If you're playing Oblivion, or think you ever might in the future, and haven't finished the main quest, shouldn't be reading this. You should be finishing the main quest, because it's AWESOME.
As I said yesterday, once I'd gotten over the sheer, awesome brilliance of the Oblivion ending, I started really thinking about it. It was awesome, sure, but did it really work? Could it have been better?
The first question is: does it work as a game? That's the presentation, and if the presentation doesn't work, none of it's going to work. If the game itself is bad, nothing else matters, because no one's going to play it long enough to experience the story.
Oblivion itself is a really great game, but endings have some special considerations. One is participation. Games often do the cut scene thing when they're getting across vital story-related information. This is bad. No matter how awesome a ten minute cut scene may be, it's not a game, and it shouldn't be in a game. If a story can't be explained without a ten minute cut scene, it should be a movie, not a game.
Oblivion does pretty well here. There is a cut scene, but it's really awesome, really short, and it makes sense that your character can't really do anything. It wouldn't have been nearly so awesome if it had been on a scale you could interact with. Mostly, though, what makes this work is that you're too caught up in the "wow" to be frustrated.
It's not enough to just have game play in the ending. The quality matters, too. It shouldn't be just another level. It should really feel like it meant something--and generally, that means that it should be a bit harder than the rest of the game, for the right sense of achievement. However, this can be taken too far. It shouldn't be so hard to get to the ending that the players quit caring, because they're too busy taking an ax to their controllers.
On this point, Oblivion is a bit troublesome. The final mission is to keep Martin, the other main character, alive, and this is supposed to be hard because there are Daedra invading the Imperial City, which you're currently in. However, when I played it, I basically just followed him around and let him do his thing. We were never bothered. I've heard tell from people who finished the game at a higher level that, eventually, the Daedra do become a problem, but that they're mostly attacking you, not Martin.
This isn't a huge problem, because my main focus was on the plot, and Oblivion is an easy enough game that people who really care about difficulty will have modded their games to the point where it is a challenge. But it does produce some odd thoughts, especially in the aftermath of the quest, because now whenever I meet someone their first words are usually on how awesome I was in the final battle. And I'm thinking, "I did all my saving way before that. Final battle? I mostly just watched."
It doesn't bother me that everyone's really impressed, because I did a lot of stuff before that, and it was all really awesome. It just annoys me, because I shouldn't be getting credit for all the awesome that was in the final battle. I sort of wonder if they didn't quite test that sequence properly. They may have been expecting that players would actually fight, even if they didn't have to, or that they wouldn't realize they didn't have to. I literally just ran through, and ignored the bad guys completely.
In a general way, though, the ending works. Oblivion handles its ending better than many games I've played, (if the number of games I've played qualifies as "many") and the problems didn't become obvious until I'd really started thinking about them. They're nowhere near serious enough to mar the story itself. Which I'm going to talk about tomorrow, because this foolishness has gone on long enough.