired me to throw myself into the industry, so much so that I’m writing for you all today. It’s the game I constantly return to.
There is something intrinsically magical about Oblivion. It holds a sacred place in my heart. It is, without a doubt, the greatest game I have ever played.