It’s now just a few weeks until the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim hits store shelves and the entire planet grinds to a jarring halt as masses of gamers call in sick for a month so they can gear up and go adventuring. Sure, Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 are creating plenty of hype with their little FPS war, bickering and generally stupidity, but it’s Skyrim that really has me drooling in anticipation. After all, it was only a year ago that I played Call of Duty: Black Ops, and only around a year and a half ago I was flying a chopper in Battlefield: Bad Company 2, but it has been five and a half freaking years since I got my hands on Oblivion, a game which is, quite possibly, my favorite game of all time.
So, while I try to find more and more ingenious (read: stupid) ways of keeping myself occupied until Skyrim arrives on 11/11/11, here’s the top five reasons why I think Skyrim will kick ass.
HERE BE DRAGONS!
As a lover of the fantasy genre dragons will forever hold a special place in my hear, but sadly my favorite flying flamethrowers haven’t a great videogame career and the few fights that I’ve gotten into with them haven’t been hugely memorable. But Skyrim is looking to rectify this fact in truly epic style.
Unlike most games Bethesda decided that their dragons wouldn’t just be scripted set-pieces, but rather living, breathing parts of the world that can turn up an anytime they wish and cause destruction and carnage, usually by setting stuff on fire! Skyrim has six different known varieties of dragon and they’re randomly generated as you play, meaning there’s an infinite amount of those flying deathtraps to fight. They can appear alone or in groups (now that’s scary) and will interact with the world on almost every level, such as swooping down and grabbing a wooly mammoth to snack on. They’ll even attack NPC’s that they encounter out in the wilderness, often swooping down to sear the flesh from their bones or simply biting them in half. Even more terrifyingly they can even attack entire cities, engulfing them in flame and leaving the citizens terrified. This decision to have them as an unscripted part of the world is what makes Skyrim’s dragons so awesome; they’re unpredictable, vicious and every fight with them is going be utterly epic.
And fighting them is always going to be completely worth it as slaying this deadly beasts will result in you absorbing their soul which can then be used to gain access to “Shouts”, which essentially serve as massively powerful spells. To learn a Shout you need to use a dragon’s soul to learn one of the three words that make up the shout. Currently we know of 24 Shouts in the game, and if each of them requires three words to use then you’ll have to slay a total of 72 Dragons to learn them all and become a complete badass, though it’s possible that some Shouts use the same words.
But don’t go thinking that the dragons are simple dumb animals intent on ripping your legs off and using them as toothpicks, though I have no doubt that they’d enjoy that. In fact they’re known to be intelligent and have their own language, and it has all been but confirmed that there is at least one dragon in the game that can speak the “common language” and is therefore able to communicate with the other races inhabiting the world. In fact at some point during the game you’ll actually gain a dragon ally whom you can call in to help you out, even against other dragons. Now how freakin’ cool is that?
IT’S JUST SO RADIANT!
It’s fair to say that Oblivion’s Radiant AI never quite managed to deliver on its promises. The inhabitants of Cyrodill never felt like they were part of the world, truly living their life and going about their business. In fact it often felt more like the entire world revolved around you, which while quite good for my ego was hardly realistic. But now Skyrim is returning with a heavily updated version of the Radiant AI that’s making big promises yet again, and coming along for the ride is the new Radiant Story system which will customize side-quests on the fly to create a better game.
The most interesting part of the updated AI is the fact that the cheery people of fantasy land will now actually have real feelings toward you based on your actions toward them and around them, so wandering into someones house and smashing everything up with your sword is a sure-fire way to piss someone off. As you would expect this new like/dislike system will have an impact on how they behave towards you and can even stop them from giving you quests, and in some extremes might even lead them to attacking you. Imagine for a moment that you’ve killed the owner of a shop after being a tad unimpressed with his reward for risking your life. Unknown to you this kind old man was actually going to hand you another quest a little way down the line that would have led to great treasure. But come back in a few months and you might just discover that the grieving widow of the shopkeeper has taken over the business and may even offer you the same quest that her husband would have. Of course if she suspects any involvement on your behalf in the death of her husband she won’t give you the quest, or she might even react rather badly to your presence.
This AI system will work in tandem with the new Radiant Story system which will adjust quests by looking at a huge database composed of all your past actions, current actions, how the world perceives you and what skills your character has. Lets say a woman hires you to rescue her kidnapped daughter; the Radiant system will first check out the map and determine where you’ve not been and set the quest in that location, ensuring that you’ll always be checking out new areas of the map. Next up it will determine what enemies you’ll face on your quest, basing its decision on what your skills are and even what enemies you haven’t fought in a while – for example it might decide that you’ve not fought an undead for a while, and since you’re a close-combat warrior it decides that undead with ranged weapons would be a good challenge for you. But the Radiant Story system isn’t finished yet, as it decides that the person who kidnapped the poor girl is some person that you’ve managed to wrong somewhere along the line and that he/she kidnapped the girl to lure you into this location.
But the Radiant Story and AI don’t just combine for side-quests, they can also create little moments in the game on-the-fly. For example you drop your sword to make space for whatever garbage you want to pick up and a passing NPC spots it. Should they quite like you they might ask if you want it back, presuming you accidentally dropped it, or they could even ask to purchase it from you. If their disposition toward you is neutral or even active dislike they could simply steal it and run like hell, or even pick it up and challenge you to a swordfight because of your skill with the blade. It’s even possible for a cheeky merchant to pick it up and try to sell it back to you! Bastard.
Of course all of this is mostly PR talk, and exactly what the Radiant systems will actually be capable of come the time of release is still up for debate. It’s quite hard to believe that Bethesda will actually manage to pull these promises off, but even if it’s half as good as they say it’ll be pretty amazing.
DON’T LABEL ME!
Perhaps the most controversial change in Skyrim, and therefore the most controversial part of this list, is that Bethesda have demolished the class based levelling system that’s been a staple of the RPG, instead replacing it with a more open and fluid system. In Oblivion you would choose class at the beginning of the game, thereby locking you into your choice for the next hundred hours, which had a set of major skills which contributed towards you overall level. If you increased your major skills enough your character would level up allowing you to put points into one of the eight attributes. But in Skyrim there are no classes at all, and every skill counts toward levelling up, allowing for a much more natural feeling character progression and also allows the player to change their characters focus if they find that style of gameplay isn’t fun for them. Bethesda have also replace the eight attributes with just three.
There are numerous fans angry at this change in the series declaring it to be a dumbing down, but I view the change as one of the better and that, if you stop and think about it, it hasn’t dumbed the game down at all. Again, fans often cite the replacement of the eight attributes with just three as proof, but ultimately the eight various attributes were just a way of increasing either your magicka, health or stamina, so it hasn’t really dumbed it down at all.
A big new change is coming in the form of Perks which have been ripped straight out of Fallout 3 and stitched into Skyrim. You’ll get to pick one of these little badboys every time you level up, with your various skill levels determining which ones you can choose from. These perks are powerful extra abilities for your character and careful choosing of which ones you equip will allow you to develop a very focused build. For example, if you’re a fan of using a mace you might want to equip the perk which allows maces to ignore armor, instead acting like they’re just hitting flesh. Ouch! The real show-stopper, though, is a nice little perk that lets you decapitate enemies. Violent? Me? Nah. There’s around 280 different perks to choose from in Skyrim as well, which when combined with the eighteen different skills makes for plenty of choice in how to build your character.
Bethesda haven’t quite managed to depart from their beloved class system entirely, though, as you’ll find sets of standing stones scattered around the landscape corresponding to either the magic branch, warrior branch or steal branch and activating a stone will give that corresponding branch a major stat boost as well as making it easier to increase skills. Of course only one stone can be active at a time.
The fanboys might be frothing at the mouth about this change in the levelling system, but to me if feels like the logical next step in the series, and considering that the series has always been known for its freedom it feels right that this system which took away a small part of that freedom should be removed.
In a game that is quite literally packed to the freaking brim with huge new changes and features it might seem a little strange that dual wielding should make it into my list, but simple fact that I can run around with dual swords is just an instant win in my books.
Still, there’s actually a good reason why it’s on my list, apart from the whole awesome factor; dual wielding actually shakes up the gameplay considerably as you can mix and match any weapon, shield, staff and spell giving your character a whole host of new options in combat. On the most basic level this means you can happily wave a mace around in one hand and a sword in the other, but it doesn’t stop there; spells can also be added to the equation, allowing you to wield lighting in one hand and turn people into ice-pops with the other, and if you decide to wield two of the same spell then they can be combined by holding the two trigger buttons to create one almighty spell. Or you could even have a shield in one hand and a spell in the other, finally giving mages extra defensive options, though being able to turn people into giant ice cubes should be more than enough defense. Even staffs will be able to be dual wielded, should you feel like it.
The variety of tactics this gameplay tweaks opens up is enough to make me drool, as if the thought of running around with two staffs madly firing off spells wasn’t enough.
RIGHT, I’M LOST AGAIN.
It might surprise you to learn that Skyrim’s map isn’t any bigger than Oblivion’s, which was around sixteen square miles. In fact this very point has led to many people complaining, which, when you stop and thing about it, is just plain stupid. it’s that old adage; bigger ain’t always better. You see, while Skyrim’s map may be roughly the same size as Oblivion’s, it has considerably more mountains that stretch up into the sky, so simply going from one end of the map to the other becomes a life or death trek over snow-covered peaks. It’s actually a slightly false way of making it feel like Skyrim’s map is bigger; it’s not, it just takes a lot more time to navigate it.
The second major point it that Skyrim’s map is far more dense than Oblivion’s, with around 150 dungeons and a 100 other “points’ of interest making up the world. However, unlike Oblivion’s randomly generated dungeons which all felt and played the same, Skyrim’s dungeons have all be hand crafted by a team of eight dedicated people, so they’ll be far more interesting to explore as you search for that lovely loot. In fact, the entire of Skyrim’s map has been hand crafted, again this is at odds with Oblivion’s map which was mostly randomly generated terrain. it should make the world feel a like a far more real place.
When you’re not out wandering around in the wilderness wondering where the hell that sodding great dragon came from you’ll probably be spending your time in one of the games five major cities or numerous smaller settlements. While these new cities are larger than those seen in Oblivion they’ll have a rather different atmosphere that stems from Skyrim being a bleak, cold and barren land that’s mostly inhabited by the sturdy, and rather grumpy looking, Nords. Instead of gleaming buildings and carefully manicured gardens Skyrim’s cities will more closely resemble Bruma with wooden buildings and a rough-looking building design. Thanks to the Radiant AI system these towns and cities should now feel like real places with a living and breathing community going about its business. Not only will you be able to pick up quests in these locations but you’ll also be able to get yourself little jobs to make money, such as chopping logs or working in a mine. Should the urge seize you, you can even sabotage business to directly affect the economy, though why you’d actually do this is a bit if a mystery. And if you really want cool, then one of the cities will be built into a cliffside.
Back out in the wilderness the wildlife promises to make the world a pretty interesting place to hand around. There’s wooly mammoths stomping around, sometimes even being hunted by packs of wolves, and giants walk the land. And, of course, the dragons will be flying overhead, always making life a constant fear festival.
So there we have it, my top five reasons as to why Skyrim is going to kick some serious ass when it releases on 11/11/11. It’s safe to say that much of my life will be devoured by Skyrim, much like it was when Oblivion released, but it’s going to be worth it.