Daniel Driver began a brief love affair with Oblivion, but neglected it after an initial spark. However, when another relationship broke down, the fourth Elder Scrolls game was there to pick up the pieces.
If you think about it, gaming is a lot like being in a relationship. We spend a lot of time with them and develop feelings for the ones we have good experiences with, while we may also cringe and laugh at the games that were awful in a “what was I thinking?!” kind of way. You’ve got games like Portal or Gone Home, which are the equivalent of a fling that you enjoy over a weekend, then never call again; you also have games which are there for the long haul, requiring a lot more commitment.
Oblivion is in the latter category. It demanded your time, not to mention your money, if you wanted the infamous horse armour. It required such investment that it wouldn’t have been unsurprising for it to demand you ‘equip’ a ring in real life.
Back in 2006 I was a little bit of a commitment-o-phobe, and having just gotten out of an intense four-year relationship, I was in no rush to get into another. I was still in my early 20s and my weekends would be dominated by the holy trinity of watching football, consuming inordinate amounts of booze and, of course, gaming.
Work-wise, I’d picked up a job as a mortgage underwriter that year and, in the latter half, got the qualifications I needed for a small pay rise. What would have been the perfect opportunity to start saving for the deposit on a house saw me blowing my money on an Xbox 360, as well as a Toyota Celica, which I’d long desired since playing Sega Rally.
One of the games that sold me on the power of Microsoft’s sophomore system was Bethesda’s Oblivion, a game I’d gushed over when reading previews online. It looked absolutely stunning, with graphics that seemed photorealistic for the time. I’d made a mental note to pick it up eventually, especially since I absolutely adored Morrowind, the third Elder Scrolls game. However, I was still playing World of Warcraft regularly with a few mates, so I felt like I didn’t have enough hours to invest in yet another enormous, life-consuming game.
My resolve would be broken one Saturday. I was picking up some glad rags for my office Christmas party in a week’s time, but a trip to Watford’s Harlequin Centre always inevitably included a whistle-stop tour of all the games, electronics and entertainment stores as I looked to frivolously part with my hard-earned cash and expand my games collection.
HMV was the last store I visited, but it had a delightful offer: two new Xbox 360 games for £50, beating just about every other deal in town. Oblivion immediately caught my eye, standing out on the shelf of games in the promotion, with a gaudy blue promotional sticker failing to detract from the water stained paper imagery of The Elder Scrolls IV’s otherwise sumptuous cover. I stole a look at the rear of the box and was smitten with what I saw. I had to have it. Five minutes later, I walked out with it, alongside Dead Rising.
I remember playing Dead Rising first – and hating it. All I wanted to do was have a quick blast on one of my new purchases before I went out on the lash, but the damn thing wouldn’t let me save. Soured by this brief encounter and my lengthy adventures of Morrowind still in my mind, I went back to playing Gears of War multiplayer for a brief spell before embarking on my real-life quest to get completely tanked up.
Sunday rolled around, as it always did, and I emerged from the lager-infused mists of a hangover, which detonated a 20kt sunlight-to-cranium headache bomb between my temples, extracting all moisture from my mouth. Standard protocol dictated that I’d play videogames all day, which gave me the perfect opportunity to start Oblivion.
First impressions were mixed. The game still looked lovely, but with the advent of the graphical juggernaut that was Gears of War, it wasn’t exactly best in class. The opening cutscene was astounding when, much to my surprise and in contrast to Morrowind, all the dialogue was spoken. My astonishment then peaked with the realisation of “Holy shit! Is that Patrick Stewart?!” as the scene was set.
What followed, however, was an hour-long slog in a dreary by-the-numbers dungeon, fighting rats and blokes in hoods, finding keys, unlocking doors, fighting more rats and more blokes in hoods, finding more keys and unlocking more doors.
But when I eventually made my way out of the sewers, I had that Oblivion moment. I was greeted by a shimmering lake, gorgeous rolling hills, blue skies and some curious ruins just ahead. As Jeremy Soule’s rousing score trickled into my ears, the world of Cyrodiil greeted me with open arms and I could do as I pleased, now having more freedom than an American bald eagle wearing William Wallace face paint.
That next week, everything took a backseat. WoW raids were forgotten, my FIFA 07 season was abandoned and my Gears skills were left to wane. Oblivion was where it was at, and I spent all of Sunday and every night after work playing it until the wee hours.
Oblivion had a main quest, which involved the evil hordes from the titular Oblivion – essentially the Elder Scrolls version of Hell – opening portals to the world of Tamriel and basically killing everyone. I remember when I first encountered the so-called “Oblivion gate” in Kvatch and absolutely bricking it. Wandering through the wastes of the realm of Oblivion – with its oceans of lava and harsh, barren plains populated with nothing but demons and ominous towers that resembled black claws clutching at a crimson sky – was a frightening ordeal. Once the hordes were done with Kvatch, I didn’t fancy experiencing the horror of the Oblivion gates again.
Fortunately, like all other entries in the series, you could pretty much do as you wished: just grab a sword, saddle up and go talk to, help, steal from and/or kill pretty much anyone, anywhere you wished.
Oblivion was luckily a lot more user-friendly than Morrowind, which led to exploring its map at a faster pace. Gone were the days of jumping everywhere to improve those all-important acrobatic stats, and while that was still a tactic, levelling up on the whole was much easier. Fast travel was a new idea, but something I steadfastly refused to use during my first few weeks of play. Much like the previous outing, I simply enjoying exploring and existing in such a fantastically realised world.
A chance encounter
That week came the work Christmas party I’d shopped for the weekend prior. Inevitably, there was some drama conjured in the joint party between my then-previous and current offices. The party was significant because an ex-staff member attended who I hadn’t met before, and during the hubbub at the end of the night, we exchanged numbers then disappeared into the night.
Another night of drunkenness, another screaming hangover, and it was back to Oblivion for me once again, in both the literal and figurative sense. I was making good progress and had already sunk dozens of hours into it, bought a house with the proceeds from my relentless thievery and now, thanks to roaming the hills of Cyrodiil and fighting whatever manner of beast I found, I was getting quite handy at long swords and destructive magic.
As a result, I was feeling confident enough to start flirting with the main story again, which was finally becoming interesting and featured the additional voice talents of Sean Bean as the Emperor’s prodigal son who, at that point, I was sure would die some sort of heroic death. It was Sean Bean, after all.
But my main-quest adventures would be put on hold. I ended up going on a date with the girl I met at the office Christmas party and all went well. As winter rolled around we continued to meet over Christmas and spent New Year together.
I still managed to occasionally revisit Oblivion, but I hit a snag. It all started when I was exploring the mountainous border of Cyrodiil on my horse. I loved dragging my trusty steed up the mountains and exploiting the games physics so the poor bastard was pretty much walking vertically. At the very top, I was attacked by an angry looking pasty chap. He was dispatched easily enough, but it was the message that popped up mid-fight that would curtail my Oblivion adventuring: “You have contracted Porphyric Hemophilia”.
Having the message pop in the heat of battle wasn’t ideal, since I thought it was just a normal disease and just clicked through. I wasn’t following any guides or FAQs so had no idea and, quite frankly, forgot about it until I levelled up later and needed to rest, waking up as a full on vampire.
Now, there were perks to being a vampire: frost resistance, enhanced speed and sword abilities, plus magic boosts were all welcome. However, feeding soon became a bit of a burden, but not as much as being unable to travel in the day, or facing the reality of NPCs refusing to talk to you. I wanted to cure it. Should be easy, right?
Let me tell you about the Vampire Cure quest. It is the single dullest, most frustrating and laborious quest in Oblivion. OK, the end is pretty fun, but finding the necessary ingredients in the dark is not. You can buy many of the items from vendors, or at least you could if you weren’t a vampire, in which case you probably wouldn’t need them as much as you do now, which is frustrating because shop owners won’t sell to you as YOU’RE A FREAKING VAMPIRE! Ugh.
So, my Oblivion odyssey ground to a halt, ruined by cureless vampirism, and with no invisibility, black eyeliner, capes or leather clothes in sight. This wasn’t how it was in the movies!
By this point, I’d actually started to properly play and understand Dead Rising, while I continued to add to my 360 library. More pertinently, I was spending a lot of my time with my new girlfriend. After an early tiff ended in an ultimatum to me, I decided to bite the bullet and take the plunge into a serious relationship for the first time in years.
Things started well, of course. We wouldn’t have been together as long as we were if they didn’t. The weekend drinking on my part stopped almost completely so I could give my energy to the concept of being a couple. We even played a few games together, especially on the Wii she bought me for Christmas 2007, which gave us loads of entertainment. There were holidays, surprises and all the lovely stuff romantic companionship can offer.
My Christmas present in 2008 was one of my favourites: the seminal Fallout 3. “Oblivion with guns” got me hook, line and sinker and I barely played anything else for a good few months, even buying all of the DLC as and when it appeared. Hungry for more, I did try to get back into Oblivion. A friend of mine gave me the GOTY edition but even with all that goodness installed, I abandoned the game an hour later because of the stupid vampirism affliction. Oblivion was once again tossed aside while my gaming time became dominated by Street Fighter IV – when I wasn’t with my girlfriend, at least.
In 2009 we got engaged. By this point, the so-called “honeymoon period” was over, but it felt like the next logical step. It was odd, though, as our relationship hadn’t really progressed in any meaningful way. When we first dated in 2006 I saw her Tuesday, Thursday and then Saturday night. In 2009 we were still seeing each other Tuesday, Thursday and then Saturday night, despite my best efforts.
Things had become strained when she was made redundant in 2008, and so took a job with the same company I worked for in my old office. This was followed by several other unfortunate, personal events affecting each of us, but suffice to say things were already difficult in 2009 when both of our offices were called into London to be told they would be closed, and all staff made redundant. Both of us soon to be out of the job, and she was dropped for the second time in as many roles.
The (not so) Great Escape
Her office was closed immediately, whereas mine had a stay of execution that kept us open until the end of the year. Anyone who tried to find work after the financial crisis of the late 2000s will know what an utter bastard it was. After a few months, my girlfriend finally got a job, but it paid little and made her extremely unhappy. Our wedding plans hadn’t developed since the engagement and we were still stuck in the same routine we had for nearly three years.
That summer, we had one of those discussions about our relationship. So much in that last year had been rubbish, but most of it had been work and family related. The conclusion was that we’d take a holiday together, get away from it all, but that this would make or break us.
So off we went, to the beautiful Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt. Things seemed fine; we rode camels, I did a load of snorkelling and we chilled by the pool in the Saharan sun.
At one point we visited a local perfume shop with an extremely over-friendly owner who claimed to make his own fragrances and oils. He seemed a nice enough chap, but I felt a little uncomfortable with his eagerness to rub an abundance of creams on my girlfriend’s arm. We bought some perfumes and homemade after-sun cream, then took his number since he’d offered to show us the sights of Sharm if we were ever interested. We never called, though, since we had things planned for our entire stay.
As “fine” as the vacation seemed, something wasn’t quite right. There was no intimacy, no spark, and my then-fiancé was distant for the whole trip. Things we used to laugh about got no response, she asked me to turn down music we both enjoyed, and any attempt to coax her out of the gloom fell flat. It was a nice break, but we left in almost the same state we came – or so I thought.
When we came back, I heard nothing from my girlfriend. She didn’t return my calls and refused to see me. After a few days we finally spoke and the inevitable was confirmed: it was
I found out from one of her friends that she’d quickly returned to Egypt shack up with the perfume shop owner and try to start a new life out there; he’d got the call he asked for after all!
I was dejected. The writing had been on the wall and I’d been resigned to us breaking up even before we went away, but it still hurt. There’s breaking up and there’s being unceremoniously dropped for a fantasy life 1,000 miles away.
It takes one Oblivion to overcome another
I went to work on the Thursday, but my boss at the time – who remains a friend of mine to this day – took me aside. I’d been making mistakes and basically looked awful, so he told me to take some time out and come back in the following Tuesday, after I’d rested.
As many people will tell you – or you might understand yourself – you sometimes don’t want time alone to be with your own thoughts; you want to be kept busy to take your mind off of things. My outlet, of course, would be gaming. But the question was, which title would it be? I attempted to play Street Fighter IV but in my state, I was playing worse than normal and my win ratio was taking a hit. I’d played most of my story-based games and there were few I was ready to replay. I went to restart Fallout 3, but then I saw Oblivion.
I booted it up, was immediately besieged by sunlight in the great expanse where I’d last abandoned the game and my character’s health began to pulse steadily downwards. I hit start and sighed. I went to eject the disc, but then stopped myself – it was Thursday, one of the days when I’d normally see “her”. I had nothing else to do that night so thought, screw it, let’s cure vampirism!
The search for the cure to vampirism would begin with Google. Sure, I had the quest open telling me what items I needed to create this elusive concoction, but getting hold of these was the issue and a guide would tell me where these ingredients were hidden. It was while navigating the pages of GameFAQs that I saw the words “Vile Lair”. Some digging revealed it to be DLC pack which included something called the Font of Renewal, which had the sole purpose of curing vampirism.
BOOM! I jumped back to my 360 dashboard, where the DLC was only a couple of quid. Forget Horse Armour, here was Bethesda’s real post-release gravy train: fleecing naïve adventurers who’d fallen foul of vampirism! I actually had enough Microsoft Points remaining to buy it straight away, which was handy as I was absolutely skint, having just spent a fortune on that ill-fated holiday.
With the Vile Lair now installed, I made my way to Deepscorn Hollow in order to bask in the healing glow of the Font of Renewal. My night-time prowling now had a purpose! It took a few game days of moving from town to town by cover of night, resting at inns during the day and feeding on bandits while travelling under dark skies.
I was also picking up quests along the way, even carrying out one or two. Little did I realise, even before I’d cured my vampirism, that I was enjoying Oblivion again.
Soon I found my destination and after some dialogue with some new, shady-looking NPCs I found the Font. It looked entirely unremarkable; a squared off shallow pool with a mini obelisk standing in the centre like a water-stranded meerkat. The font required some “Pureblood Salts” in order to work, a pointless requirement considering they were right next to the thing.
On activating the Font, I was asked whether I wanted to cure my vampirism. Selecting yes produced a standard pop-up confirming I was cured. That was it. It was as unceremonious as buying a pack of stamps, but the effect it had on my time in Oblivion was profound; once again I was free.
I couldn’t sleep, so continued to play Oblivion until the early hours. On Friday morning I was up and at it again, tearing through the main quests, battering the hordes of Oblivion and saving the populace. With no money to go to the pub, my quest continued into Friday night and long before midnight struck, the Imperial City had been saved from Mehrunes Dagon and his armies.
I can only imagine if my avatar had taken my real-world expression as the citizens of Cyrodiil celebrated around him; sleep deprived, stony faced and red-eyed, eager not to celebrate but to keep fighting, trying to fill his life with purpose. Fortunately, my friend’s GOTY install was still intact and for the rest of the night and most of Saturday I moved on through the Nights of Nine expansion before starting the Shivering Isles.
It was then that I met the Daedric Prince of Madness, Sheogorath. This utterly insane demi-god had me in literal fits of laughter as I completed the tasks he set around his beautifully bizarre realm. It was his dialogue and delivery that had me smiling like an idiot when two friends popped over to see how I was doing.
My mum had sent them to coax me out of my hole and into the pub. Being skint, I had to decline, but by this point Oblivion had me too firmly in its grasp for me to leave anyway. In hindsight, it was probably for the best; alcohol would have had a negative effect on my mood. I think my friends could see that I’d cleared the hump too as we laughed at the wonderful nonsense The Shivering Isles had to offer, before they left.
I wouldn’t finish it until the next morning. Save for some vague Elder Scrolls-enthused dreams, I actually slept a lot better than during the previous two nights. Completing the last main quest Oblivion had to offer was bittersweet, but even with that overcome, there was still so much to do. Sunday and Monday were spent mopping up everything else: becoming Champion of the Coliseum, completing the quests and becoming the leader of all the guilds in the game, and picking up any other challenge I could find.
By Monday night, Oblivion became only the third game I’d unlocked every achievement for, and the only full retail game overall at that point. From Thursday afternoon to Monday night, my game time had increased from around 70 hours to over 120. Most importantly for me, Oblivion had provided some much needed escapism, some relief and a sense of purpose and achievement. The break-up would still sting, but the initial pain had been successfully navigated.
There can be no doubt that Oblivion was instrumental in the healing process. It was, and still is, a fabulous game too. I do wonder if Skyrim, with its cold, stark setting instead of Cyrodiil’s more summery climes and pastel colours, would have had the same effect on me if it happened later in life. Skyrim’s far from a bad game, but there was something much more welcoming about Oblivion, and while it was pretty generic stuff, its high fantasy setting was both well executed and warmly familiar.
At its heart, the fourth Elder Scrolls game was also a classic and simple tale of the hero that came from nothing to save the realm. It’s also story that began with the sun setting on one dynasty and ending with the birth of a new one, of finding hope when all seemed lost.
Three months after my relationship in this tale ended, I met the lady who is now my wife. Perhaps there was some symmetry in our storylines.
- A huge, wonderfully realised game world filled with great characters and iconic factions
- The gameplay still holds up and stands up against modern peers
- Absolutely beautiful music by series stalwart Jeremy Soule
- Despite its age, the game still has the capacity to look absolutely stunning
- Gripping story and fabulous voice acting
- Stupid vampirism!
- The high fantasy setting, while well done, is quite generic
- Lacks some of the nuance and complexity of Morrowind and the enhancements brought on by Skyrim
- The opening hour or so is a slog
Oblivion is a genuine fantasy epic and the game responsible for bringing open-world RPGs to the masses. What’s more, it provides a beautiful, tangible and bustling world of swords and sorcery that you can get lost in. If you get through the opening hour and beware of vampirism, the world of Cyrodiil will open its arms up to you and remain in your heart forever.