Bum­bling through Cy­rodiil af­ter 12 years away.

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Philippa Warr

It was a shock to go back to The El­der Scrolls IV: Obliv­ion. I hadn’t been pre­pared for how dated the world seems now. I re­mem­ber it as a vi­brant, strange land­scape which filled the ar­eas be­tween mas­sive cities with wildlife and odd build­ings. In 2018 it is a sparse place. There aren’t enough trees, there aren’t enough tex­tures, there is a bit of bad weather that seems rooted in place near Kvatch so you can cause the rain to fall by walk­ing into it. It’s clunky and weird, but it feels so good to be back. Ac­tu­ally, be­fore I got to the land­scape there was the es­cape route from the cells. The Em­peror joined me for that bit, as fel­low play­ers will re­mem­ber. What you might not re­call—be­cause nos­tal­gia is the flat­ter­ing In­sta­gram fil­ter of the brain—is that Uriel Sep­tim VII looked like he’d spent his royal down­time in­ves­ti­gat­ing Real Housewives Of Bev­erly Hills lev­els of Bo­tox. I’m also of the opin­ion that he was wear­ing a hair­piece.

Ob­vi­ously I say this with af­fec­tion be­cause I would watch Royal House Em­per­ors of Cy­rodiil ev­ery week with­out fail. But it was a lit­tle dis­tract­ing un­til I sank back into the Obliv­ion ex­pe­ri­ence.

Kvatch­ing up

Also dis­tract­ing were the DLC quest prompts which popped up on the screen through­out my es­cape. Sneak­ing through dank tun­nels I re­ceived a note about my horse ar­mor en­ti­tle­ment, there was a let­ter claim­ing I’d been left a lair by a long-lost rel­a­tive, and a mis­sive beg­ging for me to give aid to Bat­tle­horn Cas­tle. If I hadn’t been in a fantasy land I’d have as­sumed I’d just got back into sig­nal range af­ter a trip abroad, and my phone was fran­ti­cally chirp­ing its way through all the ac­cu­mu­lated spam.

I guess the clos­est in-uni­verse ex­pla­na­tion I could come up with was a bunch of ghosts work­ing as flyer dis­trib­u­tors for lo­cal re­tail­ers or as in­ter­me­di­aries for fraud­sters. I mean, I’m fairly sure I’ve warned my own par­ents not to re­ply to emails from peo­ple claim­ing to have news of lairs in­her­ited from long-lost rel­a­tives or de­mand­ing aid with the prom­ise of a cas­tle in re­turn.

Ex­it­ing the sew­ers I was

won­der­ing what would hap­pen to that ‘wow’ mo­ment from 12 years ago. I felt pretty sure it would no longer be ‘wow’, but if Obliv­ion could no longer look to graph­i­cal swish­ness (tech­ni­cal term) for that emo­tional beat, I was cu­ri­ous as to what sen­sa­tion would take its place.

What hap­pened in­stead is that I was struck by how sparse the world seemed. That’s not ac­tu­ally a bad thing be­cause it changes the fi­nal note of your es­cape from one of em­brac­ing glo­ri­ous free­dom to a muted exit into a muted world. Less ju­bi­la­tion and more a ‘What now?’ which ac­tu­ally feels ap­pro­pri­ate to the sud­den weight of re­spon­si­bil­ity thrust upon you by the nar­ra­tive.

The next few hours con­tin­ued to dis­in­te­grate the rosy ve­neer that mem­ory ap­plies to beloved games. I re­mem­ber think­ing of Cy­rodiil as a vi­brant world full of strange chal­lenges when I first played. I still got flashes of that—par­tic­u­larly when catch­ing sight of the stained-glass win­dows in var­i­ous chapels—but gen­er­ally the world had a slightly muddy color pal­ette, the faces looked hor­ri­ble and the ob­jects were that strange com­bi­na­tion of in­dis­tinct tex­tures and jagged edges.

Talk­ing in cir­cles

Di­a­logue was gen­er­ally en­ter­tain­ingly stilted and I do still have a pe­cu­liar soft spot for how un­nat­u­ral and weird the speechcraft minigame is. In case you haven’t en­coun­tered it, you click on dif­fer­ent quar­ters of a ro­tat­ing cir­cle to ap­ply vary­ing quan­ti­ties of boast­ing, jok­ing, ad­mir­ing and co­er­cion to your con­ver­sa­tional part­ner. You spend about 10% of these en­coun­ters feel­ing suc­cess­ful and the rest try­ing to min­i­mize the harm you’re do­ing to your re­la­tion­ship with this per­son.

I spent my first trip through an Obliv­ion gate jog­ging back­wards in cir­cles while fling­ing fire­balls at var­i­ous vil­lains. That was a fail­safe strat­egy for ev­ery sin­gle fight—lure

the scary per­son to the cir­cu­lar room with the walk­way round the edge and then jog back­wards, launch­ing a fire­ball when my mana was charged enough. I feel like the Im­pe­rial guard could re­ally have bested Mehrunes Dagon a lot quicker if they’d spent more of their train­ing learn­ing how to jog back­wards in cir­cles.

Any­way, some­thing which has re­mained the same over the last decade or so is my de­sire to hoard. I am cur­rently ov­er­en­cum­bered and will con­tinue to be ov­er­en­cum­bered at five-minute in­ter­vals for the rest of the game. Obliv­ion, you see, claims to be a game about thwart­ing a cult, but is se­cretly an on­go­ing quest to fig­ure out how many wolf pelts you want to keep hold of at any given time. For me the an­swer is three. And two skulls. And one tan jug. And a bear pelt. And two ribcages.

In be­tween ov­er­en­cum­ber­ings I helped one of the Blades deal with a cultist who was fol­low­ing him in a sus­pi­cious fash­ion. Well, I say I ‘helped’. What ac­tu­ally hap­pened is I for­got how to get up from my chair and ac­ci­den­tally stole some bar snacks while jab­bing the key­board. I then bum­bled into the cel­lar while try­ing to di­vest my­self of my stolen prop­erty, ran in a cir­cle by some bar­rels, heard the Blade deal with the spy and then looted the spy’s corpse. Mid­way through the loot­ing a city guard ar­rested me for my stolen snacks (stu­diously ig­nor­ing the mur­dered man at his feet) and made me walk back to the cel­lar from a dif­fer­ent part of the city. I was then con­grat­u­lated for my ‘ef­fort’.

Next on the list of quests was col­lect­ing all four vol­umes of the Reader’s Di­gest Con­densed Guide To Hang­ing Out With Yer Lad Mehrunes Dagon. Vol­ume three was, the book dealer as­sured me, im­pos­si­ble to find. Ex­cept for the copy he had in the store right now on or­der for some­one else. I have worked in a library be­fore, and it re­ally feels like this dude is us­ing ‘im­pos­si­ble to find’ in the, ‘I had to in­ter­rupt my tea break to do an ad­vanced search on AbeBooks and or­der it in— why can’t you leave me in peace?’ sense of the phrase.

The fourth vol­ume was ac­tu­ally the trick­i­est be­cause it in­volved a te­dious trip to the sew­ers and the

there’s a quest in­volv­ing a Ring of Bur­den which made me laugh un­ex­pect­edly

death of my good friend, What­shis­name. He pos­si­bly could have sur­vived if I hadn’t let him whit­tle his own health bar down by fight­ing crabs on my be­half be­cause I couldn’t be both­ered.

Guild trou­ble

With the book col­lec­tion in the bag, I waited out some ar­cane re­search timer by try­ing to join the Mage’s Guild. One part of that project in­volved me watch­ing some­one hack some­one else to death while I loi­tered near a horse.

That then de­volved into a weird street brawl be­tween two bat­tlemages and a woman wear­ing leather ar­mor, and then segued into a fight be­tween one bat­tlemage, a woman in leather ar­mor, the woman in leather ar­mor’s ghost and an Im­pe­rial guard. I tried to steal the horse while ev­ery­one was busy fight­ing but I couldn’t work out how, and thus trun­dled back off to the town on foot to tell the guild there of my re­sound­ing ‘suc­cess’.

There was also some id­iot who had stolen a mage’s staff with the ex­cuse that he did it be­cause he fan­cied her. Pal, that non­sense didn’t work in kinder­garten, and it cer­tainly doesn’t work now that you’re old enough to be pros­e­cuted for it. Any­way, he ex­plained that the crime hadn’t paid off (duh), and the mage didn’t like him (dou­ble duh), and that the only so­lu­tion was to sell the stolen prop­erty (what?).

The Mage’s Guild has all the worst prob­lems. That said, it did re­mind me that Obliv­ion is ca­pa­ble of rather dark com­edy. For ex­am­ple, there’s a Mage’s Guild quest in­volv­ing a Ring of Bur­den which made me laugh un­ex­pect­edly. On the quest front I’m also sav­ing the Dark Brother­hood mur­der party quest ‘Who­dunit?’ as a spe­cial treat.

When I re­turned to the Ar­cane Univer­sity with all my mage rec­om­men­da­tions, I bumped into the Ar­gonian Tar-Meena and re­mem­ber that the main quest ex­isted. She told me that the Reader’s Di­gest Con­densed Guide to Hang­ing Out With Yer Lad Mehrunes Dagon was just a plain­text ci­pher, and that the first word of each para­graph ex­plained where I needed to go.

I will con­fess that I had a Miss Marple au­dio­book on for part of this quest­line, and thus I rocked up at the Mythic Dawn cave HQ place with zero sense of the quest at hand. Ap­par­ently it was the stealth one. I found that out by ab­sent­mind­edly killing the first per­son I saw, and blow­ing my cover in the first minute of the en­counter. I also tried to nap on the sac­ri­fi­cial al­tar and for­got that I had use­ful po­tions which would have as­sisted in the fight.

All of this has led to me tak­ing a big old book to not-quite-Em­peror Martin in his nest on top of a moun­tain. At this point I re­ally do wish I could give him the ben­e­fit of my ex­tra 12 years of wis­dom. “Marty,” I’d say. “Marty, the thing is—and for­give me for spoi­ler­ing the next week of your life—but you’re se­cretly a god and can trans­form into a dragon, so maybe you can take care of things from this point.”

Alas, there was no Real Talk DLC for Obliv­ion, and thus I must deal with a lit­tle more ar­cane faffing while Martin fig­ures him­self out.

Not quite a ‘wow’ mo­ment but it’ll do!

I am not even go­ing to ask.

By all means, stop for a chat in­stead of run­ning­away.

The lovely warm glow of an Obliv­ion gate.


There are some ab­so­lutely lovely skies.

Who’s that trip trap­ping on my bridge?

A vi­tal flyer from the horse ar­mor shop.

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