Preview

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Preview (PC)

At E3 2011, we finally got to see The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in all of its glorious action. The game is truly a spectacle to behold, and not just in terms of scenery. Though, the first thing that will strike the gamer is indeed the scenery, and it is damned gorgeous. The development team, who began work on Skyrim right after they finished coding Fallout 3, did an amazing job of rendering one of the most realistic landscapes in video games, even running on a console like the Xbox 360.

Some advice - don't walk behind giant mammoths.

Right from the start, the vegetation is startlingly accurate, from undergrowth to rotting logs with moss covering it to verdant trees. Even individual tall grass blades sway in the breeze and cast shadows. The mountains in the distance look beautiful, and are not a part of the skybox - they are climbable if you travel to them. The game also has dynamic weather. That is, there are no snow textures on rocks and trees. When it snows - and the snow is some of the best seen in a videogame - it'll accumulate on the landscape, and will not simply be a changing of object textures.

Another aspect of the visuals that have been improved is the player's character themselves. For one, Bethesda's team vastly improved the third person view for those gamers who enjoy that perspective. In previous games like Oblivion, the third person animation looked roughly like a corpse shuffling legs forward. Even the inventory has been revamped - every single item, from swords to shields to food items like carrots and monster meat to spells are rendered completely in 3D and detailed. Some quest items must be examined in this view to solve puzzles, even. If that weren't enough, the world map is in 3D, and is beautiful in its own way as well. (A side note: one of the items that was in the inventory of the PC was a weak soul gem, so that gameplay mechanic of stealing essences from monsters with be in Skyrim.)

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.

The character skill tree has even been re-imagined in the interface - now each ability, like one handed fighting or Destruction magic, is represented by a constellation. The outline of the constellation becomes less dim as that skill is leveled, and even more fantastic, each star represents a specific skill or spell within that ability! In fact, zooming in shows each corresponding star to that ability. It's both an elegant and hypnotic way to represent player abilities.

Another part of The Elder Scrolls that has been improved are the NPCs. Now, they go about their daily routine. For example, you'll probably find the blacksmith using the anvil or sharpening a blade on a grindstone. The best part? The player can use the same things as the blacksmith to sharpen their blade, too (to give the weapon a temporary stat buff)! The dialog is far more naturalistic now, too. When conversing with an NPC, the NPC continues to do whatever they were doing, live, as they address the player. The player can use a dialog tree or even walk away from the NPC mid-conversation.

Then there's combat. Before the mechanics of fighting are discussed, it's important to note that the game now has what Bethesda calls "Radiant Storytelling". Radiant Storytelling simply means that missions and quests can change mid-quest, and each players story will be different. Players can even ruin a town's economy by killing shop owners and destroying their business!

Dragon battles are incredibly epic.

As for combat, the player can dual wield anything if they so choose - a blade and a shield, two blades, a blade and an axe, a spell and a blade, two spells, and so on. It's very simple as well - left trigger is use the left hand, right trigger is use the right hand. If the player has two of the same spell in each hand, in fact, pressing the triggers together at the same time will create a stronger version of the spell. The player can also cast runes, which are basically spell traps that are activated when an enemy trips it. Then there are the Dragon Shouts, special spells that must be researched by finding first the phrase of three words that will activate the Shout, and then learning each word of the spell. The words can be learned mostly from killing dragons.

Dragons are a major adversary in the game, and they are viciously tough. They are also intelligent as well - they have no scripts. They follow a procedural AI that is completely unscripted. In one scene, a dragon swooped down unexpectedly to snatch a badly wounded giant from the player who was about to give the finishing blow, flew high into the air, and dropped the poor giant to his death. Why? Who knows, because the dragon then started fighting the player. It arced around the player, hurled fireballs, landed on the ground to attack with claws, then flew again. The player used one dragon shout to summon a storm that created a hard rain and lightning crashes. This wounded the dragon enough that it could no longer fly, and when a dragon crashes, it's with an impressive thud. Dragons in Skyrim will be what Big Daddies were in BioShock on the expert difficulty - only there will be no resurrection chamber to save your buttocks when the dragon finishes you off.

Hi, ho, Chestnut, away!

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim seems to be the game that fans of the series are hungering for. November 11, 2011 can't come fast enough.

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