The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion is an awkward game that feels a little bit like a world full of Disney World animatronics. One piece of poison food highlighted the game’s silliness while also forcing players to get intimate with their targets.
The poison apple was a very special and highly deadly item from The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion. Oblivion was a clumsy game in many ways, implementing a strict crime and punishment system that made it difficult to dispose of annoying NPCs without drawing the attention of city guards. The poison apple was a wonderful workaround – simple in concept but difficult to use thanks to the game’s odd NPCs and their somewhat random behaviour. All it takes is one bite to kill your target, but getting a victim to take the bait is an exercise in absurdity.
Oblivion‘s NPCs are particularly strict about what they will and won’t eat. They prioritise food in their inventory before selecting from whatever is around them in the game world. This means that any successful use of the poison apple takes a surprising amount of preparation. First, you need to make sure that the target has no food in their pockets. This means not-so-casually sneaking up to them and pickpocketing whatever hunks of cheese, bread, fruit and pie they might have.
Pickpocketing an NPC’s stock of food doesn’t guarantee they will eat a poison apple, however. Even if you drop an apple right in their face or into their pocket, they might wander off to an inn and prioritise a cheese wheel as their next meal. This means snatching every bit of food off nearby tables. If you get caught, have fun spending time with the guards. The process of stealing every bit of food from your target and their surroundings is the most insidious form of obsessive compulsive collecting put into a game. But it’s worth it.
When an NPC finally munches a poison apple, it seems like everything is alright. They robotically lift food to their mouth and might even speak a bit, but suddenly, the cries of pain begin.
Augh! Oooh! Grrble! Oblivion plays a small series of barks when a character takes damage regardless of whether it’s poison or a hammer to the face. As everyone else goes about their business, your target casually sits at their meal table and shrieks as if a demon were kicking them. Then, they flop. When NPCs die in Oblivion, they flop like puppets with cut strings. It’s a very macabre type of slapstick, an understated bit of death that lingers on the air. While most other acts of violence lead to a chorus of screaming townspeople, a poison apple is a bit anti-climatic. The target flops, some time passes, and maybe another character walks by. “By the Nine Divines,” they cry before sitting down in the seat right next to the body.
Using poison apples in Oblivion was not only silly and devious, it also allowed me to see the strange artificiality of the game in a way few other items have. It pulled back the curtain, calling attention to NPC behaviours. In trying to poison someone, you got to learn more about them. What did they carry with them? Where did they like to go? What did they enjoy eating? You had to follow someone, see how they lived their artificial life, and then systematically break down their routine.
I’ve been playing a lot of Skyrim now that it’s on the Nintendo Switch. The game world is gorgeous and characters are diverse and vibrant. But I miss the poison apples. I miss the cartoon caper of pulling 10 pies from someone’s pocket, robbing their favourite tavern, offering them a snack, and patiently waiting for their demise. Sure, I can Fus Ro Dah someone off a mountaintop, but it just isn’t the same as offering them a delicious apple.