-by Dylan DiBona
Welcome back everybody to Versus. In case the premise isn’t obvious from the start: in Versus, I will pit two video games against each other and try to determine which is better. I’m going to try and avoid things like which game I personally enjoyed more during my analysis. One duo of games I’m always comparing are the fourth and fifth entries in the popular open world fantasy series, The Elder Scrolls. The fourth entry, Oblivion, was praised for (at the time) great graphics, seemingly endless world and its blend of RPG and Action-Adventure. The fifth entry, Skyrim, was loved for all the same reasons but also for its new character classes, combat mechanics and setting. Now, before I start comparing, I’d like to tell you the five categories I’ll be grading on (which are up for change depending on genre or series):
These five aspects are the DNA of The Elder Scrolls; if any single of these listed items was lacking in a new release, you better believe you’d hear about it in all the reviews. Bethesda is trusted by consumers to give them games filled with imagination and dozens of hours of possibilities; but which world hit harder?
The Elder Scrolls are a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to gameplay; there are some people (like me), who love the games but realize the shallowness of its mechanics. The reason I have trouble going back to Oblivion is because its antiquated ideas. You can’t run, you can’t level up unless you go to sleep and combat is simply pressing or holding the RT button to swing a weapon. It’s not exciting but it did the job in 2006, and for the more easily pleased people, it does the job now.
Classes are determined by your birth sign in the beginning of the game. Each Class will give you some boosts in certain stats. Depending on the Race you choose you can also get special abilities, the Argonians for example can breath underwater, while the Khajiit are incredibly quiet and sneaky. Again, basic but it does enough. One little tidbit I did enjoy in Oblivion that you cannot do in Skyrim is being able to equip a blade and a weapon in one hand. It’s pretty enjoyable spitting fire out of your right hand and then using it to swing a blade.
Skyrim is one of those childhood games that I was so unbelievably excited for, and when I go back to it today, I say to myself “This is okay”. It’s only when you compare it to its predecessors does Skyrim seem impressive. Unfortunately the spell/weapon combo on one hand is gone, but so are the days of no sprinting and the days of choosing a Class at the beginning of the game.
Skyrim uses a skill-tree, which allows the player to craft their character as their questing goes on. Have you been focusing on quests that primarily require sneaking? Then start putting points into the “Thief” Class. Leveling up luckily happens while you’re out in the world and doesn’t require a silly nights rest in a bed. Combat is still as basic as it gets, but with new spells and weapons, things feel fresher. The new Dragon Shout mechanic allows the player to hold RB as their character screams powerful spell-like abilities The addition of Dragon Shouts is one of the best things about the fifth entry; the only negative being that you have to scope the colossal world for all three words of them, which isn’t very fun.
A lot of Skyrim’s ideas are basic by today’s standards, but luckily they hit consoles at the right time. It didn’t fix everything, but as a sequel it improved lots of fault aspects of its predecessor. Skyrim wins.
Oblivion: 0 | Skyrim: 1
This is where things get tricky and more in tune with personal preference. Let’s just pretend that both games have the same level of graphical impressiveness. Oblivion features a classic fantasy world with green plains, forests, lakes, torn down fortresses and caves. The world screamed “explore me” because you never knew what this sense of variety could throw at you. Dungeons would be dark and creepy like the picture above, but the outside would toss a bunch of colors at you. Exploring Oblivion is the very best part of the game.
Skyrim on the other hand, is absolutely monotone. Mountains on top of mountains with snow and more snow; dungeons all feature the same look and vibe. It’s not to say that Skyrim doesn’t also have forests, rivers and whatnot, but the gray filter on top of everything took some of the impact away. Villages feel the same, the only variety is in the larger castle towns. It feels like Skyrim stepped it up in every way but the open world itself. If we could’ve had Skyrim mechanics and graphics with Oblivion, the game would’ve been twice as good.
Oblivion: 1 | Skyrim: 1
My friend would come to my house after school and ask me “Hey are you going to play Oblivion?” He wanted to watch; he was fascinated by my virtual travels and the interesting quests I chose to do. In the fourth entry, you can entertain yourself in a million ways; you can rise to the top in the arena, join different schools of magic, and even jump inside a painting to save a lost artist!
Fun Fact: Not only is the painting side-quest my favorite in the game, but the lost artist is named Rythe. I thought Rythe was such a cool name that I always use it when naming my Hero in Dragon Quest games.
The league of assassins known as the Dark Brotherhood will contact you during your sleep if you’ve decided to kill an innocent person. The quests with this guild are some of the most unique in the game, one requires you to sneak around and drop a wall-mounted deer head on somebody, another requires you to be the murderer in a And Then There Were None situation. To jump to the point, Oblivion has some beautifully creative side-quests.Skyrim is a bit of old and new with its questing. You do get the shallow and boring fetch quests like “Get 10 Mammoth Horns” which plague today’s games, but you do also get the more interesting lore building journeys as well. Becoming a vampire is much more rewarding and fun than in Oblivion, there’s a quest where you have to overthrow a conspiracy in the kingdom, and one where you wake up after a long night drinking and have to trace your steps! My favorite side-quest isn’t even technically listed as a side-quest; if you explore a certain forest you’ll find a nice old lady sitting outside her cabin, go inside the cabin and you’ll find a letter revealing she’s an evil witch and she will then attempt to kill you.
I can’t help but feel like Skyrim’s monotone colors and themes work against it in the side-quest area. Everything feels a bit darker and more gory, there’s nothing that matched jumping into that colorful world of paint in Oblivion. On top of that, the franchise staple of an arena was taken away in this game. Skyrim doesn’t do a bad job at giving the player interesting side-quests, but I feel Oblivion did it better just by a small margin.
How do you determine aesthetic in entertainment? Is it how attractive something is to the eye? Or is it how proud a work of art is to present its style?
Oblivion is not a very attractive game by today’s standards; it’s the colors and peaceful music that entices players that go back to it today. As I said before, the world is wonderful and feels perfectly tuned to fantasy. During the gameplay, Oblivion has a strong presentation. The menus are where Oblivion is lacking, they are clunky and there’s almost too many.
Skyrim is guilty of similarly plentiful and annoying menus, but it’s a little bit better here. There’s a very cold and gray theme to the world, which isn’t to my tastes anymore but by no means makes it bad. Dungeons are dark and grimy, mountains are covered with snow and forests are dirty and green.
Both games wear their themes proudly, and while I personally prefer Oblivions world, Skyrim has things like a chorus chanting every time you level up, a skill tree that looks like the cosmos, and really gets to you with all the snow.
Oblivion: 2 | Skyrim: 2
It’s fair and simple to say that when it comes to The Elder Scrolls games, lasting appeal is purely dependent on number of quests and size of world available. But not only would that automatically give the fifth entry a win; I think lasting appeal means something a bit more. Think about it, a game can appeal to us before it even comes out and we see it online in articles, it jams itself into our brains. Lasting appeal is the opposite; when a game stays attractive to us during playtime and after. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with both Oblivion and Skyrim, but when I look back, it’s Oblivion I see first.
Not only can Oblivion last you hundreds of hours, it’s filled with little quirks like the funny facial animations, the troll who commits suicide, the aforementioned painting world and an endless array of silliness. Heck, in the main story you basically go to Hell itself, that’s way more memorable than simply fighting dragons. Bethesda may be against giving Morrowind an HD treatment, but I truly hope Oblivion will see it one day, because it’s a game I’ll never forget.
Oblivion: 3| Skyrim: 2
It may be controversial, but I did indeed say Skyrim is mechanically and aesthetically the better game; Oblivion just has something for its genre that Skyrim does not, an unyielding sense of charm.
So Elder Scrolls fans, how do you feel about my opinions on these categories? Let me know down below and I’ll try my best to reply! As always, thanks for reading.