My First Time With Oblivion: How I Missed An Entire Country

I never wanted to play The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion. I got my Xbox 360 on my 15th birthday for three games: Dead Space, Left 4 Dead, and BioShock, but tracking down that last one came with a catch. The only way I could get BioShock was in a double-pack with Oblivion, making it the weird appendix of my oddly specific 360 collection.

I wasn’t going to turn down a fourth game, but I thought it looked a bit naff and didn’t touch it for the longest time. Eventually I caved, and stuck Oblivion in to give it a try. I’d never heard of Bethesda Softworks, The Elder Scrolls, or even open-world games, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Eight hours later, my entire taste in games had been rewritten by an accidental trip to Anvil.

At first, I thought Oblivion was absolute dog water. Especially after playing the likes of BioShock and Dead Space, I couldn’t gel with these campy play-dough people, and I didn’t give a toss that Patrick Stewart just got murdered. I persevered out of an obligation to stretch my £20 as far as possible and trudged through the first dungeon – I remember getting stuck on the low-level tutorial goblins you encounter and giving up for a while – until, eventually, I emerged into the open air and was faced with a crystal-clear pond.

For most people, this is the start of their Oblivion journey. You’re finally in the open world and free to go anywhere you like, after all. For me, who’d never seen an open-world game that wasn’t Grand Theft Auto, it was just confusing. I somehow managed to ignore the compass, quest markers, and any kind of suggestion on where to go next – like the towering spire of the Imperial City you can see from anywhere. So, I walked into the woods. Surely something would have to happen eventually, right?

If you’re not familiar with Oblivion’s map, you start slightly east to the centre of the Cyrodiil. If you head west from your starting point, you hit a big expanse of nothing that goes all the way to the coast, and I managed to stumble all the way through it, completely oblivious to the fact that there was a whole country to explore. I ran away from everything from wolves to minotaurs and ignored each ruin I found, just hoping a cutscene would happen somewhere to tell me what was going on.

I managed to avoid Chorrol, Skingrad, and Kvatch (ironically, Kvatch is where the story I was desperate for happens, and I missed it), all the while complaining about how pointless and boring the game was. Did I really buy a game that’s nothing but forests and crabs? Why was this, of all things, bundled with BioShock? What a rip-off. I grumbled all the way to a hill looking out over the ocean, and finally the Septim dropped.

Off in the distance was a large port town – Anvil, one of two cities that is as far from the starting dungeon as you can possibly get. I looked at it, and the gears in my puberty-riddled brain started turning. “Wait…” I thought to myself, “Can I… can I go there?” and so I hopped on down to the town, and, miraculously, a game existed behind all those trees.

Walking through the streets of Anvil, I quickly became embroiled in the Fighters’ Guild questline, and suddenly I had everything I wanted from the game. A quest! Structure! Things were actually happening! I was now being pointed at places to do things instead of rambling through Cyrodiil’s dense forests.

It took me a lot longer to figure out that this wasn’t the main questline of the game. It hadn’t quite sunk in that I’d managed to walk past an entire country, but I was having a grand old time punching rats in some lady’s cellar. As I rose through the ranks of the guild, more and more of the game’s systems started to make sense – I got more gear and even wrapped my head around levelling up. I felt my brain developing in a way it hadn’t since I was a baby getting to grips with the English language, something I’m still doing. This wasn’t Prince of Persia, Kingdom Hearts, or Dead Space. It was something different… it was… open.

Flash-forward a month later, and I’d gone out and bought the Game of the Year Edition and was getting ready to delve into the Shivering Isles. I was absolutely obsessed with Oblivion, and to this day it still sticks out as one of my all-time favourite games. I’d inhaled the wiki for it, reading everything I could about this bizarre world. I’d even caught wind of something called ‘Fallout 3’, and was getting ready to take a brief holiday from Cyrodiil to check out the Capital Wasteland.

I can neatly split my gaming history as ‘before Oblivion’ and ‘after Oblivion’ (or BO and AO). I adore open-world RPGs now, and have spent hundreds of hours in pretty much every Bethesda game released. But no moment, whether it be climbing the Throat of the World in Skyrim or seeing the Brotherhood of Steel fly into the Commonwealth in Fallout 4, sticks as strongly in my mind as that first time I saw Anvil through the trees and felt an entire world open up to me.

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