The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Previews

The E3 previews of Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim continue to roll in, with four more popping up on the web over this past weekend.

The first thing that warmed me greatly about Skyrim is that it is math, wonderful video game math. It's 300 hours long, if you want it to be. It's a game that lets its player-character be customized by more than 280 perks and sets him to battle within more than 150 "hand-crafted" dungeons (and against lots of dragons!). It's a game of spells and unseen calculations, of the uncountable variety of statistical tweaks, built with a storytelling system that will invisibly swap quest items and locations to, Todd Howard promised, not only vary the game's quests but ensure that the player is sent to do new and interesting things. Been to a certain cave already? Then the next big side-quest will secretly reconfigure itself and send you to a different one. Characters absorb souls from dragons to learn the dragons' "shouts" and then can use that language to shout back; they will fight dragons who behave with their own beastly, unpredictable artificial intelligence. Math leads to artistry and the beauty of something that seems untamed wild, in this game's case it seems to me. It leads to beauty customized per player, something represented just right with the constellations that are formed in the game's heavens, stars linked based on how the player customizes their character's traits.

There was a second thing that thrilled me about Skyrim, I should note. It had nothing to do with math. It had to do with this moment, captured here from G4's presentation and that took the breath out of me when I saw it in the game's demo theater. We're on a tundra. Mammoths approach. A giant walks by. And we can talk to this giant. Yes, I believe that is what I want from a video game.

The Telegraph:
As you perform actions in Skyrim, your skills improve accordingly. You don't choose a class at the outset of the game --though you do get to decide on race and gender of your Dragon born hero-- rather you utilise your skills in order to define your playstyle. So if you want to be a battlemage, focus on your weapons an offensive spells. A stealthy sniper? Use the shadows and keep practicing with that bow and arrow. There are also 280 perks to choose from each time you level-up, activated by looking to the heavens at a swirling starscape. Each skill 'tree' is represented as a constellation, and new stars burn bright as you expand your skills.

There's an extraordinary amount of freedom when it comes to honing your character's skills. From the huge list of spells, found in tomes scattered around the world, to the runes that you can use to augment weapons. You can even poison your weapon by dipping it in spiders blood after you have felled one of the giant creepy crawlies. Most spectacular, however, are the "Dragon Shouts".

At this point we were shown the game's menu which is divided into 4 sections: magic, skills, items and map. Each of these gets very detailed allowing you to do things such as look at your items in 3D by rotating them 360° degrees or review your skills by drilling down through the different levels to select the perfect spell that you are looking for. One of the things that really stood out to me was how much detail went into each of the inventory items as we rotated through the them a little to see for example how meat can look before and after it is cooked. Another cool thing that we were shown before closing out of the inventory was the quest book. You can actually flip the pages just like you would a real book; the animations in this game are really detailed and are very fluid.

As our demo continued, we came across a small town. Todd told us that Skyrim has a bunch of these little towns throughout the world along with five big cities, each with their own economy. The game mechanics will allow you to sabotage the town's economy if so choose, but what was really cool was that we could actually engage with the town folk and take up the jobs they have in the town to earn a living. Towns are also great places to get horses if you don't feel like walking as you journey from one quest to the next. We got ourselves a horse and went on to ride it up a mountain for the next part of the demo. As we got higher and higher, the weather changed and eventually it started snowing. In Skyrim, the weather is dynamic and it can change anytime which is another nice touch adding yet more layers of realism to the game.

And Tech-Gaming:
Even the user menus have been improved in Skyrim. Everything looks so clean, the menus are easy to search through, and every item has been three dimensionally modeled so that you get full detail with every single item in your inventory. It sounds like such a small thing, but being able to get into your weapons and items by seeing them as they'd look in real life totally helps to immerse the player in the game. Or at least Bethesda thinks so.

The tech trees have also been upgraded; they're now seen as constellations in the sky, which become more filled in and unique as you choose which parts to power up. And the towns now boast working economies (well the whole world does, really) so NPCs are made more lifelike by their lives, jobs, and the fact that all of them, even some enemies, are happy to ignore you and go about their business. Any job you observe someone doing, you can do yourself; another feature which allows players to feel more immersed in the game.