[Originally posted on 1Up.com]
I've now played The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for over 80 hours, and I still see no end in sight - of course, there isn't really an end, I know - what I mean is that I feel I'm nowhere near feeling done with it. The latest mammoth-sized game I played was Twilight Princess of which I felt pretty tired after 70 hours of play. Oblivion is an amazing product, there is both such width and depth of play that you could play several hundred hours and still not have done it all, or tired of the experience.
Usually I'm a pretty story-driven player, enjoying and savouring every cut-scene and telling the rest of the story to myself in my head as I play to maintain the suspension of disbelief. For instance, I tend to walk when it feels appropriate in games instead of just running, even though it may take me much longer to get to where I'm going, since I don't want to break the illusion of the characters performance.
I've heard critics say that they can't get into Oblivion because there is no consistent story-arc. But I find that this is the wrong approach to take, instead you create the story yourself. For instance, what tends to happen is that as you set out to perform a quest, you are side tracked by other quests or just objectives you set up for yourself. Instead of seeing this as breaking the illusion of the main quest, they simply represent the perils and side-stories common in many adventure books, movies, and yes, even other games. Think of all the side-quests you have to perform in your average Zelda or Final Fantasy game. These are written in such a way that they integrate into the story. Even linear FPS:s that are not well known for their advanced stories have lots of side-steps required. Even though you are led by the hand, story-wise there are deviations from the main objective. Think of all the times you where taken off the main track in Gears of War or Half-Life 2.
The difference in a game like Oblivion, is that you control when, if and how these side-quests occur, essentially turning a linear story into a choose-your-own-adventure type of story. This way, the story never feels boring and predictable. If you tier of pushing it in one direction, just point it somewhere else. Currently I have 15 active Quests, that's fifteen different directions I can progress my story (not counting any objectives I make up for myself). I say my story, because that's exactly what it is, a wholly unique epos that I am the only one to have experienced. Sure, lots of people have finished the 20 quests I have on my Completed Quests list, but no one has done it in the exact order I have, at the exact levels of experience of skills, at the same time or with the same equipment. It is truly a unique experience.
This is evidenced by my Gmail-inbox. A friend and I are both currently playing Oblivion, we started at about the same time, but our adventures have taken us in completely different directions. The daily updates we send to each other tell of interesting places, people and things and the anecdotes surrounding them. A similar conversation for most games go along the lines of "have you gotten to that part" or "how do you defeat this boss" or "I really liked this section", each player will have a very similar experience and you often have to be careful of what you say as to not spoil anything for the other.
With Oblivion though, there is very little risk of spoilers as the other will most likely have a quite different experience even during the same quest, and if not, chances are they finish them in a very different order, and so many other events have occurred in between hearing tell of it and experiencing it that the connection isn't even drawn. Basically, it's like telling a friend of your adventures during a holiday - even if that person later goes to the same place - their experience won't be ruined by your telling of yours.
Well, it's gotten to a point where I want to spend as much time as I can in Cyrodiil, which anyone can tell you is not a healthy thing. After last weekend was dedicated completely to the game, I was seeing the eye-shaped "sneak" target in front of me as I was walking around in real life!
So tomorrow I'm heading off to our summer house on the Swedish west coast for an extended weekend free of Oblivion-sessions. Don't worry though, I'll be bringing my DS and PSP, so gaming-free it will not be. Hopefully I'll return feeling glad to continue my adventures, but with a different perspective. Only good can come of this type of hiatus, and when my favorite merchant in Imperial City, Thoronir, once again greets me with the words "Welcome back!" I'll feel truly happy to be back and ready for another 80 hours of adventure!