What sort of thoughts does the word (Oblivion) conjure up? Mind-numbing eternity, endless nothingness, lots of black, perhaps? The word isn't exactly the sort of thing that you would expect to see in conjunction with the latest episode in an award winning role-playing series famous for its open-ended worlds and huge playing spaces, is it? Despite this, that is the name given to Bethesda's fourth installment in the Elder Scrolls series, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Fortunately for all involved, Oblivion doesn't take place in its namesake (although it does come into the plot), but instead in the homeland of the series' most populous species: the Roman-esque Imperials.
Although Oblivion still has a long way to go before it is ready to be released, the screenshots that have been published and comments from members of the development team all give a more than satisfactory explanation for this. The Oblivion team aims to create such an impressive and powerfully built game that they are purposely going straight ahead and designing it for the next generation of 'next generation' consoles, with the website's FAQ citing that it will be released on consoles that either aren't available yet or haven't even been announced. Of course, if Bethesda released it only for consoles the hordes of fans screaming for blood would eventually change their mind, and so they are doing the obvious thing and designing it for the top of the line PCs that the series is native to.
If the screenshots on Bethesda's website are anything to go by, then the system requirements really will be as high as they claim due to the released screenshots showing some of the most realistic in-game visuals ever seen on monitor or screen. Grass that actually protrudes from the ground like a carpet and sways in the wind, caves that drip with stalagmites and weigh down with age, forests that are thick enough to get lost in, the list goes on. As of yet, the only things that haven't appeared amazing in the screenshots is the color of the monsters -- every critter that has been exhibited in a screenshot thus far has appeared an unsightly shade of brown or grey. I probably over-exaggerate, and I know that it isn't really a measure of how good the game is, but so far it is the only thing that jumped out at me as being a possible shortcoming (although not very much of one).
Besides the huge leaps in graphics quality from Morrowind, Bethesda is totally restructuring the entire game experience in what sounds like it is for the better. In Morrowind, the vast cities were filled with people. Now, these people all had something to say, or something to sell you or help you out with, but it seemed that their social lives were severely lacking. The ideal day of a Morrowind NPC was standing around, then talking to the player, then saying something out loud to themselves, then standing around, and last but not least, walking to that tree over there and back. Sure, the NPCs fulfilled their function, but they were missing an element of life. Bethesda acknowledged this and in Oblivion have taken steps to counter it happening again. In the world of Oblivion, each and every non-monster NPC has its own agenda, its own motivations, and even a favorite thing to do. The people of the cities and towns will now walk around on actual business, have conversations with other characters, attend Church, go to bed at what they consider a suitable hour, and if they're down on their luck might try their hand at a little bit of shoplifting. All of these actions, and more, are all decided upon by the NPCs themselves and the individual characteristics of each one. Not only this, but the game will include lip-synching and full facial animations, allowing the NPCs to actually speak, saying goodbye to the text responses of tradition. This new AI system is called Radiant AI and goes that one step further to creating a world that truly lives, reacts and breathes.
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