The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Preview

PC Gamer has whipped up a solid two-page preview of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, with sections devoted to the game's background, spell system, combat system, character progression system, Radiant AI, and improved graphics engine. I can't help but offer up a generous excerpt:
Dragon Shouts are separate from 'Ėœconventional' magic, the type any chump with a pointy hat can do. That stuff has been tweaked a bit. The Elder Scrolls games have always split their spells into themed sets called Schools Destruction, for example, lets you cast all the attacking spells but counts as a single skill as you improve it with practise.

That system is still in, but the schools themselves have changed a little. The school of Mysticism, which has always seemed a little too miscellaneous to count as a themed set, is gone. Its best spells are now part of other schools like Alteration, making that one in particular more worthwhile its spell set was a little skimpy in Oblivion.

That leaves Destruction (damage-dealing), Restoration (healing and buffs), Conjuration (summoning minions and equipment), Illusion (stealth and confusion), Alteration (utility spells), and Enchantment.

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The series has always toyed with this learn-by-doing system, but it's previously hedged its bets slightly: each game couples it with some form of intentional player choice, which is the tradition in RPGs. Skyrim's only nod to that is a choice of whether to boost your health, magicka or stamina when you level the three basic resources you need to survive, cast spells and fight.

It's balanced so that increasing your Blade skill from 70 to 71 gets you much closer to your next level-up than levelling Destruction from 1 to 2. In other words, it's weighted towards acknowledging your strongest suit: it reflects that someone who's amazing at one skill is more powerful than someone with the same amount of experience split over a dozen of different abilities.

Making your character-level reflect your power is important, because like all Bethesda's open-world RPGs, Skyrim adjusts some of its content to your current level. If you hated that in Oblivion, don't worry. There it was widespread and heavy handed, which sometimes felt artificial. Bethesda say Skyrim's scaling will be used more like Fallout 3's: that game was much subtler when it tailored enemies to your abilities, and most areas weren't tailored at all.

Another thing Skyrim takes from Fallout 3 is the concept of perks. You level around twice as quickly as in Oblivion, and each time you do, you can choose a single unique improvement to your character. Fallout's perks included the ability to silently kill anyone who's asleep, extra manipulative dialogue options with characters of the opposite sex, and the ability to paralyse with your unarmed attacks. Given that the maximum character level is now 50 rather than 25, you'll be picking a lot of these. Skill progression doesn't even stop there it only slows.