Posted on Monday, April 18 @ 08:08:55 PST by Nicholas Tan
For now you are merely another figure in the kingdom of Skyrim looking upon its rugged mountaintops and the crisp river carving its path through the valley. Purple mountain flowers, waiting to be plucked, sway in the northern breeze with a faint smile. The majesty surrounds you. But as you stare downstream, you can sense the autumn air tremble. The moment you hear the flap of its wing, your blood stirs with a seething desire, building ominously as the sound approaches. This, the dragon knows, as it screeches its name through the rattling trees. But all you can hear is your thirst for its soul, to devour it whole. The words of the Elder Scrolls have worn at last. For you are the one, the Dragonborn.
The Elder Scrolls series has an extraordinary pedigree and expectations to match, but sometimes it's better to look at a projector screen twenty times the normal size of a television and be swept into a bliss of fantastical proportions. The sole reason Bethesda chose Park City, Utah for this year's BFG was to show us the world of Skyrim if it lay before our eyes - the snow-capped mountains, the spare tree among the wintry foliage, the sun burning a bulbous haze through the clouds, the peek of flowers hidden beside the shade of towering rock faces.
And as possible as it would be to climb to the summit of the mountains in Park City, such is the same with the mountains of Skyrim, if you discount the giant apes, frost trolls, and dragons of course. Nonetheless, you would be blameless if you delayed a mission of importance merely to stop and get yourself lost in the landscape. (That girl didn't need to be saved anyway.)
But if perchance a bandit foolishly brings your strolling daydream to an end, you have every reason and ability to inflict some consequences. With both your left and right hands, you can equip the standard sword and shield for balanced offense and defense, or any two-hand configuration of bow, dagger, mace, or fist. Those magically inclined can hold spells, one in each hand, and can cast them rapidly, charge them for more power, or even charge and combine them together, like in Fable III, for some spell-woven destruction.
If that weren't enough, being a Dragonborn allows you to use shouts as dangerous as the killing words in Dune. Shouts recharge over time and can be charged up to three levels, once you discover the right words carved into ancient stone. Some shouts are merely sonic waves that can split a skeleton into pieces, while others can slow down time with which you can inflict additional damage or dodge a dragon's fire breath.
For sure, these skills are indispensable to completing dungeons and the quests that come with them. The cavernous dungeon we were shown was several floors deep, but the extent to which the player wishes to explore it depends on their curiosity. In this demo, the player kills a thief who has stolen a golden claw but only after he discloses the claw's use as a key to the treasures resting within the bottommost chamber. Either the player can return the claw immediately or venture further and unlock the puzzle door, which can only be opened by physically examining and rotating the golden claw for a clue. Along the same idea, any weaknesses an enemy may have must be found in journals that must be physically opened and read.
This concept of integrated visual interfaces expands to the progression system, which has you look to the stars for your stats. Each of your 18 skills - be it One-Handed, Conjuration, or Heavy Armor - is a constellation, a perfect representation for a skill tree. The more you use a skill (by the way, they removed Athletics and Acrobatics because players were just running and jumping like fools), the higher it grows and the more it contributes to a level up, where you can distribute points into three, instead of six, attributes: Health, Stamina, and Mana. This simplification is meant to get rid of meaningless repetition and make progression more immediate and understandable. Add the fact that there is no level cap and the room for customization and rewards is practically boundless.
The same can be said of the dubbed "radiant" storytelling system, which is just a fancy way of saying it's "random". This doesn't just extend to NPCs which now have work lives and might strike a conversation with you as you stroll with them on a quest, but also on how a quest progresses. For instance, if you're given a quest that doesn't have a fixed path or dungeon, the game will analyze which dungeons are near you but for some reason you haven't done and will choose the best one for you to complete. Not only does this cut down on needless backtracking, but each playthrough for each person will have a higher chance of being unique.
Unfortunately, at this early stage, much of Skyrim has been left unrevealed or vague, in part because the in-house developers at Bethesda haven't decided on some features yet: guilds, character generation, alchemy, crafting, mounts, economy, lockpicking, speech, and whole list of things from Oblivion that hardcore fans will hurt me for not mentioning.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, arriving on the totally, completely unintentional 11/11/11 for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC, has the potential to reach the pinnacle of gaming excellence, and dare I say, our very first 'A+'. That's written with cautious optimism, of course, but it's okay to dream, right? An editor for Game Revolution can dream, right? *looks through contract* Crap...