By Neil Schneider
I feel very sorry for gamers who have finished Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion by Bethesda Softworks. It is truly sad that you explored every detailed city, every dungeon, and every tavern and cave. It is very unfortunate that you walked through the forests, battled monsters, and completed the countless quests to finish the game.
Oblivion has earned the highest respect in the 2D gaming world, and it’s a shame that most are unaware that the game’s true visual beauty can only be seen in stereoscopic 3D (S-3D). If you have completed the game in 2D, you missed out on a far superior gaming experience, and you will never get those 200 hours of game play back. Oh! The humanity!
Elder Scrolls IV is a fantasy role playing game that takes place in the land of Cyrodiil. Your character can be any race you want: an Imperial, an Orc, a choice of Elves, a Breton, a Nord, a Khaljiit, and more. Each choice of race has its advantages and disadvantages. Some are better at certain types of magic, while others possess superior strength for use with heavy armor and weapons.
The game begins with you in prison. Without warning, Emperor Uriel Septum VII (voiced by Patrick Stewart) enters your cell with his guards to take advantage of a secret passageway to escape his pursuers. When he gazes at you, he is convinced you are special, and that you are going to fulfill a prophecy. After a brief journey in the underground caverns, the Emperor gives you the “Amulet of Kings” with a mission to give it to the remaining member of his family. The emperor is assassinated, and the story begins.
The problem Cyrodiil is worried about is that giant Oblivion gates have opened up all over the land. Through these gates or portals, evil escapes and dangerous magic beasts are attacking nearby villages. It is your responsibility to find a way to get these gates closed so Cyrodiil can be saved.
First, let me set your expectations. While Oblivion is a single player game without any multiplayer components, don’t be fooled! This is not the kind of game you will finish in a weekend, or a week, or if you aren’t like me and have a life, a month. There is easily two hundred plus hours of game play to go through, and that’s if you are rushing.
The main campaign in the game is to find a way to close all the Oblivion gates, but this is pure deception on the part of the game developer. Most of Oblivion will be spent completing side quests and earning rank in specialized guilds. Sample quests include honing your cat burglar skills and stealing artifacts from castles, rescuing people, searching for hidden treasures, and even playing practical jokes!
You have a nearly unlimited selection of weapons and magic combinations. You can have simple sword play, you can enchant your weapons with magic, and you can skip the weapons altogether and become a powerful sorcerer. My personal favorite activity is to conjure up a wide selection of monsters and zombies to both defend me and take care of the grunt work. Lots of fun!
What makes Oblivion unique is its huge seamless environment. Normally, a first or third person game gives you a fixed territory to explore, you finish your mission, and then you are moved to a completely different story segment and can never return to where you came from. Oblivion is the complete opposite. You can walk through a huge forest in all its beauty, approach and enter a city gate, walk through a detailed township, and if you choose, explore the insides of every building. No fixed plot-line, no invisible barriers making you turn left or right – just 100% gaming flexibility.
Each town and city has its own style and design. A lake, a castle, homes and buildings all define what makes each location visually interesting and special. Even the forests have hidden treasures and new landscapes like secret forts, dungeons, and scary catacombs. The day turns to night, the night to day, and the weather will dynamically change from sunshine to rain, and from fog to clarity. Every immersive detail was carefully mastered.
You can talk to every single character in this game. Even the homeless street people play a role as information gatherers. Depending on what guild you are currently involved with (e.g. the “Dark Hand” / assassin’s guild) or if you have certain…afflictions (e.g. vampirism)…you may find characters a little less amicable than normal. An important part of the game is to earn each character’s trust with a “speech wheel” that when used properly, determines how comfortable people are with speaking to you. This is critical if you want to get valuable information.
If the game takes 200+ hours to complete, it’s only because there is so much to do and so much enjoyment to be had from this deceivingly modest single DVD title. The 2D visual experience is impressive for sure, and it’s in stereoscopic 3D that this game takes on its true game immersion accomplishment.
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a DirectX 9 game and was tested on both the iZ3D and NVIDIA stereoscopic 3D software solutions:
The iZ3D solution is based on an AMD Athlon 64 4600+ Socket 939 motherboard, 4GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA 8800GTS 512 running Windows XP SP2. The iZ3D 22” monitor was the 3D solution of choice.
The NVIDIA software solution is running on an AMD Athlon 64 4400+ Socket AM2 motherboard, 4GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA 8600GT 256 running Windows Vista 32 Home Premium. This review was run using a 22” interlaced monitor solution.
In both cases, expect a top notch stereoscopic 3D gaming experience that features a strong sense of depth combined with a comfortable pop-out experience. All images shown in this review were done with the iZ3D software solution. I wanted to include NVIDIA screen captures too, but the ALT-F1 combination was not compatible with Oblivion. The good news is the S-3D experience is nearly identical, so what you see here is almost completely interchangeable.
Popular examples of this S-3D effectiveness would be walking through a forest and seeing the tree branches and blades of grass poking through your monitor’s glass, and walking through a cavern that features an eerie depth in the back of the scene.
I really like the way the characters stand out too. As you advance, one of the monsters you can conjure is a faded wraith. It’s a big ghost with claws, and it’s just meant to be seen! Attacking decomposed zombies are creepy too and when bursts of magic and fireballs are flying towards you, it really adds a thrill to the game. Oblivion can be played in either first person or third person action, and in both cases, you will find it to be a positive S-3D experience.
You can expect reasonable stereoscopic 3D gaming performance on a solution as low as an NVIDIA 7600GT, but to have settings on full, I recommend a GPU no lower than a 7900GTX with 512MB of onboard memory. A mid-range CPU with 2GB or more of RAM will run well with this game.
There are three ways to play Oblivion in stereoscopic 3D. iZ3D’s software drivers, NVIDIA’s new Vista drivers, and NVIDIA’s no longer supported XP drivers.
The iZ3D driver solution works with both AMD and NVIDIA graphics cards. I have been able to use them with success on a 7900GTX and an 8800GTS 512 with very playable performance in stereoscopic 3D with all settings on maximum. Up until recently, the iZ3D drivers represented the only way to play Oblivion with HDR effects in stereoscopic 3D.
A big advantage with the iZ3D software solution is that the cross-hair is accurate and the interface stays whole. The biggest visual flaw I could find in the game is when you are casting time sensitive magic spells, part of the countdown meter is doubled in the interface.
When I tried Oblivion in stereoscopic 3D on the iZ3D solution for the first time, I was in a state of disbelief because it had been technologically impossible until that point.
An anomaly unique to the iZ3D solution is “Self Shadows” found in the video options menu. These are shadows drawn from the character’s facial features like a nose blocking light from the lip, or the chin blocking light from the neck, etc. When the pop-out and depth settings are too high, the shadows become displaced.
iZ3D has been made aware of the flaw, and is hoping to have it resolved in version 1.09 of the iZ3D driver. Regardless, my 3D settings tend to be overemphasized, and the anomaly was easily missed because my settings are unique.
After iZ3D released their drivers with post processing support, it appears that NVIDIA did not take this slap sitting down! The latest NVIDIA 174.76 vista stereo drivers are equally compatible with Oblivion. While the specs on my NVIDIA driver based machine are lower, the Oblivion experience offered very playable frame rates and were able to run with HDR post processing effects fully active.
The trade-off with the NVIDIA driver solution is that the cross-hair isn’t accurate, and it is necessary to use the NVIDIA laser sight alternative to aim properly. You can turn Oblivion’s internal cross-hair off, but the NVIDIA laser sight solution does take some of the attractiveness out of the game.
Also, as a note to Bethesda Softworks, some of the visual anomalies are identical between the iZ3D and NVIDIA software solutions. The same doubled countdown meter happens with both iZ3D and NVIDIA options, so I expect a single fix would resolve this problem for all driver solutions.
The NVIDIA old school method, which is only mentioned here for completeness, is for gamers using the NVIDIA 91.31 Forceware and stereo driver combination. This is only applicable if you are using S-3D hardware solutions no longer supported by NVIDIA. LCD shutter glasses with a CRT monitor is a good example of this.
Since post processing effects like HDR and Bloom is not supported with these older drivers, a special adjustment is needed to make the game work:
In the MyDocuments/MyGames/Oblivion folder, edit the “oblivion.txt” file. Change bDoImageSpaceEffects=1 to bDoImageSpaceEffects=0. This change is ONLY applicable if you are using the old NVIDIA XP stereo drivers.
This change will remove all HDR and Bloom effects. Unfortunately, it will also remove all the water textures too. This results in the water becoming flat pink instead of a wavy blue in stereoscopic 3D. The good news is the S-3D effects are out of this world, and Oblivion in flawed 3D is much better than Oblivion in full featured 2D.
One additional benefit is the cross-hair using the old school NVIDIA solution will be accurate! No need for the NVIDIA laser sight in this game with the above modification. If you own an iZ3D or modern NVIDIA supported solution, this modification is unnecessary and not recommended.
All in all, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has earned our highest marks for being an incredible stereoscopic 3D success. We still have to test the “Knights of the Nine” and “The Shivering Isles” add-on packs, but we anticipate similar results. Until testing is complete, please ask fellow MTBS members to confirm results.
Post your thoughts on this game HERE. Oblivion has a lot of mods too, so share any ideas you have to make the game even better for fellow 3D gamers.
How Memorable Is This Game
Stereoscopic Effectiveness iZ3D
Stereoscopic Effectiveness NVIDIA
iZ3D Overall Rating:
NVIDIA Overall Rating