That's what I'm going to give Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. The first one I've given in these forums. Is the game perfect? No. But no game is. So how does a game get an A+?
Here is how I personally view grades:
A "C" grade is something that is adequate. Serviceable, but not great. Not a total ripoff, but in this golden age of videogames, you probably won't finish the game if it requires more than ten hours of your time.
A "B" grade is something that is going to have some strong points. A pretty solid effort. But there are better games.
(A note: I gave Gears of War a B+, after smoking crack , so I'll go ahead and explain that rationale here: a "B+" is a good, even great game, but there are several other games out there that do a similar 'thing' better, in my opinion, hence it falls short of an "A".)
An "A" grade is an outstanding effort. Few if any games can approach or exceed a game such as this.
An "A+," however, would indicate an outstanding effort that clearly shines above every other attempt to do what it does. There is no better.
That's what Oblivion is, folks. Pure, unadultered American RPG goodness. And lots of it. The Xbox 360 has precious few RPGs at the moment, but it wouldn't matter if it had 200. Oblivion rules the roost with so many impressive features and attributes, that it would be an impossiblity to list them all here.
So..... let's start with the annoying crap about the game, eh?
Much has been made of the controversial "scaled leveling" system. For those unfamiliar, it is as easy as this: when you level up, the whole game levels up. At level 1-5, expect to see rats and small animals in the woods. At levels 13-20, its vicious mountain lions and huge trolls.
Most RPGs slowly develop you into a super power, near immortal character. By game's end, you'll plow through most areas with ease, save for the final boss. In Oblivion, there is no such thing. You will never have it easy. And this has angered many RPG fans, and left me confused as to what to think. After all, its pretty cool to level up to a crazy powerful super warrior. And I did miss that aspect here.
However, the more I played the game, the more I realized that it had to be this way. Bethesda clearly wants you to play this sucker for 100 hours. If you leveled up conventionally, you would soon mow through everything in a nanosecond, making the game far more boring, especially when you get past the main quest. And it isn't like there aren't benefits for leveling, even with the scaled system. The loot gets better, the gold gets easier to find (so you can afford more stuff at the shops) and you'll enjoy outfitting your character with the incredibly beautiful ancient armor that you'll be getting as you become more experienced.
Also, while graphically impressive, the game strains under the immense weight of its HUGE world. Though it is much, much better looking than its Xbox predecessor (Morrowind), you'll notice plenty of pop up, fog, and some framerate hiccups here and there.
To be perfectly honest, however, the world is so massive and impressive that it would be a little disturbing if there weren't some glitches. That's a joke. Sort of.
Moving on to the things the game does right, I'll frame this in the context of improvements over Morrowind.
I loved Morrowind, but it had some serious flaws that kept it from being "A" material. For one: no fast travel. In a huge world like this, it is a massive drag to have to physically walk all over, even though this is certainly helpful in terms of level building. Oblivion has the much needed "fast travel" feature, where you can instantly travel to areas you've already visited.
Also, the combat is vastly improved. You can now apply a decent amount of technique to the fighting, and non-RPG fans might actually be won over by the realtime, first person fighting this game offers. You can't just win battles by button mashing, and it is satisfying to take down a difficult foe after mapping out a succesful stratagy.
The audio presentation is top notch as well. From a beautiful, soaring musical score (which ranks as some of the finest American game music to date) to fully voiced NPCs (yes, every single one of them is fully voiced), this is a game that sounds as good as it plays.
Another improvement from Morrowind is the main quest (the main plot of the game). Morrowind's main quest was so haphazardly presented, that it almost dissuaded you from trying it at all. I attempted to play through it many times, but just got bored and started doing the various side quests and guild things.
Oblivion, thankfully, presents a compelling adventure that is generally fun and rewarding. Patrick Stewert (Star Trek, X-Men) and Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings, Goldeneye) provide strong voice acting, especially Bean. Bean, in fact, turns in one of the finest video game voice performances to date, with a nuanced portrayal of Martin Septim. Though there are a few parts of the main quest that get a tad tedious (mostly the "Allies for Bruma" part, which is optional but does help you later, which is all I can say while keeping this spoiler free), there are also some epic battles, including an encounter in the end that had me tossing "expletives of shock" at the screen.
Finally, of course, there is the freedom. There are so many ways to play this game. Even if you choose a class that is a bit deficient in one area, you are only some training sessions away from boosting that area, so you never feel terribly stuck. The side quests are rarely boring, and a few are almost worthy of a game in their own right. And, as an added bonus, there is a significant amount of new material to purchase over Xbox Live, including the "Knights of the Nine," which adds a whole new faction and large scale quest to the game.
One more thought: To me, this game is the single player RPG answer to the world of MMO gaming. The promise of the MMO is to create a persistant world that doesn't end. To be a person in that world that develops a true persona. To me, however, it seems to be a bit more about socializing with fellow players, and it is hard to call it roleplaying in the true sense. It might be a great experience (I really haven't done any MMO gaming myself), but I can't imagine feeling too immersed in a different world when I run across people with silly names, or always having the suspicion that the hottie night elf is really a guy trying to exploit other players.
Oblivion decides to go about the MMO thing from another angle: Make a single player RPG where the world is so vast, and the NPCs so lifelike, that you don't even need other people to populate it. And, miraculously, it largely succeeds.
Ignore this game at your own peril. A+. A tremendous achievement in modern gaming.