Twenty Days Of Oblivion

Not sure how this works-- since yesterday's update said I didn't play (even though I did) and today's says I played twenty days straight (which probably is true, but can't be if yesterday's update is accurate).

At any rate, I'm having a blast with Oblivion. I'd write more about it, but I'm having too much fun actually playing it to stop; by the time I think of something that's happened that I should write about, something else has happened.

A few notes on minor points, though. Graphics in games like this are getting so close to photorealistic that the whole genre may be dipping into the Uncanny Valley, which I'd suggest can be applied more generally to everyday objects and not just to human faces.

While Oblivion's NPCs faces are more detailed than Morrowind's, they still look plastic-like. And why are all the attractive female faces on marauders and bandits?

Blinded By The Light
Lighting is an issue at times. I've run into inns and taverns that despite torches and fireplaces are darker than any dungeon-- but even in the middle of the night in a rainstorm, have exterior windows that show sunshine coming through. That's also Uncanny Valley if you ask me-- the whole game starts to look and feel so real that things that would be brushed off with "well, it's just a game" before suddenly feel far more offensive. I've taken to turning the game's brightness up quite a bit, but this makes outdoor areas seem too bright.

One Does Not Just Walk Into Oblivion
Bethesda did a great job with the Mordor-like areas of Oblivion. In fact, too good. I don't want to go there. I've closed one gate, the one at Kvatch, because it's a main quest requirement. I understand that it should be a dreadful environment. It should be a place you don't want to go, as a person. But as a gamer, it should be a quest I want to do. It just isn't. I resent gates popping up, daring me to run through them.

On top of that, each gate is basically one of seven randomly generated environments, so once you've done a few, you've seen them all.

I've intentionally stalled my advancement and the main plot before I have to take on another because I'd rather just to side quests for awhile. However, Oblivion gates keep popping up everywhere; spoiling the landscape, and populating the countryside with scamps, imps, and clannfears. They've done their job too well here. I think they made an intentional choice to not make "safe areas" and "dangerous areas"; Gates can (and do) pop up anywhere, and the change in levelling-- meaning enemies level up as you do-- mean that a difficult fight is determined by who, rather than merely where.

I'm not sure this is a good idea. It's too ingrained in me to assume that the area where you start near (in this case, the Imperial City) is pretty safe, and that the farther away you travel, the more dangerous things get. You can always control how hard the game is by where you travel. Of course, to complete the game, you'll have to go the more dangerous places, but at least you can control when.

Oblivion isn't like that. At certain times, even the city is dangerous-- once you've done one particular quest, members of the Mythic Dawn cult will attack you in broad daylight, in the Imperial City, in front of the guard. They're not that tough, but it is surprising to be attacked in what you'd reasonably assume to be a "safe area". One could argue that it encourages exploration, though. Because any particular area isn't guaranteed to be more dangerous than any other, you can wander to your heart's content. If it weren't for the gates.

I have a feeling I might enjoy it better if I just finish the main quest and close all the gates; on the other hand, without the gear and skills gained during the side quests, I'm not sure I'd be able to finish the main quest.

Irradiant AI
Much was made of the game's artificial intelligence; it was hyped pre-launch, and the subject of much grudging praise and bitter criticism afterwards. I think the major problem with it is calling it AI. Call it NPC behavior and I think you'll defuse most of the fuss.

Oblivion's NPCs aren't perfect, but are a damn sight better than Morrowind's. They do have their own behaviors; routines they'll follow. Some people stay in town, shuttling between their house, a job, and various taverns. Some are traveling merchants who visit several cities in turn, depending on the day of the week, and some will even get killed walking their routes-- whether or not you're even watching, which I found fascinating.

There are still problems, though. Nobody does anything about carcasses lying in the street, even after days and weeks. I can understand this in the wilderness, but in town? Just a simple tool tip to remind me that after X days, the town guard will cart off a corpse for burial would be nice, so I know I have to loot it soon. Or let me rob the grave later. It seems silly to see Mythic Dawn operatives, stripped naked, dead on the Temple steps, forever.

Monsters and NPCs can be fooled in combat pretty easily. Melee-only characters will try and follow you when you climb on top of rocks, where you can kill them with ranged weapons or magic quite easily. That's a bit of a minus, even if it helps me.

Monsters and NPCs can be lured into fighting each other, which I find awesome. I completed one quest by repeatedly attempting to pickpocket a Countess. Every time I failed, I resisted arrest, ran outside the castle walls, and jumped into the bay. Even if a guard managed to follow me, I'd then enter a cave, bait a troll into following me, run outside, and jump on a rock on top of the cave entrance. The trolls would then kill the guard. And although guards will swim to follow you, trolls won't. Once I swim back out into the bay after the guard is dead, the "enemies nearby" music stops playing, and I could fast travel back to a Thieves Guild operative to pay off my bounty. I did that pattern three times before successfully pickpocketing what I needed. That the Countess will still talk to you after that is very, very odd-- paying off the bounty might affect the guards, but doesn't she remember catching me picking her pocket? Guess not.

I've also led enemies from caves and mines out into the open near Oblivion gates, and let the enemies there fight each other. That worked well in one quest area that required killing five vampires.

Sneak attacks are great. But the sneak mechanism also has some quirks. Sometimes, if you have darkness and something to hide behind, you can get in two sneak attacks (or more) on the same enemy, if you're out of sight when the blow lands. This only seems to work when using a bow, or coming up directly behind a target. Usually, the sneak indicator will glow full after that first attack, indicating you've been seen. Your target will now magically home in on you no matter where you run, even if it has never actually had a line of sight on you and therefore couldn't have known where you went. A target will often run right at you, even while you're still under cover, even when the sneak indicator shows you as hidden. If they do, stay in cover and fire an arrow blind into the corner they're about to turn around. If the sneak indicator showed you as hidden when you fire, it seems that even if it lands when you can be seen, it counts as a sneak attack.

...And The Horse I Rode In On
When I first started playing, I exited the sewers near the stables outside the Imperial City. Since I was playing a thief, I thought I'd steal a horse.

There is no effective way to steal a horse. First of all, the horse itself can observe its theft, and invisibly and instantly report you to the guards, who come running.

The horse is marked as "stolen", which means every time you get on it after the first time, is another theft.

You can ride the horse to some other town, get off it, and talk to an NPC. Then, when you get back on the horse he just saw you ride in on, without making any remark about it whatsoever-- he will report your theft.

Even once you're in the Thieves Guild and have a way to pay your bounty, I can't see any way of getting a horse marked as your own property, or selling it. You can use stolen weapons and items throughout the game; you can't sell them to legitimate merchants, but you can use them. As long as you don't have a bounty, it never inconveniences you in the least.

I'd love to be an Oblivion horse thief, but there's really no way to do it.