Close Shut the Jaws of... Well, You Know...

It may not have been the launch RPG that PS3 owners were hoping for, but Bethesda's PlayStation 3 mega-epic is anything but outdated. We go hands-on with an early build and report back with how things are coming along.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: February 7, 2007
It never freakin' fails. Every five or so years, when a new hardware cycle starts, the fanboys come crawling out of the woodwork, slavering jaws just waiting to devour any scrap of info that would give "their" system the edge in the Great Console War that nobody beyond the hardcore really gives a crap about. Well here, superfans, here's one for you: the PlayStation 3 version of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion looks better than the Xbox 360 version.

But then it damn well better considering it's finally going to hit almost a full year after it originally landed on the PC and 360. In that time, a single expansion, Knights of the Nine was added, and that will, thankfully be included in the PS3 version (though the upcoming - and far bigger - expansion, Shivering Isles, won't be). Knights actually balances things out, allowing you to play goodie-goodie with a new faction, complete with side quests and an end result that reshapes part of the world (or at least how fellow goodie-two-shoes in it see you). It should be noted that all of the content packs that were offered up as downloadable goodies in the 360/PC versions will also be included.

Given that it has been a full year between console versions of the game, and considering the splash that Oblivion made in general when it was first released, it's hard to imagine those interested in the game haven't yet given in and just bought one of the existing versions, but for those of us who were faithful, we'll find the game is, well, Oblivion. What begins with an assassination and a secret heir to the throne quickly expands into a world-traipsing exploration of what can best be described as the closest thing to an offline massively multiplayer online role-playing games as exists out there.

We'll reserve full details of the storyline for the review, but for a game still comfortable on the PC with a 108 possible buttons to map to things, the controls work wonderfully on the PS3. The eight directions on the d-pad are reserved for hotkeyed items/spells/weapons you want quick access to. By simply holding it down for about a second, you can slide your thumb around and highlight the item without pulling out of the game. Should you need to pop into the menu to equip new weapons or armor, or use items, you can do so with a press of the Circle Button. Tapping X whenever you've got an interactive object centered in the crosshairs lets you open, trigger or search said object, and Triangle lets you hop around the levels. Though we never really needed it, pressing Square let us sheath or ready our main weapon.

This is familiar stuff to folks that played the 360 game; the controls essentially map 1:1 thanks to the similar layouts, so things like swinging a sword and blocking with R1 and L1, or casting a spell with R2 are identical to the 360 cousin. Even clicking the right analog stick will switch things between first- and third-person perspectives (though the latter is still really just there so you have something to look at (the ever-useful crosshairs don't appear). Again, this is the same as the 360 version, but it's nice to know those consumed with the need to play through the game again won't have any trouble relearning the controls.

As mentioned before, the only real difference between the Knights of the Nine-updated 360 version and the PS3 one is in the visuals, and even then it's minimal. Bethesda used the extra time between the original launch date and the now-final early March one to learn the basics of the joyously complex Cell architecture, and despite what some have said about the PS3, they certainly seem to have things down quite nicely. The framerate and draw distance are improved, thanks to HDMI, things are a little cleaner and sharper and, in a nice little PS3-only extra, the RSX's pixel shaders were flexed to kill the decidedly obvious point out in the distance where the textures switched from higher detail to low-res mottled messes. This means far-off details like mountains or even semi-nearby hills now transition smoothly, helping strengthen the immersion. Things like texture detail itself weren't bumped up, but then the game still looks plenty good almost a year after the original release. Bethesda is promising the months and a half or so before the game comes out will continue to improve the visuals.

We actually voluntarily skipped out on experiencing the original release because nobody wants to play through another 100 hours or so of a game if they've done it once (well, not unless they're psycho Disgaea fans). This of course means that in just a few more weeks, we're going to be spazzing out on how awesome the game world is. Should you happen to be one of the few folks that didn't yet play the game, we're guessing you're going to be spazzing out right along with us.

We'll have the full review next month, but for now enjoy these honest-to-goodness PS3 screens to your left.