A First Look at Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Ken Rolston may no longer be behind the Elder Scrolls
games, but Bethesda
made it loud and clear today that the saga lives on and the IP is
nowhere near giving up. Elder
Scrolls V: Skyrim is big,
beautiful, and contains a heaping
amount of kick-assery that would make even Big Daddy cry.
But just how vast is the world? There are nine Holds in the game (or Countries) and the vast landscapes in which you can explore will allow you to venture to any part you can imagine. We sat in awe of the detailed terrain as our host walked us through the countryside. He pointed out some towering mountains that were miles in the distance. "Yes," he said. "You can climb to the top of those."
Skyrim can be played in both first and third person, which will be welcome for some. The good news here is that the character models and animations are very well done as well. I always felt the environments of Oblivion were fantastic, but the models left a bit to be desired, even more so in Morrowind. That is not the case in Skyrim. The characters we saw were as detailed and attractive as the fish swimming and leaping out of streams and the plant life blowing in the wind (these could also be picked up and used for alchemy).
Oblivion. A right click will use your right-equipped weapon or spell and a left click will raise your shield or swing your left-equipped weapon or cast your left-hand spell. Everything is interchangeable allowing any number of combinations to really customize your play style. Wield a sword in your one hand and cast a spell from your left, dual-wield two weapons, make use of sword and board, cast different spells from each hand, or slot the same spell in both hands that, when combined, will cast a stronger version of that spell.
The implications of having different spells from each hand are enormous. To illustrate how powerful this type of system can be, our host loaded up a Detect Life spell in one hand and an Illusion spell in the other. Casting from his left to detect, we were able to see quite clearly two figures in the distance. Keeping the detect spell going for ease of targeting, he then cast Illusion on one of the distant figures, causing them to attack and kill the other. A second encounter later in the demo made use of a Circle of Protection spell combined with Chain Lightning. During a fight with undead, the Circle of Protection would send the skeletons running, getting zapped with Chain Lightning which bounced off the walls and floors while they fled. Players will be able to combine any two spells they've learned to come up with some truly unique techniques.
Guardian stones exist in the game and are standing statues which will offer a power boost of some sort, whether it be improved swordsmanship or a bigger health pool. Only one Guardian Stone can be active at a time, but the player can switch them out as they want, so long as they're able to physically get to the stone to activate it.
The coup-de-grace of the game's combat is its 'shouts.' These skills can be learned by uncovering runes hidden around the world, or even by absorbing dragon souls after you kill them. We were assured there would be many dragon fights in the game so learning these shouts likely won't be too infrequent. There are several types of shouts, including a knockback that throws your enemies several feet away from you, the ability to slow time, and a fire breath that the dragons themselves use.
As mentioned, collecting Dragon Souls will help you unlock some of these shouts, which begs the question: how tough are dragons? There are several types of dragons you will be fighting in the game, and they vary in difficulty. The key point here, though, is that dragon fights are completely unscripted events. There are no "phases" or set scripts you need to repeat to kill them. You simply need to be aware of their abilities and figure out how best to defend yourself and gain the aggressive advantage. Dragons have several powerful abilities including the capability to pick up an opponent and fly off with them. One fight we witnessed against a giant was suddenly interrupted by a dragon that seemed to come out of nowhere, pick up the giant in its talons and drop it from hundreds of feet in the air. Obviously, the fight from that point quickly shifted attention to the dragon.
This event was just one example of an unscripted fight that players will encounter when they play through, and with the variations in weapons, spells, shouts and play styles, players will find their own unique brand of dealing death to the dragons they face while they level up.
Leveling up in Skyrim is similar to the other Elder Scrolls games by simply using your focused skills. After you gain enough skill ups in those specific areas, you'll level up. The new addition to this system, though, is the perk tree feature. Every skill, like swords, staffs, etc. has a unique perk tree that gives extra perks as you skill up. This means a swordsman will have more variations of attacks as they skill up their sword skills, for example.
The 3D renders of the items has practical use, too. We were shown an example of one of the many puzzles in the game that players will need to figure out and the solution to the puzzle was all found in the inventory items. If the player were to read a journal they found off one of the thieves they had killed, they would have learned that the golden claw they looted had three markings on its underside. The player could then match those symbols with those they find on a stone-ring puzzle in one of the cave's walls to unlock a door.
Next, we were taken into the first town players will come across in the game, known as Riverwood. It's a small town with friendly-enough residents. All of these NPCs have a mind of their own. As you walk through town you'll overhear conversations of events happening in the world, or listen in on some naughty children plotting ways to torment their dog. Practical applications here can include overhearing rumors that may be of interest to pursue.
Riverwood's residents are hard workers too, with a lumber mill in town that supports the local economy. Those of an evil persuasion may even opt to sabotage the mill and thus cripple the town's economy, and jump on a mount to flee the scene. Player choices have consequences and reactions, so every player will have a somewhat different experience with the game depending upon their actions.
One of the sticky points in the earlier games was that it was very easy to get lost in the world. At certain points, it could prove difficult to remember what you were doing or where you were supposed to go. That's not as much of a worry in Skyrim though, as the quests are custom-tailored to the player as they play through. Should they get too far off track of the main story line, the game itself will offer them paths and tips on where to go, eventually luring them back to the main story.
The weather system is as dynamic as the quests. From rain to snow, expect a variety of different weather conditions as you play through the game. Detail, once again, is generously applied as the game renders the actual snow on surfaces, such as rocks. This means as you climb snowy mountains, you won't be seeing pre-rendered snow on rocks, but rather the game will draw in the snow as it falls, offering an incredibly life-like gaming experience. Some of this weather is player-made too. A Storm Call spell, for example, will summon an actual storm. The skies will gray, and rain will begin to fall while lightning strikes your foes from the heavens. It's beautifully epic.
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is shaping up to not only be one doozie of an RPG, but quite likely one that will shake the industry as much as Oblivion did in its day. Look for its release on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 November 11th of this year.