Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Oblivion (X360)

Well, I picked up the X360 version today for $45 at compusa. I've only just finished the tutorial dungeon, got outside, and dove into the next dungeon for a bit( a bit less than 2hrs of play).

- I've never played any of the elder scroll games before (except very briefly with daggerfall and morrowind). So far I like it and I'm pretty darn impressed with the graphics. Everything is normal mapped and shadowed. The LOD outside textures really didn't bother me at all. The Load/save times on the x360 are pretty darn fast (maybe 3 seconds to save, 6 seconds to load). Oh and umm it really isn't too dark in the dungeons. Torches are your friend :-) So far the controls/interface seem to work pretty well on a gamepad. Aiming is still no as precise as a keyboard/mouse though. They make it really easy to switch between torch/melee/ranged weapons and you can use magic pretty much at anytime with a click of the right bumper.
- I'm digging the combat. It's all very real time and plays a bit more like a FPS.
- The implementation of the havok physics engine works well.
- framerate seems pretty good so far.
- great soundtrack by Jeremy Soule. All dialog is spoken.
- uses the Gamebyro engine
- I worry a bit if the story is good enough to pull me in. I think the elder scrolls have always been more about incredible freedom to do almost anything, a huge world to explore, lots of loot. Don't expect the deep character driven stories of Japaneses/bioware rpg's. This might change since I'm still so early in the game.
- As open ended Oblivion is they really have some nice features to make it accessible to everyone: multiple saves, save/load at anytime/anywhere, a difficulty slider that greatly affects combat difficulty that you can change at anytime, instant travel to points on the world map and any points of interest you've been before, compass markers for location of objectives, and a nice journal system to track your quests so you always know what needs to be accomplished next.
- some people have reported some issues on the x360 with pauses. Here is a fix:
Though so far my game has been pretty darn smooth and responsive. No real issues here.

- I also had a chance to very briefly try the pc version (15 min)
- It recommended 1024X768 with most graphic settings set on high
- fraps reported fps between around 24 - 60. When there are 3 npc's battling a couple of bad guys the fps would drop into the mid 20's. When I was by myself fighting a few monsters the framerate stayed around 60. I haven't been outside yet.
- I prefer the mouse keyboard controls for combat but it seems like the journal/inventory system was really designed for a console gamepad so that part actually works better on the x360.
- load/save times are very fast (<1 sec). You also get a quick save/load.
- no HDR support on a x800xl. It is grayed out. WTF?

I think both versions are excellent and look and play very close. In the end I just rather play oblivion on a 40" hdtv vs a 20" monitor. Plus more gamer points!

Mid game update (20 hrs) 3/27/06
- My character is basically the Lifetaker (mage,combat,stealth) from the strategy guide with a bit more focus on strength and blade. I wanted to carry more stuff so I thought strength but maybe I should have focused more on alteration to use some of the anti encumbrance spells. Level 4.
- I've just closed the second oblivion gate. joined all the guilds (fighters,mage,thief,dark brotherhood).
- finished the arena battles (became grand champion). You get some pretty nice armor. You can also bet and watch arena matches instead of participate in them. One time I slept in the gladiator prep room and in the morning I came out and there in front of the arena bookie was a dead girl stripped of all her things that wasn't there the night before. About 20ft further out was another dead guy. Looks like some npc's went crazy during the night :-)
- In the beginning, if you just follow the main mission to the priory and make sure you talk to everybody. You get a free horse.
- The quests are of excellent quality so far. They are really well designed with a good variety. Even the few fedex quests are dressed up nicely. I'm trying to not take too many side quests right now (and there are a LOT of them). I'm focusing on the main story quests first, then I'll probably do the guild ones next if I have time.
- I'm enjoying the story and the characters more now.
- Most of the female character faces (at least the commoners. The royalty are a bit better) are all kinds of ugly. I'm not sure if they are trying to make it a more realistic medieval feel or what but I'd rather be looking at super models like in guild wars! Does anybody else think Martin looks a bit like Fabio? Makes it kind of hard for me to want to protect him.
- great journal system and markers so you always know where to go next. You can even place your own marker that shows up on the map and the compass. I kind of wish for a little pip map option.
- Combat has been pretty fun so far. I usually like to start with a sneak arrow attack (the stealth element in this game works pretty well. It's not quite thief but close), then maybe a bit of fire magic, and finally sword if they are still alive. I keep difficulty just a few notches toward easy from the default. Since npc's that are critical to a quest can't die (only go unconscious for a short time then get back up) you can pretty much use them like tanks. They do a pretty good job at combat and tend to get all Leeroy on you.
- creatures and loot level along with you and so far it's been working ok for me. I hear there is a bit of a penalty if you level too quickly though I haven't really noticed. Then again I'm only level 4.
- make sure you go back and repair all your equipment after each major battle/quest. Some of the higher end magical loot can't be repaired in the field with a repair hammer.
- Accidental Friendly Fire (doesn't apply to main quest npc's, just the occasional red shirts that tag along). I really hate this. On quests when you have npc's that help you, they tend to jump right into your line of fire. If that npc is low on health and you kill them, boom instant murder with 1000 bounty on your head. The next time you head in to town guards will chase you down on sight. The problem is during the heat of battle sometimes you don't even know you are the one who killed the npc and not the monster. I had to redo an entire oblivion gate quest because after I finished it I had 1000 bounty on my head. Now I just let the NPC's do most of the fighting at the start and hopefully the monsters will kill them off. Then I get to loot their bodies and everybody is happy.
- Really nice physics and ragdoll. You can "grab" almost anything and move/drag it around. You can grab individual body parts and watch the ragdoll physics work.
- load times. At first they don't seem that bad. But later in the game when you fast travel a lot and have to jump from town to town a lot those load times really start to add up and really start to annoy you. Also, there isn't a single button quick save/load (out of X360 buttons) like there is on the pc. So every time you want to save you have to hit start, save, pick a save slot. The PC has this beat hands down.
- I found a repeatable freeze/lock bug. If I go to this shrine (near azura's shrine), activate it to get a magical set of weapons for a period of time, mount my horse (it says something about not being able to unequip the weapon), ride off into the next load it will lock hard. I was able to duplicate this. It was easy to work around but still a pretty bad bug. That was about the only issue I had over 12 hrs of straight play.
- framerate issues. It does dip down into what looks like the 20's. It doesn't affect the gameplay much but it is noticeable.
- does AA and HDR (pc can't).
- I hear there is a memory leak or something in the pc version and after several hours you will see some performance degradation.

Overall I'm still loving this game.

As far as pc vs x360 I would say they are very similar:
+ achievements
+ nothing to install
+ get to play on a big hdtv and sit on a couch
+ future content over live
+ hdr with 2xaa
+ inventory system built with control pad in mind
- longer and eventually annoying load times
- some framerate issues
- no mods
- harder to aim ranged attacks with control pad (it hasn't been too bad though)

+ fast save/load (this is a big advantage IMO)
+ superior (IMO) keyboard mouse controls for combat
+ can run at crazy resolutions if you have the machine
+ lots of tweaking through the ini
+ easy to cheat/experiment with console commands
+ future mods
- no hdr with AA (and no hdr support at all with ati unless you have an 1X00 card. Sheesh and I got my x800xl just last year and it's "out of date")
- inventory system a bit clunky with mouse
- no achievments!
? stability issues
? will future live content be available for the pc for free

If you have a really powerful pc then go with pc otherwise go with x360. for me it was the combination of achievements and getting to play on a hdtv sitting on the couch that sold me on the x360 version.

UPDATE 4/12/06
Finished (well the main quest anyways. I don't think anybody ever "FINISHES" obilvion)
421 saves
level 7
Joined all the guilds (still lowest rank)
finished the arena
did a very small handful of side quests and optional dungeons

Man so much more still to do.
- Some really large epic battles toward the end there. I had to lower the difficulty (ok I'm a wimp). I might go back and try to do the last part at a harder difficulty.
- Some really impressive graphics at the end. Nice sense of scale.
- Story is pretty predictable and kind of "ends" like you expect it to but still enjoyable.
- You get a pretty nice reward for finishing so it might be to your advantage to finish the main quest and then do the other quests.
- You think you can put it down after the main quest but you can't. Now, I want to go back and finish all the guild quests.

Probably one of the best values in gaming today. Everybody is playing Oblivion right now and for good reason. You should too if you aren't already.

UPDATE 4/13/06
I just watched the Bonus Disc. It's a standard dvd video disc.
- The making of is a bit over 40 min and is really well put together. It covers each area of making the game (dungeon design, AI, art, testing, animation, voice talent, and forests) and then leads up to the demo and trailer shown at e3 2005. There weren't any spoilers that I noticed so it's pretty safe to watch at anytime. It's in nice 16:9 too.
- Other extras included are stills of poster art and art galleries. Also, the full trailer is included.

UPDATE 4/17/06
Apperently I forgot to sleep I went on a sleeping/leveling/training beinge. I'm level 19 now. 46 hrs
- finally got into the academy
- journeyman on all 7 major skills
- got the skeleton key (#11)
- fyi you can turn in any 4 daedric artifacts to martin. You will probably want to keep azura's star for yourself (of course I didn't know this at the time and gave the star to martin).
- bandit level in thiefs guild
- picked up my game completion award
- tip on opening locks (of course once you get the skeleton key this is all moot). The sound method didn't work too well for me. Always use the analog pad. Keep tapping up and it usually alternates between fast and slow. Just click on the slow/long ones. Do this for every tumbler.

Here's a nice little guide:
Also you've got to check out this video on the item duplication exploit:

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