Oblivion's world was dead to me. From the instant I stepped out of the sewers, holding the emperor's amulet, the world felt like a bad middle-school play, each actor struggling to remember their few lines, walking stiffly around the world in their own monotonous routine, taking sideways glances at the audience for approval. The wilderness was undoubtedly beautiful, but populated by 1 wolf per 20 square feet, strange, overly aggressive solitary animals. The dungeons started out interesting, but pretty soon you realized there were 3 kinds of dungeon with 3 kinds of enemies, and no unique items to be found.
Even when the oblivion gates started opening, supposedly flooding the world with daedra, unless you were right in front of an oblivion gate, nothing was different. The elder council seemed unable to raise an army, and worse, nobody seemed to care. The emperor's death was just a topic for small-talk. People went about their business, oblivious to the hell gates riddling the land. Indeed, there was no incentive to enter the gates, and whenever the sky turned red, indicating a gate was nearby, I would change course, knowing that closing the gate would accomplish nothing.
But once, it seemed important. I went into a gate that lay directly outside the walls of one of the few cities in the game. Rather than a solitary trek to the top of the biggest tower, as is the usual procedure, there was a small group of men inside, wearing silver armor, fighting the daedra inside. My character, a female dark elf archer, helped them out with the clanfear they were fighting. After the immediate danger was dead, I asked them what the hell they were doing in there. It turns out, the leader of the group, the Knights of the Thorn, was the son of Count Indarys, the Count of the city.
The Knights of the Thorn were a laughing stock. Their lodge was decrepit, and its ranks were filled with the useless sons of the gentry. Indarys was a braggart, with nothing to back it up. He was worthless, and his 2 comrades were only slightly less so. Babysitting these three was a nightmare. My normal was of progressing though this dungeon was by sneak attacks and arrows from the shadows. Indarys made this quite impossible. Any time he saw an enemy, he'd shout a challenge and charge his worthless ass into the fray. I barely kept the three knights alive, on the way up to the top of the tower, where the sigil stone was located.
The top of the tower was the final hurdle, holding several dremora guards, some clanfear, and a daedroth. The Knights of the Thorn charged, and I loosed nearly every arrow I had. When the battle music faded, I realized we were two men short. Walking the battlefield, I found one Knight standing, and two dead. One of them was Indarys.
I reached for my quickload key, but stopped. I realized that for this tiny window of time, this was war, and I felt legitimate sorrow for the man's death. Sure, he was a blowhard, and sure, the Knights of the Thorn were a laughing stock, but he had acted to protect a city that thought poorly of him, and he died with honor. He was the NPC that felt most alive, and now he was dead.
I took the signet ring from his body, and then, along with the last remaining Knight, closed the gate. I felt compelled to break the news to the Count that his son was dead. I expected to fail the quest, or for the Count to be angry at me, but he received the ring gravely, and thanked me for trying to help his son. He promised that he would restore the Knights of the Thorn to glory, and they would forever be remembered for the service they did to the city.
I left the city reluctantly, knowing that I had caught a small glimpse of what the game might have been.