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.
I reach a hastily thrown up blockade of some sharpened logs manned by three guards in plate-armor. Beyond it are the city walls and the city gate, in front of which there is what can only be described as a hell-gate (or a portal to Oblivion, as the game calls hell). Before I can talk to the guards and tell them that the Player Character is here so all will be fine, three little critters reminding me of the imps in American McGees Alice (the game calls them something else but to me they are imps from here on out) come out of the portal and the guards immediately leave their fortified position to attack them. I join them and we make short work of the fireball-throwing and clawing critters. The guards return to their position and I go back with them and talk to their leader.
As long as the portal is there, he says, they cannot go back into the city. He has sent men through it in hopes of finding a way to close it on the other side but they have not returned. So I should go. Now if Martor weren't a bit dim and I didn't know that he is the main character of this story, he probably would have refused. I mean: Come on. About four or five days ago I was an anonymous prisoner in the imperial prison and now I'm supposed to go to freaking hell to do a mission alone that a team of hardened and much better equipped city guards failed to do? I feel like the game is piling on the escalation a bit much at this point. I mean, half an hour ago I was fighting wolves (and not werewolves) in the woods and now there is a gate to Pandaemonium I'm supposed to do a one-man assault-charge through? Okay then, these imps seemed weak enough. Heroically I stride away from the barricade and towards the hell-gate. I jump through it only to find myself on the other side of it, in front of the city gate. It doesn't work like this, it needs a prompt from the action button to enter it. A little embarrassed, Martor goes back through the hell-gate, avoiding eye-contact with the guards at the barricade watching him. Then he prompts to enter Oblivion for the first time.
Oblivion/hell looks like one would expect. Barren, burned ground, oceans of lava, hell-vortex-skybox, towers that seem to be made of bone and blades. There is a man ahead of me, fighting some imps so I rush there to help him. After we off the creatures we talk. He is one of the city guards and happy to see another human being. Good thing, I'm not elf or lizard-monstrosity then, huh? Anyway, I tell him that his captain probably needs him in the real world and that I'll handle this myself. He seems relieved and runs back out of the hell-gate. Lucky him, I'll have to go in deeper. Apparently the guards wanted to assault that weird tower-structure ahead but all died on the bridge between some gates I cannot open. I have to find a way around and this is the first time I have to fight these imps on my own. I notice that oh, they are tougher than I thought. At first I try dodging/blocking (the latter doesn't work) their fireballs until they run out of mana and charge me and then it's melee from then on. This way I can't really fight more than one at a time and they are hard to kill. In between fights I am forced to stand around and wait for my magic to regenerate so I can use my heal-spell over and over again, healing minimal chunks of health as I have long run out of healing-potions (and I foolishly sold a bunch back in the capital).
I slowly grind my way to a bonfire and die to a land-mine. A land-mine? Seriously? Seriously. It even looks like the hopper-mines from Half-Life 2 if it were powered by a magick ruby. This is my first death and I frustratedly have to start over at the hell-gate. My own fault, really, as the game told me, upon entering, that Oblivion is dangerous and I better hit F5 often. Should've listened. Now, I guerrilla my way back through these imps, by now having developed a tactic where I draw one imps attention with an arrow and then reply to all of their fireballs with arrows of my own while dodging. Then, when they charge, I switch to sword and shield, block their initial charge and then go berserk on them. In theory they can have anywhere around five arrows sticking out of them when they charge but in praxis it's more like three hits on average but this strategy seems to work somewhat well enough. My sword is starting to go dull though and I curse myself for having no backup-weapon with me.
My sword (and everything else) constantly degrading I fight my way into the tower where I'm attacked by a creature in armor, a Daedra I think. While they do look a lot more dangerous than the imps, I find these a bit easier to fight, as long as they don't have an imp to support them. Dying once more in a situation where they DID have an imp with them, I battle my way into a side-tower, noting to my dread from the bridge that the imps I fought my way through on the way across the plain of Oblivion have re-spawned. Well, so much for an easy way back, I guess. I reach the tower and slaughter the Daedra there, who before told me how much he would kill me. Didn't work out so well, did it? He had a key and a stripped-down man in a cage, apparently one of the guards, tells me that this key gets me into the top part of the main tower and that in order to shut down the portal I have to remove some stone from somewhere up there. I want to free him but he says I got to go and he is unimportant so I guess he wants to stay. By now I have replaced my sword with one of the Daedras mace-like weapons which, while doing more damage than my almost broken blade degrades at an alarming rate – I now switch these whenever I have killed a Daedra.
Assaulting up the tower I die once more upon running into a room with two Daedras (Daedrae?) and an imp so the next attempt gets more pull-one-with-arrows-and-kill-them-one-at-a-time-like. Works. After some more fighting and perusing of suspicious looking fountains of blood (like in Diablo – would you drink from a fountain of blood you found in hell? Martor did!) I reach the top of the tower with a hovering lump of rock and light that is probably my objective. I get ready to hightail it back to the hell-gate and grab it when... Loading screen – and I'm back outside. Well that was anti-climatic. I go back to the guards manning the barricades and tell them I did it (obviously). They tell me that they're gonna attack the city to free the civilians hiding in the chapel and if I'd join them. Since Martin is hopefully in said chapel I agree but tell them I first need some time to get my stuff fixed up. So I go back down the path to the blacksmith-woman and have her repair all my equipment, some of which was in an alarmingly bad state.
After backtracking up the path to the city, we attack. That means, we run to the gate, the guards fade out of existence and I hit the use button to get my loading screen in order to follow them. I find myself in a courtyard full of ruins and the guards are already fighting some little dinosaur-like critters. The battle rages on and I end up looking at my life-bar, noticing that I'm almost dead and run away while the guards take arrow-shots at the two beasts following me around. I wait for a while before entering the chapel, healing myself with magic and letting it recover twice. Then we go into the chapel. There are survivors in here, two guards and four civilians, one of whom is Martin, easy to spot as he has his fathers face with the age-slider slid way more to the left. While they decide to walk back to the camp I make the mistake of talking to Martin and telling him who he is. He decides to follow me around while the guards want me to help them rescue their duke und assoult the castle. Damn. This leads to me backtracking down into the refugee camp once more, telling Martin to wait here for me, going back up to the city, loading-screen my way into the chapel and then collapsing on a bed there, as I have reached the next level and need to sleep. Hurry, we need to attack the castle as soon as possible indeed – I sleep for eight hours.
We get to the castle after taking out some imps. Our great number is really helpful at this point. Then I get sent back to get a guy who has a key we need to get into the gate. Back in the chapel there are three imperial legionnaires offering their aid and I have no choice but to accept it. The key-guy, the legionnaires and I go through some tunnels, let in the other guards and a fight in the castles courtyard ensues. The imps are dispatched and I start collecting the other guys arrows – they are steel, mine are iron and I guess theirs are better. Then we attack the castle proper. The next section I had to play five or six times, not because I was all that bad but because of the AI of my allies. A battle in close quarters against half a dozen imps is nothing Martor can do on his own at this point and my allies sometimes run around in circles, sometimes run against enemies but refuse to attack them and, in some cases, get angry with each other and start infighting. In real life I would have yelled at them that hey, we're friends, stop fucking killing each other, there is demons about! But Martor has no such diplomatic abilities and is forced to watch as the legionnaires and the city guards slaughter each other, accusing the other faction of being murderers. In the end I get a result that is sort-of okay, with us having lost two of the three legionnaires and the guy I rescued from hell, which is a bummer after all he had been through but there is only so much reloading I'm willing to do. With two guards and a legionnaire I fight my way to the dukes bedroom, looting the silverware on the way, reloading twice due to infighting and then coming back out alive with the dead dukes ring and three surviving friends. The mission is done, the city is free of demons and the dozen or so remaining citizens can get to rebuilding the place, I guess. I should get Martin to Chorol but as I'm already quite near to the ruins that half-orc talked about I might as well get a little side-tracked and check out that mission-objective. So I have my stuff repaired, tell Martin to wait here in the refugee-camp and then head out West.