It's 15 years to the day that The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion hit the Xbox 360, and 15 long years I've held a bitterness towards the game. I'm going to throw this out there now before the comment sections become a public roasting - I love Oblivion. It was the first game that got me into the RPG genre and opened my eyes to games past Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon. The results of this story are entirely my fault and I accept full responsibility - but I still hate you, Oblivion.
It all begins not long after the Xbox 360 launch, when I got a console for my birthday along with Oblivion. I'd seen a friend previously play Morrowind, and I was enamoured with it, so obviously I wanted the next entry in the franchise. Much like how I was inspired by someone else, me booting up the game, stepping out of the prison tutorial, and soaking in the vast open-world encouraged my best friend to pick up the console and the game after just one sleepover.
We made a pact to experience the game together, so we waited until the next available half-term during our school week, said no to homework, shrugged away any responsibilities, and locked ourselves in my room for an entire week. To make it possible, we brought the old TV from downstairs, which must have been about the size of a McDonald's Happy Meal, and had both TVs running Oblivion simultaneously. What followed was a week of sleep, eat, Oblivion, repeat. I can honestly only imagine what the smell would have been like for an outsider.
For one whole week, the outside world ceased to be, and a daily routine would see us playing our own saves. A typical morning would begin in the local tavern, deciding what quest line to push through today. Would we pursue the Thieves Guild? Or maybe test our might in the arena? The thing about Oblivion is there's an abundance of choices, and not a single one is the wrong one. Many PC players took to Second Life at around the same time to live our their fantasy world, but for us, we were already in it.
Then it all went wrong.
After knocking off a few quest lines, I decided to move to the Dark Brotherhood - an assassin guild, who worked in the shadows to keep the land of Cyrodiil ticking quietly. For a time it was going great, as I slowly ticked off the list of contracts that the guild gifted me. Each enemy met my hand in a variety of ways, whether it be sword, magic, or even an arrow to the knee. But then it all went wrong on one fateful mission, which saw my incredible stealth skills squandered.
I broke into my target's house and made a little racket to say the least. What followed was a less than satisfactory kill that should have got me kicked out the guild, to be honest. Fortunately (or unfortunately for real world Daniel), I ended my time with the guild fairly abruptly. You see, by this point, I wasn't versed in RPGs, so manual saving and stocking up on health potions was a rarity. In the event of a double auto save, I would delete the older one, just because it would irk me so much. In fact, I played the majority of the game on easy to get used to the genre, but this particular situation had me flailing around like a wavy inflatable tube man trying to stay alive. I made it, by the skin of my teeth, but my health was minimally low.
Now, for those that don't know, the Dark Brotherhood is a perfect place to grab some poisoned apples to take out targets, and my inventory was full of them. I had nothing that even resembled giving me health; all I had were these apples which I completely forgot were poisonous. So I gulped them down, like my life depended on it. This, I quickly learned, was a terrible decision and had disastrous consequences that my friend and I still relive to this day.
As expected, my character starts bleeding out and in a desperate attempt to resuscitate them, I indulge in a few more apples. Before I know it, I’ve got enough poison inside of me to take out an entire village and I’m falling to my knees, gasping for air as this deadly fruit slowly kills me from the inside. Okay, it wasn’t quite as dramatic as that, but this sounds more exciting than a health bar slowly depleting. But I thought, you know what? I’ll just reload the save and I’ll be good to go again. Easy, right?
Wrong. So, so wrong.
You see, as I mentioned previously, at this point in my RPG career, I never quite understood the importance of keeping manual saves. I’d been spoiled by auto saving for so long that it didn’t even occur to me. 70 hours into Oblivion and I’d not saved a single damn time. If I’d have completed the game this way, I would have easily been able to recall this story around a campfire years later with a simple ditty - The Great Ballad of the Single Save God, I would have called it. But instead, reloading my save caused my heart to sink - I was back to where I was after about four apples deep. This was it. This was the end for me. After 70 hours I was about to meet my end from a bleedin' fruit!
Me and my friend just repeatedly watched in disbelief, as my character slowly bled out on each reload. It was like watching a car crash that just repeated in my head over and over, but I got to physically relive the pain of seeing it. Obviously we tried everything, scrambling around the room for any other nourishment to survive, or delving into my inventory for a magical antidote - but nothing. It was like that scene in Casino Royale where James Bond is poisoned and has to quickly save himself. Except I am no Daniel Craig, just Daniel Hollis - The Great Ballad of the Idiot Who Didn't Manually Save.
What transpired after was a large amount of Coca Cola (I was 14, it was the strongest thing I could find), a takeaway, and watching the remainder of the game played through a tiny little television which we huddled around like goblins. Oh, and I had to go back to school a few days later, so yeah, I wasn’t in the best of moods. For years I held a distaste towards apples, throwing side glances across the playground as my friends bit into their juicy treat at lunchtime. "You're pumping poison into your body," I would say to my mates, as the school smokers were an earshot away behind the bike shed.
But years later, when I was older and wiser, I returned to Oblivion, and I showed it who’s boss. I manually saved about a thousand times and each one felt like a small victory. I ended the Oblivion gates, I ventured to the Shivering Isles, I got my own home, and in the end, I found one of the greatest games of all time. It may have broken my heart on my initial playthrough, but after fighting my apple shaped demons and learning the unwritten RPG law of manually saving, I came out the other side a changed man.
Still hate bloomin’ apples, though!
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