These days, when someone mentions a video game in The Elder Scrolls franchise, Skyrim is what comes to mind. It’s widely considered the best and most comprehensive answer in the franchise. But for me, that’s not the case – my heart has always belonged to The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion.
As opposed to the super-serious tundras of Skyrim, Oblivion always reveled in its abrupt vainglorious cheesiness, and fully embraced its ridiculous premise. Here you are, running around the world of Tamriel, protecting the vague legacy of an emperor voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart, with about all of eight major voice actors to guide you through the world. In other words, the voices of Tamriel are not numerous, but they are colorful.
Released in 2005, as one of the first ‘next-gen’ titles and the first truly immersive open-world RPG of the last generation, The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion often felt over-ambitious, its impressive scope hamstrung by bugs and limitations imposed by the technology of the time. Luckily, for the sake of gamers far and wide, Oblivion chose to embrace its silliness rather than squander it. Rather than play itself off as a hobo in a tuxedo, Bethesda chose to just put it all out there, one loveable, buggy mess at a time.
And that’s what made it so great, so compelling, so immersive in how often you were taken out of the universe. You have thousands and thousands of characters populating this huge fictional universe, and only a small variety of voices to bind them together. You noticed this, yes, but you kept playing. On and on, the adventures of Tamriel took precedence over everything else. But there was nothing like the voices of Tamriel. Nor, do I think, will there ever be again.
The Voices of Tamriel: The Beggar
“Thank you kind sir.” The beggar says simply, tersely, as though they’ve been given a single Septim a thousand different times. And they have. And presumably, they’ve all been given a Septim or two by you at some point. The longer you play the game, the more the beggars seem to beg. And beg. And beg. See, nobody else seems to helps the beggars of Tamriel except yourself. It’s as though you’re the patron saint of beggars. And they’ll talk your ear off for it, commenting on anything that comes to mind. They’re a strange sort, yes – and they’re certainty downtrodden. But they’re your beggars, and every time you leave them behind, they leave a Septim-shaped hole in your heart.
The Voices of Tamriel: The Imperial Guardsman
What do you get when you take a Buzz Lightyear toy, transport it into a high-fantasy world, and turn its penchant for justice up to 11? Why, an Imperial Guardsman, of course – and they populate just about every major town in Tamriel. Virtually all have the same hilariously self-righteous voice, as though they’ve been training to be authoritative with every cadence and enunciation.
No, there are no arrows to the knee to be seen here. But really, “you should have paid the fine,” and your punishment for not doing so is death. There’s nothing like a good lecture from an Imperial Guardsman — like a police officer who thinks he’s a great guy for explaining to you exactly why he gave you a ticket. And then doubling a fine. That is law and order in the world of Tamriel. Really, you should just think about your actions around these guys and gals – lest you want to be labeled as “criminal scum.”
The Voices of Tamriel: The Adoring Fan
Oh Adoring Fan, how we love you when you tell us that you’re going to watch us and worship the ground we walk on. Simply win some easy battles in the arena in the Imperial City, and the Adoring Fan is all yours – fit to do with as you please, in literally any context imaginable. Quirky doesn’t even begin to describe the Adoring Fan’s devotion to you, and as far as characters go, this one is equally senseless as beloved. His voice is so iconic that it will grate on the ears of generations of gamers to come. Still, who can resist a greeting like this: “By Azura! By Azura! By Azura! It’s the Grand Champion!”?
The Voices of Tamriel: The Citizens
There’s nothing like a split personality — or two seemingly different voice actors taking a shot at the same denizen of Tamriel. While it may make the characters sound schizophrenic, there’s a certain charm to it; a certain hilariousness that only Oblivion could get away with. From the exclamations to the flubbed lines, the various denizens of Tamriel all had one thing in common — they had plenty to say, and they all said them in the silliest possible way.
The voices of Tamriel are what made the game so immersive, proving its utter devotion to camp. This is nowhere more apparent than in the voice acting, a true spectacle of ridiculousness, tethered to gravitas by some of the more layered performances by cast members such as Sir Patrick Stewart (Emperor Uriel Septim VII), Sean Bean (Brother Martin), Lynda Carter (female Nord, Orcs) and Terrance Stamp (Mankar Camaron).
But for me, the voices of Tamriel were most memorable when they were the most exaggerated, the most comical. If anything, the enforced grimness of the main characters only highlights just how silly the game is elsewhere. That’s what made Tamriel such a great world to explore in The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, and has made it memorable to me years later.