E3 2011 coverage : The Elder Scrolls V : Skyrim

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I got to sit on a a developer demonstration of The Elder Scrolls V, Skyrim, sequel to the insanely popular Oblivion. A 30 minute demo walkthrough that showcased some of the game’s new features and its breathtakingly detailed environments.  And blew my goddamned mind.

Utilising brand new technology, Skyrim more than impresses with its astonishing level of detail in an expansive, insanely large open world. The world of Skyrim feels alive; villagers will walk about and converse with each other, people will get on with their daily tasks and jobs – but they seem acutely aware of the player’s presence. There’s fine detail in parts of the world you wouldn’t expect; you’ll notice fish swimming up river, and birds roosting in trees. Things like snow are now dynamically done in-engine, so artists don’t need to layer it across surfaces; leading to a a far more organic look.

Players can now effectively dual wield any single-handed weapons, or switch one weapon out for one of the game’s many spells. hell, you can even get rid of weapons entirely and dual wield spells; using your right hand to hurl balls of fire and your left to emit bright bolts of searing lightning. You can even equip the same spell in both hands, and double up it’s power as a single spell of increased capability. This sort of choice doubly manifests itself in how your character progresses. you’re no longer burdened with picking a class, or levelling up class specific abilities and powers; just play how you want to play, and you’ll beef up in the areas you actually utilise. The game even adapts to your play style in other ways, thanks to a new tech called Radiant story; side quests are dynamically altered based on the player’s actions and progress within the game.

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The player is a Dovahkin, or dragonborn – and this gives him the ability to invoke “shouts” in the language of dragons, something that grants the player some unique abilities on top of standard magic. They can be used to do things like breathe fire, stun enemies or traverse large distances in lightning-quick time. Speaking of dragons, they’re a big part of the game, serving as the game’s big bosses – and the demo showed us encounters with not one, but two large dragons. The first, a fire-breathing dragon was dispatched through standard attacks and magic – but the second dragon encounter was something magical. Our hero, trying to fend off the great beast ran through to the top of a a tower and invoked the “Storm Call” shout, which opened up the heavens, instantly bringing down a torrent of rain. Along with the rain,  Storm Call unleashed a violent fury of lightning, which wounded the dragon enough to bring it down from the skies for long enough to finish it off with a great big two-handed axe. the best bit of it all is that the dragons and dragon encounters aren’t scripted; the dynamic dragons have their own AI engine and behavioural characteristics.

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The word “epic” is often bandied about when video games are talk about, to the extent that it’s lost its meaning. Skyrim reclaims the word, and presents an adventure on a scale that really does deserve the description. When it releases in November this year, Skyrim is certain to captivate.

Last Updated: June 10, 2011

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I’m old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time – they were capable of being masterpieces. I’m here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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