How I Missed An Entire Country

I never wanted to play The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion. I got my Xbox 360 for my 15th birthday for three games: Dead Space, Left 4 Dead, and BioShock, but tracking down the latter came up a catch. The only way I could get a BioShock was in a dual-pack with Oblivion, which makes it the odd accessory for my oddly special 360 collection.

I didn’t want to turn down a fourth, but I thought it sounded a bit too short and I hadn’t touched it for too long. In the end, I relented, forgetting to give it a try. I had never heard of Bethesda Softworks, The Elder Scrolls, or even open world games, so I had no idea what I was getting into. Eight hours later, my complete taste in gaming has been rewritten by an occasional trip to Anvil.

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At first, I thought Oblivion was absolute dog water. Especially after having played the likes of BioShock and Dead Space, I just couldn’t get enough of these gamers not giving a tow that Patrick Stewart had just been killed off. I persevered with the obligation to stretch my £20 as far as possible and walked through the first dungeon – I remember getting caught and ditched by the low-level tutorial sprites I encountered for a while – until, at last, I came out into the open air and was facing a crystal clear pond.

Rhinoceros in a field of flowers in a forest

For most people, this is the beginning of their oblivion journey. You are finally in the open world and are free to go anywhere you want, after all. For me, who hadn’t seen an open world game that wasn’t Grand Theft Auto, it was just baffling. I somehow managed to ignore the compass, the mission markers, and any kind of suggestions as to where I should go next – like the towering tower of the imperial city you can see from Anywhere. So, I entered the forest. Surely something will happen eventually, right?

If you are not familiar with the map of Oblivion, start a little east to the center of Cyrodiil. If you head west from your starting point, you’ll find a swathe of nothing that stretches all the way to the coast, and manage to meander all the way, completely oblivious to the fact that there’s an entire country to explore. I ran away from everything from wolves to minotaurs and ignored all the havoc I found, just hoping a cutscene somewhere would happen to tell me what was going on.

The Oblivion Gate that opened in Kvatch

The Oblivion Gate that opened in Kvatch

I managed to avoid Chorrol, Skingrad, and Kvatch (ironically, Kvatch is where the story I desperately needed happens, and I missed it), all the while complaining that the game was boring and pointless. Did you really buy a game that is nothing but woods and crabs? Why was this bundled, of all things, with BioShock? What a steal. I grumbled all the way to a hill overlooking the ocean, and Septim finally fell.

In the distance was a large coastal city – Anvil, one of two cities as far away from the starting dungeon as possible. I looked at him, and the gears in my puberty-ridden brain started turning. “Wait…” I thought to myself, “Can I… can I go there?” And so I hopped into town, and miraculously found game behind all those trees.

Walking the streets of Anvil, I quickly became engrossed in the Fighters’ Guild, and suddenly I had everything I wanted from the game. Pursuit! building! Things were really happening! I was now directed to places to do things instead of wandering through the dense forests of Cyrodiil.

Bruma approaches in Cyrodiil North in Oblivion

It just took me longer to figure out that this wasn’t the main goal of the game. It didn’t quite sink in that I could walk across an entire country, but I had a good time beating rats in some ladies’ basement. As I moved up the ranks of the guild, more and more of the game’s systems started to make sense – I got more gear and even got my head around leveling up. I felt my brain develop in a way it hadn’t since I was a little girl dealing with English, something I still do. This wasn’t Prince of Persia, Kingdom Hearts, or Dead Space. It was something different… it was… Open.

Fast forward a month later, and I had gone out and bought the Game of the Year Edition and was getting ready to dive into the high islands. I was completely obsessed with Oblivion, and to this day it remains one of my favorite games ever. I sniffed wikis for it, and read everything I could about this weird world. I had caught wind of something called “Fallout 3,” and was getting ready to take a short break from Cyrodiil to check out the Capital Wasteland.

Fallout 3 BOS Power Armor

I can neatly divide my gaming history into “before the oblivion” and “after the oblivion” (or BO and AO). I’m in love with open-world RPGs now, and have put hundreds of hours into just about every Bethesda game. But no moment, whether I’m climbing the world’s throat in Skyrim or seeing the Brotherhood fly into the Commonwealth in Fallout 4, remains as constant in my mind as that first time I saw Anvil through the trees and felt the whole world open up to me.

Next: The Elder Scrolls: Explaining the Oblivion Conspiracy in 1000 Words