Sundown
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
a travel journal in retrospective
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Exploring
the wilderness On the nature of Cyrodiil and the theme of discovery

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The very beginning of Oblivion doesn't carry promises of great adventure: you start the game locked in a damp prison cell, taunted by a mean inmate in the cell opposite yours. As the main events of the plot are set in motion, you escape from prison and find your way outside by opening one of the city's sewer gates.

This first view of the world outside is one that sets the mood for the rest of the game:

Out of the sewers
The view outside of the Imperial City Sewers, overlooking a part of Lake Rumare. The Ayleid ruin of Vilverin is visible on the opposite shore.

The last tutorial message, which appears as soon as you exit the sewers, lets you know that now you're free to go wherever you want; you can continue with the task you've been given and advance the plot, or you can explore the world at your leisure.

And what a world is there to be explored!

A flower field
A castle in the distance
The Great Forest
An Ayleid ruin

The player is immediately left free to explore an open world with stunning environments, full of places to be discovered and secrets to be found. As there is no push of any kind towards the next story point, Oblivion invites the player to become an explorer and an adventurer: there is no set path to take - any part of the game is accessible in any order and there is never a mandatory step to unlock more of the game. There is literally nothing stopping you from going anywhere in the world. In fact, many of Oblivion's dungeons are not only completely optional, but not tied to any particular quest, either - they are places that simply exist in the world and tell little parts of its story, and the player can choose whether to explore them or not based on how their adventure is going.

Oblivion doesn't need to give you a reason to visit a certain place: setting off to explore the world is its own reward. The region of Cyrodiil is gorgeous, with many diverse environments created in the finest detail - rendered in a coherent way down to their topography and weather patterns, with each portion blending into the next through gradients of climate and habitats. As such, the world does not only look beautiful, but it also feels real - it looks like a place that could feasibly exist in our world. Simply walking around and sightseeing can be in itself satisfying - there is so much to see, and no boundaries no stop you. There are also not too many wild animals or bandits to block your way, and, since they can be often seen from afar, you can steer clear from them, if you wish. Some animals simply exist in the wild and do their own thing, unconcerned by the player's presence - deer and wild horses, for example, run around but never attack. You are also almost always alone as you explore the world, and, outside of settlements, there are not too many people to talk with. All of this, together with the quiet and ethereal soundtrack that plays during these exploration phases, contributes to giving Oblivion a peaceful sort of mood to it. I think this is especially so because the world of Oblivion does not exist in function of the player - it has its own character, with aspects that simply exist without them carrying any direct benefit to the player. For example, the aforementioned wild horses cannot be tamed at all. The moons move in the sky and have phases, but their presence does not impact any aspect of the gameplay. Your character is framed as a visitor to this world; every discovery you make comes with the understanding that you found out about a part of the world that was already there, and that was not necessarily there for you to find it. The other people of the world have their own schedules and routines, and don't exist for you to talk with them and further your own story. Your character is only a small part of the world, not unlike the deer running around or the ruins in the forest; you are only a small part of its history, and the world's personality does not revolve around yours.

Even with that in mind, it must be said that the joy of simply looking at things would eventually wear out if there was nothing to do in this vast world - after all, this is a game, so there has to be an interactive aspect to it. Luckily, the environmental detail in Oblivion is not merely cosmetic: there are many gameplay-related rewards for exploring. Interesting-looking places often hide some secret treasure; the many caves, forts and ruins that punctuate the wilderness of Cyrodill are often full of enemies and loot - the variety of which is such that you can't predict what you will find, so there are always surprises to be uncovered.

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There is also the reward of map completion. Upon starting a new game, the world map only marks the major cities; exploring the world results in more locations being discovered and added to the map. There are hundreds and hundreds of points of interest; and even if you weren't going to explore them upon first discovering them, adding them to the map furthers the completion of the game and allows you to return to those locations and visit them at a later time.

Oblivion: Starting map
The starting map of Oblivion.
Oblivion: Completed map
The completed map of Oblivion.

Oblivion features the ability to fast-travel to a previously discovered location by simply clicking on it on the map. This allows the player to skip the whole journey. It's not teleportation - the time that your character has spent traveling on the way to the destination will be taken into account, so it could be night by when you arrive to a certain place. Oblivion is the first game in The Elder Scrolls series to feature fast-traveling; as such, when this feature was added to the game, there was a considerable backlash from the fandom, the main critique being that it would take away realism from the game. Without going into a dissertation about how absurd it is to hear dudebros whining about realism in their high fantasy game (other people have written much better pieces on the topic than I could ever), the thing is this - the fast-travel feature is completely optional. If you'd rather not make use of it, you can avoid doing so - there is no penalty either way. In fact, it's probably overall more beneficial to walk all the way to your destination, since you will have more adventures on the way. When it happens that you are not in the mood, you can just omit all of that and arrive to the place where you really wanted to be. I like to think of the fast-travel as a scene change in a novel: sometimes writing about the entire journey of a character is important and great, but some other times it would just slow down the pace and add nothing. I personally greatly appreciate that Oblivion lets you choose how you want your story to be told.

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After many adventures, a message will pop up to inform you that you should meditate on your experiences and have a good rest. Doing so allows your character to progress to the next level. An in-depth explanation of Oblivion's leveling mechanic is outside of the scope of this essay; what I want to direct attention towards, instead, are the quotes that accompany each level-up. I don't think these need any commentary on my part.

  1. You realize that all your life you have been coasting along as if you were in a dream. Suddenly, facing the trials of the last few days, you have come alive.
  2. You realize that you are catching on to the secret of success. It's just a matter of concentration.
  3. You've done things the hard way. But without taking risks, taking responsibility for failure... how could you have understood?
  4. Everything you do is just a bit easier, more instinctive, more satisfying. It is as though you had suddenly developed keen senses and instincts.
  5. You've learned a lot about Cyrodiil... and about yourself. It's hard to believe how ignorant you were, but now you have so much more to learn.
  6. You resolve to continue pushing yourself. Perhaps there's more to you than you thought.
  7. The secret does seem to be hard work, yes, but it's also a kind of blind passion, an inspiration.
  8. So that's how it works. You plod along, putting one foot before the other, look up, and suddenly, there you are. Right where you wanted to be all along.
  9. You woke today with a new sense of purpose. You're no longer afraid of failure. Failure is just an opportunity to learn something new.
  10. Being smart doesn't hurt. And a little luck now and then is nice. But the key is patience and hard work.
  11. You can't believe how easy it is. You just have to go... a little crazy. And then, suddenly, it all makes sense, and everything you do turns to gold.
  12. It's the most amazing thing. Yesterday it was hard, and today it is easy. Just a good night's sleep, and yesterday's mysteries are today's masteries.
  13. Today you wake up, full of energy and ideas, and you know, somehow, that overnight everything has changed. What a difference a day makes.
  14. Now you just stay at your peak as long as you can. There's no one stronger in Tamriel, but there's always someone younger... a new challenger.
  15. You've been trying too hard, thinking too much. Relax. Trust your instincts. Just be yourself. Do the little things, and the big things take care of themselves.
  16. Life isn't over. You can still get smarter, or cleverer, or more experienced, or meaner... but your body and soul just aren't going to get any younger.
  17. With the life you've been living, the punishment your body has taken... there are limits, and maybe you've reached them. Is this what it's like to grow old?
  18. You're really good. Maybe the best. And that's why it's so hard to get better. But you just keep trying, because that's the way you are.
  19. By superhuman effort, you can avoid slipping backwards for a while. But one day, you'll lose a step, or drop a beat, or miss a detail... and you'll be gone forever.
  20. The results of hard work and dedication always look like luck. But you know you've earned every ounce of your success.

The flora of Cyrodiil

The fine detail put in the rendering of Cyrodiil touches every aspect of its worldbuilding; one of the places where this is most visible is in its flora. The presence of plants is, in fact, an important aspect of Oblivion: there are hundreds of different plants that can be found in Cyrodiil - some imaginary, and some with real-world counterparts. Many of these plants are named, can be interacted with, and yield ingredients that can be used to make potions and poisons.

One of the things that I find really extraordinary about Oblivion is how it incorporates game mechanics that reward you for gaining a deep understanding of its world, one that goes far beyond rote memorization of names and stats. Since the world is so expansive, you won't be able to know where each individual plant grows; instead, you can learn how the nature of Cyrodiil is like, and find plants based on this intuitive knowledge. Certain plants only grow in a certain region, and under certain conditions; for example, you won't be finding a lotus flower if you aren't looking near water - just as it would be if you were searching for them in our world. Essentially, to be good at alchemy in Oblivion, you have to become a bit of an alchemist and botanist yourself. The process of finding the alchemical ingredients is not strictly directed towards the making of useful potions, and is usually not forced by arbitrary fetch quests; it happens naturally as part of your adventures, and is enjoyable in itself. Exploration leads to learning more about the world, which enables you to find things of use for your future adventures.

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Here are some interesting plants (and mushrooms) that can be found in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Some are real, some are imaginary, some are something in-between. Where there is a real-world counterpart to a plant that appears in Oblivion, I've highlighted that by accompanying the screenshot with a photo of the plant in question. You will see that the similiarities are stunning.

The real

Nightshade

Nightshade (photo)
Bitter nightshade.
Photo from Commons.
Nightshade (Oblivion)
A nightshade plant in Oblivion.

Finding a nightshade plant in Oblivion for the first time was one of the key moments that made me see how much care and detail went into the making of this game, and how much I was going to enjoy it because of that: the plant looked so right that I could recognize what it was meant to be even before approaching it!

In the real world, the nightshade is most known for being very poisonous, so it makes only sense that, in Oblivion, its primary alchemical effect is Damage Health. Like most poisons, however, the nightshade also has medicinal uses - this is reflected in the game by the fact that a master of Alchemy will find that its fourth and last effect to be unlocked is the very beneficial Fortify Magicka property. As an ingredient, it is so useful that finding a wild plant is like finding a little treasure. Yes, Oblivion is the game that makes you rejoice that you found some nightshade.

I would like to point out that, while the nightshade historically known for its uses as a poison is the deadly nightshade, the nightshade of Oblivion looks most like the bitter nightshade, which is also poisonous, but not quite as infamous. I can understand why they chose to go with the looks of the bitter nightshade, though: it has large, gorgeous purple flowers. The flowers of the deadly nightshade are smaller, and just not as charismatic.

Flax

Flax (photo)
Flax flowers.
Photo from Commons.
Flax (Oblivion)
A flax plant in Oblivion.

In the real world, flax is a pretty blue flower with immense historical, cultural, and economical importance: its fibers have been used to produce linen textiles for the last 30,000 years, and its seeds can be crushed into an oil which is used as food, as a drying agent in oil painting, and as a varnish. Its relationship with humans is shown through the fact that we can find portrayals of this flower in ancient Egyptian temples, and in how the scientific name of its species, the usitatissimum in Linum usitatissimum, literally means "most useful".

As a parallel to its significance in the real world, the flax that you can find in Oblivion yields one of the most useful ingredients available in the game: the flax seeds, which carry the effects of Restore Magicka, Feather, Shield, and Damage Health. This means that, at low levels, they're the most common ingredient that can be used to brew a Restore Magicka potion, which is essential if you're playing a magic-oriented character. As soon as your character's Alchemy skill is high enough that secondary effects of ingredients are unlocked, flax seeds also become the most common ingredient that can be used to create the Feather potion, which dramatically increases your ability to carry inventory around. Mix them with venison or lotus seeds, and you're ready to go! One great thing about using them for this purpose is that the flax seeds in themselves are as light as they come, so you can easily have a lot of them on you at any time, and brew a Feather potion whenever the need strikes.

The only negative about flax seeds is that, at higher alchemy proficiency levels, this go-to Feather potion becomes no longer feasible. The Damage Health effect is unlocked on both flax seeds and venison, which results in a Feather potion with a negative Damage Health effect. Apparently, becoming a master of alchemy makes you become allergic to your favorite potion.

Flax is found primarily in the fertile lands of Colovia, and particularly around the city of Skingrad. It even grows wild within the city itself - the citizens seem to value its beauty and usefulness, and allow it to thrive around monuments and houses.

Mandrake

Mandrake (photo)
Mandrake flowers.
Photo from Commons.
Mandrake (Oblivion)
A mandrake plant in Oblivion.

European folklore has a lot to say about mandrake, and particularly about its root: because of its shape resembling that of a human body, it was believed to possess magical properties. One of the most known tales about mandrake has it that the root will scream upon being pulled from the soil, and that its scream will kill anyone who hears it - and so special precautions would have to be taken by anyone who seeks to harvest it (yes, this is where that scene in Harry Potter comes from).

Although the mandrake of Oblivion does not require a special procedure to be extracted from the soil, its attributes reflect the healing properties that it was thought to have: its first effect is Cure Disease. This is the effect that eating the raw ingredient would give regardless of proficiency in Alchemy, so it's not even necessary to brew it into a potion to get that effect - you can simply eat it, and you will instantly be healed of any diseases. It goes without saying that you are very advised not to do that in the real world - because people weren't really that far from the truth when they thought it was a magical plant; it has hallucinogenic effects - no wonder it was (and still is!) used in magic rituals.

When you think about it, the way it works in Oblivion makes you wonder how come people in this world don't just eat mandrake root for breakfast. We can suspend our disbelief when it's about dragons, but I guess being always healthy is just too far-fetched of a fantasy.

The fantastic

Domica Redwort

Domica Redwort

The domica redwort is a pretty, large red flower that grows in Blackwood and in the West Weald. I think it looks like a fanciful hybrid of a chrisanthemum with a lotus. To me, the most interesting thing about this plant is that, while most flowers in Oblivion yield ingredients like seeds, nectar, etc., the harvestable ingredient of this plant is the entire flower! Which you can then bring to your house and drop around. There. Pretty flowers all over. That's the height of fantasy for me: a house with cut flowers that are essentially immortal.

Dragon's Tongue

Dragon's Tongue

For an imaginary plant, the dragon's tongue looks pretty real. In fact, I had assumed that it was real, and that it was put in Oblivion as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that it's called a dragon's tongue of all things. After all, tarragon is a real plant (scientific name Artemisia dracunculus, known in Italian as dragoncello; if we can call a herb a dragon...).

Wisp's Stalk Mushroom

Wisp's Stalk Mushrooms

Actually, the wisp's stalk mushrooms kinda piss me off. Not because I don't like them, but because they're so hard to harvest... They make a very small target, and they have a lower harvest rate than most other things in the game. And they happen to be the most useful ingredient for making poisons at low alchemy levels, so, if you are playing an assassin-type character (which I do a lot), you'll definitely have to interact with them. Or, rather, smash buttons in their general vicinity. You find nothing of use. You find nothing of use...

The fantastically real

Elf cup

Elf Cup (photo)
Elf cup mushroom.
Photo from Geograph.
Elf Cup (Oblivion)
Elf cup in Oblivion.

Yes, there are real mushroom that are called elf cups. In our world, the elves they're named after would be the imaginary forest gnome sort of creature. In the world of The Elder Scrolls, in which elves are real and are part of the same society as humans, their name becomes a lot weirder, when you think about it. Do elves really have anything to do with these mushrooms? Are they part of their culture? Or is calling them elf cups really a slur?

Pitcher plant

Pitcher plant (photo)
Pitcher plants.
Photo from Commons.
Pitcher plant (Oblivion)
Pitcher plants in Oblivion.

Pitcher plants are some of the weirdest plants ever - and some of the coolest, in my opinion. The reason why I'm talking about them here, though, is this: in Blackwood, you can find these lovely pitcher plants, and when you mouse over them, they appear to be a harvestable plant; however, trying to get an ingredient from them always fails. For the longest time, I thought I must be doing something wrong. Maybe it only contains flies sometimes? Anyway, it turns out that it just doesn't yield anything. That's all. I am just very disappointed by the fact that one of my favorite plants is broken in game.

Well, if nothing else, it adds to the scenery!

Morning glory

Morning Glory (photo)
Morning glory flower.
Photo by MLaBar at Pixabay.
Morning Glory (Oblivion)
A morning glory plant in Oblivion.

Bear with me, I have a little bit of a story to tell... It's just that I had no idea morning glories were a real thing that exists. Don't do that face, it's just that they don't grow wild in Italy where I'm from, so I'd never seen one. And when I saw them in Oblivion, I assumed they were imaginary. The name sounds very fantasy, after all. I mean: morning glory! So, for many years, I thought this was it - until one day Denise was watching me play and she saw the morning glories, recognized them from afar, and mentioned that her mom used to grow these flowers. I'm still kind of reeling in from this information. It's a bit like being told that unicorns exist.

...and the Nirnroot

Nirnroot

Nirnroot

But, without a doubt, the most famous (and infamous) plant that appears in Oblivion is the nirnroot. A peculiar plant with glowing blue leaves that grows by water and emits a chiming sound, the nirnroot has mysterious magical properties; it is also extremely rare, making it the center of a quest in which the alchemist Sinderion sends the player to find samples of this plant for potion-making purposes. Unlike every other plant in the game, nirnroots don't grow back after being harvested, and so, to complete your mission, you have no choice but to find as many as you can in the wilderness. Which is not easy!

Whatever the case may be, one thing is certain; the Nirnroot is on a path to destruction. It contains untapped potential to create potions the likes of which have never been seen in our day. I propose to you today that we divert a small portion of our funds to an expedition to collect some of these roots to study.
Sinderion, Nirnroot Missive

In his treatise on the nirnroot, Sinderion writes about how the plant used to have yellow leaves, and it appears to have changed color following a catastrophic eruption that threatened all lifeforms. Considered that the nirnroot is named after Nirn, the planet where the Elder Scrolls series takes place, I think it's being implied that this plant acts as a sort of indicator of the world's health. When you think about that, the fact that it seems to be on the way to extinction is quite worrying - and the fact that you're being sent to contribute to its disappearance becomes even more criminal and irresponsible than before. People like Sinderion is why we need laws to protect endangered species! Sadly, the Empire doesn't seem to have such laws to protect the nirnroot, and they're certainly not going to work on that while the gates of Hell are being opened...

In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which takes place two centuries after the events of Oblivion, it is revealed that the canonical ending to this story is that the player character managed to find 100 samples of nirnroot for Sinderion, who then went on with his research and to other endeavors (more about that later, in its own essay). Since there are a total of 309 nirnroot plants in Cyrodiil, this means that the region's population was reduced by one third! This research could have brought them to extinction!

Luckily, Sinderion's apprentice Avrusa Sarethi eventually learned how to cultivate the nirnroot in the region of Skyrim, which means that this knowledge could be brought over to Cyrodiil and the damage done by Sinderion's inconsiderate research reversed.

In any case: what the actual fuck, Sinderion.

The fauna of Cyrodiil

Cyrodiil's forests and valleys would not be complete without a population of creatures to inhabit them. Some of the creatures that you can meet during your travels are animals that we can find in our world, like sheep and deer; others are fantastical - some are Oblivion's take on well-established fantasy beasts such as trolls and minotaurs, while others are unique to the universe of The Elder Scrolls. As mentioned before, not all of the beasts of Oblivion exist to be an obstacle during your adventures: some wander the world on their own terms, or flee from the player when approached. However, many are aggressive, and you will need to either run away from them or defeat them.

While, for the most part, the world of Cyrodiil exists regardless of the player, its hostile entities are the most notable point where this gets a bit broken. In Oblivion, the range of possible enemies that can be encountered is scaled to the level of the player character. This means that some creatures appear at level 1, and as such can be found at any point of your adventures; some others, however, appear at higher levels, so they cannot be seen at all until the player reaches a certain level. This is quite evidently a spot where the balance of the gameplay was made to take priority over logic. I can't be too upset over that, since I can see how this was a difficult call to make - but it does lead to some strange conclusions: the wilderness becomes progressively more dangerous as time goes on, and, if you never level up, the world will be a safer place for everyone!

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Here are some of the most notable animals and monsters that can be found in Cyrodiil. The undead and the Daedra will be discussed in later essays because, while they can be seen in Cyrodiil, they cannot be considered fauna - and they don't belong there at all.

The animals

Rats

Rat

The very first animal you see in Oblivion, and also the very first enemy that you must fight on your own, is a rat. The rats of Cyrodiil are much larger than the ones we are used to, being about as large a dog - which probably explains why there seem to be no housecats in Oblivion. Rats can be found about anywhere in the world; most of them are aggressive, but not all of them are - most notably, at the very end of Oblivion's tutorial section you will pass by a sewer rat that is completely uninterested in the player's presence. You will also find some pet rats in Cyrodiil - Arvena Thelas in Anvil keeps four of them in her basement. If you choose to become an assassin, you will even meet a rat named Schemer who is a full-fledged member of the Dark Brotherhood! They really are everywhere!

Wolves

Wolf

Wolves are some of the most common animals that can be found in Cyrodiil. Modeled after the grey wolves of our world, they can be found in any environment, including roads, caves, ruins, and forts - in particular, they can be found in places inhabited by vampires, as a reference to Bram Stoker's Dracula. The wolves of Cyrodiil are always hungry, and attack the player on sight. They are almost always found alone - very much unlike the wolves of our world, which are social animals; and maybe it's just that the wolves of Oblivion differ in behavior from the ones we are used to, but the portrayal of all wolves as lone wolves is a common mistake that many videogames make, so I'm going to chalk it up to that.

Deer

Deer

Honditar in Chorrol remarks that the deer of Cyrodiil are skittish; and he's right - they keep their distance from people and flee when approached. You might see small herds of deer run around during your adventures - most of the time, they'll run much too fast for you to follow them, but it is possible to give them chase if your character is particularly fast. Every once in a while, you might spot a hunter trying to take down deer with their arrows; you can do the same, if you wish - as mentioned before, venison is a very useful ingredient for alchemy, so there is a reason to try hunting deer. No wonder they don't trust people.

Mud Crabs

Mud Crab

Within your first hour of playing Oblivion, you'll probably hear a bandit taunt you with the line, "I've fought mud crabs more fearsome than you!". Considered that most of the time these bandits end up dead within seconds of saying that, this might lead you to wonder about what kind of mud crabs have they been fighting... The mud crabs of Cyrodiil are larger and more ornery than most of our Earth crabs, but they are also mostly harmless - they will attack you on sight, but they often end up making more noise than damage. You can expect to see them whenever you are anywhere near water. Most of the time, if the battle music starts and you can't see what's attacking you, there's a mud crab slowly crawling its way towards you.

Maybe the mud crab all of these people are talking about is the Spectral Mud Crab from Greenmead Cave, which is thrice the size of a normal one. Still, considered that this giant mud crab is not any stronger, their taunt is ultimately pointless trash talk. They are fighting a losing battle, after all.

Horses

Horses

As the universe of The Elder Scrolls takes place in a fantastic medieval setting, it's only to be expected that horses should be an important part of it. The most notable feature of horses, just like in our world, is that you can ride them; there are many stables in Cyrodiil where you can purchase a horse - whether you want a black or white horse, paint or bay, there's a place for you to get the horse you want. Once you have a horse, you can ride it whenever you want, and it will follow you wherever you go. When you visit a city, it will patiently wait for you in the stables out of the city walls. As mentioned before, Cyrodiil also has a small population of wild horses that cannot be tamed (in the picture); you can see them wandering near the southwestern shore of Lake Rumare.

Now, I've been writing about Oblivion as a work of art and a beautiful experience that enriches the soul and so on, but we gotta stop a moment with all that stuff and talk about horses. Because this game has horses that gallop at warp speed. Horses that can bounce on water. Horses that can report crimes. Horses that can report being unlawfully ridden!

What am I ranting and raving about? You say I must be talking about glitches, for sure?

Nope!

For the most part, these are game mechanics that were consciously programmed. Indeed, someone at Bethesda sat down, pondered about the direction this game was going, and decided that it needed more law-abiding horses. Wherever you are, my horse-obsessed friend, I hope you're having a great life.

Allow me to explain how exactly did we end up with such intense horses.

Horses at warp speed

When wandering through Cyrodiil, you might notice some shrines that can be found in the wilderness. These are known as the Wayshrines of the Nine Divines, and are dedicated to each of the Aedric gods of Tamriel. Visiting one such shrine will grant you healing, plus a blessing depending on the powers of the deity you just prayed to: for example, Kynareth, goddess of the winds, grants a temporary boost to your Agility, and Zenithar, god of commerce, grants a temporary boost to your Luck.

The Aedra are not discriminating gods, and they will grant their blessing to anyone who prays for them, no matter who they are or where they come from. If a holy horse decides to pray for the Divines, how could they refuse? And so, if you carefully place your horse on top of a Wayshrine, the Aedra will bless the horse. In fact, it turns out that your horse must be so holy that the gods will bless it far more than they would bless you: instead of a temporary boost, the horse will receive a permanent boost to its Speed. There you go. With the favor of the gods, your horse has become unstoppable. Your horse is now fast, so fast, faster than a bullet train, faster than anything else in the world; it can run so fast that not even the world itself knows what to do with its prodigious speed - you will periodically slam into an invisible wall of loading, as the world is simply not ready for this horse. Even its walking speed is faster than anything else around itself, giving a new meaning to the concept of power walking. Your horse is now so fast that it has become a threat to its own safety: its breakneck speed makes it such that you won't have the reaction time to prevent it from hurling itself down the cliff that appeared at the horizon but a moment ago - often spelling the death of this ultrablessed horse.

A wayshrine
A place of prayer... or of ridiculous horse power.

It follows that, to properly harness the power of your impossible horse, it would be best if it only ran on flat terrain, away from obstacles that might turn your horse into a smear on the cobblestones. But Cyrodiil is a very rugged land; where could you possibly find such vast expanses of flat terrain for your superequine horse to run onto?

Think outside the box. Maybe what you need is not terrain at all, but rather...

Water. The region of Cyrodiil is centered around a large lake, Lake Rumare, with many other small lakes around it and rivers flowing between them. If you use the Altar of Spellmaking and make a custom spell that gives the power of Water Walking to your horse, your horse can now run at its absurd speed unhindered by small obstacles such as hills and mountains. Your horse is now the most powerful being on the face of Nirn... and you are the only one who can use its divine gallop. Use this power wisely.

Horses that bounce on water

Or you can make a custom spell to cast Fortify Acrobatics on your already terrifying horse. When your character reaches level 100 of the Acrobatics skill, you will be able to use the Master perk of this skill, which allows you to jump off the surface of the water. Now, if you were to make your horse be level 100 in Acrobatics, wouldn't it be able to jump off water as well?

The answer is yes.

Whee!

Allow me to quote this paragraph from The Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages explaining how does this work, because it is one of the most hilarious things that I've ever read in my life:

The horse will bounce on the water at the same speed it took off, so taking off on land and then bouncing on the water will make your horse bounce at the same speed it normally runs; however, taking off from underwater will make your horse bounce slowly, since all horses are slow swimmers.
From the Oblivion: Horses page

Horses that can report crimes

Horses do not need to be blessed by the gods to be considered of importance. All horses are wonderful. All horses of Cyrodiil are upstanding citizens of the Empire, and, as such, are considered lawful witnesses when a crime occurs. This means that if a horse sees a person steal something, it will report them to the authorities, and they will incur a bounty, based on the horse's testimony. That's the sort of game Oblivion is.

As Anise wrote on the Amassment boards in response to this page:

[...] I am glad that horses can report crimes. I would certainly hate it if a crime was committed and my horse was the only witness but couldn't tell me what happened. Bethesda has taken important steps to create an in-game justice system you can believe in.
Anise (see post)

Horses that can report being unlawfully ridden

This becomes particularly important as for what concerns matters of horse theft. If you were to try to mount a horse that does not belong to you, the horse itself can report you to the guards over its own horsenapping. This will happen also if you are seen by another horse during your crime. Any would-be horse thief must be careful to not be seen by any person or horse when they first mount it; if they were not seen in that crucial moment, they can get away with it. In fact, if the horse itself does not notice you climbing on its back, you can ride it afterwards without incurring into a bounty. I guess that the horse has not yet noticed that you are not its lawful owner. Somehow. Much less explainable is how you are able to ride the stolen horse in front of its owner without them having anything to say about it.

When the owner of a horse has passed away, you still cannot ride that horse without it being considered theft. This would make sense in the grim case of the owner's death being caused by the same person who then tries to run away with the horse, but it also happens when the owner has died due to unrelated circumstances. The horse will remain around where it was last dismounted, and will eventually disappear in the span of a few in-game days.

The horse of an Imperial Guard
This horse used to belong to an Imperial Guard who died following an encounter with a Spriggan. I wanted to bring the horse back to town, but couldn't without being charged for theft.

It appears that, in Oblivion, owning a horse creates a partnership that can survive death itself.

l

Up until now, I've been talking about horses in general - and there has been a lot to say; but I'm not done yet. The time has come to talk about one particular horse - the scariest horse of all, a remorseless monster, a veritable night-mare:

The Unicorn

Unicorn

Do not be fooled by its pure white coat and its innocent appearance - the unicorn of Oblivion is a violent beast that should be avoided at all costs. It's merciless. It will attack anyone in its vicinity that has a weapon drawn - it makes no distinction between friend and foe. If you're attacked by a bandit in the presence of the unicorn, it will attack you for having the audacity to defend yourself. In fact, it will attack you even if you defend yourself with your fists. The unicorn's violent sprees do not affect only you or the bandits - anyone is fair game to this monster. If any character happens to draw their weapon in the presence of the unicorn, they're about to experience a gruesome death - the unicorn also happens to be incredibly strong, and the average townsfolk's iron sword can do nothing against the unicorn's blind rage. The only means of offense or defense that the unicorn will not react to is Destruction magic, since using it does not count as drawing your weapon - so, burning your attacker alive with your hands is perfectly okay as far as the unicorn is concerned, but making those hands into fists and punching them is unacceptable.

The unicorn can be ridden, but that does not make it a tame beast. If it could attack you while you ride it, it surely would. The moment you dismount and draw a weapon, the unicorn is not going to hold back - maybe especially so because you dared to ride it. And even if you play by its rules and never draw a weapon in its presence, the unicorn has still no respect for its rider, and will begin wandering away in the direction of the Harcane Grove where it used to live as soon as you dismount - don't expect to park your unicorn and have it wait for you like a good horse while you run your errands. The unicorn does not care. If it had a middle finger, it would give you that.

Horses might make good witnesses, but they cannot be imprisoned for their crimes, making them effectively above the law. This means that the unicorn cannot be punished for its crimes... except in one way.

The unicorn is the center of the quest given to you by Hircine, the Daedric Prince of hunting. To prove yourself worthy of his favor, he asks you to slay the unicorn - the only unicorn of Cyrodiil - and bring his horn as proof. If you haven't met the unicorn before, you could be appalled by the thought of killing something as pure and holy as a unicorn for the sake of a demonic prince; but, when you know what the unicorn really is like, his request becomes a lot more reasonable - and, in fact, perhaps even morally sound. Someone must put an end to the unicorn's reign of terror; why not you?

Regardless of whether you have accepted Hircine's quest or not, the unicorn can always be found in the Harcane Grove, protected by three Minotaurs. And it is probably best to leave it there.

The monsters

Trolls

Troll

In general, I like the concept of trolls as a staple monster; I like how their design is very open to interpretation, and so everyone makes up their own version of this creature. I particularly like Oblivion's idea of a troll: an ape-like creature with three eyes, all covered in moss. Something about them also reminds me of the monsters from Quake, which is always a great plus for me.

The trolls of Oblivion are fast and furious beasts that roar and pounce and claw at you. They regenerate health over time, causing them to be fearsome opponents when they first appear in the game. Probably because of the moss on their bodies, all trolls have a major weakness to fire - as many characters in the game will tell you, it would be wise of you to exploit this weakness when fighting them.

Spriggan

Spriggan

A spriggan is a creature from Cornish lore, said to be a kind of fairy, or maybe a troll. Although its physical description varies by account, it is always described as having a malicious and vengeful disposition - a spriggan will go to great lengths to bring mayhem in the life of those who ever crossed it.

The spriggan that can be seen in Oblivion definitely follow this traditional description - they appear as tree-like fairies who laugh in the face of anyone who has the misfortune of meeting one. Their most notable means of attack is by summoning a black bear, but even worse than their attack is their ability to completely regenerate their health when they are about to be defeated.

Land dreugh

Land dreugh

The land dreugh is a creature unique of the world of The Elder Scrolls. Part crustacean and part humanoid, they are found in caves and near water - where they will attack anything on sight. What is most notable about the land dreugh is that it is a very temporary stage of the life of the dreugh, which for the most part looks like a completely different creature: it lives most of its life in the ocean in a different, octopus-like form, then moves to the land for one year to reproduce. It is during this time that it undergoes this metamorphosis. Because you cannot swim into the open ocean in Oblivion, all of the dreughs that are ever met are in their terrestrial form.

While the aquatic dreughs are said to be very intelligent, land dreughs do not appear to be - they do not seem capable of any form of communication with the other humanoids of Cyrodiil, and all of their interactions are hostile. This is most likely because, in this stage of their lives, they are consumed by their need to protect their offspring, and as such become very territorial. They are best avoided, but, if you really must fight one, you will find that they yield one useful alchemical ingredient when slain: the Dreugh Wax, which can be used to brew a Water Breathing potion.

The goblins

A goblin

Now, you might be wondering why did I make a whole new heading to talk about goblins, rather than write about them in the section about monsters. The reason is that, while the goblins of Cyrodiil are seen by most people as aggressive beasts with few thoughts, there is a lot more to them than meets the eye.

Consider the following:

  1. Goblins have a complex society. They have a caste system: commoners represent the bottom level, warriors represent the middle level, and religious leaders represent the top level. Their society is matriarchal, and dominated by a single figure: the shaman, who wields a totem staff as a symbol of her power. Each goblin has a rank and a job - you can see goblins assigned to food preparation and goblins tending to their rat farms.

  2. Goblins divide themselves in tribes. There are eight goblin tribes in Cyrodiil - the members of each can be distinguished by a particular tattoo on their bodies. Goblins that do not belong to any tribe can join one, if they so desire.

  3. Goblins wage war. Sometimes goblin tribes will start a war between each other. The ultimate objective for each warring goblin tribe is to capture their rival tribe's totem staff, as a display of dominance and superiority. Their wars appear to be somewhat ritualized: only a goblin war chief can capture a totem staff, and the stolen totem staff is kept in a specific area designated for it.

  4. Goblins are only aggressive when their territory is invaded. The same goes for most people. Even there, following the death of a tribe's shaman, the rest of the tribe will turn non-aggressive towards outsiders, as they no longer have a leader whose orders they can follow.

  5. Goblins use tools. Extensively. They can use weapons and armor. They have tamed fire, and use it to cook their food. They are able to use lockpicks, as they often carry a few on them. They are capable of brewing poisons which they apply to their weapons before striking.

  6. Goblins have clothing. Ranging from simple loincloths for commoners, to elaborated outfits for war chiefs and shamans.

  7. Goblins have developed farming and cooking. They keep rats in designated pens and slay them for their meat, which is then cooked.

  8. Goblins are capable of setting traps. I have already mentioned before that they use poisons, but the goblins' ingenuity goes much further than that. You can see forts and ruins that have been taken over by goblins; there, you might see traps that have been set up by the goblins themselves. One impressive example that you can see in Fort Ash is a chest that the goblins have placed on a table, right in the middle of an arrow trap - you can see a dead treasure hunter who fell into this trap draped over the table. [See screenshot]

  9. Goblins have cities. They are the caves, forts, and ruins where they live. Exploring these places reveals that goblins organize their space by function: they have throne rooms, prisons, storage areas, etc.

  10. Goblins have religion. We know that their shaman is a religious leader, which makes their society a kind of theocracy.

  11. Goblins understand symbols. Each tribe has a particular symbol as their emblem, and the totem staff itself is a symbol.

  12. Goblins understand currency. This might not be as evident as other points in this list, but think about it - why would they bother to hide away their gold in locked chests if they did not understand the ways in which it is valuable? Goblins can't just go to the Imperial City and buy things in a shop, but this does not exclude that goblins might have an internal commerce system which is based on currency.

Said this, there is no questions that goblins can be considered civilized. So, what exactly is about them that makes them be thought of as beasts and not people?

Although the lore of The Elder Scrolls is immense, there is precious little about the phylogeny of goblins in relation to the other people of Tamriel. Some material might lead to think that there is a relation between the god that some goblins worship, Muluk, and the god of the orcs, Mauloch, which is in itself another name of the Daedric god Malacath; but it is completely unclear whether goblins and orcs are themselves related.

In any case, my main point is that, even though they are lumped together with trolls and wolves, the goblins of Oblivion are really something else entirely - they are a people that the other people of the world refuse to acknowledge as such. If only they had bothered to understand them!

Z

We have come to the end of this essay. Hopefully I have managed to shed some light on the aspects that I find most interesting about the wilderness of Cyrodiil, the way the world is structured, and the beauty of its environmental detail.

The upcoming essay will delve into the history of Cyrodiil and into a theme that I believe is central to the understanding of Oblivion: the theme of ruins - as reminders that even things that were built to last forever are bound to fade away.

Thank you for reading this far, and come back later for more.

References

Attention: the following references contain spoilers for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

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