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.
It's still dark outside and as I haven't found the button for resting and its time-telling function yet. Sometimes during playing I catch myself looking up a'lá MineCraft, trying to find the sun or the moon to tell the time but no such luck. As far as I can tell, this sky has a kind-of-moon and and blurry brighter-spot that could be a cloud or the sun. I can't tell. Anyways, a guard I meet on the street informs me that it is five in the morning and why am I still out? I want to tell him that I'm not still out but already but he doesn't care and walks right past me. I decide to check out the store that I was told sold suspicious wares and run into something that I haven't seen in a game since Fallout 2 (and there only rarely): Opening hours. I click on the door and the game immediately jumps into lock-picking-mode. I panic and break a pick right away. Then I push the auto-try-button until the door is open. The store inside is like the others and it's hard to tell what is being sold here. I steal an apple and look through a scroll lying on the counter, telling how to get rid of a hangover or something like that, when a guard materializes behind me and arrests me.
Now at this point I wasn't sure about my status with the law, what with me having just escaped jail yesterday and the only person who knew that the Emperor had sort-of pardoned me was probably still busy organizing the hunt for the assassins. The guard telling me that he was taking me to jail and fining me and confiscating the stolen goods sounded terrifying until I heard the fine: Five gold. So, for breaking into a store I get fined the equivalent of one dark beer? The fact that I re-start at the jail is the greater inconvenience as I have to walk back to town. Shaking my head I make my way to town and decide to wait until the store opens. So I run around a bit, trying to kill some time. Did I mention that the localization screwed this bit up too? The store signs are in English while people directing me to the stores tell me their names in sometimes strangely translated German which sometimes makes them hard to identify. If Pixar can translate signs in Wall-E, why can't Bethesda? Or have the voice-actors refer to the stores by the names they have on their signs? When the sun comes up I go into the suspiciously cheap store again and this time the owner is in. He yells at me that I shouldn't be here and then politely asks me what I'd like to buy when I click on him. Whatever, I talk to him about his prices and check out his wares, pretending to be interested in his merchandise. Then I walk back to the store-owner who asked me for help because of him in the first place and tell her that he didn't flat-out admit to be selling illegally acquired goods. Of course he won't, she berates me and tells me to put the surveillance on him. Crap, this isn't over by a long shot, is it?
I go back to the store and then wander around some. When will he close up shop? What time is it? I check the configuration and notice how to rest outside a bed. This gives me the option of checking the time and skipping hours if I want to but it seems like I'd be wasting the day doing that and it is still early. I decide I'd like to enjoy freedom a bit and start looking for a brothel. Up until now every inn I have visited was empty, me always being the only customer. A lot of people seem to be all riled up about how dirty and scummy the port district is so I decide to head there, maybe finding a brothel or at least a decent party. Arriving there I of course find nothing. There is a cool-looking ship that has been converted into a tavern but as usual I am the only customer and the prices are identical to every other place in town. Maybe the pricing-scheme the woman for whom I am spying on that other shop-owner is pushing through is responsible for this and not such a good thing but it doesn't matter now, does it? Since there won't be drugs or sex, it's gonna be violence, I tell myself and head for the arena.
First thing I do in the arena is to bet on the yellow team, get into the stands and take a seat. I drink some beer, eat some cheese and yell at the guys fighting to the death down there. Of course, my guy fights with his bare fists while the other guy has an axe. The battle looks somewhat stilted, as I will see AI vs AI fights in Oblivion are wont to look and takes much longer than it should. Also, my guy loses the fight, his life and my 25 gold pieces. Now that I have seen it I think I can do it too – these guys didn't look so tough. I go back down and the other way into the coliseum basement – to sign up to fight.
I talk to some other gladiators first and muse a bit about this typical system of all-fights-are-to-the-death. Don't the makers of these games figure that a system like that isn't going to last long? That you don't get to be famous for long in it? That gladiators in ancient Rome were a) coming mostly from a large stock of slaves (none evident in Oblivions world) and b) not always fighting to death? It doesn't matter – I shall kill someone today and after accepting a side-quest from a rather friendly half-orc training here who wants me to check out some ruins for proof of his heritage as a noble. He is much to kind for being a gladiator who voluntarily kills people for sport but I guess they wanted me to reconsider my racial prejudice so they kind of had to hammer it in with him. As I had previously said, I'll talk about race in Oblivion later. I walk into the room of the guy taking on new gladiators, get a new outfit for the arena, put it on and then get yelled at that I still have a bet going on another gladiator. What? But I lost that and the guy said I could come collect my money if I won. I walk back upstairs, let the guy sneer at me for losing money and then go back down to accept my first challenge in the arena.
The thirty or so spectators are just BOILING as the announcer talks about these two fighters being all arena-green (how does he do that without a microphone? I'll never know) and then a woman gets set loose one me. The yells some insults at me and then casts some spell on herself. I toss some fireballs at her and then start hacking away. It doesn't take too long but as I've noticed by now during fight I completely lose track of my health-bar. There isn't a blacking/graying-out of the screen or reddening borders or anything in Oblivion and the health-bar is a tiny thing on the bottom-left of the screen. Later I will die because of this, always feeling like this is very sudden. This fight, which felt extremely fierce in comparison to what I had fought out before, took about a third of my health-bar. I earn 50 gold but decide that arena-fighting isn't for me as it feels like blood-money I don't really want. Also ten beer for killing another human being? I go back to stake out the store of the guy I am supposed to be doing surveillance on.
I go into the store and buy some literature to read while watching. A guide-book to the Imperial Capital and one on the place I'm supposed to deliver the amulet to at some point. Of course, the game stops when you read in-game books but like I stated before: I'm a role-player. I sit down on the curb on the other side of the road, next to a book-store and stare at the store. I check the time every once in a while, noting the passage of time in Oblivions world in comparison with the real world. A minute every three to five seconds, I guess. I go to the Imperial Chamber of Commerce and ask about buying a house in the city, wanting to find out the price for such things but the woman there tells me she doesn't trust me and won't even talk about it to me. Martor just accepts this and I wish there was a prompt for me to hold the Imperial Amulet under her nose and tell her that the Emperor trusted me with his dying breath and how dare she not. Or maybe just ask her why all these smugglers and thieves are more trusted than me. I leave the place. It turns seven PM and I fully expect the guy to finally leave his store. I wait more and more and finally, he goes. The extremely-obvious, annoyingly-slow chase is on!