The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Previews

While it's understandable that you'd be more interested in finally seeing some gameplay footage, E3 has also been the chance for various publications to publish some new previews for Bethesda's fifth main installment in The Elder Scrolls series.

IGN has two pieces. First, about the game details:
This attention to the finer points of presentation extends to the interface, reworked in Skyrim to be less cluttered. Your character's skills are displayed as star constellations, and as you dive into each to see the individual perks contained within they're displayed as stars within each celestial pattern. The text that pops up while in conversation and while quick-swapping weapons and armor is designed to be unobtrusive, so it that it doesn't feel like it's calling any more attention to itself than it has to. Models of all the items, from the more impressive pieces of armor and weapons down to individual herbs, can be inspected, rotated and zoomed in on however you see fit.

Then, on the game's protagonist, the Dragonborn:
You absorb the soul of every dragon you slay. One soul is strong enough to empower one word from any shout you've uncovered. Will you increase the potency of Fire Breath? Or Slow Time? Maybe you prefer the tornado style of Whirlwind Spirit. Just remember that this is the language of dragons, meaning that whatever you can shout, a dragon in Skyrim can shout right back at you. Good thing dragons can't hold battle axes or you might be in trouble.

Though certain dragons may patrol a certain area, all are unscripted. The dragons' artificial intelligence is designed to utilize their strengths both in the air and on the ground, and battles can play out differently depending on how they're approached. And some dragons are bigger, fiercer, and tougher than others. So kill the weaker ones first before tackling something as strong as a Frost Dragon.

The user interface is one of the most common pitfalls of any role-playing game, what with the amount of skill progression and item management the genre throws at you. Bethesda's solution? "We're big Apple fans at Bethesda," said Howard, and the clean, minimalist game interface was designed out of an attempt to create the sort of menu system Apple might make if it decided to build a fantasy game. You can navigate the majority of the menu system using only directions on the analog stick, never having to press a single button until you get to an item you want to use. Skill trees are depicted not as abstract lines on the screen, but as constellations in the sky that you must move from one star to the next as you upgrade your skills.

And then there's the quick favorite system. "You can bookmark items like you bookmark Web pages," said Howard. This system then lets you use the directional pad to pull open a quick list of bookmarked items on the fly, whether it's weapon configurations, dragon shouts, or a hunk of salmon meat for when you get hungry. It's essentially a progression of how the directional pad worked in the console versions of Oblivion and Fallout 3. Though instead of eight directions, you've got a fully customized list of the items and abilities you care most about, divorced from the main item interface and viewable on the go.

In the new gameplay demo we got to check out, Dovahkiin wandered across a vast meadow. I was initially taken aback by the lavender flowers scattered across the grass. Upon realizing how utterly lame I was for looking at flowers, I looked around to notice a giant woolly mammoth. Oh, and, hey, a giant is walking right next to him. I named them Snuffleupagus and Grawp. I never claimed to be creative.

If Dovahkiin is six feet tall then the giant was at least 14 feet tall. He was slow and seemed oblivious of my existence. His skin was the color of bandages. The giant didn't seem to even notice me. Many creatures go about their business without wanting to attack you at all. The giant clearly had other concerns; maybe he's really into flowers too.

The woolly mammoth was at least five times taller than I was. It had a mythological quality to it, like a mix between what an actual prehistoric mammoth may have looked like and a Mûmakil from Lord of the Rings. I could see the detail of every coarse hair covering its body. The mammal was so peaceful, so majestic, so at one with nature that I was this close to actually feeling bad when Dovahkiin shot a fire ball in his furry face. So close.

Bethesda say that Skyrim will offer several different environment types split across seven broad regions, but what we've seen so far seems to stick fairly rigidly to fantasy stereotype. There's the lush green forests, the snowy mountainous regions, the dark, flame-lit dungeons. They're the environments we've seen in every fantasy RPG, in other words, and while the variety might be strong, whether Skyrim's locations have any real character of their own remains to be seen.

The game will also succeed or fail on the strength of its quests and storytelling and, again, it's too early to pass judgement on that. However, with a new quest and storytelling system created especially for Skyrim, I'd say it's worth being cautiously optimistic. And since it's looking to be such a spectacle, and Bethesda have shown such a keen understanding not just of what Oblivion did right, but what it did wrong. well, put together, it all gets me quite excited about November 11th, when we'll finally get our hands on The Elder Scrolls' fifth outing.

The Escapist:
It wasn't the shouts themselves that I found so interesting - they're functionally not all that different from your other spells, though obviously far more powerful - but rather the way they made your character feel distinct. The main character of the Elder Scrolls games is always some special something or other, but that's reflected in the story, as opposed to your character. There is the hero of the story - the one who's foretold by prophecy, for exmple - and there's the hero that you create by putting in the time to earn the experience and adjust your skills exactly the right way. Though they're the same individual, they don't really feel all that connected. The shouts of Skyrim form a bridge between the customization of your character and the hero that the designers envisioned when they crafted the game. You can mix and match skills and weapons and spells and equipment all day long to get the kind of character that best suits your play style, but the shouts make sure that no matter what, your character still has that connection to the story's hero.

The one aspect of the demo that left me somewhat unsettled was the user interface. It's far less fussy than that of Oblivion, is much cleaner and easier to navigate, but it looks like it was ripped right out of Fallout: New Vegas. It's a little absurd to be bothered by a choice of typeface, but every time an alert popped up to let us know that a stat had improved or that we'd discovered some new location, I was forcibly reminded of Fallout. The lettering looked modern and out of place to me in Skyrim's setting, perhaps because Fallout has such a focus on mechanical and technological things. It seems reasonable to assume that it's the type of thing you'd get used to, though.

Just Push Start doesn't have a full preview yet, but has already concluded based on a hands-off demo that Skyrim "plays better than Oblivion":
When Oblivion was released on the Xbox 360 and PC five years ago, it was one of the best games ever released. However it fell short in the presentation department due to its poor loading times and frame rate. Today, Bethesda showed Skyrim to us behind close doors and, let me tell you, it plays a lot better than Oblivion in many ways.

As Bethesda demoed Skyrim, one of the first things I noticed was how the game streamed smoothly without any hiccups. Aware of its early build, we are very impressed with how the game streams the vast world. Texture pop ups are close to non-existent and not a single loading time was seen.