I play a hell of a lot of Oblivion, even now. That game is awesome. It’s even better if you play through all the conversations with the sound off and your hand securely planted over the pasty pasty faces of the chattering NPCs.
But, jokes aside, I think that players can live with the ugly faces and the stupid voices. The only major failing I’ve ever really cared about in that game is that all the dungeons look the same. They do. Well– there are a few distinct varieties, yeah, but they’re awfully similar. You play through a dungeon and see the same landscape asset recycled five or six times; you play through another, and realize it’s practically the exact same as the first dungeon, except instead of being filled with imps, it’s filled with wolves. Or… vampires. Or armored skellingtons. So, yes. If you disagree with me, you’re bad and wrong, and we can never be friends.
Here’s why all those dungeons look the same.
1) The designers ran out of ideas with the first one
You’ve got to admit, the first time you crawled into a dungeon in Oblivion, you thought it was the coolest shit ever. You found this big old ruined circular castle overgrown with weeds, all crumbling into the mud, directly across from the exit to the Imperial Sewers. And you thought: Forget that main quest—I’m going to explore this magic castle thingamabob! And so you did, and it was awesome. See, that experience was great. People worked hard on it. I dunno, maybe they worked on it for the whole development cycle? It was so cool that it used up all their brain essences, and they had nothing left. They brought the first dungeon over to the project lead, and he plays it, and goes: “Hot damn! This is fine stuff! What else you got?”
And the dungeon designer goes, “I got nothing.” This is it, man. He’s all used up, like Sparrowhawk from that Wizard of Earthsea book The Farthest Shore. It’s noble and epic, see. He’s slain the symbol of his divided soul and reclaimed the world for goodness and purity and all that jazz.
And so the project lead thinks for a few moments, then goes: “That’s cool. Because this is fine shit.” And so they sit around for the rest of the day smoking big old cigars and staring off into the distance and feeling awesome about themselves.
2) They made others, but had to scrap them all
The Disneyland-, Lord of the Rings-, Star Wars-, NFL-, Capri Sun-, and Harry Potter- themed dungeons were awesome, but they all violated IP copyrights and so, of course, they had to go; so did the dungeon based on September 11th, and the one based on live footage of births. They had partnered with medical researchers to produce a dungeon based on the epidemic of childhood obesity which would teach players about the importance of exercise and healthy diet, but they figured that it might be a bit of a downer, and in the end they couldn’t figure out how to implement it tastefully.
3) The dungeons aren’t all identical, idiot!
Honeybees see ultraviolet light. This allows them to navigate using the sun, even on overcast days; it also permits them to see identifying markings on certain species of flower. Indeed, the world of the honeybee is filled with depths of color and detail far beyond the capability of mere humans to perceive—theirs is a brighter world, and one more-varied. Truly, the honeybee is a marvelous creature. We ought to envy its life.
If you were to look at Oblivion with the powers of the honeybee’s ultraviolet sight, you would see such a gorgeous wonderland of variance, beauty, and striking design that your brain would flip upside-down in your skull and you would spend the rest of your days trying to eat roses.
4) All the dungeons are reflections of the Platonic model of Dungeon contained in the mind of God
Oblivion’s dungeons are all reflections of the Ideal Dungeon, which exists only in the mind of God. According to the Greek philosopher Plato, all objects in the real world are merely pale shadows of perfect prototypes, called ‘universals.’ God manufactures these universals and stores them up in the holy warehouse of his mind, where they are preserved forever and made real to the outside universe via his magic. Like, all dogs are different, but we know that they’re dogs because the concept of ‘dog’ is eternal and born from the everliving consciousness of a God whose main purpose is to imagine and sustain the perfect images of things in his holy brain.
We recognize, in the imperfect things of this world, bare echoes of the shining ideals which underly them. We catch the merest glimpses, and see the overarching similarities that tie them together. In Oblivion, that sublime game, we see the underlying framework of the universe! Truly, there is but one Dungeon, and all these many dungeons are but blurred representations of it, cast from different lights, like flickering shadows on the wall of a cave.
Okay, okay! Okay. I’ll shut up.
But seriously. It’s a spiritual experience, man.