OK, I’ve played Oblivion for about ten days now. I’ve been playing an hour or two most nights, and more on weekends (where I stay up way too late playing). According to the game itself, I’ve played for about 30 hours so far. I don’t know how accurate that is, but I’ll accept it. My character is level 12 now, so that means I’m averaging going up a level about once per day, which I have to think is a clever strategy to keep you playing the game. Leveling up does not seem to offer tremendous advantages, but sometimes you cross a threshold that does give you a new power or ability.

My character is a custom-class “Sneak-Mage” who specializes in lurking in the dark shadows, firing arrows at the bad guys, then summoning monsters to engage the bad guys who come after me, then firing more arrows at them from behind, and finally finishing them off with touch spells before they can kill me in hand-to-hand combat. I almost never use a sword, axe, dagger or warhammer. I rarely get my “magicka” or “health” down low enough to be alarming. “Magicka” is your amount of magical power, it is used up as you cast spells and regenerates if you don’t cast spells. On occasion I find it useful to use long-range damage spells, but usually my sneak-attack bow and arrow does more damage and allows me to stay hidden, so that’s my usual tactic.

Obviously I am still at a very low level, but I think I’ve come far enough to make some more relevant statements about the game, the game play and the value of the game. So here I go with those comments:

First I am impressed with the scope of the game. When I first started playing it, I simply followed the instructions I was given and as such found myself more or less “trapped” in the plane of Oblivion fighting demons and such very early on. I didn’t like that, and when I finally did get back to the “normal” world, I decided not to try to save the world overnight. Instead I started trying to build up my character. This is good for the game play, but gives me a bit of concern about role-playing. In order to concentrate on building the character, I have had to leave an open Oblivion Gate unmolested for several “days” in game time as I have attempted to complete the “Mages Guild” quest which is necessary for me to have the basic mage skills such as recharging enchanted items and creating new spells. Based on my first experience in Oblivion itself, I don’t want to go back there again until I am a fully capable mage. It was much too difficult the first time and I don’t enjoy inching forward one evil minion at a time, dying three times out of every four times I try to get past an obstacle.

But the upside of this is that I have been enjoying this aspect of the game much more than the core Oblivion Gate thread anyway. Moving around the countryside more or less at will, fighting bandits, pirates and marauders is much more what I expect to do with a low-level role playing game character. Fighting evil demons in alternate planes has always been a job for much higher levels in my experience. I am still very surprised that the game threw me into that situation to begin with.

In order to become a fully functional mage, you have to complete the “Mage Guild Quest.” This quest requires that you visit every chapter of the Mage’s Guild, and do a chore for the local Mage Guild leader so that they will send a recommendation to the Arcane University in Empire City. Once you have all the recommendations, you are supposed to be accepted in the University where you then have access to the critical tools needed to create your own spells and magic items. And since I have a custom class character, I am certain that I will need custom spells and custom magic items to maximize his potential. I already know several spells, spell combinations and magic items I am going to need to make, and I haven’t found anything yet that comes close to what I need.

This is actually a very compelling part of the game, especially when compared to earlier RPG games such as “Baldur’s Gate” which really had no spell or magic item creation capability. You made do with what you could find, and that was pretty much it.

In Oblivion I can find and read books which describe the capabilities of certain spells and then craft new spells or enchant items (weapons, armor, rings, amulets and other things) with precisely the magical capabilities my character needs.

For example, I have a spell in a scroll that is extremely useful, the spell is called “chameleon” and I discovered, almost by accident, that casting it will allow my character to return to “sneak” mode even after he has been “discovered” by an evil character.

Before you say “so what” let me say that this is an incredibly valuable ability for a Sneak-Mage. If I can create spells that include this ability, then I should be able to hide in the shadows while dealing major damage with other spells. Since it is possible to chain spells together, I should be able to sneak into an area, and then cast a custom spell that includes lowering magic resistance on the target, dealing massive damage from the fireball, then hiding me again from the opponents I just blasted. If that is successful, then I should be able to restore my depleted magicka and repeat the attack until I have either killed them, or until they are low enough in health that I can finish them off as they attempt to engage me in hand-to-hand combat.

I should be able to do similar things with enchanted items, so that I can deal damage, then use a ring or amulet to cast the chameleon spell and return to cover that way.

Either way I have to be a full-blown mage to create either the spells or the magic items, so I am going to have to complete the quest to get there. I think I’m about 2/3 of the way through with that quest so far. Once I’m through with it, I think I’ll go back to that Oblivion Gate I passed up, and try to go shut it down.

I’ll keep you posted.