X'11 - Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Preview
By James Farrington (09.09.11)
At X’11 Canada in Toronto I had a chance to see a live demo of one of my most anticipated titles for this holiday season: “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.” Unfortunately I was not able to play the game myself but I was offered a live demo of “Skyrim” that showcased the new Creation Engine powering the game and the many new experiences players can enjoy in the realm of Skyrim.
The demo showed off multiple locations such as a lush northern forest, a small town, snowy mountainous terrain, a dungeon, and open plains. The game seamlessly moved between these differing environments without any noticeable framerate drop and even entering the small town of Riverwood was seamless and did not trigger a load screen. The game has a number of small towns that are seamlessly worked into the environments and the player can enter and leave these small towns without bringing up a loading screen, which helps keep the player immersed in the gameworld. Every environment looked noticeable better than “Oblivion” and “Fallout 3.” “Skyrim” has higher res textures, more objects in the environments (such as plant life), and better lighting and water effects (the lighting effects within the dungeon were especially well done and impressive). Character models are more detailed and animations are smoother, though I am still not sure if playing “Skyrim” in 3rd person is a viable option without playing it for myself.
The new engine powering “Skyrim” offers other updates to “The Elder Scrolls” beyond graphics. The Radiant A.I. introduced in “Oblivion” has also been updated allowing NPC’s to have new jobs, actions, and dynamic reactions to your character. As well, the game’s map is completely changed from “Oblivion.” Rather than a 2D drawn map the new game engine zooms out in real-time to reveal a fully 3D map complete with clouds and icons that highlight different locations.
Tweaking the Elder Scrolls
There have been several new gameplay additions and tweaks to “Skyrim” from previous titles in the “Elder Scrolls” franchise. The most noticeable difference I saw is the ability to dual wield weapons. The player can dual wield any two single-handed weapons (including spells). This means that the player can have a sword in one hand and a spell in another, or two swords, or two spells, etc. Magic has also been overhauled thanks to the new dual wield mechanic. If a player equips the same spell in each hand and then combines the two spells (pulls both left and right triggers) the spell becomes more powerful than simply firing off a spell from one hand. Unfortunately one cannot combine two different spells to create, say, a “fire/lighting” spell. Still a player can equip a fire and a lighting spell in either hand but will not be able to create a hybrid spell by pulling both triggers.
Another gameplay addition to “Skyrim” is the use of shouts. In “Skyrim” the player’s character is a Dragon Born, meaning that he/she can speak the language of dragons. The player learns phrases in the dragon language by finding alter-like objects that have the dragon tongue carved into stone. From these carvings the player learns a piece of a shout. Each shout has three parts, the first part being the weakest and the last part being the strongest and each part must be found in the game world in order to unlock the full shout. However, each part of a shout must be unlocked with a dragon’s soul and the only way to gain a dragon’s soul is to kill a dragon. Once one kills a dragon and gains a soul he/she can use that soul to unlock a part of a shout. The need to unlock shouts with dragon souls means that the player can have multiple shouts in his/her inventory but can only use the shouts that he/she has unlocked with a dragon’s soul. Once a phrase is entirely unlocked the player must charge up the shout to reach the third and most powerful part of the shout, however the player can choose to use either the first or second part of a shout to allow for quicker activation.
The shouts seem fairly diverse ranging from lighting based attacks, to shouts that dramatically boost the player’s speed, and shouts that create a blast that knocks enemies back. The shouts seem more powerful than regular spells but are not only useful in combat but can be used to pass puzzles and obstacles. For example, during the dungeon crawl in my live demo a shout was used to speed past a few swinging axes that were blocking a path. I am curious to see what other uses shouts have or if they are mainly used just for combat and puzzle solving.
There is also a new perks system, similar to “Fallout 3,” that seems to replace the class system from previous “Elder Scroll’s” games. In “Skyrim” the player does not choose a class at the beginning of the game. The player’s gameplay style determines the “class” of his/her character. However, perks offer a kind of class system by having the player progress through perk trees. Based upon how the player levels certain aspects, such as leveling a sword skill, certain perks will become unlocked that the player can then activate to enhance his/her character. The way one levels up certain parts of the character is similar to “Oblivion” where doing the action levels up that action. So swinging a sword a bunch of times will increase the player’s sword ability, which will then unlock a sword or blade fighting perk. The lack of any direct classes means that any player can use bows, staffs, spells, swords, shields, etc., allowing for the creation of varied and unique characters distinct to each player.
The dungeon crawl shown during my live demo was particularly fun to watch. Based upon the one dungeon I saw it seems like the dungeons in “Skyrim” are more varied and engaging than the dungeons in “Oblivion” (there are also 200+ dungeons in the game). The dungeon I saw varied greatly in its geography, ranging from light filtering through cracks and holes in the ceiling, to underground streams, to spider web filled passageways, and large cavernous rooms. The dungeon in the demo also featured a small puzzle element requiring the player to put a correct combination of symbols together to open a door. This type of puzzle, though fairly easy, may indicate that other dungeons will not only vary in terms of geography but will vary in terms of gameplay as well.
Then there are the dragons, which are dynamic creatures that will randomly appear in the wilderness. I saw 2 dragons during the live demo. One flew around and blew fire down on our hero and another engaged our hero in a battle atop an old tower. Dragons will land on the ground and fight on foot, giving melee-focused players a chance to kill them, and dragons will fly above the player requiring the use of spells and bows to kill them. It seems that dragons will range in size, colour, tactics, and strength offering the player dynamic and engaging fights.
So Many…Many… Hours
On top of all that I saw in the demo there is still even more content that was not shown. For example “Skyrim” offers a new crafting system allowing players to create potions and weapons, there are side quests the player will encounter throughout the world, Skyrim features an updated and streamlined menu system, there is a new creature/enemy leveling system that locks enemies in dungeons to the players level upon entering the dungeon (allowing the player to leave and return at a higher level while the enemies remain at the same level), and there are jobs the player can do to affect town economics.
Hiccups and Impressions
I did notice a few glitches in the live demo. The most noticeable glitches were a few collision detection problems, such as having the character become inside a dragon’s head during a melee fight with a dragon. There was also a strange animation glitch where it seemed the player character’s model became frozen in an animation when he attempted to bring out a large double axe. However the game is being released on November 11th so hopefully there is enough time to deal with these types of glitches. Overall, and pre-release glitches aside, “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” looks promising and is primed to relieve gamers of many hours of sleep in the quest to explore and experience the realm of Skyrim and all it has to offer.