The latest issue of PC Zone contains several pages devoted to Bethesda Softworks' forthcoming PC and Xbox 360 RPG The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. A number of topics, such as the product's progress, the increased interaction of the world, and the improved AI, were touched upon by the magazine.
Ashley Cheng, the title's producer, says, "There's always a point in development where you have to stop making a game, so that you can start playing it." Bethesda has reached that point. The game's content has been completed, and all that remains for the team to do is remove a number of bugs and balance the gameplay a bit further. According to Mr. Cheng, it would be possible for somebody to enter the studio and play the game through to its end. "It won't be balanced, but all the elements are there."
As can be expected, Oblivion will feature a number of improvements on and deviations from The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. One simple example would be the HUD, which is now equipped with a compass and mission markers. Another example is the jail, which is now interactive. Players can serve their time, or they can attempt to escape via a number of dastardly means, including picking the cell's lock, pick pocketing the guard as he walks by, or assailing one's cellmate and then overpowering the guard when he arrives to break up the fisticuffs. Actually, a large number of sinister deeds will be made available to the player. Says executive producer Todd Howard, "There's some evil stuff in the game, because a lot of people want to role-play evil." One such evil action would be joining the ranks of the Dark Brotherhood -- one of five different factions, each of which harbors its own story -- as an assassin.
The character creation system has seen a large improvement as well. Each of Morrowind's ten races are still available, and every character's face can be aged, stretched, and contorted to fit the player's desired look. This, coupled with a hair editor, will hopefully allow for an extremely wide range of character visages.
But no RPG is complete without a combat system, and Oblivion is no different. While players will still clobber enemies in the series' classic first-person view, the system has seen a number of improvements over its Morrowind iteration, most notably in the AI department. Programmer Steve Meister says, "The biggest change is we have something called a combat style: a collection of settings that dictates how a creature or NPC fights. It works in conjunction with their skills and AI settings - things like their aggression, confidence, their disposition towards their opponent - to decide how often they attack, how often they block, how much they move, where they're going to stand when they're shooting arrows or ranged spells." This means that enemies might yield after being sufficiently smacked about (an offer which the player may accept or decline), or they might simply flee. If there's a discarded weapon lying nearby they might retrieve it and return to continue the fight. Also, the same abilities and bonuses available to the player are available to all the game's enemies. That means that, while the hero could knock down, paralyze, or disarm a baddie, the baddie could inflict the same pain on the hero.
On a character-centric note, over 700 pieces of armor will be accessible throughout the player's travels, along with an item that allows for the resurrection of defeated foes as the player's soulless, obsequious servants. A selection of houses can be purchased in each city as well. And, as in past titles, the game allows one to transform into a vampire.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is slated for a North American release this holiday season. RPGamer will report any more information as it surfaces.