Morrowind, Oblivion & Skyrim - Pt1
In this, the first of a two part special, FBT decides to take a Gap Year in Tamriel. Will he survive the Cliff Racers? Take an Arrow to the knee? Or just doss about getting lost and forget what he's doing? Let's find out. *spoilers*
I felt it was time for a holiday. But not some all-inclusive linear break, I wanted to travel my own path, my own adventure on my own terms, see what the world was all about. The world of Tamriel, land of The Elder Scrolls; the gamer’s equivalent of Tolkien. Like a mashup between Greek and Geek Mythology, TES is fantasy in digital form; Sword and Sorcery, Chose Your Own Adventure, Dungeons & Dragons, those hokey 80s fantasy videos that didn’t live up to the scantily clad front cover; it’s all here. Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim were my destinations. Shouldn't take long.
My trip began like any other - I wake next to a bare-chested man and get thrown off a cruise ship. I’m a criminal mysteriously set free, here at a small fishing village in Morrowind. It had been ten years since I’d visited Morrowind and only finished it once. This was where my TES love began - Wandering around the tiny seaside village, I wondered why I hadn’t returned more often; it looks great, otherworldly. A little aged but there’s an exciting, mysterious sense to the place. I’m itching to explore, sit on the beach at sunset and get a henna tattoo. As is always the case with an RPG, my first order of business was to avoid all orders of business. I decided to stick to the coast and see how far I could get. Not far, it turned out.
Morrowind is both bleak and rich. Even though it was released in 2002 and feels it, Morrowind is still engrossing. There’s a lot of nothingness but it feels unexplored rather than empty with a nice eerie feel. I encounter the loveable Netch and the infamous Cliff-racers, just a few of the truly fantasy-inspired creatures that kill me as I ramble; and the places you explore; castles, keeps, mines, foreboding crypts and caves, imposing gothic shrines, Aztec-style buildings, hidden doors in tree roots, marshes and swamplands filled with more creatures that kill me. Meanwhile the citizens of Morrowind have made this land homely; giant mushrooms and trees hollowed out into towns, villages on stilts with rickety bridges, campsites; they all feel right in this environment. Vivec, the centre of Morrowind is a huge town made up of enclosed buildings over a lake while Ald'ruhn is centred on a huge hollowed out crab carapace. But all of that is way ahead of me; a quick look at the map shows I’d barely moved a pixel. This was going to be a long trip. A lack of optional fast travel means walking. Walking, fighting a cliff racer, walking, fighting another cliff racer. But there’s always something along the way, a distraction, a thing to check out, a a cliff-racer. It’s impossible to walk in a straight line. Partly because within moments I’ve collected enough junk to slow my walk to a crawl. It’s then that I realise the lack of fast travel means weight management, a sturdy silver sword and lockpicks aplenty. And potions. Good armour. Magic spells. None of which I have. I’m underprepared and overwhelmed. I drag my over-encumbered self back to town catching diseases from Mud Crabs and pecked by cliff-racers all the way; Morrowind isn’t for the flashpackers.
Fighting in Morrowind, be it with folks or creatures is something of a crapshoot. A kind of turn-based roustabout, you flail at your opponent and mostly miss. But you have a lot of choice to miss with; big swords, little swords, daggers, spears, long and short bows, crossbows, throwing stars, plus magic. Spells that lob fire, ice and defensive options like invisibility and resistance make life in the fantasy bush much easier. Morrowind gives you as much freedom as it can for you to become the mighty hero you dreamed of and dress like one too. Armour, magical cloaks, masks, hats, gloves, all interchangeable. And what’s under the clothes is just as important; character creation includes male or female from 10 different races with 3 skill disciplines across 21 classes – or build your own.
So, back where I started, what the hell am I doing here? How do I get involved? Reaching one of the bigger towns without walking means pre-set fast travel, via a Mages Guild (if a member), boats or one of the unnerving Silt Striders; huge aphid-type creatures which have had their innards scooped out to allow you to sit inside while the driver squeezes its brain to make it walk about. Animal cruelty doesn’t seem to be an issue in Morrowind. Neither is slavery. It’s legal in Morrowind, although opinion on the practice is divided and I quickly join a mini game around rescuing slaves. It’s an odd subplot that doesn’t go anywhere; aside from being recognised as a friend to slaves nothing really comes of it. It’s not a subject you just leave unresolved – especially if your character is the same type as is often enslaved.
So I finally reach Balmora, a more upmarket town to the one I just left then staggered back to. I find my Air BnB booking and meet the landlord, another shirtless chap who offers to let me share his single bed. He explains I was freed on the Emperor’s orders and sets me off running errands for him. Not sure this is exactly what the emperor had in mind, but okay. He also suggests I get in with the locals and soon enough, I’ve fallen in with the Thieves Guild. I also join the Mage’s guild, Fighter’s guild, Imperial’s Legion and Cult, the Temple and … think that’s it. In all cases, joining them basically requires me to find, fetch or kill something. The Thieves guild has a great side-mission where you restart legendary Robin Hood types the Bal Molagmer, while the Fighter’s guild missions reveal themselves in an interesting way; they’ve fallen under the influence of a mafia (the Camonna Tong) and want to muscle in on the Thieves’. Although it seems you’ll have to take a side, it doesn’t really go anywhere; having joined both it would have been great to cleanse and team them up to fight the C.Tong but it just kind of fizzles out. Most of the guild quests do this, you reach ‘no more missions for you’ and the leader retires and promotes you or you kill them and promote yourself.
Talking of getting away with murder, I track down and join the Morag Tong, basically official assassins. This should make for interesting missions, but as a Tong you’re above the law meaning assassination eventually becomes a bit … dull. Hump over here, kill this person, show your writ of execution and quest complete. I’m getting my first inkling of why I struggled to finish Morrowind. It takes a lot to stay enthusiastic; unlike other RPGs with big, dramatic missions to keep you moving or preparing, if the quest doesn’t run out of steam I do. If it’s not the sheer distance it’s what I have to do when I get there – one mission has me finding some mud. There’s some lovely little random missions though, like finding a woman on the road who has been mugged only to fall in love with the mugger. Guess I'll track him down for you then love? I come across a naked barbarian who was tricked out of his clothes by a witch, a guy stuck in a river cos someone stole his trousers and find two bachelors who were watching animals mate ‘for research’. Can I get the doggers to safety without disturbing the rutting monsters? Don’t see that in your everyday RPG game. Morrowind was sold on the fact I could ignore missions if I wanted to but with nothing to drive you forward it takes real commitment to finish when no one else seems to want you to. What am I doing again? Oh yes, the diary will remind me.
The diary. Oh God. Every comment is recorded in it, and it becomes impossible to keep track of what’s going on. The DLCs revamped it but it’s still like listening to someone describe a dream. With no mission marker, my first playthrough I kept a real diary noting locations and missions so I could figure out what was going on. Morrowind is not for those who dip in an out. Diary entries like ‘maybe someone in Balmora knows more’ abound. There’s 120-plus folks in Balmora. I can’t even remember what I’m asking around about. There’s over 2,800 people across the game, and you can talk to all of them! Talking to people means clicking through dozens of dialogue options, some of which will reveal more topics. Soon you’re button mashing through chat like a sword battle.
So after many chores for my shirtless landlord, he admits he’s one of the ‘Blades’, a secret group of the Emperor’s spies and protectors and explains the Emperor freed me because I might be the ‘Nerevarine’ - a reincarnation of a past hero who will return and defeat Dagoth Ur, an immortal nasty who intends to destroy Tamriel. Epic. Well, epic amount of missioning and walking, and epic amount of indifference; Ur is going to lay waste to the land and no one seems to care, no one’s panicking. The only real visual reminder is an ‘blight storm’ that appears randomly and the occasional ash creature that escapes from the mountain Ur is dwelling in – trapped behind a wall of magic, further disconnecting me from the drama.
I find myself drawn to the DLCs, just for a change of pace. The first, Tribunal is set after the main mission within Mournhold, a walled city self-contained from the main game. Tribunal attempts to continue the story, to examine the ramifications of my actions –if I ever complete them– its brave but isn’t strong enough; why not have it unfold in Vivec, prolong the game naturally (Can’t believe I’m suggesting that) in the world I’m connected to? Why here in a self-contained village? It’s just not interesting, and while there’s upwards of 40 quests including some great side missions like helping a woman meet the man of her dreams, replacing an actor in a street theatre, it’s not worth the effort beyond scamming some slightly better weaponry. Back to the main mission. I can do this. After another 30 or so quests, I’ve been recognised as the Nerevarine and I get to build my own mini-town where I convince settlers to join my commune, although I have to wait weeks to see it built. I miss modern RPG games where I do a mission, get back and the quest-giver already knows and has a new mission lined up. While the builders fanny about I escape to Solstheim, the setting for the second DLC, Bloodmoon. Here no one cares I’m the Nerevarine, they’re more concerned about folks turning into wolves. This is more like it. Solstheim is a tiny snow-capped island and after a few fairly typical missions, I get turned into a werewolf and can play as one whenever it’s nighttime. It’s fun for a while, then a bit of a pain; not as painful as becoming a vampire but still. Problem is, due to a random bug the mission path gets broken and I never resolve it. Bethesda are good at two things – Creating huge RPG games and filling them with bugs. Given their game's sheer scale and the intricate rules and paths it’s inevitable but frustrating. I’m completely stuck and so it’s back to an earlier pre-Bloodmoon save. My commune is back to just scaffolding. But, Bloodmoon does distil much of Morrowind into a leaner experience. And you get to be a werewolf.
So back where I started I push on. My character is someone to be reckoned with, the map looks suitability stomped on and I realise I’ve become an adventurer, I’m living in this world and I’m curiously involved in it, enjoying the wandering and discovering. I even just talk to folks to see if they have any new gossip. I’m a local. Now I feel Morrowind’s leisurely pace is refreshing; I’ve carved a place in the world and enjoy just setting off, looking for adventure, having a great time just lost and finishing up side-quests as I go rather than focused on them. Eventually though, I save the day and to be honest, I’ve fought mud crabs more fearsome. Plus, I walk out a hero and everyone’s carrying on as if nothing happened; at best I get dialogue options like ‘Ur is defeated! Morrowind is free. Did you pick up my shirt?'
As I leave my house in Balmora for the last time (I say my house; with the exception of your commune you can’t own houses so I murdered a shopkeeper and lived with his corpse – you really can do anything in Morrowind), I look around at the piles of junk and treasure I accumulated and feel a twinge of sadness to be leaving. Rather than pull you in with drama and panic, Morrowind’s strength is you make it what it is and I made it great. Eventually. It's a game you have to get not a game that gets you. I look at the horizon, listen to the forlorn call of the Strider, watch folks milling about. You know, I never did pick up that shirt. I start walking.
So, having decimated the local cliff racer population, it was time for this tourist to move on. I was being called to a more vibrant, happening part of the world, soak up what it means to be a citizen of Tamriel. I was going to Cyrodiil; aka Oblivion.
I wake up in jail where I’m visited by none other than the emperor, who says I’m the person from his dreams. Oh-ho. It transpires he’s only interested in an escape route via my cell. The Emperor’s under attack from a secret sect intent on bringing Mehrunes Dagon, a Daedra prince into our realm and he explains this was all foretold in his vision, including my involvement; I believe him because he’s got Patrick Stewart’s voice. During our escape, he explains Oblivion -where Mehrunes lives- and Tamriel are kept separate by Dragonfire which stays lit while an ancestor of Talos, such as himself is on the throne. Then Patrick gets murdered. I’m sorry! I was distracted by his voice. But, he had a secret illegitimate son just for this eventuality (that old excuse; ‘Queenie, babes, it’s not what it looks like, I had a vision and it said me and the maid must …’), so it’s on me to find this last heir and restore him to the throne before Mehrunes makes his entrance. So off I go, and stop dead. Wow, Cyrodiil looks a lot different to Morrowind. It’s rich and warm; grass, trees, very unlike Morrowind’s desolation and dug-in tone. Even the mud crabs are dainty compared to the yobs marauding about in Morrowind. Learning nothing from my early ramble into Morrowind’s wastes, I head off in any random direction.
After only a short period of time wandering along a gorgeous coastline, skipping over mud crabs and running shrieking from flappy Imps, I feel myself drawn to finding the Emperor’s son. Patrick and I only spent a relatively short tutorial of time together, but his assassination, the promise I made and the surviving guard’s reaction to the loss were compelling. I want to see where this story goes. It felt immediately big in comparison to Morrowind’s slow-burn. I make a bee-line for the mission marker (Mission marker! Thank Talos) and try and fail to not get distracted along the way.
Oblivion does look great, but a little more accessible, relatable, commercial than Morrowind. The creatures you encounter are more recognisable; gone are the Cliff Racers, there’s no Nix-Hounds or Guar, the Silt Striders are no more. Instead we have wolves and bear while scampering about are deer and sheep but there’s some fantasy still; in the woods, watch out for the (unnervingly attractive) Spriggan, a kind of half woman, half tree thing that can summon bears while the rest are fairly seen-it-before; goblins and ogres, minotaurs and the ruins have their ghosts and skeletons. Oblivion just feels more mainstream than geekdream. We’re running about in the Yorkshire Dales and the towns look more Middle England than Middle Earth, but I don’t harbour that feeling of sell-out for long. It makes sense that the Imperial city area would be more civilised and colonised. Towns have been built rather than hollowed out and they have identities; Bravil is all muddy roads and wooden lob-sided huts, a fishing town on hard times while the port of Anvil is that bit richer, reflected in the grand buildings and the inhabitants. We stumble into little farms and villages, inns set by rivers and lakes; it’s idyllic but missing that grittiness of Morrowind, that cut from the land feel. I miss that horrible wail you’d hear while exploring crypts; instead we get expansive ‘Ayleid’ Ruins. Gentrification for you.
Playing in Oblivion is easier too. Swinging swords is not the squabbles of Morrowind; blocking is now an action rather than luck and landing hits is easier as is spell casting. There’s a great selection of weapons too, if pared down from Morrowind’s armoury but there’s a ton of magic spells to have fun with. The character’s wardrobe has been slimmed down too – for example you can’t layer; who goes adventuring without layering? It’s not that impactful, it just feels more restrictive that Morrowind, which insisted you have complete control – Oblivion is a tighter, more focused game; exactly what I complained was missing from Morrowind, yet here I am missing that freedom. Much like Morrowind you start off as a ruffian and just hack and cast until I’ve levelled-up to a more refined, specialist style; it’s just more Oblivion’s style than mine. Interaction with NCPs is a huge step forward from Morrowind’s endless text adventures though, although you can’t insult folks into attacking. I miss that.
There’s not much else I miss from Morrowind now I'm into it; we have, bless Talos, a quest diary that makes sense and a fast-travel menu. After a while though, the map reveals how little I explore when I can fast travel about. I rarely plan my quest the way I would in Morrowind; study the map, ask around, prepare, then set out and get distracted. I miss the Morrowind shuffle, limping into town triumphant, weighed down with goodies. Nothing stopping me of course – Oblivion has just exposed I’m a bit of a lazy adventurer.
Trading in Oblivion is roughly the same as in Morrowind, getting a trader to like you will mean better prices, but over-play it and you’ll piss them off. Most traders won’t accept stolen goods (How’d you know I stole that apple?) and will only buy items that reflect their wares. So trying to sell a sword to a seamstress is a no-go. This does mean you end up browsing the entire Imperial city shopping mall or find a friendly Thieves’ guild fence to take everything off your hands.
Continuing to ignore the main quest I join the Thieves’, Fighter’s and Mage’s Guilds. The Imperials can’t be joined this time nor can the Morag Tong; instead, there’s the more evil splinter group, The Dark Brotherhood; entry is via murdering someone. This is harder than it seems. Exactly how the guards see you commit crimes I’ll never know. I heard ‘Stop! You’ve broken the law!’ so many times I started looking for CCTV; sometimes I was wanted and had no idea what I’d done. Accepting punishment mean losing all your ill-gotten gains and costs XP so your best bet is join the Thieves who can bribe the guards. Eventually I’m in the Brotherhood though, and unlike the Tong, this time there’s no writs of execution. We’re strictly murdering for profit. Planning and ‘executing’ the murders is mostly left up to me, but others in the clan offer suggestions on how to go about it. I shouldn’t really enjoy it this much but its great planning and getting away with murder and as the missions’ progress, they don’t just get harder to pull off but something really sinister begins to emerge within the Brotherhood. Plus I get ‘shadowmere’, a jet black horse with red eyes. You can ride horses in Oblivion although even if you own the horse they tend to wander. Sometimes they pop up later, other times they’re gone for good. At one point I discovered a unicorn and managed to ride that before losing it. Still, I was briefly the most fabulous looking fighter in all of Cyrodiil. Later I needed the unicorn for a mission and it was still missing. Worth it though, so fabulous.
The Fighter’s guild missions are great; varied and centre around rivals The Blackwood Company. The Thieves’ guild takes a while to get going but the last mission is a great heist; the final prize the biggest thief of all though. There’s no Bal Molagmer quests which is a shame, I would have liked to have seen them re-emerge after Morrowind. The Mages guild mission turns into a great mini-war that could have been expanded even more; the arch mage’s edict that necromancy is to be purged triggers a fight for supremacy between mages and necromancers. But before I can get in the middle of it I have to go around, Morrowind style and get the buy-in from every Mage’s Hall. Unlike Morrowind’s ‘find me some mushrooms’, those are interesting - One standout is adopt a clan of Scamps and find them a new home. You often find Mages and Necromancers having fights and the end is pretty dark.
Another sort of mini quest is the Daedric shrines. Dotted around the wilderness you’ll come across various NCPs praying to statutes of the Daedra, supernatural sort-of Gods like Mehrunes who alter and manipulate mankind for their amusement. If you have the right offering you will be tasked with a challenge or quest and completing it will net you a Daedric weapon. Some are awesome, most will end up in your houses’ display cabinets but the missions are always an enjoyable distraction and a glimpse into the Daedric world – Gods have problems too.
There’s Arena battles, as Gladiator-style I fight for the entertainment of the crowd and the fame (and Oblivion’s most infamous character, Adoring Fan) and there’s great stumble-on missions to be found; Overall, there’s a lot less questing in Oblivion (some 280 to Morrowind’s 450+ quests) but there's rarely a dud - and then there’s Oblivion’s famous DLC.
If you are GOTY’ing, you have the infamous horse armour (I couldn’t armour the unicorn which would have been really fabulous). It was a rip-off, no matter what Bethesda claim was their intention and shamefully, publishers didn’t take the public reaction to heart and continued hawking rip-off filler; Horse Armour will always be the meme for crappy DLC. Thankfully though, the rest of Oblivion’s DLC is mostly top notch. Mostly.
Oblivion’s main DLC, Shivering Isles takes place elsewhere, and like Morrowind’s Tribunal it’s a misstep to remove me from the world I just spent an age defending, and it plays as disjointed as it sounds; northern Mania is identical to southern Dementia but one is vibrant and insane, the other dark and oppressive. You’re tasked by the ruler of this Daedric land, the Madgod Sheogorath to stop the Greymarch; an entity which destroys everything in his kingdom in an endless Reaper-like cycle. Shivering is a hard place to get into, let alone save; it’s disorientating and the quests are abstract; while some elements are startling, its a change of pace the main game didn’t need. The weaponry is nice though, it’s worth jumping in long enough to tool up and get an edge back in the real world.
Conversely, the much smaller Knights of the Nine could have been a lot bigger. A really fun mission, lots of fighting and exploring and general derring-do as you rebuild the Order of the Knights, culminating in an amazing airborne fight miles above Cyrodiil. The result is armour you’ll likely never use, a location you can crash in and your own mini militia you can call on. They, and others dotted around the game can be brought along as companions but you’ll spend most of you time getting them out of trouble rather than them helping you out of it. There’s no kissy stuff with them either.
The second mini-DLC is a fairly linear story to recover Mehrunes' Razor. This is worth attempting early on, as the razor -an enchanted dagger- is brutally strong for low-level characters as it has the chance to deliver one-hit kills. It’s a running fight through dungeons, mines and ruins to reach it and there’s a Morag Tong assassin knocking about too. If you find him, he’s wearing some of the best armour in the game. Alternatively, you can chance letting him continue on his mission and clear you a path - then try to track him down for that armour. There’s a good end mission too before you can claim that badass dagger.
There’s some nice DLC options for the homemakers too. By far the best is Battlehorn Castle. Besting some leveled bandits gets you an entire castle to call your own, complete with a militia and staff including a smith and even a taxidermist who will stuff your kills. This would have felt better tied into Knights of the Nine but it’s still a great addition and within the mysterious walls you can uncover the fate of the original owner’s ancestors. Other locations include a mage's tower where you can hone your skills and create beasties as companions, a vampire’s retreat complete with a butler who will find kills for you (and a way to cure vampirism), and a pirate’s cavern complete with a Goonies-style ship inside a caved-in cove; once claimed and fully upgraded (who knew Pirates were so house-proud) you’ll build a crew and send them off to loot. The only problem really is something of an embarrassment of riches. Why would I spent thousands on a Bravil hut when I have a castle? Fast travel means I don’t have to worry about finding a safe haven to dump all my crap as I go like Morrowind, so I only invest in city houses when I have more money than sense. To think in Morrowind I lived as a squatter with a dead body and spent hours shuttling items back and forth, and here I am frustrated I can’t recall which of my thirteen homes I left Mehrunes’ Razor in. There’s an Imperial Orrery you can help build too, which is pretty and gives some useful power-ups. So, having wandered around and gotten a feel for the world I’d better find that bastard of Patrick’s.
The bastard, or Martin as he prefers, is trapped in a town called Kvatch, under siege from the vanguard of Mehrunes’ invasion. This sequence is really well done; Kvatch looks sacked and ruined, the Daedra are dug in and getting them out isn’t easy. The fights are brutal and it’s hard to not get killed, or kill your fellow soldiers. In the midst of battle when you’re merrily swinging at Scamps, a comrade will decide the best place for him to stand is between your sword and the Scamp. All the other soldiers stop what they’re doing to yell ‘murder!’ - If I just wound them I get ‘you’ve broken the law!’ or at the very least, they scowl constantly. Fighting drains your strength as well as the soldiers patience, but leveling up allows you to extend strength as well as Health and Magic, along with adding to your other abilities. You can pick multiple disciplines, raising your ability to talk, lockpick etc., refining you hero.
So, the battlefield strewn with the bodies of my fallen comrades (sorry), I push on and reach an Oblivion Gate – Those gates are, as the name suggests, portals into Mehrunes’ world and a staging ground for his troops. The nightmarish world inside is filled with lava, nasties and horrible black gothic spires I fight my way up to reach a keystone known as the Sigil Stone. Removing it closes the gate and stops the invasion. I am now ‘the hero of Kvatch’ so hail the surviving and scowling guards.
Kvatch saved, I find Martin and greet him by accidentally whacking him with my sword, mixing up my interact and murderer buttons. Luckily, for me at least, I only knocked the heir-apparent unconscious. Story-critical NPCs can’t be killed, although they’re rarely happy about it. That’s a change from Morrowind where everyone’s vulnerable and you can break the main mission with one swing but Martin gets up unharmed and afterwards, despite referring to me as his saviour and eventually his greatest friend, from that meeting onwards he always gave me a scowl that would make the guards proud.
Martin and I reach the safety of the Blades, who fill Martin in on his dad and his legacy and I’m made a Blade too so Martin tasks me, his friend/attempted murderer, with finding the items he needs to relight the Dragonfire and stop Mehrunes. Martin helps to keep the main mission focused; to begin, he seems convinced it’s hopeless but as I chip away at the tasks and we talk, he starts to gain a glimmer of hope. I hadn’t put a lot of thought into voice-acting before, but Martin, voiced brilliantly by Sean Bean really comes to life. You can hear the self-doubt that plagues him and understand the scale of what we’re attempting to achieve. Martin is essentially just the main-quest-quest-giver but somehow becomes more, along the lines of Mass Effect’s Anderson; he may not adventure with you but he’s a friend and returning to him battered and bloody is compelling because he appreciates what you’ve been through and apologises for sending you back into further danger. I like the bastard.
As Mehrunes gets a grip on the world, Oblivion Gates begin opening all over Cyrodiil and his denizens start to put in more appearances, from the Clannfears and unnervingly attractive Spider-women to the brutal Deadroth, a kind of Killer Croc thing. Leaving Gates unattended doesn’t do a great deal but closing it gets you a Sigil Stone which can be used to magic-up your weaponry and armour so they’re worth the slog. But that slog isn’t to be taken lightly; even the plants can injure you and inside the spires there’s traps, close-quarter fighting and general unpleasantness. But once free of Oblivion you’ll be proudly if exhaustedly staring at the ruined gate with your newly enchanted weapon, a ton of loot, a fame point (raising the disposition of NPCs) and likely spot yet another gate in the distance. The Gates are a constant reminder that something wicked is this way coming. They scare the NCPs, as does the coming of Mehrunes; you hear talk about Oblivion, monsters coming from gates, friends lost at Kvatch; it feels ominous. NPCs are thankful if you closed a gate nearby and the decimated areas, ruined gates and gangs of hot spider-women (those legs, man) add a constant reminder that all is not good. I find myself pulled back to the main mission to see how far Martin has got in solving the puzzle.
Settled in, I realise Oblivion is an incredibly well-balanced game; You feel like you’re progressing, becoming a stronger character. The world is perfectly set out, you’re busy and at a loose-end, determined and lost in equal measure. People’s routines and habits are more life-like than Morrowind’s walking around in circles – they eat, sleep, have favourite spots and friends, go for walks, get into fights, you feel like the world is happening around you; It’s lacking the whimsical nature of Morrowind but instead feels grounded, real. You can still mix potions, sharpen weapons, generally live off-mission, but you feel like you’re neglecting things in Oblivion, rather than Morrowind’s ‘only if you want to’ attitude.
After some really top-notch missions to recover items and research, including a timed run through a Great Oblivion gate, the peoples of Cyrodiil create a statue in my honour - a statue! It’s a really nice touch after all my moaning about those Morrowind ingrates and I only realised because someone said I looked just like that statue. I went to check it out and there I am, in all my heroic glory. And all the crap I was carrying at the time. I look like a bag-lady. Damnit. The statue reflects your most powerful inventory items so if you’re particularly vain, dress for sculpturing not battle and leave everything else behind. I tried it a few times in just my underwear but never made it through. What an effigy that would have made.
Eventually, it’s up to me to clear a path for Martin while he claims his lineage and saves the day. Due to the relationship built between Martin and I (Grumpy-face aside), it doesn’t feel like a cheat to be the bridesmaid not the bride for the final battle – and what a bride I would have made, riding in on that Unicorn. It’s a scrambling, frantic fight to get Martin crowned and our focus is on banishing Mehrunes rather than killing him – we avoid a boss fight and it feels right; it’s never been about killing Mehrunes, only proving Martin is the rightful heir. I’m so involved it didn't occur to me until after that Oblivion could have gone down a clichéd “He’s mortal in this world, kill him!” route and that really sets it apart, it’s a very brave move and pays off amazingly well.
Peace has been restored to Tamriel and what Martin and I have achieved feels real. Ironically though, Oblivion is a little empty after what we’ve accomplished. It’s undoubtedly involving, but after that main mission I can’t really find the will to carry on wandering; I’ve done enough. I take a tour around my houses, still don’t find Mehrunes’ Razor, get congratulated on saving the day and then call it a day. It’s time to pack up and travel north. I’m Skyrim-bound. I’ve always wanted to see a Dragon.
Check out Part Two of Previous Weapon's Elder Scrolls special, as soon as FBT checks out of his backpacker hostel and stops posting photos of him and martin on Insta.