The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
I know I'm uber-cool. Heck, everyone knows I'm uber-cool, but when a game acknowledges how uber-cool I am, it instantly wins my love from that alone. Luckily, Bethesda know the way to my heart, and have assured my love through the ego-inflating yet undeniably annoying adoring fan. He just follows you around until he gets mauled by a passing daedra, but the fact that he refers to you as "Oh great and mighty Grand Champion" means he's worth sticking in the game, and worth speaking to once. And never again.
It's also worth noting that Bethesda put an awful lot of other cool stuff into Oblivion. Such as flower picking. However, they even went to the trouble of putting basic, mundane, everyday tasks in, such as sneaking aboard pirate ships and assassinating the captain, entering yourself for fierce gladitorial fights to the death, or simply saving the world. The work that they've put into the little details is astounding. Oblivion is, in case you've been living in one of the many fusty caves littering Cyrodiil, an open world game. After exiting the sewers near the start of the game, you can either proceed with the whole apocalypse prevention procedure or completely disregard all that you have witnessed in the first half hour of the game. If you choose the former, you'll spend the next hour of your new life chatting up a priest who actually happens to be heir to the throne, only to find that he'll only follow you home if you slap about a couple of scabby-faced ruffians who set fire to half of his neighbourhood. The latter choice will take you anywhere you happen to end up. It's all a bit hit and miss there, although eventually you'll probably end up finding your way into one of the guilds. Or you'll spend the rest of your life sucking the moisture from rocks, whiling away the hours talking to mud crab.
Whichever path you choose, you'll always be in Cyrodiil, which has more places to go than you're likely to have time for. Luckily, there are also more things to do than you're likely to have time for, such as the above mentioned world-saving, or foiling a shopkeeper's evil plan to... sell cheap goods. The concept of all of these one off quests are great, and happily, they're all played out in equally great greatness. Huzzah! There as many different quests as quests you might want to do, and most people seem to have something troubling them. Oh, my flagon of ale has been stolen. Oh, my cat jumped off of a bridge. Oh, my sword has grown toenails, etc etc etc. As is so often the case in video gaming, most of the quests involve killing whoever the villain may be, rather than say, having a chat over a mug of ale. Ah well. I suppose omitting peaceful solutions is an accurate simulation of life.
When opening up a huge game world to explore, it's easy to just hope that the player may become so immersed that they won't notice that you've skimped on the graphics. Graphics skimping, however, has been skimped on in Oblivion. Your weapon shimmers in the light, orcs look as pig ugly and John Prescott-like as they should, and you can get some truly brilliant views. The only problem is with these views, in fact: the game only loads your immediate area. This leaves anything beyond that looking like a pre-schooler's snotted up papier mache replica of Old Trafford. On the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions you're stuck with this, but the PC version has a fascicle of mods available to make the game more pleasing on the eye. That said, even without the mods, Oblivion is still a beautiful game.
On the subject of mods, there are an awful lot that the community has now churned out. Any problems, no matter how obscure, that vanilla Oblivion had, have been ironed out by modders. One such gripe that angered many a fan was the lack of snail racing. That has since been corrected though, and you are now free to bet on and spectate this sport of kings (Once you've installed the mod, of course).
And now we arrive at the obligatory "things which this game fluffed up" part of the review. The most major problem is the combat system, which features a "block" button and a "swipe wildly in the enemy's general direction" button. You're not going to pull off Devil May Cry style combos however hard you may try, and the system's incredible lack of depth is what puts me off the warrior classes. Instead, I opt to sneak around in the shadows, picking off my targets with a well-placed arrow (and a 3x sneak damage bonus). Ranged attacks are much more interesting, the projectiles staying lodged in your target's throat until you pluck them back out. Or, if you're like me, leave them in and screenshot it, you sadistic bastard.
The game is also (On 360 at least) a little sluggish at some points when you're skipping through the countryside. On all platforms, there is occasional slowdown as the game loads the next area, yet the Xbox 360 version's frame rate seems to be a little more erratic than it would be on a decent computer. Saying that, the frame rate problem is slight, and you'll barely notice it thanks to all the fun you'll have killing goblins. Oh joy.
All in all, Oblivion is an open world RPG which stands head and shoulders above its peers. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, and the combat is far from the best you'll find, but Cyrodiil has been wonderfully crafted. Much like the under-garments of an inebriated Keira Knightly, it's a place you can't afford not to explore.