Oblivion: A love letter

Sometimes you just don’t feel like playing nice. I’d always played the good girl in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – noble, heroic, selfless – but I’d heard many good things about the famous Dark Brotherhood quests and figured it was time I went to the dark side.

The one really bad thing about being evil in Oblivion is that you don’t get to keep the swank self-regenerating, auto-levelling armour from the Knights of the Nine expansion. No matter, this fresh-off-the-boat character (I was using an Alternative Start mod) didn’t have that stuff anyway. A clean slate to get down and dirty.

So here I am, the new girl in town, and a fight has got a bit out of hand. After a tussle got fatal, a strange cloaked man visited me late at night and told me that if I just kill some sleepy dude, I can go and work for him. It’s not that I particularly like killing, but I’m just not that bothered by it. A job’s a job. This one looks like no trouble, so I go to the inn as directed, and rent the room above. It’s early, so I take a nap. I’m not evil, just … unconcerned, so I sleep well at night. When it’s all quiet, I sneak downstairs and dispatch the stranger with a poisoned blade.

The next thing I know, I’m creeping around some dodgy-looking basement in Cheydinhal with a right bunch of weirdos inside. They’re all in thrall to the Night Mother – Sithis, some sort of death-goddess – and everybody takes everything terribly seriously. Yeah, whatever, I’m thinking as I bite down on a (non-poisoned) apple. There’s one chap in there who’s very rude, but I’m more weirded out by the super-friendly girl who greets me as a sister. I have my own quarters (courtesy of my DB Sanctuary mod), but the rude guy is sitting in my dining chair, eating my food. I vow to quietly dispatch him the first chance I get.

There’s not a lot of time spent moping around the crypt, though: the Dark Brotherhood has plenty of missions to keep us occupied, and this is where it gets fun. This particular questline was designed by Emil Pagliarulo, formerly of the Thief series of games, which explains why this stealth-based series of vignettes is so deliciously satisfying.

There’s probably 10 hours of play in the DB quests alone – maybe more, even – since Oblivion is such a monstrously huge game. Aside from joining the Thieves Guild (I’m sure there’s supposed to be an apostrophe in there somewhere), I don’t allow myself to be distracted. I don’t do any of their quests aside from fencing stolen goods – little tokens I take from each of my targets – and making use of their ability to bribe off the guards if I’m caught at work.

Some of the quests are better on paper, as I’ve noticed on previous partially-complete play-throughs. One of the ones I’ve completed at least twice is a twisted little nugget of fun where you sneak into someone’s house and loosen the moose head on the wall, allowing it to drop onto the chair below in which the victim is seated. Much as I love the Ealing Comedy of the situation, I’ve always been disappointed that I’ve never seen the moose head actually fall. Perhaps it’s possible, but I felt a little cheated. The ‘Whodunit’ quest is again a mite disappointing, though I did manage to provoke one of the hapless party guests into eliminating another. It’s just nowhere near as ghoulishly satisfying as the ‘Pint-Sized Slasher’ quest in Fallout 3.

Where it really excels is in the Thief-style infiltration missions. Breaking into a fortress to administer some poison and sneaking out without alerting (much less killing) anyone is sheer nerve-shredding tension. You really have to have patience to crouch in the shadows while guards walk past, waiting for just the right moment to dart behind them to the next bit of cover, all without making a sound. Another flash of brilliance is a similar quest where the object is just to make it through without being spotted. The guards are undead, and there was a lot of breath-holding (yes, in real life) as I waited for the skeletal minion to move on, its bones making a hideous jangle as it shambled past.

The purple glow is from a “detect life” amulet, which shows the aura of any nearby beings. Its ability to shine in the dark, even through walls, saved my life on many occasions as I just managed to stop myself from flinging open a heavily-guarded door.

Progressing further than ever before, I made it past the main part of the quests to the “dead drop” quests, where orders are concealed in hollow tree stumps and other places. Instead of saying “buy this item and go to this address and kill them this way”, I was just given the schedule of the travelling (salesman?) along with a mention of a certain allergy. It was up to me to figure out the best way to get him alone, and how to administer the lethal dose. The inns would be too public, so I decided to break into the house he rented. The easiest way would be to remove all the foodstuffs from his cupboards and table and replace them with the allergen in question. He’d have to eat sooner or later, I thought. Only problem was that he wouldn’t be home for another five days.

No matter, since I had a little place a few miles up the coast (Korana’s Clamshell Cottage) where I could while away the missing days. I waited, fished, pottered around the house, then on the Saturday – sorry, Loredas – sped back to Leyawiin to do some shopping and wait. I snuck back into the target’s house and … did not effing believe it. Every item that I had removed had respawned. There I was, running around frantically trying to remove it all again muttering, “This isn’t happening! This isn’t happening!” and expecting my mark to return home any moment.

Breathless and cursing, I concealed myself the best I could to the side of a cupboard and hoped he wouldn’t see me.

“Who are you? Get out!”

Oh well. I had to wait outside and hope. Only now I had absolutely no way of knowing if he’d consumed the little treats I’d left for him. I waited … waited …

Snuck back in. Chased back out.

Waited … waited …

Snuck back in. Chased back out.

Waited … waited …

Snuck back in. Chased back out.

Waited … waited …

Oh screw it! Flung open the door, found him in rude health on the other side, and did him in swiftly with the poisoned blade.

He hadn’t touched his supper.

Bastard.

A short while later, I was enveloped in a world of triple plot twists and intrigue, which I wouldn’t dream of spoiling for you. Suffice to say, the Dark Brotherhood questline has a wickedly fascinating tale to tell. It was almost a shame to get to the end.

Having at last – third time lucky – finished the entire story, I have to decide whether to continue the character or start a new one. I’ve still never completed the Thieves Guild quests, either, and I’m wondering whether there’s a chance of redemption for my much-cursed assassin. Maybe she’ll eventually get to do the Knights of the Nine quests after all.

There’s some swank armour in it for her if she does.

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