This is part of an ongoing series. If you want to start at the beginning, go here.
It's early 2012 and I'm playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Why? Because I (finally) can. Join me on my path to glory and the stabilization of the status quo in almost-Tolkien-land.
So even before the game begun, Martor has gotten himself in trouble and is in a cell. A let's-player on YouTube playing Skyrim remarked that this was typical for these games so I guess it's true for at least two of them now. The guy from the cell across the hallway remarks that yes, I'm a Nord. While this makes sense from the stand-point of the developer, showing the player that a decision they made a couple of moments ago during character creation (well, for some people it may be hours ago if they are indecisive/compulsive with the sliders) already has an impact on the game world, I find this somewhat racist. Is the first thing you talk about with a fellow prisoner their freaking skin-color in the real world, remarking on the attributes their nation has inherent? If I went to jail for unknown reasons in real life and the first thing my fellow inmate is remarking upon is how I, as a German, am probably industrious, disciplined and potentially dangerous to the rest of the world, I think I'd be somewhat offended. But then casual racism is an accepted staple of fantasy-settings (Kill them! They're goblins!) and at least I am a human. I'll have more to say about the issue of race in the world of Oblivion (and fantasy-settings in general) later. For now, back to the show, someone's coming!
Oh good Lord, it's the Emperor himself! I instantly hit the left-ctrl-key to bow to my Emperor. Prisoner or not, I am still his subject, aren't I? As he doesn't order the guards to kill me before entering my cell I guess he's the noble kind of fantasy-despot, not the tyrannical sort. That means he won't live long but I should have guessed that from the exposition he's dumping on me. Okay so he's psychic and on the run from assassins. Alright, there is a secret passage starting in my cell which for that reason shouldn't actually be occupied. The guard with the Emperor brushes that off as a bureaucratic error and I agree that my arrest probably was too. I follow them down into the tunnels. The first dungeon of the game awaits, which includes tutorial and the rest of the character-creation, which I do find somewhat clever, I must admit. At this point I also start noticing the harsh contrast of what characters on screen say and what the subtitles read. There's grammar-errors in the sub-titles that the voice-actors wisely corrected but then there is also bits where they don't match at all. Weird.
After a skirmish I get separated from the guards and the Emperor, which is just as well as I was afraid I'd accidentally hit one of them in a fight. As a side-note I'm impressed with the health of the supposedly 87-year-old Emperor who quite naturally draws his sword to join his guards in fights. My great-uncle is about the same age and he wouldn't last a second in a sword-fight – and he survived several years in a Soviet POW-camp, two marriages, a quad-bypass surgery in the 1970s and still builds his own furniture – but for a sword-fight... I don't know. But then Tolkien taught us that pure, royal blood means longevity (wasn't Aragorn incredibly old too?) so I guess it's a fantasy-trope. Anyways, I have the weapon of a fallen guard now and slice my way through giant rats. How very fantasy-cliché, I might add, but it is good to learn the basics of combat now. Having watched my roommate play this game, I realize it might not have been this one after all – the one he played had visible legs and you'd kick enemies into all sorts of conveniently placed spiky-things. Different game, definitely, though in this first section there are some physics-based traps with swinging spiky-things and logs you can roll down onto some hapless goblins. Ah, let's talk about those goblins...
As I have gathered from conversations around me, we are underneath the capital city of our Glorious Eternal Empire. I guess it's the place that the Emperors opening narration flew over („End of the Third Age“ - seriously? With THAT city? Someone used one of these high-end document-destroying machines that grind paper to power on the Lord of the Rings trilogy and then snorted the whole thing before writing for this game...) - so it's the center of an old, stable and powerful civilization. And then there is goblins in the sewers. Okay, a sentient species living in the sewers - plenty of modern cities have homeless people living in the sewers. But this is different. These goblins attack on sight. They don't fear the outsider, they don't try to hide or reason, they attack you when you enter their dwellings. Okay, they are stupid and aggressive (casual racism and fantasy – when there is non-humans involved it can all be explained!) but then you find what they eat. According to half-cooked stuff, pens of rats and big bowls full of skulls, their diet seems to consist of 50% rat and 50% human heads. And holy hell that's a lot of skulls! Where do they get them all? Do they plunder the graveyards at night? Have they killed that many people? If so, why isn't anyone later in the game aware of the goblin menace living off their population? I mean if they'd just be stealing food from basements and eating these dog-sized rats, they'd just be a nuisance but that many human skulls and nobody does something about it?
Well whatever. I role play this thing, eating any food I find, pretending to have been locked-up for god-knows-how-long. When I find some dark-beer I cheer for my Nord and decide to keep it for celebrating whenever I get out of this hole. I get my second set of armor soon after the first one, wondering why on earth the game would push me through two tiers of defense within its freaking tutorial. Then I notice that there is a light-armor and a heavy-armor-skill. I decide to wear the leather-armor because I feel that the metal one will make me even slower and I feel like the walking/running speeds of the game are already a bit sub-par. Also I think it goes better with the look of my character – after all I'm a recently escaped convict and not a knight or city-guard. I massacre my way through a population of rats, goblins, and a lone zombie, looting everything I can on the way until I hear voices. Oh great, the royal entourage again. I'd hoped that I'd escape to freedom without running into them again. The Emperor goes all esoteric on me, about how he knows me from his dreams and under what stars I was born. This leads to the next bit of character-creation where I apparently select more traits/special abilities. I go for one that gives me resolution and will, thinking that a warrior better be headstrong. Again, this might not make sense from a game-mechanical perspective but it does to me as a role-player. And I'm gonna role-play this thing all the way into the ground if necessary.
So next the inevitable happens: There is a locked gate, It's A Trap, assassins jump down from ledges and attack while the Emperor and I are in a dead-end. His Highness, knowing the end is near, gives me his holy insignia-amulet and instructs me to find a man who knows where to find his only remaining heir (or at least someone who knows him). The battle outside doesn't sound to be going well for the guards. I draw the bow I have acquired by now and aim at the door, resolute on shooting anything and anyone trying to come through. Sadly, in the heat of the battle taking place outside I am confused as to which of the two armored figures storming trough the door to shoot. I think I missed both of them and, drawing my sword, while running out of the room I hear the Emperor getting slaughtered behind me even before I'm over the confusion of what button to press for what weapon (a problem that should remain with me the entire day of playing – accidentally sheathing my sword and getting my fists up instead of getting out the bow and stuff like that...). I guess this was bound to happen anyways so I don't feel THAT bad about it. I would like to think that I could have saved him, but the original Deus Ex this ain't so on with the story.
The surviving guard instructs me on how to get to the sewers, reminds me not to loot the Emperors corpse and tells me that he'll guard the body while I must go and find the man who knows how to find the last heir to the throne. Then he takes my sword as it belonged to one of the Emperors personal guards. Thanks man, I only carry the most valuable relic this empire has but I guess I can protect it with this shabby short-sword I found in the sewers. After some confused searching-around in the hall of the last battle, jumping onto edges of pillars to get to places normally inaccessible (where the assassins came from) I finally find the exit in the dead-end right next to the emperors body – somehow it isn't a dead-end anymore. That would've been helpful while the Emperor was still alive but whatever. Off I go to apparent freedom!