While not as steeped in horror elements as the games that bookend it —Morrowind and Skyrim— Oblivion has a large amount of scary and unsettling locations, creatures, characters, and items spread across the landscape of Cyrodiil. While the verdant forests of Cyrodiil look beautiful from a distance, the most postcard-worthy area of the series, those deep dark woods are home to snarling wolves, aggressive bears, and worse: scaly Clannfear, chitinous Dremora, and other monsters tore from the depths of Oblivion. While the main quest will send you to literal, actual Heck, over and over again, there are plenty of things off the beaten path that most players would never see.
Every Elder Scrolls game is a massive undertaking, with dozens of square kilometres of land, hundreds of interiors like caves, dungeons, castles, and manors. Some of them are your basic bandit hideouts and animal caverns. Others, cloaked in mist and the stench of death, are the sanctums of depraved necromancers and eldritch cults, whose dread incantations infect the mossy walls of caves not tread by human foot in centuries. The ghostly spirits of long-gone human settlers called Ayleids still haunt the impossible caverns of their underground metropolises, hiding great treasure behind wicked traps. Also, there's a bunch of straight-up fun stuff in the world, big ol' animals and cute little messages left behind by the developers. It's not all bad!
Big thanks to TheSacredRing at gamefaqs.com who compiled a lot of these secrets!
25 The Tower Of A Mage Forever Dreaming Darkly
Appropriately for the first item on our list of creepy locations in an Elder Scrolls game, Arkved's Tower is accessible only on a quest given by a Daedric Prince. The mage Arkved has stolen the Orb of Vaermina, and the Prince tasks the Hero of Kvatch with retrieving it for them. Arkved's Tower has been transformed into a manifestation of his nightmare, and the relatively intact exterior of the tower belies the mysteries within.
Upside down rooms, portals to Oblivion, patrolling Umbra, and Dark Welkynd Stones that teleport you at random are just some of the mind-bending hazards you'll encounter in the halls of Arkved's mind. The final chambers are straight out of the classic poetic interpretation of Heck, with boiling lakes of lava and jutting rock spires. Grab the Orb and get out of there, then hasten your return to Vaermina before they punish you too.
24 An Unexpected Tenant Of A Common Cave
Greenmead Cave, northeast of Skingrad, seems like a totally normal hole in the ground, just like the dozens that dot Cyrodiil's Wheel of Time-book cover landscape. There are some proper terrifying monsters inside, though, like Minotaurs and Spriggans, making you think that maybe there is more to Greenmead than meets the eye. The loot isn't bad either, with some proper rare enchanted items and weapons to wield or sell for gold.
Mmm, Giant Crab Legs.
At the back though, ruling over a pile of skeletons, is the most terrifying enemy in the game: The horrid and feared Giant Mudcrab. Perhaps seeking on vengeance on you for attacking so many of its kin, or even seeking respect for all the times the Hero has laughed off the aggressive actions of the mudcrabs of Cyrodiil, the Ur Mudcrab will properly mess you up.
23 Your Secret, Hidden Admirer
Well this one is kind of a bummer. Right at the beginning of the game, in the waters surrounding the Imperial City, the Hero will find some erstwhile human floating in the water. Well, maybe corpse is a bit generous: the body of Nath Dyer has been reduced to ... not much at all.
Whisper sweet nothings to your...oh
On his body is a love letter, signed "Unknown", to someone in the City that Nath was in love with from a distance. Unfortunately for our star-crossed lover, something got in the way of him and his secret admirer/stalking victim, and the young man has been left to rot in the water. His letter even says he'll be carrying a Primrose, which you can also find on his corpse.
22 Fishy Helmet
With so many underwater locations in the land of Cyrodiil, it sure would be handy if you hand a glass helmet that allows you to breathe underwater indefinitely. Good news: there is! Plus, thanks to Oblivion's open-world nature, you can snag it for yourself pretty much as soon as you boot up the game.
Maybe not the most stylish way to swim
The helmet with the jaunty name of "Fin Gleam" is just sitting on the bottom of the bay near Anvil, which is a common location for hidden things in Oblivion. It's not the easiest thing to spot, being underwater and all, but downing a nighteye potion will make its finny gleam a lot easier to pick out of the murky depths.
21 Why Is Everyone In This Town A Jerk?
You know those places that just seem off? You walk into a store and the owners are rude to you for no reason? People talk to you just to get you to leave them alone as fast as possible? That's Hackdirt. The wikia page says "Outsiders are not welcome in Hackdirt" and there's a good reason for that.
Not Exactly A Family Gathering
Sent to investigate the disappearance of a young Argonian, the Hero can break into the room she rented at the Inn and discover her journal. Following the clues will lead the Hero to the caverns underneath the town, where Dar-Ma is being held as part of a ritual called The Gathering. Free her and sneak out while the townspeople are occupied, or wipe them out and remove the threat to Cyrodiil.
20 The Secret Of Dive Rock
The people of Cheydinhal and Bruma speak in hushed tones about a monster who hunts in the wilderness of Dive Rock. If you go nan investigate as all good Heroes should, you'll come across a small camp and a journal. The journal tells the tale of Agnar the Unwavering whose home in Solstheim, Thirsk, had previously been marauded by a beast called Udyrfrykte which had been given a dirt nap by a passing adventurer (actually the player in the Bloodmoon expansion for Morrowind.)
The Elder Scrolls Cinematic Universe
Agnar and his wife had travelled from Solstheim to end the mother of Udyrfrykte, the Matron, but after Ragnar's wife is ended in the battle, Agnar flees and writes in his journal that he must attack the Matron to maintain his title as The Unwavering. Well, Agnar, wavering might have been the right call: you find his corpse not far from the Matron's lair.
19 Sideways Cave
Unfortunately, not a cave that has been turned on its side, the Sideways Cave has a very intriguing secret provided you hunt down all the tablets located inside. The cave, littered with skeletons, eventually gives way to an unexpected secret: ancient ruins.
The ancient civilization unique to Cyrodiil, the Ayleid, once had a city on the same spot as the now horizontally challenged cave. During the course of their expansion, they uncovered a shrine to Meridia, the Daedric Prince, and disturbed it in some way. Meridia, in true Daedric fashion, buried the city in the earth. Like many of these locations, Sideways Cave appears in Elder Scrolls Online and gives up a bit more information about the former residents, mainly that they were worshippers of Molag Bal.
18 Bringing A New Meaning To Impressionism
I absolutely love this quest, I think it's one of the most unique RPG storylines ever and it's so easy to miss that I didn't find it until my second playthrough of Oblivion way back in 2007. In the city of Cheydinhal, you'll pick up a quest called A Brush With Death, in which a woman is distraught over the disappearance of her husband, a famous local painter. Go into the painter's studio and you'll find his latest work, a beautiful landscape.
The image really draws you in
Using bottles of turpentine that you're given by the painter, you can defeat the various 'painted trolls' that guard the watercolour landscape. (The trolls also drop little globs of painted troll fat, a unique item that does nothing but I carried around with me for the rest of the game.)
17 Starbucks Would Be Proud
I guess it's not surprising that, given that Oblivion is one of the most direct translations of traditional Western European fantasy in the Elder Scrolls universe, that there would be a Unicorn somewhere in the game world. What isn't as surprising is what a tough beast this majestic lil guy can be!
Yes, You Can Ride It
Another objective of a Daedric Prince, this time Hircine, the Hero is tasked with ending the unique, beautiful creature for its horn. The beast can be ridden, and it's as fast as the other white horses in the game, but the one thing setting it apart from the other horses is that it will absolutely wreck anything that comes at it in it its pristine grove, including you. You can even use it to fight battles for you, if you kite the ivory white dream horse to dangerous areas.
16 Guess Who's Coming To Dinner
Every Elder Scrolls game has a sort of running internal competition: which of the option Guild quest lines will be the best, and will it be better than the main story? Morrowind's Noble House quests won that one hands down, while Skyrim's Thieves Guild plot was a highlight. For my money, the best questline in the whole franchise is the Dark Brotherhood story from Oblivion
Did someone say party?
The Player is invited to a party full of enemies of the client. It's a murder mystery party, so the guests are suspicious of everyone in the best way, but no one suspects that a real Dark Brotherhood assassin is among them. The door locks behind you, so there's no reason not to blast everyone with Destruction magic from the word go, but it's more fun to play along and pick everyone off one-by-one.
15 You Sleep Rather Soundly, For A Monster...
The character of Lucien Lachance, head of the Dark Brotherhood in Cyrodil, introduce himself to you and catapults himself into the pantheon of great Elder Scrolls characters. While gaining admittance to the assassin's guild in Skyrim is a relatively complicated affair, prospective knives in the dark are required to demonstrate only one thing to be approached by the Brotherhood: end someone in cold blood
The first time you sleep after offing someone for no reason at all, you'll be approached by Lucien in the night and given an address- a run-down old house in Cheydinhal, which is the Brotherhood's base of operations. Membership in the Brotherhood has many perks, the best one being the use of Shadowmere- the fastest, toughest horse in the game.
14 A Big, Useless Thing
Ah, Nirnroot, who could forget The Elder Scrolls' dumbest, neverending questline? I remember when Skyrim was announced at E3 and they were showing off all the new features, when the Nirnroot appeared the crowd went NUTS and there were posts on Reddit like "NIRNROOT CONFIRMED!!!" I was sitting at home thinking to myself "Wait, I hated hunting down all those stupid plants- did everyone secretly love doing that?"
Someone in the office at Bethesda must have been aware of how annoying it was going to try to spot the lil waterside aloe plants, because (just north of the 'S' in Skingrad on your map), there is an absolutely colossal, man-sized Nirnroot just jutting out of the ground screaming at anything that gets near.
13 This One Is A Bummer
Skooma is the Elder Scrolls heavy-handed metaphor for the epidemics of the world. This maybe goes a touch too far with its emphasis on the 'beast' races of the world —the Khajiit and Argonian— being hooked on the stuff. The fact that the addictive drink is manufactured by the Khajit is maybe a bit insensitive and on-the-nose considering what Skooma is a metaphor for, but we can't expect our fantasy RPG social commentary to be too subtle, now can we?
Got That WMD
The skooma den is in Bravil, across from the Fighter's Guild, and in a pretty sad bit of environmental storytelling, the player can steal all the skooma they went form the junkies inside without any of the reporting the theft. If you're roleplaying as a high-functioning moon sugar addict, this is a good place to get your fix.
12 Little Monsters Have To Relax, Too
Being a goblin in the Elder Scrolls must be tough. While the Orcs have been elevated into full playable-race respect, the little goblins are often just used as cannon fodder at the beginning of the game, then quickly vanish underneath the game's increasing difficulty, never to be seen again. It's no wonder that some of them will turn to drink to pass the tie in their weird little caves.
They must have a pretty low tolerance
There are a few examples of drunken goblins in Cyrodiil, but my favourite is in a cave behind a waterfall way out to the west of the map. You'll find a goblin lying against a chest on his back, with empty bottles all around him. Poor fella didn't know what hit him.
11 Wurst Troll Evurr
I mentioned this in one of my other Elder Scrolls lists but it's too much of a classic not to include again. On the road from Cheydinhal to Leyawiin, you'll cross a bridge and underneath is a troll, floating facedown in the water. While you might just count your blessings that he didn't come after you and move on your merry way, if you search his furry body you'll make a sad discovery.
The troll has a note which reads "Mee wurst troll evurr nobuddy pay brigg tole me nott scary enough." Seems the despondent toll taker drowned himself at his own workplace rather than go on another day without extorting passing billy goats. Maybe he's the cousin of the troll we see get taken out by three goats in Skyrim? Poor guy. Troll.
10 The First Rule Of Oblivion FIght Club Is...
While day/night cycles are an expected feature of open world games, the idea was still fairly new at the time of Oblivion's release. While The Elder Scrolls games have always featured some kind of 'business cycle' where NPCs open shops in the morning, close them at night, and lock their doors when they're sleeping, Oblivion began to add new NPC behaviours into its cycle, like the painter on the docks in Anvil whose paintings of the lighthouse change from sunrise, daytime, and sunset.
...It's an unmarked easter egg in Anvil
Speaking of Anvil, head to the docks at midnight and you'll be lucky to see a few NPCs duking it out bare knuckle style in some kind of informal tournament. You can't join in but you can watch. Well, you can join in if 'join in' means wading into the melee fists flying, but expect them to take that about as well as anyone would.
9 Horoscope Rocks
Considering how well-implemented the birthstones were in Skyrim, it's funny to think they haven't been in place for the entire series. While Oblivion included birthstones, they didn't work in the same way as they do in the sequel. You pick your birth sign from a menu during character creation, as you had in the other TES games, and the birthstones in Cyrodil give you permanent powers and buffs you can switch between at will as you collect them.
Yesterday I was The Lady, but Mercury is in retrograde so now I'm The Tower
Even better, the rarer Heaven Stones will confer bonuses that stack on each other, so you can collect and keep them all as you explore the world with no penalty at all. Go collect some stones!
8 Free Ghost Weapon, Today Only!
Birthstone and Heaven Stones, also called Doom Stones, aren't the only mystical cairns that have been erected all over Cyrodiil. You'll also come across similar looking Rune Stones, and these each provide you with a pretty rad gift: a Bound weapon or piece of armor that lasts until the spell dissipates.You can wield the weightless item for as long as you want and its durability is infinite so it will never break, you can even keep going back to the stone and reup your magic weapon whenever you want, as long as you've waited a day since the last time you used it. As a bonus, Rune Stones are always surrounded by rare plants and flowers which is just so nice.
7 Das Uber Rat
You might be noticing a pattern here and it's this: Bethesda really likes putting in giant or weird versions of basic enemies to mess with players. The giant mudcrab above, the ghost mudcrab below (shh, spoilers for this article you're reading) and others across the series. Oblivion came out at an interesting time in computer RPGs, I often think of Oblivion and Morrowind and sort of postmodern, in many ways they are aware of and actively subvert some RPG tropes. This is best exemplified in the A Rat Problem quest for the Fighter's Guild, where the player assumes they have to attack some rats in a cellar, the most basic of RPG quests, but their objective is, in fact, the opposite.
Save the rats? What is this, Undertale?
So anyway in the basement of this jerk Lazare Milvan house in Skingrad is a huge, super strong rat that'll totally kick your butt.
6 Spooooky Crab
Paradise, the magical realm the player enters right at the end of the main questline of Oblivion, isn't much of a paradise at all filled as it is with levelled dremora that are out for your blood. Lost in the beauty of the permanent sunset and the idyllic landscape is an Ayleid ruin on an island far out of the player's way. Curious adventurers who swim out to this island and encounter the Spectral Mudcrab.
Like a normal mud crab, but spectral
The SMC is blue, semi-transparent, and behaves exactly like every other mudcrab in the game, meaning it will ceaselessly pursue you until one of you dies. Surprisingly, slaying it will give you normal crab legs instead of, i dunno, ghost crab legs which sound expensive the kind of thing the Discovery Channel would make a show about harvesting.
5 A Suspiciously Affordable Downtown Property
Here's another quest involving Anvil, which is objectively the best town in the game except for Cheydinhal. This is actually the quest that ends with you purchasing the house, which is the cheapest one in the game. Pre-2008 housing collapse prices plus a fun quest plus pirate town? Sold!
One last thing: there's ghosts in it
4 Glitch Armstrong
Any list of spooky stuff in and Elder Scrolls game has to include at least one unintentionally terrifying bug or glitch and here's the candidate for ours: the… the melting NPC glitch? Oh my god what could that possibly be? Do I even want to know?
3 The Uderfrykte Matron Claims Another Victim
On your way to slay the beast at the top of Dive Rock, you may come across the corpse of Andre, lying against a pair of rocks on the way up the mountain.
Dear Dad: Don't die. Sincerely, Your Kids.
Andre is carrying a letter from his daughter saying that, short of believing he can kill a frost troll, she doesn't even think he can make it up the mountain without killing himself. Can you imagine being this guy? You're all kitted up in your cheap armor with you iron sword, ready to finally prove yourself to your family and your town and your daughter tearfully hands you a letter and it says that she doesn't even think you can climb a flight of stairs without hurting yourself? Pretty brutal, kid.
2 Be A Regular In Jail
Getting arrested in The Elder Scrolls always has some fun consequences that I have never experienced because I've never been arrested. I can always just pay my way out of trouble because money is meaningless in these games.
Seventy counts of making people take dirt naps? How much do I owe you?
Apparently if you get caught a lot, like on the order of forty or fifty times, the guards at the Imperial Prison will start to treat you like a regular, which I guess you kinda are. Just like Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption, you'll start to see prison like a benevolent oppressor, with guards that will speak to you like an old friend. They won't let you out, oh god no, but they won't be rude to you and isn't that just like being free?
1 Saws In The Water
Why video game developers put things that can kill you in the water I'll never understand. Nobody likes fighting stuff underwater, it doesn't make sense why, in The Witcher, you can cast signs or swing your sword but your crossbow still works. The monsters of the deep in The Elder Scrolls, the slaughterfish, aren't even a threat. They're the muscrabs of the sea, tiny little 2'x4' kill machines that hurl themselves at you.
Have you been paying attention to the theme of this article?
Yeah so there's a huge one of these. There's a Thieves Guild quest that will lead you to the mage's tower where this thing lives at the bottom of a deep underwater cave with a locked grate and blah blah blah but, if you just want to rumble with this thing, you can find an entrance just above the 'A' in 'Niben Bay' on your world map.