Magesterial. That's the word we're looking for. Morrowind can take the plaudits for laying the groundwork and scrubbing out the rules of location linearity in role-playing, but The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion takes that model, streamlines it, seamlessly integrates exhilarating combat, smothers it in beautiful graphics and takes both Tamriel and the art of role-playing to an unprecedented new height. It's bloody daunting at fi rst. Your initial three hours of freedom will contain a distinct level of confusion and blind wandering, but after this period of worry an unconscious nerve will fi re off at the back of your head and everything will just click. This is where the adventure begins, and this is where you begin to melt into your PC.
So where do you want to go today? Well, there's a pretty wide choice round these here parts - so I'll fill you in on what I've been up to and we'll build from there. I began yesterday by lurking outside a jeweller's shop until approximately 2am. I then proceeded to creep upstairs and slaughter the owner of said shop with a combination of arrows and fireballs directed at his head. Having looted the shop for anything that glittered, I then crept out and avoided the law until I reached a nearby hovel where I slept until dawn.
This morning, I scurried to the nearest stable (neatly sidestepping a woman asking me if I'd heard of the terrible tragedy in town), rustled a horse and clippety-clopped into the bright new day. This afternoon I will slink around dusty tombs in search of treasure, and to make up for my many crimes I'll give saving the world a whirl come teatime. Oh, and there's a gang of women convincing menfolk that a night of nookie is on the cards when they're actually going to mug them - I could sort that out. Oh, and I've got to kill a pirate. And I also want to make my horse climb that big mountain. I'm sorry, but if you're not partial to ecstatic hyperbole in game reviews then stop reading. Just stop reading now.
Best giant rats ever? I think so! They're huge! They leap, they jump, they bite! They appear just after your opening escape from prison, what with a secret doorway leading from your cell providing not only an escape route for embattled Emperor Uriel Septim, but also an ingenious tutorial for your good self. And there you are battering rats in a gloomy Goblin cave, happily blocking with your right mouse button and slashing with your left, fighting the most jumpy and savage role-play rats ever created. Does life get any better than this? Yes, immeasurably.
I'll leave the delights of one of the most intuitive character-creation processes of all time to your own discovery, but plot-wise, the prologue sees the untimely demise of the aforementioned Emperor (played by Patrick Stewart), whose dying wish is for you to "Make it so" by finding his long-lost son. Without a hereditary ruler you see, the land of Cyrodiil becomes an open target for ferocious demons intent on expanding their fiery domains into mortal territories - an issue somewhat glossed over by its own anti-monarchist movement. By the time you reach Martin, the heir (as played by Sean Bean), it's no great secret that the powers of evil have 'Sharpe'ned their interest in affairs and opened up a fiery portal to the planes of Oblivion just outside his house. Adventure ensues.
Of course, you might not have bothered to follow the plot at all, instead choosing a brisk mountain walk in the pursuit of rare herbs. If you have no interest in current affairs whatsoever, individual quests dealing with anything from lusty maidens to bossy high sheriffs can be garnered from the townsfolk of each of the nine major cities - or from representatives of the Mages Guild, Thieves Guild, Fighters Guild and Dark Brotherhood (should you have strayed down one, or all, of their paths).