Well, there’s an awful lot more than 20 reasons to be helplessly nerding out about the next Elder Scrolls game, but a nice round number is a good place to start, right? Let me be clear: I love Morrowind, quite like Oblivion and really didn’t get on with Fallout 3. I am what you might call a doubter. Nonetheless, I am impossibly excited about Skyrim, having recently been shown an hour of it (and listened to a bonus hour of lead dev Todd Howard answering questions about it). Here are just a few reasons why…
(Click on the images for luvverly full-size versions, by the way)
1. Killing a dragon involves knocking the enormous thing out of the sky, with a combination of arrows, magic and whatever else you can think of. When you do, it crashes to earth like a meteorite, its huge body skidding along the ground in front of you with a sense of weight and speed that would kill anyone caught in it. Even then, the beast rises to its feet and takes another pop at you – moving along by walking on the tips of its visibly damaged wings. When you do finally slay the thing, you absorb its soul. This involves the dragon essentially catching fire from within, reducing down to a scorched skeleton the size of shed.
2. A new questing system means randomly-generated stories. If you’re sent on a quest to rescue a kid from a dungeon, though the nuts and bolts of the plot might be pre-written, the game will pick and choose characters and locations from what’s nearby and relevant, rather than have every player retrieve the same kind from the same dungeon. More so than ever, no-one will play the same game.
3. While the game’s pretty much the same size of Oblivion in terms of land mass, the inclusion of huge mountains – all of which you can climb to the top of, as well as often venturing within – means Skyrim has significantly more world to explore than its predecessor. “They create more time because you can’t just cut across them,” says Todd Howard.
4. The menus are pure sex, basically. The crisp, floating text, tiered menus and full 3D renderings of every inventory item is light years ahead of the fugly boxes and fuzzy, endless lists of Oblivion and Fallout 3. Seriously: these may be the best-looking in-game menus in history.
5. While in Oblivion dungeons were primarily designed by art staff, this time around they’re built by a new raft of level designers, which promise a more engaging flow and diversity to each. There are over 120 dungeons in the game, plus many more smaller points of interest and encounters.
6. For a dragon, combat is debate. When it’s breathing fire at you, it’s talking at you in power-words, or Shouts. Your part in the discussion is to Shout back…
7. The world is so much more alive. You’ll see packs of wolves hunting mammoths, you’ll see fearsome beasts such as giants wander by without bothering you because they’re off on other business rather than being mindless killers, you’ll see friendly passers-by running up to you with a sword you dropped earlier and offering to return it – or taking a pop at you with it if they have some reason to despise you.
8. Conversations with NPCs no longer involves an awkward zoom-in to their strange faces, a fixed perspective and an ugly text box. Now, it’s clean, sharp text floating directly onto the screen, and you’re free to look around as you please. Much of the incidental conversation, such as back stories, can be had while going for a stroll with a character as they chat away ambiently, rather than standing there clicking through text from a static position because you’re worried about missing something.
9. The skill and attribute system has been rethought to make it more streamlined yet offer much more varied character builds. We’re down from 8 attributes and 21 skills to 3 attributes and 18 skills, which will probably cause gasps of horror in some camps, but actually the aim is to make character builds even more diverse while getting rid of redundant levelling. Acrobatics is gone, for instance – “who makes a character that is like ‘I am someone who doesn’t run?” Each skill unlocks a series of perks, which add multiple new abilities – such as a slow-time mode for arrow shooting. Each perk has certain requirements, not purely having unlocked the one below it. “You see a perk you like and say ‘I’m going to start using my sword more because I want that perk”, says Howard. The attributes, meanwhile, are distilled to Health, Magicka and Stamina. “What we found was those [old] attributes actually did something else. For instance, Intelligence just affected Magicka. They all trickled down to some other stat.” Again- this will cause gasps of horror. Maybe those will be justified, maybe they won’t – we won’t know until we play. Conceptually speaking, however, I dig the idea of your character build now being more about your actions than about strict segmenting into what were in some cases multiple attributes with similar effects. It does mean it’s more a game of actions than of numbers, and that’s always going to get backs up, but in this instance I’m fairly sure they’ve genuinely done it to increase engagement with your character and what he/she/it gets up to than to stoooopidise matters.
10. The Giant Frostbite Spider, in motion, may well be one of the most frightening things I’ve ever seen.
11. We won’t suffer the horrible voice repetition of Oblivion. “We’ve expanded it a lot. It’s a much bigger jump even from Fallout in terms of VO and the amount of people we have.” Max Von Sydow won’t be the only celebrity voice in the game, either… “I think you’ll all be very impressed, but it’s not just about getting the name on there.”
12. You can dual-wield weapons and spells. Or dual-wield spells. Or wield the same spell in each hand, and thus cast an ultra-spell. The combat system is about discovering combinations, stringing particular abilities together to create mighty tactics. Again, it’s all about creating a character unique to you, rather than being an archetype.
13. Character creation only involves choosing what you look like and which of 10 races you are. “After that it’s all about what you play. We want to minimise the initial decision point when you start the game.”
14. Modding is fully supported, in the form of the Creation Kit. “We’re really big into the mods on the PC. Hopefully day and date with the game, but there might be some slack there.” Bethesda have also been influenced by a few mods for earlier games – for instance, bows have been tweaked as a result of finding an Oblivion balance mod that did ‘em better.
15. The engine looks absolutely phenomenal in motion, with the draw distance, streaming and detail able to handle “massive changes in scale from plant to mountain.” There’s none of that awkward visual disparity between near and far away objects which we saw in Oblivion. Meanwhile, tree branches wobble delicately in the wind, mountain peaks have their own micro-climates (such as gorgeous snow and mist), and even your character’s hands are wonderfully animated – a far cry from the forever-clenched fists of so many games. “We like the downtime, the moments like watching the sunset, staring at the water.” Even pulling up the map involves seamlessly zooming up and above the world to look down at a full 3D rendering of it.
16. You get to fight magic zombie vikings. (Draugr, ancient undead Nord warriors). They look like muscle-bound, bearded skeletons, and they’re proper eerie.
17. There’s a real in-game economy. If, for any reason, you decide to destroy a local lumber mill, you’ll find it results in a shortage of wooden objects such as arrows in nearby shops. You probably shouldn’t destroy the lumber mill, then. Alternatively, you could chop some wood for the lumber mill, which will earn you a bit of cash.
18. There will be a few out-there quests, like entering the painting in Oblivion. “It’s good to remind people it’s a world of magic and fantasy.” There’ll also be a bunch of secret features, but it won’t be a unicorn again.
19. The skills/perks system is presented as a vast, twinkling star field populated by stellar patterns in the shape of this world’s various gods. The idea is your character looks to the very heavens for inspiration and power, rather than to some out of game list of stats. As you pick a perk the chart slowly lights up. “You’re creating this custom constellation just drawn for you.” It’s epic, strange and beautiful, and it makes character-tailoring visually part of the game rather than a bunch of statistics strewn across the menu screen.
20. All this, and we haven’t even been told about the guilds, the factions, crime, the major cities, the conversation system and so much more. It’s going to be an enormous game. It seems so much bigger, so much meatier, so much stranger than Oblivion. I can’t wait, I really can’t.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is released on 11 November this year.