Friday, 21 October 2011

Preview: Skyrim

In three weeks probably the biggest fantasy game of the year will be released; The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim is the successor to the tremendously popular Oblivion and will be available for consoles and PCs.

I’d intended to leave the preview until a week beforehand, however, I’m thinking of going on a hiatus from following the game to stop myself seeing any more spoilers and, as there’s tons of info and clearly high interest, I thought I’d post it now. For those concerned about spoilers, I’m going to make the bulk of this preview very low on them. I’ll put the small section with significant spoilers at the end, and clearly flag it up beforehand so that the game’s not ruined for anyone.

So, with that clear, let’s begin.

Character creation and customisation

As before, the same 10 races and 2 genders are available for the player’s character. The races are Altmer, Dunmer, Bosmer, Orc, Khajiit, Argonian, Imperial, Nord, Breton and Redguard. The character creator seems to have been greatly improved both in terms of options and in terms of the characters looking more realistic than in Oblivion. Particularly pleasing is the ability to alter the character’s body, with a skinny to brawny slider.

Stats have been abolished, so there’s no Strength or Agility and so on. Health, Magic and Stamina remain, and the number of skill groups have been slightly cut from 21 to 18, and also rejigged somewhat. Encumbrance will be less of an issue (it sounds like there’s a more generous amount of weight you can carry compared to the previous game) and if you go over the limit you can still move but at a greatly reduced speed, which is a change for the better.

The levelling system of Oblivion (one of my few major dislikes of the game) has been abandoned and a new, improved system utilised. It’s highly similar to Fallout 3, with perks given at each level increase, sometimes capped by character or skill level. Skills level up as you use them.

Third person has been made a lot better (admittedly, that’s not all that hard given Oblivion’s clunky third person), with smoother animations (different for the genders), and with some unique animations for the beast races.

You will not be able to alter your appearance in-game.

User Interface (UI)

I have slightly mixed views about the new UI. From what I’ve seen it does appear to be much more user friendly than Oblivion’s, and I love the fact that every single item can now be viewed in three-dimensions. However, it seems slightly odd that you cannot now see your character in the menu screen, so presumably we’ll have to look at some clothing/armour, equip it, quit the menu, see how it looks in third person and then keep or get rid of it.

The map is three-dimensional and looks either like a super SatNav or a dragon’s eye view of Skyrim. It’s my understanding that just about everything in the HUD can be turned on or off and the opacity varied (so, you can get rid of quest markers, roam around without a compass and so on). Whilst I doubt I’ll change too much I do like the option to choose.


Ah, combat. I’ll split this into mini-sections for each archetype (warrior, mage, rogue).


The least changed of the approaches, in my view. Blunt and Blade skills are now replaced with One-handed Weapons and Two-handed Weapons, which I think makes more sense. You can also equip two one-handed weapons for dual-wielding combat, or mix and match with a one-handed weapon and shield/torch/staff [NB bows are two-handed, and have a separate skill-set]. However, I don’t think you can block whilst dual-wielding which seems, er, abnormal and a little bit stupid. Swings are generally slower and seem to have more impact, and I believe it’s possible to wound multiple enemies with a single swing. Shields can be used in a more offensive way than in Oblivion.


This has been hugely changed from Oblivion. Spells are now equipped, like weapons, to each hand. So, the keys are for the left and right hands, and you’ll swing a sword or unleash a flamethrower according to what you have equipped. It’s also possible to equip the same spell in both hands and (if you have a certain perk, which is needed for some but not all spells) you’ll perform a super-powered version of that spell. Spells can be put in one-hand and weapons in the other, giving your character a battlemage feel and this seems to be a pretty strong play style from the limited viewing available.


Archery also seems to have been improved a lot for Skyrim. Arrows are now scarcer, but do more damage, and I read that the old Oblivion trick of walking backwards and firing arrows at the enemy charging you does not work any longer. The new rogue skills look quite good, and daggers get a hefty bonus when it comes to backstabbing unwary enemies.

There are also dragon shouts (like ultra-powered spells) which take a great deal of effort to learn and are equipped, I think, in a special slot which is also used for certain special racial abilities (rather than the left or right hand). Learning a dragon shout requires slaying of the aforementioned creatures as well as knowledge of dragon words from walls scattered throughout the game.

Crafting and manual labour

There are three major crafting areas, which have their own skill-sets, and a number of minor ones. The major crafts are alchemy, smithing, and enchanting.

Alchemy in Oblivion was an easy way to raise money and/or bump up a certain stat. In Skyrim it will also enable you to brew potions and poisons and use an even wider range of ingredients to do so. However, you can only do this at an alchemical laboratory, not whilst meandering around the countryside.

Smithing is new and sort of replaces the degradation of weapons and armour which now does not occur (some people like this absence, others don’t, personally I’m ambivalent). Anyway, a smith is able to enhance weapons or armour, or create them. The perks available improve the quality of creations or enables the player to use more exotic materials to make their weapons and armour.

Enchanting can be used to add magical bonuses to armour, weapons and clothing. As in Oblivion, enchantment requires the use of soul gems. You can pay others to do it for you, and, as with the above skills, it can only be done at a location specifically set aside for enchantment. I look forward to transforming a lump of gold into a nugget of purest green.

Minor crafts don’t need any sort of skill and involve doing basic work for money (or other advantages). Woodcutting is self-explanatory, mining likewise (you can, I would guess, keep the stuff you mine for use in the smithy) and cooking is perhaps the most interesting. You can find foodstuffs and improve them by just cooking an ingredient or combining them (into stew, for example) which then gives an almost potion-like bonus. Cooking requires a special cook-fire, which are scattered throughout Skyrim, and sounds like a small but nifty idea.

Sounds (voice-acting and music)

The number of voice-actors has been increased to more than 70, which is excellent news both for everyone who got irritated by recognising voices all over Oblivion and for the poor voice-actors who must have worked their socks off for bloody months. Ahem.

Most people will have heard Max Von Sydow (he speaks during the first trailer), who plays Esbern, one of the last Blades. Numerous actors from previous games return (happily including the chap who voiced Lucian Lachance) and are joined by Christopher Plummer, Joan Allen and others.

The music has been composed by Jeremy Soule, who also provided the scores for Morrowind and Oblivion. Most of the music is new, although one or two tracks from those earlier games have been heard during preview videos.

Here’s a fantastic piano version of the main theme which I found a little while ago:


In geographical size (square miles) it’s basically the same as Oblivion. However, the mountainous nature of Skyrim means that it will appear larger than Cyrodiil. In addition, there will be more points of interest. It’s unclear just how many dungeons there are, however, they have been designed on a far more individual and less identikit manner compared to the predecessor game. Dungeons will typically last from 15 minutes to 2 hours.

There are a smaller number of big cities than in Cyrodiil, but the cities are larger than their Oblivion counterparts. There are also more middle-sized towns and a greater number of villages and hamlets.

Children are included, which I think a mistake. It’s meant to be more immersive, but (unlike the vast majority of adult NPCs) they can’t be killed. That’s understandable, as I’m sure the creators would not be thrilled with child massacres in their game, but, that being so, why include kids at all? Bah.

Anyway, almost all adults can be killed (if you kill a shopkeeper sometimes they’ll be replaced by a relative). Because Skyrim is breaking up, not unlike a crumbly chocolate chip muffin, there’s no one justice system, but nine separate holds. So, you could commit rampant murder in one hold and then run off to another and be free as a bird. Early entertaining bugs, such as chickens reporting crimes to the guards, have hopefully been fixed. Incidentally, if you commit a crime and then murder the witnesses the bounty on your head will disappear.

A few adults cannot be killed by other NPCs but can by yourself, and a few cannot be killed at all.

As with Fallout 3 and Oblivion, you can have a companion (including at least one animal companion) follow you around and helping you out. In addition, you can get married (same-sex marriage is possible), although there are no frisky videos, and your husband/wife can act as a companion.

Buyable houses are back, though there isn’t tons of detail beyond the ability to buy furnishings for them (presumably including a chest or two for storing tons of items).

Factions make a return, with one each for warriors, mages and rogues (Companions, College of Winterhold and the Thieves Guild). There are also some juicy new factions, including the Legion and the Stormcloaks (rebels). Perhaps the best faction news is that the Dark Brotherhood make a very welcome return. There may also be a few other minor factions, and sometimes the faction quest line will continue even after you become the leader.

Unlike Fallout 3, the game will continue once the main quest is completed.

Right, that’s the low spoiler section over with. If you keep reading you’ll find out more information regarding stuff I consider to be pretty big spoilers.

The return of vampires has been confirmed. However, werewolves will not be in the main game, although there is talk of it possibly being made available through DLC.

There are only 10 playable races but there are some additional non-playable ones in the game. Giants are well-known, but there are also thought to be Falmer (snow elves) who look pretty ugly and the machine-like relics of the Dwemer (dwarves, essentially) in some of their ruins. It’s highly unlikely we’ll see an actual Dwemer as they all disappeared (then again, that’s what was supposed to have happened to the Falmer).

In recently released videos a new dragon shout was officially announced, which sounds like it may be the coolest of them all. Late in the game, it’s possible to become allied to a specific dragon. After this, when outdoors, you can call and the dragon will fly to you from wherever in Skyrim he is and help you out.


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