by Chris Priestman
previewed on X360
One Step At A Time
This would not be an Elder Scrolls game if it did not adhere to the series’ core design principle: “be who you want, and do what you want”. As such, you will be able to choose which race you want to be from the usual roster of ten as you enter the game world. Each come with their own specialisations as is typical; Khajiit can see in the dark, Nords are resistant to frost and Argonians can breathe underwater. Differentiating Skyrim from its predecessors is the removal of the class system. This is an attempt to loosen the restrictions on players that are present when forced to specialise in a particular profession. Some structure is made of your choices as there exist three prominent nebulae in the Skyrim heavens, which actually correspond to the master skill sets – the thief, the warrior and the mage. These skill sets are made up of 6 skills each and players can choose a combination of any of these to cater to their preferred play style. Another change is visible when the player goes up an overall level as they will be asked to choose from a list of perks. Some of these perks can be upgraded several times, as was seen in Fallout 3. The slight changes made with this system enable the player to work out their preferred play style as they progress and gradually tailor their specialties to this.
While your skills and statistics will aid you to an extent, it is ultimately down to your individual skill when it is time to roam the mountainous terrain of Skyrim. Fortunately, the combat system has been made more intuitive in this instalment as you can now dual wield weapons and magic. Each hand can be equipped with anything you like from swords and shields, to spells and daggers. Interestingly, having the same spell assigned to each hand will increase the devastation of your attack. To be effective in combat, players will have to adapt to each battle by selecting the best weapon or spell for the job. Warrior and rogue types will want to consider the range of their weapons, and mages should take into account that shock spells drain magicka and frost spells slow enemy movement and drains stamina. As switching the loadout to suit the situation will be a common necessity, a new quick-select menu has been created so that players can flick between their saved loadouts in a simple click. The inventory is also made more accessible by sorting items in to groups by type and then listing them alphabetically. Searching for items should be made a lot quicker and easier with this more organised approach. There is also a focus on making combat more difficult by forcing the player to be more precise and tactical. Blocking with a shield will require timing and drawing back arrows will take longer but will be more powerful upon hitting the target. Adding a real bite of satisfaction to the combat are the all-new brutal finishing moves. These will vary in their execution depending on what weapon is equipped and what type of enemy is being pulverised. They work most effectively during stealth, which could encourage a more stealthy approach during some of the more difficult quests.
A Hand Crafted World
The Elder Scrolls series has become synonymous with open world exploration, and Skyrim is looking to be no exception to this trend. The Nordic realm of Skyrim is inspired by the Scandinavian terrain and cultures of our own world, so you can expect a bleak atmosphere set amongst a harsh environment. Vegetation is sparse even in the greenest of areas, and the majority of the land consists of snowy mountains. The creatures native to this environment will bear a tougher skin to fight off the cold, so be wary when spotting frost trolls, mammoths and sabre-toothed cats. As the weather is omnipresent in the terrain of Skyrim, it will be fully realised by the brand new Creation Engine. The weather affects the surroundings in a very realistic manner that goes beyond basic textures and scripted animation. Snow falls dynamically and will lay upon the ground gradually. The effects of the wind will be something to behold as each branch is given its own weight for the wind to push, and water will flow in a manner that reflects the direction of the gales.
In Skyrim players will be given a map roughly equal to the size of Cyrodiil in Oblivion. The scale of the land can be witnessed through a detailed Google Maps-inspired 3D map accessible in the inventory. Players will be able to zoom right in and all the way out in order to plan their routes around the terrain. No annotations can be made upon this map though, which may require the player to constantly consort the map when heading for a specific location. Back on their feet, the player will be able to absorb the improved draw distance of Skyrim due to the dynamism of the HUD. It is absent at all times except when the player’s health, stamina or magicka is being drained; at which point those bars appear to warn the player.
Whereas only one person designed the dungeons in Oblivion with much of the work relying on procedurally generated environments, a team of 8 have been assigned to hand craft the 120 or so dungeons in Skyrim. A focus has been placed on varying gameplay with plenty more traps and puzzles thrown in to make each dungeon a treacherous undertaking – with some taking up to 2 hours to clear. Some puzzles will require the player to scan items thoroughly for codes and clues. Thousands of in-game items have been fully rendered in 3D so the player can get a view of them from any angle in the inventory. One particular aspect that will prove to be a difficult win for Bethesda is known as Level Scaling 2.0. This new mechanic is similar to Fallout 3’s in that it will still scale the level of enemies to the player, but will be done so in tiers. As such, the enemies will always be challenging but never too easy nor too hard. This is an attempt to appease those who complained about the level matching in Oblivion, but not make the game as hard as the earlier games in the series so as not to alienate the masses of new players.