Skyrim Preview

Steve Butts | 18 Apr 2011 10:00
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With all the encounters he'd been through, Todd had used a wide range of abilities, from long-range bowshots, to indirect magic attacks, to dragon shouts, to straight ahead melee strikes to defeat his enemies. The demo was obviously unbalanced so he could show us all the variety (and not get killed), but it seems as if the designers want players to try out all these different systems. Since this is a classless game, you're not restricted in how you play. In fact, you're not really going to be making any hard decisions about who or what your character is before you've had a chance to explore the world and discover how you like to play.

Like previous Elder Scrolls games, you start this one as a prisoner with no scripted backstory. All you know is that you're being led to your execution, and it's up to you to supply the context. Maybe you were falsely accused or maybe you had it coming. Either way, the game doesn't care what you've been; it only cares what you do next. Character creation has been simplified considerably. Now you'll simply select your gender, your race, and your appearance before jumping right into the thick of things.

From there your character advances according to the way you play him or her. The only way to improve a certain skill, like archery or magicka, is to use it. (Most of the other attributes that existed to feed into a skill ranking are gone now.) As you gain levels in a skill, you contribute to your overall character level. Each time you gain a character level, you'll have the option to buy whatever perks your skills allow. For instance, if you really focus on using your bow, you may unlock a perk that allows you to zoom in to aim your shots. Keep at it, and you might also unlock an additional perk that slows time while you aim. Go for axes and you might unlock a perk that causes additional bleeding damage each time you hit an enemy.

As cool as all that is, the real star of the skill system is the overall presentation. Normally that kind of thing wouldn't warrant a mention from me, but that's only because I've gotten so used to spreadsheets. Skyrim puts all yours skills against an astronomical backdrop. It sounds a bit cheesy but it really works and reinforces the whole "destiny" angle. Even better, your perks are stars in various constellations, so if you unlock all the perks for a given skill set, you're rewarded with a very compelling visual. Like I said, it might sound lame, but it's a great alternative to the character sheet model.

Unlike Oblivion, the enemies and encounters won't level alongside the player. I think most of us who played Oblivion remember what it was like to hit a hard fight and leave to level up, only to come back and find out that the fight had become even harder in the meantime. In Skyrim difficultly levels are locked in place once you visit an area, so you'll have a chance to go out and get stronger before coming back and facing a challenge that's been getting the best of you.

With as much as we saw, there are still loads of questions still to be answered. Can players ride mounts? If not, can we still buy horse armor? How will crime and stealth work? Will you finally be able to sleep in the beds of the people you murder? What are the guilds like? Speech mini-games? Alchemy? There are plenty of unknowns in Skyrim but Bethesda still has a bit of time to answer these questions before the game is released on November 11.

Steve Butts wants to eat a dragon. He wants to eat its soul.

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