Sunday, June 6, 2010

Oblivion Mod Review - The Oubliette

Mod Review - The Oubliette
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Overall: Mix of straight fighting and horror environments. Good use of startling spooky noises. Sometimes impossible depending on resources. Hundreds of screenshots here. Review below can include TIPS and SPOILERS.

Why You Would Download This: You feel the Oblivion worlds are merely "horrible" as opposed to horror, and want to experience an actual horror/suspense environment. You like a challenging mod that puts you on an extended expedition with no real chance to re-supply with ingredients or potions.

The Oubliette (What is an "oubliette"?) has many scenes done in a very good "horror" style, although in an open-ended and flexible game like Oblivion, even if you don't use Night Eye or Detect Life, it can be pretty difficult to scare the player because of the resources or abilities at hand.

Some areas are extensive, while others are very short and seem almost under-developed. Not every location involves horror or the threat of death. Sometimes, the horror is just atmospheric cliches, such as spooky noises that sound close by but have no tangible source. Other times, it is in the visuals, although you may be surprised how quickly bloody zombies strapped to the ceiling becomes passe.
Of the ambiance touches, the most disappointing would have to be the voiceovers. Some of them are quite clear, but others are done in a deep and/or croaking voice, are barely intelligible. In dialogue with an NPC you have subtitles to back it up, but as disembodied voices while you are delving, it really detracts from whatever horror or feeling it hopes to evoke because you don't even know what it says. Sometimes, it's little better than the atmospheric noise.

There are some really neat touches, such as little written notes here and there from former guards; and skeletons that reanimate only when your back is turned. If you're into horror, it's definitely worth a look, though if you need a mod to have a strong story holding it together, The Oubliette could have done much better.

The main reason is that the rooms do not appear to have an overall theme, nor are they aligned with the Oubliette story (which you really only find out at the very end). This I personally found very disappointing. One of the common aspects of a horror flick is the gradual discovery by the characters/victims of what has happened before, what is going on now and why, and how to stop it. This is what helps a horror flick have an actual story instead of being disjoint scenes and meaningless slaughter.
Worse still in the Oubliette, toward the very end the horror is gone and replaced by gratuitous combat (and some find-the-switch action that has no meaning or symbolism with the story of the Oubliette). The enemies are very tough, and in fact the fighter-and-mage duo that the mod keeps throwing at you can be trickier to deal with than the final boss fights (click here and here to see their stats).

We had Martigen's Monster Mod installed, and very possibly that addition took over a lot of the spawn points, with the result that some areas were overly difficult and probably took more resources than a reasonably prepared character could spare.
The mod is author-rated at level 11-12. We did it with a level 8 character using storage cheats, so they had virtually unlimited alchemy and repair hammers at their disposal. Nevertheless the mod was sufficiently challenging without having to resort to cheesy tactics.
Having said that, however, it should be noted that the difficulty of the encounters sometimes jump to startlingly difficult or impossible, such as the first time you encounter pumpkinheads.

There were some bugs with the mod, so in case these happen to you, you know to reload: (Watch out for SPOILERS)
  • Chaos Arena - Some people have reported finding no way out. After you defeat all the adversaries, you are supposed to be teleported out. Try moving around a bit toward the middle of the arena or using Detect Life to make sure you haven't missed any that may just be playing dead.
  • In the room "Terror", you will enter a large hall and encounter the final boss. If you happened to move too far to one side of the room, when the boss appears you might be frozen/stuck.
  • In Vaermina's Halls, being hit too many times by the fire turrets can cause your character to freeze up as if controls were disabled for a cutscene.
  • The Bleeding Stone doesn't seem to do anything. Don't count on it even though the description pop-up says it can heal you.

Here are a few tips you may not have considered:
  • In Restless Dreams, you will be set upon by an endless number of skeletons. When they die, they drop their weapons, which are very random but also apparently not quality-limited. My level 8 character walked out of that level with two Daedric Maces (normally not available on monsters until character level 20).
  • The Pumpkinheads and final bosses are not immune to poison.

How could The Oubliette be better? Here's what we would recommend, based on the story (though it is revealed only after you clear everything and are ready to leave) -- Careful: SPOILERS!

  • That there are still-alive goblins in solitary confinement or elsewhere is remarkably implausible. If they are absolutely necessary, they could be change into ghostly versions.
  • SPOILER -- The main boss is set to Essential (unkillable) until you remove the darkness that empowers him. This is a flimsy clue, however, as your own light sources and even the small candles in the area of the final battle shed more light than the actual light sources you need to turn on -- the glassy welkynds that give off a soft yellow light when struck by an arrow. What would really have made this more clear and useful is to have those lights (which you have to turn on earlier in The Oubliette to advance between certain rooms) give off MUCH more illumination. Even after you turn on all the lights in the final area, there really isn't much of a difference in overall lighting. (That said, I must admit that what happens once you actually do turn on the correct lights is quite excellent in visuals and accompanying sound effects.)
  • More theme to the rooms. Quantity doesn't equal quality, and instead of a slog through a dungeon, having more quality is better. The final boss mentions something about "...not even the masters of this prison could escape me..." This is the perfect excuse for theming the rooms after specific officers of the oubliette, in charge of specific zones in the dungeon or with their favourite type of torture. In horror-movie style, we need not force a confrontation/boss battle -- instead, we can allow the player to simply manage to escape an area and progress to the next. Releasing a boss and thereby freeing them from the Oubliette could have an ultimate consequence in the final fight, however -- for instance, by automatically turning on one of the welkynd lights against the end boss. Or even having the spirit re-appear to fight/distract the boss.
  • Less fighting: Every good horror movie knows that when you actually show a monster, you remove some of the terror that comes from the unknown.
  • There are ambient sounds throughout The Oubliette. This could be capitalized on by making maybe 1 in 100 noises actually be from a spawned (nuisance) monster. This makes the noises actually more scary because, for a change, they could actually mean something.
  • More eerie environments. Stock static placements quickly blend into the background. Things like bulging walls (that actually do nothing harmful -- not everything needs to be a trap, just something that the player can't do anything about) or maybe flitting shadows. Be careful NOT to Havok too many things, or tie them to having loud noises. Oblivion doesn't handle Havoked objects very well, causing them to make very loud clattering noises (ever see lamps on chains dancing endlessly and making a really annoying racket?) and occasionally rocket around. None of that is "horror", just horribly irritating.
  • Do something with the notes. There are at least two letters for sweethearts at home. These could ultimately be delivered, if the player brings them out of the Oubliette.
  • A better post-finale. Something that could be done is for the player to return to the Tiber Septim Hotel library/attic as usual. At this point, there is likely a sense of relief and "everything back to normal". When they approach the exit to the attic (heading down to the Tiber Septim second floor) however, script a cutscene with a blurry shader or some such. At this point, an appropriate finish might be to have a rush of ghosts exit the painting and flee up through the ceiling -- tormented souls finally free to leave the Oubliette. And/or have the ghosts of the guard's loved ones come for the letters the character retrieved. Finally having word of their husbands, they are free to move on into the afterlife. Faint the character, then reappear them on a bed in one of the luxury suites of the Tiber Septim.

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