I’m standing in the cold grey Nordic town of Bruma. Expressionless NPCs acknowledge my presence with either an overly jovial “HELLO” or strangely omniscient statements about my various levelled skills. I’ve now spent a good minute watching a steady stream of town guards tumble from the city walls. They follow their patrol diligently, even when the route means flinging yourself off the battlements like a steel-clad Lady Macbeth.
I’ve played this game for hundreds of hours in the ten years it’s been out, first on the Xbox 360 and now on my laptop (usually in bed with a cup of tea—luxury 12-year-old me could hardly dream of). My latest playthrough has been given a new lease of life by mods. Beautiful, face-revamping, texture-defining, location re-jigging mods.
I lack all the necessary skills to be able to mod Oblivion myself, so I rely on the hard work of others to make my gaming experience slightly slicker. Even with the vital tool of Nexus Mod Manager at my fingertips I still find modding a fiddly business. I spent hours hunched over the screen as screen tear rendered the world of Cyrodiil in twain and unexplained grey blocks bombarded innocent textures. “It must be something in the code,” I whispered to myself, pretending I knew what I was talking about. I gave up for the night. The next day I realised there was something in the wrong place in the load order. Cyrodiil is fixed. Nexus is forgiven. I feel like a technological mastermind.
An hour later I’m standing in Bruma, observing the lemmings dressed as town guards. What’s happened is that the guards’ set path hasn’t been changed to fit the fancy new city modifications I’ve added. After a little while the guards start to become aware of the difficulties of patrolling a now imaginary wall and change their route to fit my desire for slightly higher architecture. The mods I’ve added don’t hugely alter the game: I’ve passed by the ostentatious player-built mansions and laser weapons in favour of prettier flowers. However, I did go for something that made the cities a little more interesting, and apart from the odd out-of-place statue it’s brilliant.
The quests and world in this game are what bring me back, whether it’s finding something sinister in a quaint looking chapel, or putting on the boots of Spring Heel Jak and leaping about like a grasshopper on steroids. The silliness, ambition and the feeling that PVA glue and sheer will are keeping the game together charms me every time. Now, thanks to an army of dedicated modders, I can look at my wood elf, and instead of a stumpy cuboid with a potato face staring back, it’s now a closer representation to how she looked in my imagination ten years ago.
I scurry towards the wall to loot the bodies of the guards. Burdened with armour and apples, my thrifty wood elf hastens to the closest shop to sell the still warm chainmail. I go to fast travel and the game immediately crashes. My eyes wander over to the Nexus Mod Manager icon on my desktop, and I prepare yet again to do battle with my own incompetence.