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Skyrim’s Levelling/Skills System Clarified

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The re-thought Elder Scrolls levelling, skill, attribute and perk system in Skyrim is already proving divisive (as witnessed in comments on the last post), but I fear at least part of the reason for that is it’s not been explained terribly well as yet. And, to be honest, that’s partially because there’s only so much of it I can explain until I’ve had proper hands-on time and experienced it rather than been told ‘it’s better this way’. I like the sound of it, because I always thought Oblivion’s system was fussier and more opaque than it needed be (in terms of what it actually achieved), but I certainly don’t want a reduction in depth any more than the next Morrowind nut. For now though, here’s all the quotes on the subject I’ve got from Bethesda’s Todd Howard, which hopefully clear things up a little more – plus offer some extra detail on how the stealth and persuasion mechanics work.

“Every skill affects your levelling. Every time I get a skill raise there’s a level bar that moves. The higher the skill the more it pushes you to levelling, so you want to use your higher skills.”

“I find most people, no matter what character they want to make, they use the best thing that you give them. I find when I play you’re best off focusing on something, particularly when it comes to the perk tree, but it’s so easy to mix styles up [he also references the dual-wielding as adding to this].”

On character creation: “The only option you are given is what you look like” and your race. Each race has certain powers, so this decision is not purely cosmetic. There are 10 races in all. “After that it’s all what you play. we want to minimise the initial decision point when you start the game.”

“There’s no level cap. there’s no mathematical level cap, But it’s however it works out, we don’t set it… Levelling is faster. if oblivion was a level 25 game this is level 50. we wanted to get it faster going because there are so many perks.”

“The levelling system is very much like Fallout 3. There were definitely moments in Oblivion were it was a rollercoaster of pain because the world levelled faster than you.”

An example of perks, for the bow and arrow: “one to zoom in, one that also slows down time when you zoom in. Perks also have ranks; maybe there’s two levels of the zoom.” Other perks on-show included being able to bypass armour with maces, and causing heavy bleeding with one-handed weapons.

On constellation-based perk-picking system: ” I was designing the interface and I wanted it to make it very visual rather than like Excel. I look to the stars to see who I am.” The star patterns are based on “birth signs from previous games.”

The speech skill: “There is not a Persuasion wheel. It’s much more simplified. There’s not a mini-game for it.” He declined to describe it until later, however.

Lockpicking: “There is a minigame, but I hate the word ‘minigame’. There’s also a combat ‘minigame!’” [That latter is irony, don’t explode.] “You’ve got to have some interaction, not just a die roll.”

Alchemy: “not talking about that yet.”

Stealth.”The main thing is like Fallout 3, [enemies have] states of alert and danger, but they don’t jump in and out of them right away. the Eye [an changeable on-screen icon] shows you they are moving from one state to another, and your sneak skill affects how fast that happens. ”

“There are three main stats: magicka, health, stamina. In Oblivion you have 8 attributes and 21 skills. Now it’s 18 skills and 3 attributes. What we found was those attributes actually did something else. e.g. intelligence affected magicka. They all trickled down to some other stat.

The stamina/fatigue dilemma: “in the other games the stamina is called fatigue. It’s backwards.”

Perks “come from levelling up character rather than skills. Pick a perk when you level. It’s like a standard skill tree but they have requirements, not just 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.”

On the more grindy skill-levelling: “we’ve solved most of that” and “got rid of some skills like Athletics and Acrobatics. Who makes a character that is like “I am someone who doesn’t run?”

On dynamic world levelling: “the gameplay changes as you get higher level [because of the perks. Rather than just doing more damage… it’s dramatic… mixing and matching really is different.”

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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