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Bethesda VP Gets a Talking To


The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Pete Hines, VP of Public Relations and Marketing for Bethesda Softworks, sat down for an interview to discuss The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. In it, he talked about Oblivion in more detail, such as Oblivion's improvements over its predecessor (The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind), different gameplay mechanics, and even touched on the future of the Elder Scrolls series.

Oblivion's main quest will take 20-25 hours to finish, but players will have "literally hundreds of places to explore," from giant castles and large cities, to smaller towns and settlements spread across the landscape. Hines also pointed out that the world of Oblivion may seem small in scope (when pressed for an exact size, Bethesda previously announced that the game covers "16 square miles" of space), the game will seem much, much bigger once it begins. Oblivion also focuses more on game content, and tasks to complete between different points, rather than large distances.

Hines admitted that some gamers found Morrowind difficult to pick up and easy to get lost in, which was one of its drawbacks. Oblivion will address this issue by supplying clear information on how to progress through the game, while avoiding getting too specific on what a player should do next. Hines used the example of a thief, and instead of the game discussing what specific items to steal, rather it advises simply going out and stealing things in order to continue. Quests will also be tracked via a character journal, with special tabs tracking both current quests, and those already completed.

One subject discussed in detail was the "Radiant A.I." system that Oblivion will feature. For those unaware of it, Radiant A.I. is the system controlling NPCs in the game, and instead of specific scripting of actions and events, NPCs will be offered "suggestions" of what to do next by tying certain events to specific times of the day. For example, a merchant will open his shop at a certain time in the morning, and then in the evening will close his shop, and later turn in for the night. The A.I. system will also address how guards and NPCs react to a player having a bounty on their head, engaging in criminal acts, or attacking townspeople. NPCs will react accordingly to your reputation and actions, as they may shun you or report you to the town guards if you have a high bounty on your head, or they may either attack or flee from you based on your reputation in battle. And for those interested, Bethesda has no plans to license the use of the Radiant A.I. system.

Radiant A.I. will also be modified for the monsters seen in Oblivion, which will enable them to make realistic choices in battle, and offering variety during combat. A monster with a bow and arrow or magical attacks will only use them during long ranged combat, and if a player ventures closer, or if their ability to attack by long range is spent, the monster will close in for melee attacks. On the subject of combat, characters will be able to use multiple abilities depending on their preference, rather than a certain class they choose to use. Skills are not limited by character type, so a player may use magic, melee, or a combination of the two if they prefer. No switching between magic or melee attacking is necessary, and "hot keys" can be programmed in for both PC and Xbox 360 controllers to streamline combat. All combat is handled in a method similar to a First Person Shooter (FPS), while damage is controlled through statistics with a simple control scheme of attacks and blocks.

Hines stressed that the issues of game balance brought up in Morrowind, where characters could become very powerful in a short amount of time, would be addressed in Oblivion. Instead of focusing on powerful items to collect, Oblivion stresses more on character levels and skill progression over time. As players gain levels and become more skilled, the difficulty and length of time in those skills increases. There are certain items that can be attained however, mostly through special dungeons spread throughout the world of Oblivion. More than 200 dungeons are waiting to be explored, many with special mini-boss monsters to battle against. Each dungeon will increase in difficulty and the levels of monsters contained within as the player progresses through the game, but Hines noted that Oblivion contains so many dungeons that players should have plenty to choose from.

Other items were touched upon, such as character customization, which will only be offered for facial features, and Hines discussed the voice work in Oblivion, emphasizing the high quality of voice acting in the game. Players will be able to own horses, and upgrade to stronger, faster steeds over time, but mounted combat will not be possible. The merchant system in Oblivion will now focus on the amount of gold exchanged, rather than the more-limiting system that focused on the number of transactions done, as originally seen in Morrowind. Future downloadable content will be available for both PC and Xbox 360 versions, with at least one update being offered when the game is released.

Also mentioned was the subject of shadows being removed from objects in Oblivion, which Bethesda recently announced to less-than-favorable responses from some gamers. Hines replied that the graphics engine originally seen at E3 2005 was never programmed into the entire game, and was removed due to graphical constraints. "It wasn't something that was removed as much as it was something that never made it in," Hines said.

Bethesda will not be showcasing another Elder Scrolls game at E3 2006, but does intend to create another title for the series during this upcoming generation of consoles. Several titles will be featured at the upcoming Expo, including Star Trek Legacy for PC and the Xbox 360, and Star Trek: Tactical Assault for the Nintendo DS and Playstation Portable. The final release date for Oblivion will be given "in the next couple of weeks," Hines said, as the game is still being polished and fine-tuned for a simultaneous North American and European release.

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