Going Back to Oblivion
Crouched in the dense grass, arrow notched and ready. Above me, a seemingly endless storm boils in the clouded sky and a cold rain falls. Ahead, half shrouded in mist, a single deer slowly raises its head. I freeze. I bring the arrow to my cheek and focus. Time seems to slow.
Sat in my darkened bedroom, thick duvet surrounding me in heavenly warmth. Outside, a bitter wind hammers at the window and a pale moon rises. I sit, transfixed by the flickering screen of my small bedroom TV. I readjust my grip on the controller and hold my breath. Time seems to slow.
This is my strongest memory playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the first game I ever bought for my now-long-dead Xbox 360. A fantasy RPG developed by Bethesda Game Studios, Oblivion is a game of epic scale and truly psychotic depth with hundreds of detailed quests, characters, dungeons, towns and villages. It’s even got some fantastic voice acting from Captain Jean Luc Picard himself: Patrick Stewart and the master of the dramatic death scene: Sean Bean! It is the game that introduced me to The Elder Scrolls series and fantasy RPGs in general. But sadly, a fatal case of red-ring claimed the life of my Xbox a few years ago and the adventures of Hamma the Nord Warrior died along with it.
So imagine my jubilation last summer, when I picked up the GOTY edition of Oblivion for PC in a Steam summer sale. Finally, a return to those naive and blissful days of fantasy escapism! However, there was a proverbial spanner in the works. On returning to the world of Cyrodiil, all was not well. My rose-tinted, nostalgia glasses were gone and the game’s relative old age was painfully obvious. Ugly textures, a supremely un-intuitive interface and numerous immersion-breaking bugs. After twenty minutes, I retreated back into the comforting wilderness of Skyrim, my happy memories in tatters. I found the nearest inn, bought a bottle of wine and took a seat by the fire, disillusioned and defeated. It was then that a glimmer of hope appeared in my mind, in the form of single four-letter word.
Mods. The very word is synonymous for me with frustration and disappointment. As a notoriously non-tech-savvy human being with a burning hatred of following instructions, attempting to modify my favourite games has never worked well for me. The last straw came when I accidentally corrupted my Fallout 3 save file and lost about a hundred hours of progress due to skipping a step in the installation process. Since that fateful day, the world of modding had been, for all intents and purposes, dead to me. But as I watched the serving wench glitch out and walk repeatedly into a solid wall while endlessly asking me if I wanted a drink, I thought that perhaps my idealised image of Oblivion could be recreated with the help of the dedicated fans. Hmmmm…
In order to succeed in this herculean endeavour, it turns out all one needs is the mind-numbing level of patience only achievable through months of mental training at a secret monastery in Tibet (or prescription medication.)
Read the readme , read it again, install, read it again just to check, boot game, test mod, close game, repeat.
All that for one bloody mod! All I wanted was the dungeons to be a little darker or a way to cancel a bow shot! However, the confusion, frustration and seemingly endless lists of requirements and settings is certainly worth the end result. After a few hours I was left with a group of mods that did nothing to change the content or mechanics, but increased immersion, graphics, performance and all in all; made the entire game feel five years younger. Here’s a little rundown if you fancy trying them out:
Unofficial Oblivion Patch
This mod simply fixes the several bugs found in the base game. Goodbye gravity defying paint brushes. So long game-breaking duplication glitch. Au revoir teleporting city guards who used to give me a fucking heart attack all the time! (“STOP CRIMINAL SCUM!!!”)
This chucks out the clunky console-oriented interface and replaces it with a sleeker, more informative and extremely PC-friendly UI. The difference is incalculable and you can customise the balls off it through a new, in-game menu.
Oblivion Character Overhaul
One of the more glaring aspects of Oblivion‘s maturity as a product is the fact that the character faces look like someone went at them with a shovel covered in bees. This handy mod updates the textures, adds new variants and hairstyles and gives the whole game the literal “facelift” it desperately needs.
This mod improves pretty much every component of the games’ atmosphere and environment. From new weather types and effects to adding extra flora and fauna, this may be my personal favourite as it does absolute wonders for immersion.
Alternative Start – Arrive by Ship
The last of my major modifications, this allows the player to skip the starting mission in which you and Emperor Stewart fuck around in the sewers for half an hour and lets you start the game instantly. Choose your face, choose your race, choose your place and then off ya’ go! Beautiful.
There are a few others, but really they’re just fixes for my personal gripes with the game or enhancers for certain play-styles. The best thing with a modding community this extensive is that anyone can tailor the game to whatever level they wish, so you’ll always be able to find something you’d like to see. (Especially if what you like to see is naked NPCs… seriously… what is with the Oblivion and Skyrim fan-base and pervvy mods?)
Perversions aside, if you want to re-experience a classic game; mod yourself back to Oblivion and be prepared to get addicted all over again.