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Skyrim Preview

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Skyrim Preview

Preview - posted by Jaesun on Sun 20 March 2011, 15:20:18

Tags: Bethesda Softworks; Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

PC Gamer has some preview insights to share with us on the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, here are some selected highlights:

 

You’re nobody – a prisoner rotting in a cell for some unnamed crime. That’s true at the start of every main Elder Scrolls game. But this time it’s a cell in Skyrim, the freezing Nordic nation between Oblivion’s sunny Cyrodiil and the weird Dark Elf land of Morrowind.


You’re released. Why, we don’t know yet. But you’re released into a nation that’s tearing itself apart. It’s a land governed by nine holds, regions that are traditionally each controlled by a single ruling family. But the system hasn’t lasted – many holds are now governed by elected councils, some have been overthrown, and they’re on the brink of war with each other. And as the conflict reaches crisis point, the dragons show up.


That’s the setting for the fifth game in Bethesda’s open-ended RPG series The Elder Scrolls. It uses a new engine, a new combat system, a whole new kind of magic, and an awful lot of snow.


When the Dragonborns die out 200 years later, it’s not the demons of Oblivion that break through – it’s actual dragons. They’re already ravaging the world, and they’re nothing compared to what’s next. Alduin, the biggest and baddest of the long-lost species, is coming. The Elder Scrolls foretold it, and only a Dragonborn can stop it. 


Dragon Shouts are three-word phrases, uttered in the dragon tongue, which function as powerful spells. For them to work, you first need to defeat a dragon and take its soul: that gives you the potential to learn its shout. But the words themselves don’t come easily: they’re written in the dragon’s own language on the walls of crumbling ruins all over Skyrim. The dragon’s soul gives you the ability to spot power words among the scratchy ancient glyphs.


There are more than twenty shouts to learn, from one that’s effectively ‘Force Push’, to one you whisper to teleport yourself silently toward an enemy.


In story terms, obviously, that means any world-saving is going to have to be done by you – once you’re done arsing around with sidequests and guilds. In game terms, it means you have access to a whole new kind of magic the Elder Scrolls games haven’t given us before. 


Dragon Shouts are three-word phrases, uttered in the dragon tongue, which function as powerful spells. For them to work, you first need to defeat a dragon and take its soul: that gives you the potential to learn its shout. But the words themselves don’t come easily: they’re written in the dragon’s own language on the walls of crumbling ruins all over Skyrim. The dragon’s soul gives you the ability to spot power words among the scratchy ancient glyphs. 


The school of Mysticism, which has always seemed a little too miscellaneous to count as a themed set, is gone. Its best spells are now part of other schools like Alteration, making that one in particular more worthwhile – its spell set was a little skimpy in Oblivion.


Enchantment is a magical skill last seen in Morrowind, which lets you imbue your favourite weapon or armour with any spell effect you know. In that game, though, it was rarely worth trying it yourself when vendors could do it for you with no risk of failure. Which is probably why Oblivion removed it as a player skill: there’s just a pedestal in the Imperial University that does it for you perfectly every time. Since it’s always been one of the most powerful and useful abilities in the world, having it as a player skill in Skyrim could be really interesting. 


Oblivion’s system meant that everyone, from a pure mage to a brainless fighter, had to wield both a weapon and a spell at all times. Skyrim is much more freeform: you have two hands, and it’s up to you whether to ready two spells, one spell in both hands, a spell in one and a weapon in the other, or even dual-wield any two single-handed weapons. 


Oblivion’s combat model was all about the sluggishness and difficulty of combat with large, heavy weapons. Skyrim’s is more energetic and fast – there are gruesome finishing moves for each weapon and enemy type. 


So bows in Skyrim are balanced like sniper rifles – or more appropriately, like the Huntsman for Team Fortress 2’s Sniper class. 


Skyrim’s [skill] system is much simpler and more forgiving. You pick nothing, you just get better at whatever you do. All of it counts towards levelling you up, so you’ll progress at a similar rate whatever you spend your time doing. And you don’t have to guess what’s going to be useful or suitable for your play style: you just try everything and stick at what you like. 


The series has always toyed with this learn-by-doing system, but it’s previously hedged its bets slightly: each game couples it with some form of intentional player choice, which is the tradition in RPGs. Skyrim’s only nod to that is a choice of whether to boost your health, magicka or stamina when you level – the three basic resources you need to survive, cast spells and fight. 


Making your character-level reflect your power is important, because like all Bethesda’s open-world RPGs, Skyrim adjusts some of its content to your current level. If you hated that in Oblivion, don’t worry. There it was widespread and heavy handed, which sometimes felt artificial. Bethesda say Skyrim’s scaling will be used more like Fallout 3’s 


You level around twice as quickly as in Oblivion, and each time you do, you can choose a single unique improvement to your character. 


So Skyrim won’t scale everything to your character level, but it will tweak its content in a different way as you play: to your choices, rather than your overall power. If you’ve already explored the cave complex that would normally be the setting for a sidequest you get later on, the game will secretly change the setting to a dungeon you haven’t been to yet. Conversely, the target of an assassination quest might be picked from the characters you’ve spent most time with, rather than a perfect stranger, to make the decision to kill them more interesting. If it works, you’ll have no idea this stuff is happening, you’ll just be having a more interesting experience. 


Radiant AI is still in, and supposedly improved, and Radiant Story is there to configure exactly how quests interact with the characters governed by it. But it’s not meant to generate the whole game’s plot – the main quest and even most elements of the side quests are hand-written, prescripted stuff. It’ll just be tweaked to make it more interesting for you. 


The more tangible improvement with Skyrim’s characters is how they look and talk – as you’ll see in the screenshots, the tragic epidemic of Puffy Monkey Face is over at last.

 

Puffy Monkey Face indeed.

 

Spotted at: GameBanshee

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