Oblivion Is Better Than Skyrim

Yeah, I’m going there.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has not aged well. Hell, many games don’t. For instance, I absolutely love the original Half-Life, but it is not a pretty game. Similarly, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is kinda a mess (Jen: I cannot believe you went there. #sooffended). It’s a technical disaster on consoles, with horrific framerates, muddy textures, and stiff character animations. Still, it’s impossible for me to not love it. It’s the only game that Jennifer has finished completely, and I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into playing it. It isn’t perfect, but it sure is a great game.

It’s hard to pin down what it was that drew me into Oblivion so deeply (Jen: How about all the amazingness it offers? Duh). After all, on the surface, Skyrim and Oblivion are similar in many ways. Both give the player a high level of freedom to choose stories to pursue, feature deep customization options, eschew the traiditional RPG mechanics in favor of allowing players to use equipment and skills as they see fit, and feature massive open worlds to explore. Skyrim is a far more technically impressive game, and the Special Edition makes it look even better. With the right mods, you can achieve near-realism.

Regardless, I have to stand by my opinion that Oblivion is a better game.

Less Is More

TESSkyrim Stones
The sorcerer’s stone

It’s difficult to find an adequate comparison for the worlds of Oblivion and Skyrim, but based on what I could find, their maps are roughly the same size. Even so, Skyrim still feels more empty to me. Where Oblivion has side quests that involve unraveling Glarthir’s conspiracy in Skingrad and reuniting long-lost twins (Jen: “I am sick and tired, tired and sick, and perhaps a little drunk”)Skyrim doesn’t seem to have the same equivalents despite having more side quests to complete (Jen: It surprises me that this is true. Oblivion feels like it has so much more to offer).

The key to this problem seems to stem from the quantity vs quality debate. Skyrim has more quests it seems, but the quality of them seem to be lower. The number of fetch/kill quests in Skyrim are significantly higher, especially if you factor in radiant quests (Jen: They didn’t try as hard to create a unique game (and quests) in Skyrim like they did in Oblivion).

I would really like to see Bethesda do away with radiant quests in their open world RPGs. They aren’t fun, they’re filler. There’s a reason why people created mods to disable radiant quests and why Preston Garvey has become a meme in Fallout 4. Radiant quests have a place, and it’s in MMORPGs where story isn’t a major focus, not single player games. In my opinion, they’re lazy as hell; they’re padding. Radiant quests are what you throw into a game when you run out of ideas.

Skyrim doesn’t have a Preston Garvey, but it isn’t free from the endless supply of bounties and pleas from villagers to kill bears and bring back their pelts. The worst example of a lazy quest I can think of in Oblivion is Go Fish, but at least by completing it, you’re given a wonderful ring as a reward (Jen: The slaughterfish are scary! I remember playing through Oblivion for the first time and avoiding that mission, until I was leveled up more, because the fish kicked my buns).

Where’s The Meat?

TESOblivion Oblivion
No, that isn’t a BBQ.

Skyrim and Oblivion feature many of the same trappings outside of the side quests as well. Both feature guild-based quest lines, as well as an overarching narrative to complete. However, again, while Oblivion features more memorable quest lines (see the Thieves/Fighters/Mages Guilds), Skyrim falters. That isn’t to say that the faction quest in Skyrim are objectively bad, but they definitely lack in creativity in comparison.

Where one would find themselves completing a daring heist to steal an Elder Scroll for the Gray Fox in Oblivion, the Thieves Guild in Skyrim revolves around trying to restore the guild to its former glory (Jen: That Oblivion quest ranks in my top fave quests in a video game, hands down). That’s a matter of taste, for sure, but the overall satisfaction from completing the Thieves Guild quest line is something to behold. The same goes for the Dark Brotherhood I suppose (Oblivion‘s quest line has one of the best twists in a game I think, and a murder mystery!). However, where Skyrim really loses to Oblivion is in the comparison between The College of Winterhold and the Mages Guild. The entire College of Winterhold storyline just feels poorly implemented, and incredibly short. It involves tons of dungeon delving, and instead of working your way up in the guild, you go straight from new recruit to archmage (Jen: Unless you are either a completionisht or a mage, just avoid this questline).

Also, why have the Bard’s College at all? It’s a missed opportunity to not have fleshed out that guild more.

Of course, the same could be said for the civil war between the Stormcloaks and the Empire. The entire civil war questline feels like a limp attempt to ape the strife in Fallout: New Vegas. No right or wrong faction, just shades of grey (Jen: Guys, not fifty shades of grey. Geez). Except, like with most of the quest lines in Skyrim, there’s a lackluster finish to it all that changes nothing in the end.

Trade Offs

TESSkyrim Sunset
It’s pretty. That’s for sure.

I think the issues that surround Skyrim are indicative of a larger problem; something that has been plaguing Bethesda’s open-world RPGs for years. They lack soul (Jen: OMG THEY’RE ALL GINGERS??!!!).

Fallout 4 is obviously the pinnacle of cookie cutter game design, but you could see the writing on the wall for this downward spiral from Fallout 3 to the release of Skyrim. As Bethesda’s games have grown in scope, they’ve been adopting more and more aspects of modular game design. A simple example of how this sort of game design methodology is used is with DOOM‘s SnapMap. Using the level creation feature in 2016’s DOOM is as easy as snapping pieces of a game together, allowing players to create their own levels to play around in.

Bethesda has used this sort of game design technique for environments, but I’d say that they began utilizing a form of it in their quest design with Skyrim. I can’t say I blame them necessarily, as game design is no easy task, especially when you’re getting into the scale of Bethesda games. However, when their previous efforts had more unique properties to them, it’s difficult to not draw comparisons to their earlier works, and long for a return to the days when their open-world RPGs felt less like MMORPGs.

Skyrim just doesn’t have the same spirit or soul as Oblivion did. You can hear it in the voice acting, see it in the quests and level design, and experience it in the quests. You can even see it in Bethesda’s never-ending porting of Skyrim to more platforms. It’s the mantra that quantity matters more than quality. That some of something great is not as good as tons of something that’s simply serviceable.

Jen: I love Skyrim, I do, but there is something incredibly special about Oblivion that I will always hold close to my heart. When I think about fantastic games I have played, albeit not that many, Oblivion ranks as number one. Sure, there are flaws, and it doesn’t look that great anymore, but when they released it, it was stepping into a whole new era of gaming. Gamers were taken into a world that was beautiful, captivating, and moving. Or maybe that was just me.

Sadly, I’d say that if Bethesda ever got around to making The Elder Scrolls VI, you’d see a game very similar to Fallout 4. A giant, empty map filled with radiant quests and boring environments. But hey, at least there’d be a ton of random stuff to do!

Thoughts? Comments? Rage? Let me know what you think.


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32 thoughts on “Oblivion Is Better Than Skyrim

  1. Interesting take! You might have me sold. My Oblivion memories have all but faded away, but I do remember the Assassin’s Guild having the coolest quests ever, and subsequently being a little let down by Skyrim’s follow-up with that guild.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Never was impressed with Skyrim. I loved Morrowind and Oblivion because of the fact that they were so memorable. Oblivion has such a great ending to it too, that the impact just felt astounding. It ended an Era that had gone on for ages. Skyrim just feels like the world fell apart and all of a sudden the Thalmor are the ones calling the shots. Like.. what? Fuck the Thalmor.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. This is making me want to play Oblivion again. I got much more into Skyrim, but that’s just because it came out after I had officially gotten into gaming, so I spent a lot of time on it and had more fun, knowing what I was doing! In any case, I totally understand what you mean about quantity versus quality. I think that’s so important in games, and it’s problematic for a lot of open world games where fetch quests overwhelm your journal.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I have a special place in my heart for Skyrim. When I was deployed, I played Skyrim every chance I got and ended up putting in over 120 hours. I bought oblivion when the Xbox 360 first came out and I could even get 2 hours into it. I ended up trading it in for ghost recon advanced warfare.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Advanced Warfare was such a good game. That was one of the first games I bought on my 360, along with Oblivion, oddly enough. I remember having a hard time getting into Oblivion too, so I totally understand what you mean. I don’t even know when it clicked for me exactly, but I fell in love.

      I put a ton of time into Skyrim as well, but it just didn’t pull me in as much as Oblivion did. It’s good to hear that you derived that enjoyment from it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You’re so true about the Bard’s college!! I was so disappointed about it ! Really good post! I started with Skyrim first and then tried Oblivion, but I can understand your point of view, you have the same one as my brother (who started with Oblivion and then find Skyrim “empty”)!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I imagine you had a similar experience as I did with Morrowind. I played Oblivion before getting into Morrowind, and it was difficult to even play. I imagine that if Skyrim was my first experience with an Elder Scrolls game, I’d likely feel very differently.

      Seriously though, why wouldn’t they have done more with the Bard’s College?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m with you on this, I also enjoyed Oblivion more. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s better (subjective and all that) but I certainly had a better time with it. It may Jaber been due to when it came out and having more time to enjoy it, or perhaps it’s that the world wasn’t silly big. And it DID have that sweet sweet horse armour…

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I suppose it’s also worth noting the video game atmosphere at the time of its release, vs. Skyrims. I always wonder in these types of comparisons: if the exact same games were released as we know them, but switched which came first, would we still feel the same about them? In other words, how would the gaming world have responded?

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I thought I was the only person who thought this! I loved Oblivion so much more than I have enjoyed Skyrim, and I think you put it into words very effectively. Oblivion has more quality in the quests and worldbuilding. It makes the game more engaging despite not being as visually impressive.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. This is going to date me a bit but my first experience with The Elder Scrolls was with Daggerfall when that came out. I’ve seen these games evolve over the last 20 years and for my money, I’ll take Skyrim and Morrowind every day. While I fully admit that the writing in Oblivion is better in spots and quests are sometimes better designed, at the end of the day, it is the setting that grabs me and holds me tight in these games.

    I love the Middle Eastern and Asian themes of Morrowind and the Nordic theme of Skyrim. The Elder Scrolls have always been about a world to get lost in and go make your own story and I just flat out prefer my story in Skyrim and Morrowind.

    I understand the complaint about the radiant quests and I hope that Bethesda finds a way to improve them but I wouldn’t want them removed as it allows me to always have something to do in the game, even after I’ve finished all the proper written quests.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. But… but… Oblivion had potato heads! And look how gorgeous the graphics are in Skyrim! And it’s so sprawling!

    I’m just kidding. I haven’t played either one of these yet (although I picked up Skyrim a while ago), but I know I’ve seen a lot of dislike thrown at Oblivion because of – surprise – facial animations.

    Seriously, guys? We need to stop with that nonsense. We’re sending the wrong messages to developers.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I think Skyrim is the slightly better game, but both are pretty good. Although Oblivion had a more varied world and Skyrim was a bit more one-note, the latter had more variety when it came to dungeon design. If nothing else, I like both of them more than Morrowind.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I spent much more time in the world of Skyrim then Oblivion, but Oblivion will always hold a special place in my heart. Something was just so much more memorable about Oblivion (and Morrowind, for that matter, although I could never seem to get past the first 40 hours or so). I think quests were handled much better, but the leveling system in Oblivion was a huge problem for me. That’s a topic for another day, however, as Skyrim’s had tons of its own issues regarding the leveling system.

    Oblivion was much more memorable and I’ll never forget how incredible it felt to level up and become more powerful in Oblivion.

    Skyrim may have been more epic, if by epic you mean sheer scale, but the randomly generated aspect of Skyrim that became so commonplace in open-world games spelled the beginning of the end for me. If I had never spent 250 hours playing Skyrim before throwing in the towel forever, I think I would have enjoyed 250 hours in Breath of the Wild before tapping out, and not merely 55.

    In short, I agree with the Oblivion vs. Skyrim arguments, but I recommend you watch an incredible retrospective on Oblivion to highlight some issues with the game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vp4-9G47uF0

    Warning: it’s 5 hours long lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I didn’t mind Skyrim, althought I haven’t played a huge amount. I found I lost interest pretty quick in it outside of doing the main story. Oblivion for me never seemed to hit the mark. I felt like I lost interest in that too pretty quickly. Something about it didn’t click for me.

    I played Morrowind quite a bit without ever touching the main story, i think that kind of set a standard for me for elder scrolls games, and I end up comparing everything to that. Morrowind gave me the most carefree experience outside of the main story that I felt both Oblivion and Skyrim didn’t do. Furthermore, the quests in Morrowind were so cool i found.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I personally love both for different reasons. For instance, I think the Narrative, NPC’s and Guilds are much better on Oblivion, not to mention the all star voice talent. However for me Skyrim’s world really comes to life. Its hard to put my finger on but I would rather roam aimlessly in Skyrim then any other game. Its ambiance, Climate and Cities I like much better than any other Elder Scrolls game. Also its DLC especially Dragon Born really impressed me. And While Oblivion hasn’t aged well in modern terms, I would love to play back through it heavily modded or one of the Fan rebuilds that have been in the works for years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really enjoyed what Bethesda added with Hearthfire and Dawnguard, but I never actually got around to playing Dragonborn. I’ve already started playthroughs in both Oblivion and Skyrim again though. If anything, writing this post has given me the compulsion to try both again!

      Like

  14. I think I played through all the content and DLC in Oblivion but haven’t had the chance to do the same in Skyrim. Could be changing lifestyles and less time now but Oblivion was one of four games I picked up with my 360 and I probably played it at least twice as much as the other three combined. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. This seriously makes me want to play both… (again, on my list of “Need to play one day”) and with us doing the gamesharing thing with the hubby now, he wants us both to try it. After Witcher III maybe…..(if I don’t replay Bully first. I swear, I LOVED that game and I cannot put a finger on why….)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It is actually a good game! I think what part of me enjoys so much is the school setting, but also that the main character seems like a rough and tumble kid – but honestly he is helping to make the place better. Just not how you would expect one to do so. XD

        Liked by 1 person

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