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I played the hell out of Morrowind, but that's not saying much - it's a massive game overflowing with additional user-generated content.

I've never played Oblivion, nor had much interest in it once I heard way back when that it had been "dumbed-down" for console players.

However, time goes on and the Elder Scrolls itch returns.

Would someone who has played both extensively be so kind as to give me a breakdown?

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5 Answers

up vote 24 down vote accepted

One of the main problems with Oblivion is that it doesn't have the same world depth that Morrowind had. Sure, it has dungeons littered about the landscape, and there's no shortage of adventuring, but there are not nearly as many factions. Morrowind had the 3 Houses, the Fighters/Mages/Thieves guild, the Morag Tong, the Imperial Cult/Legion, and I'm sure I'm missing some, all in addition to the main quest. Even then, some were mutually exclusive, making you really feel like you were in the world. If you got to the top of the Fighter's Guild, people reacted to you differently. They recognized you.

In Oblivion, you still have your 3 guilds, and you have the Dark Brotherhood. That's it. There are no other factions to join, and each one has somewhere on the order of 10-15 quests, including the little mini-quests at the beginning just to whet your appetite. It seems short. Not only that, but you can have one character complete all the factions. There are no stat requirements for advancement, just quest requirements. You can complete the Mage's Guild with little or no actual experience in magic, and they still call you the archmage. It destroys the immersiveness. Even so, many of the quests are very well-constructed and you feel accomplished for having completed them.

The combat system is vastly improved, and it is satisfying that any attack you make will hit and deal damage so long as the animation hits. One of the most annoying parts about Marksman in Morrowind was that even if you managed to hit with the arrow, it still had a chance to miss based on your Marksman skill.

Another major gripe is that most of Cyrodiil (the world for Oblivion) looks relatively the same. The area near Skingrad has a lot of colorful flowers and the area near Leyawiin looks vaguely like a marsh, but for the most part everything's green. The regions are not as diverse as they were in Morrowind, and you shouldn't expect to find any interesting fauna like mushroom trees about the landscape.

One of the main difficulties is the fact that the enemies scale to your level. If you don't plan your skills carefully and account for what enemies you'll be facing, you will quickly find yourself outmatched just during the normal gameplay progression. You need to have multiple sources of damage, or else you will come across battles that are either unwinnable or take an excess of time to win. For example, one swordsman I made could never kill skeletons, no matter how long I bashed away at them. All my swords would run out of durability before the skeleton died, so whenever I encountered them I either had to run or hide. This can be fun or not, depending on your play style.

Oblivion is a fun game, but it's not the same game. If you go in expecting to have Morrowind with enhanced gameplay, you'll be disappointed. If you go in just looking for a fun time, it is certainly a worthy title. It's worth playing through once or twice, and the Shivering Isles expansion packs is one of the most fun times I've ever had with gaming.

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As for being 'dumbed down', most of those complaints amount to the introduction of quest and location markers and Fast Travel. If you've played Fallout 3, those systems were introduced in that form in Oblivion. I didn't really mind them, but I guess some people like having something to complain about?

This article from the Elder Scrolls Wiki may prove useful. A few of the more notable changes:

  • Your fatigue no longer drains while you are running. Running only slows the rate at which fatigue regenerates.
  • Fatigue also no longer influences the effectiveness of spellcasting.
  • Your magicka restores over time, except for characters with the Atronach birthsign.
  • Enchanted pieces of clothing or armor are always "Constant Effect" while enchanted weapons are always "Cast on strike".
  • Spells have a 100% success rate.
  • Certain spell effects from Morrowind were not included in Oblivion, including Mark/Recall, Levitate, Jump, Sanctuary, Slowfall, and Divine/Almsivi Intervention. (ed. this is largely a result of engine limitations in Oblivion.)
  • Stolen items may not be sold to regular merchants (they will not appear in the trade menu). You must find fences from the Thieves Guild in order to sell stolen goods.
  • Advancement in guilds is only dependent on quests, and not skill and attribute requirements. This allows any class to progress through any guild without reaching skill or attribute barriers.

In addition, combat has been revamped to be substantially more dynamic. Whereas in Morrowind, combat ammounted to spamming left-click while invisible dice resolved various skills to determine hits, blocks, and avoidance, in Oblivion blocking is an active ability triggered by the right-mouse button, and by holding down the left mouse while moving in different directions, you can execute a variety of power-attacks (dependent upon weapon skill). It is impossible to 'miss' a target if the graphic of your weapon makes contact with your enemy. This means that combat in Oblivion substantially rewards movement and hit-and-run tactics.

In general, Oblivions mechanics are substantially more refined and enjoyable than Morrowinds, with fewer abusable mechanics such as Alchemy-stacking in the earlier title. The tradeoff is that because the world is so huge and because of the level-scaling mechanics in place for enemies, the environment lacks the hand-placed feel that so much of Morrowind had, and the atmosphere, challenge, and sense of exploration definitely suffer for it.

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The only "dumbing-down" I saw in Oblivion was a basic "radar" at the bottom of the screen that automatically pointed out dungeons when you got near them. For me it was a love/hate relationship. On one hand it saved me the countless hours I spent combing the map in Morrowind. On the other it took away the sense of accomplishment you got when you found yet another dungeon. It felt a bit like the game was holding your hand when you were supposed to be out in the middle of nowhere surviving on your wits.

Other than that Oblivion was Morrowind with extra bits on. You got to ride horses around for example and the world and characters in it looked more real, but other than that the basic gameplay was the same.

I'm surprised that as an Elder Scrolls fan you still haven't played it. You're missing out.

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"On one hand it saved me the countless hours I spent combing the map in Morrowind". That's exactly why I like Morrowind more: a freeroaming game CANNOT give you any direction using metagaming features. –  Emiliano Sep 16 '10 at 15:02
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All the answers I've seen so far are fairly accurate, but I'd simply answer the question by saying that there is a very good chance you will thoroughly enjoy playing Oblivion if you enjoyed Morrowind.

They have 'fixed' some of the bad things about Morrowind, and replaced them with other 'features' that you won't like. But if Morrowind caught your eye, so will Oblivion.

However, even moreso than Morrowind, there is exceptional mod support, so you can tweak the game however you like.

In my opinion, and it's commonly-shared opinion, is that the auto-enemy-levelling feature of Oblivion sucks (enemies scale up to match you as you grow). So I'd strongly suggest you implement one of the many good mods that correct this 'feature'.

Just buy it... it's so cheap these days, it's a no-brainer.

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Wow - somebody has just downvoted this - nice of them to leave an explanation. –  CJM May 13 '11 at 12:30
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Some/all of the physical effects that magic items granted in Morrowind were left out in Oblivion. No Boots of Blinding Speed. No spells to let you jump clear across the map. I missed those.

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There's a scroll or two that lets you jump up into the sky, but they don't help you get back down safely ;) –  Arkive May 12 '11 at 17:23
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