By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chuck Wilson
In a highly unusual move, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board Wednesday changed "Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion," a popular Xbox 360 and PC game, from T (Teen) to M (Mature), based on hidden and not-so-hidden blood, gore and nudity.
Players will not accidentally stumble across the sexual content. The blood and gore, the ESRB said, is stronger than it was in the videos submitted for rating.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
For: Xbox 360, PC
You know that jones. You know it too well. Sometimes you gotta have a full pound bag of Skittles; sometimes you gotta drink coffee until you grind your teeth. And sometimes you gotta play until you drop. That's the way it is with OBLIVION. And that's because the developers, Bethesda Softworks, have carefully crafted their Elder Scrolls games since 1994. Beyond craftmanship, they have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to using new technology seamlessly. So when Oblivion, the lastest installment in the series, was postponed for the Xbox 360, gamers everywhere drew heavy sighs of sadness. Without doubt, it would have been the killer app when the 360 was released last fall.
Two weeks ago when Oblivion was finally unleashed, palpable joy was everywhere. Not only is Oblivion filled with the most beautiful graphics to date for Microsoft's next generation hardware, it's rife with compelling play that takes the RPG genre to a new level. That's why it's the top selling game in the country. That's why bloggers have moved from ecstasy into rapture when they talk breathlessly about it.
For me, what matters most in Oblivion is its compelling story and the way it unfolds. After an opening movie full of expansive scenery and massive architecture worthy of Peter Jackson in The Lord of the Rings, you start out in a dingy cell being browbeaten by a prisoner whose body you can't see. Suddenly, the embattled emperor of Tamriel (who looks a little like Sen. John McCain after he's made nice with Jerry Falwell) appears with an entourage, and they move through a hidden tunnel in your cell to run from assassins. Although you're told not to, you follow through creepy, catacomb-like recesses beneath the prison. You can almost smell the dankness.
After you choose the kind of character you'd like to be, you'll begin with a tutorial that shows you how to kill: You start with an RPG staple, giant rats. They die easily, but their bites do cause wounds. (By clicking the right controller stick, I moved from the first person perspective to the third person just because it's easier to see the rats attack.) You'll find a bow and arrow, and you'll learn how to shoot. And you'll cast magic spells full of wild animation.
The key to enjoying the rich experience of Oblivion is to have a wide-eyed sense of discovery and a nagging need to explore everything. Because of the circuitous routes you take, you'll probably get lost now and then. The game itself helps you to find your way with everything from a compass to various maps. You'll also encounter zombies and goblins early on, and the way they pop out of the darkness frightens you in the way the Doom 3 did. As you move forward, you'll end up in Sancre Tor, which is full of the undead. Ghosts here will help you, and scare your pants off, too. Tip: To fight off the ghosts, you can't use just any weapon. You'll have to find a silver weapon.
If you've never played an RPG before, this really is the one to buy. You'll also want to search the Web for some needed help when things get tough (various walk-throughs are available, and so is a guide you can purchase in bookstores). Oblivion is truly an immersive adventure of sword and sorcery. Novices who take the time to play will be hooked in about an hour. And the hardened gamers? Your hearts will melt as your quest becomes more and more complex and graphically intense. You will play until you drop, and when you get up, you'll play until you drop again. Even when it's done, it's not done. As George Carlin mused, "Just 'cause you got the monkey off your back doesn't mean the circus has left town."
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