ethesda Softworks recently discounted The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a favor to new owners of the Xbox 360. A second favor, to anyone who enjoyed the RPG, was offering more downloadable content a little over six months after Shivering Isles, the game's largest — and seemingly last — expansion. Fighter's Stronghold, free on Xbox Live between October 15th and 22nd, is now priced at just under $2 for PC and 360.
The addition makes property, Battlehorn Castle, available for players to furnish and own. The place might particularly appeal to those who found Deepscorn Hollow too macabre, Dunbarrow Cove too ignoble, Frostcrag Spire too esoteric and the Priory of the Nine too sedate — or else it is, for those bored of Cyrodiil, reason to return for several hours of game time.
Stronghold's quest component is tiny. Being a prerequisite for entrance to and use of Battlehorn, it can be completed straightaway. Ruling just southwest of the city of Chorrol, a lord — heirless and impoverished by a failing defense against marauders — has bequeathed his castle, "built by a remnant of the Knights of the True Horn who were exiled from our homeland of Lainlyn in Hammerfell" to whomever can claim it. A player's defeat of the besiegers will reveal the lord's death in combat just beforehand, confirmed by a janissary who confers a written will.
From that point Battlehorn may be explored, staffed and decorated. An obliging merchant, noted in the will, waits in the Imperial City. He will sell improvements and hirelings: castle guard, members of which will singly follow on adventures; bedchambers with a Nord maidservant; a dining hall; a forge, near the blacksmith's quarters, which fortifies the Armorer skill; a kitchen with an Imperial cook; a study and library; a training room with an Orc sparring partner; a trophy hall with a vulpine, Dark Elf taxidermist; and a wine cellar with a Redguard vintner who doubles as an apothecary.
The servant, cook and vintner supply alchemical ingredients; the trainer will improve, in matches, weaponry and blocking skills; while the taxidermist can fill a designated room with the stuffed likenesses of, though regrettably not any beaten foe, over half a dozen creatures. Something is missing, however — while characters are respected and served, the castle is quiet, its inhabitants aloof. Had Bethesda the time, an ingratiating bard and even a regular, lusty evening of song among loyalists would have been in keeping with the colorful obeisance seen in Shivering Isles.
There are a few crannies to be found behind nooks, one a practical if plain stash for arms and trinkets, which in turn leads to a roofless veranda. Intended for prize-takers, Battlehorn offers several tables, cases and racks for show. Here, players are limited to Oblivion's clumsy system for manual item placement, wherein every fifteen minutes spent arranging can be undone by a character's stray elbow.
Fighter's Stronghold probably won't hold much interest for those playing high-level characters, especially if the castle can be outfitted in a single exchange of coin. Characters of intermediately lower level, 8-12, should find treasure hauls purposeful, and even a challenge in deciding what to sell and what to keep as an ornament. Battlehorn is, too, an apt base of operations for characters intended to follow the Fighter's Guild questline. Comparatively, 150 Microsoft Points is probably a little too much — Stronghold, at no cost, was a perfect reprise for fans. But in that sense Oblivion against anything else is worth more. At two dollars, this isn't a bad buy.