I've been playing a lot of Elder Scrolls: Oblivion lately. I know, it came out years ago but I just couldn't get into it. I had the same problem with its predecessor Morrowind, but it had less of an entry "hump" after which I really could take off. I think the main problem with Oblivion is that its so huge and so open with so much its almost paralyzing. You don't know where to go or what to do, but you have everything in front of you and nowhere to start.
I didn't really want to do the main quest right away, and even after starting it, it seemed sort of aimless. What really got me finally started is I created a sneaky thief-assassin type character and ran through both guild quest series. That got me into the game and familiar enough with the setting I could enjoy myself with anyone.
Oblivion really is quite an achievement, with a tremendous amount of creativity and thought put into it. The world is very deep and has an immense sense of history, place, and immersion. The races interact differently, there are factions struggling against each other, and a lot of quest concepts, almost none of which are the Fed Ex "take x to y" or "get a and take to b" type.
Like Arena, Daggerfall, and Morrowind before it, its a great deal of fun and is so well done I catch myself thinking about the setting and game as if I'm reading a book or watching a movie. I think about what I can do next time, and maybe a new character to try out. I recommend this game as highly as I did the previous ones in the series.
If nothing else, its a beautiful place. Going on top of a mountain and looking down at the valleys is breathtaking, especially if you can crank up the graphics to the maximum settings. The world is astounding.
But there are some flaws I wanted to touch on, since you can find praise for Oblivion anywhere.
Like the previous Elder Scrolls games, there's a bit of a problem with leveling. Going up a level either costs a fortune in training (and you can only train 5 points a level anyway), or aeons of running around hoping you get skill bumps. In Morrowind you could create "trainer" spells of tiny power to cast over and over to get your skill up, but in Oblivion they don't seem to work unless they have a proper target.
For certain class builds, it can be awful. Playing a thief I was just not any good at sneaking for a long time, and that was my defining ability. The locks weren't bad because I could train it up and get a lot of bumps by trying every lock I could find but sneak just went up so slowly. And if you can't sneak, a rogue is just a lightly armored and not very hard-hitting warrior.
So its difficult to really feel any sense of progress, which is frustrating, since you do not really see a significant change in your character from level to level. If its really slow to get a level and they don't mean much, that takes quite a bit away from the feel of the game and a sense of accomplishment. Adding to this is the fact that the world adjusts to your power level.
This is one of my pet peeves in games. I understand they want to present a challenge and I understand they don't want some areas to be so trival you're bored, but the world changing to make everywhere equally dangerous - no more so and no less so - greatly assaults my sense of believability. Shouldn't some of the caves just have a few rats in them? Shouldn't at least one of those Ayleid ruins have daedra too powerful for me to face at first? Instead I can go anywhere in the game whatsoever with the same rough level of challenge and expectation of success.
But the worst frustration and poorest built concept in the game is the persuasion skill. You have this ability called "speechcraft" which helps people think better of you, but you can specifically use it in a little "minigame" for persuasion. What this does is let you try to influence an NPC to like you more. They introduced this in Morrowind, and it had several choices: bribe, coerce, joke, boast, and admire.
The bribe is separate: almost everyone can be paid to like you better. Its sort of crass, at least in Morrowind they explained it as a cultural thing that dark elves consider bribery just a courtesy and respect gesture, but in Cyrodil, there are lots of different races interacting and they all have no problem with you bribing them to kindness.
The other four are on a wheel that looks like the accompanying image. You can pick one of the four zones, and they will have as much impact on the target's esteem toward you as the wedge is filled up. However, if you mouse over each one, you can see whether they like it or not, with two settings of like and dislike. So one might give you a lot of change, but he might hate the choice, so you lose a bunch.
Here's where it gets stupid: you have to choose all four. Every time. So each time you chat with someone, you give them all four, no matter how much they hate each one. You boast toward them, tell them a joke, threaten their life, and admire them. Every single time. And since necessarily two of them will always, always reduce the target's impression of you, you lose every time. If you get your speechcraft up high enough you can rotate the wheel once, changing the degree of how much impact a choice has, and that's the only flexibility you have.
After a few tries, you just stop and post something nasty on the internet about how idiotic, arbitrary, and unreasonable the concept was. Surely someone, somewhere in the design team pointed that out, didn't they? Thankfully bribery is always available, but you can also download a mod that changes it to choices instead of the wheel of crap.
Minor quibbles: the mage's guild quest series was pretty disappointing and short. They really had a lot of possible options here, but the chain feels a bit rushed and cheap. Plus, the recommendation series is so long and actually difficult at times that you feel like something incredible is being built up to... and it isn't. You don't get as nice of handouts and gear as the other factions, either. The thief and assassin guild chains were the best, although the assassin one is just... awful. There are some parts of it that are horrible to go through, and I don't think I want to do that again.
Overall, Oblivion's only final flaw is that the replayability is limited. Despite being so gargantuan, once you've done a series of quests, most of them really aren't very interesting to replay. Part of the problem is that most of them involve underground "dungeon" areas. They are kind of fun the first time, but even running back out is a bit tedious. Many of them have a quick exit, so when you finish there's a secret way back out, but its just not as fun to go back in.
There are a host of other quests and things to do. Every city has at least three quest chains you can do, plus there are hidden quests when you find items or explore, and many wilderness events and quests, so there's a tremendous amount of content out there, even when you've finished the main quest and
A bit of advice though: if you haven't tried Oblivion yet, don't start the main quest until you're ready, because the world changes once it gets started, and it can interfere with other things you might want to do. You're usually better off doing some faction chains to run through them and learn areas, so travel is quicker for the main quest.
There are two expansions of sorts out for Oblivion that I haven't played: Knights of the Nine (a compilation of downloadable content you can buy for ten bucks instead of paying for each one from the Oblivion site) and Shivering Isles, a full expansion.
And of course Skyrim is out now, the next in the series. I haven't played that yet, nor can I afford it. Maybe for my birthday this year :)