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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Thoughts on Skyrim

So I finally managed to get hold of the February issue of Game Informer (after phoning every GameStop in my area every single day for two weeks...it's a wonder they haven't blocked my number). Here is my [very, very, very long] opinion of it. Enjoy.

Most of the comparisons I am going to use are related to Morrowind and Oblivion. I have played all the TES games, but those are the two I have played most extensively.

I have never been a huge Game Informer person. If there is an article about a game I am interested in, I will stop by GameStop and pick it up, but I don't like them enough to subscribe. When they gave the press release and confirmed that the February issue was Skyrim, I made it my top priority of January to acquire it, which I managed to do after much pestering of irritated GameStop employees.

I am going to organise this by page, so if you have your copy of the article handy you can follow along. If not, I'm sure there are scans somewhere that you can dig up.

Page 48 - A New Land
These few paragraphs are entirely dedicated to talking about the graphics. Graphics have never been a huge deal to me (obviously....I still play Morrowind), but by this point you would expect Skyrim to look incredible. Which, judging from the screens on this page, it will.

Both first- and third-person will be returning, and we learn several capabilities of the new[ish] engine - my favourites are how "every object in the world casts a perfectly formed shadow" and "snow falls naturally onto stones and branches, appearing not as a preset texture, but falling exactly as it would onto that object given its shape and size."

From spending five years on the official forums, I know very well that Skyrim is much more than just snow and mountains, and I am pleased to see that it looks as if the game will be implementing this. Skyrim, thank God, will not be another copy-and-pasted forest like Cyrodiil and will encompass a "rugged environment" with glaciers in one region, mountains in another, and open tundras that will include six or seven (!) different looks. This makes me automatically think that Skyrim will end up being even more diverse than Morrowind, which is a difficult feat, but I will be very impressed if it is.

This page also mentions a few of the creatures we will be seeing. It looks it will be more like Oblivion, with a mixture of human creatures (although sabre-toothed tigers and wooly mammoths haven't been around in a while) and creatures that will be unique to the region (giants, trolls, wraiths); whereas in Morrowind, all the creatures were very alien and strange to the player. I definitely prefer Morrowind's approach, though it appears we will be going into Dwemer ruins again, which almost makes up for it (if it isn't obvious enough from Mournhold, the Dwemer are one of my favourite parts of Morrowind).

Page 49 - Names to Remember
I've figured out through the few issues of GI I've read that they like to talk more about game mechanics than the story. I am a huge lore person, so the tiny column with a few notable characters was a bit disappointing. But this page also has several gorgeous screenshots, which [almost] balance it out.

The first name we get is Alduin, the World Eater, a demi-god of a dragon that will serve as the game's main villain. I did this the second it went up on the hub at GI, so I knew about Alduin in advance. I'm hoping that Bethesda isn't going to make him a typical big-bad-scary-evil-dragon character. I would prefer an antagonist more like Dagoth Ur, whose motives are shrouded in ambiguity and who makes you question your fight against him.

Then we have the Dragonborn, or Dovahkiin, first hinted at in the teaser at the VGAs. I was fairly certain that the player would play the part of the Dragonborn, so this didn't surprise me. Apparently though, we are possibly the last Dragonborn (and their faint emphasis on 'possibly' makes me think that we will find another one somewhere along the line), and it is our destiny to hunt the dragons. Or something along those lines. This is good news to me, because I hated being the sidekick in Oblivion. When I play a game, I want to be the hero - not the errand-boy for the one who will save the world. It looks like Bethesda figured that out from Oblivion. In Arena, Daggerfall, and Morrowind, the PC was the saviour of Tamriel, and I am hoping they figured out that we want it to stay that way.

Next we have Esbern, "one of the few surviving Blades" that acts as a "mentor" to the player. These two sentences yield quite a lot:
  1. The Blades are all but evaporated from Tamriel. We could pretty much assume this from the introduction, which (in addition to verifying the rumour of the game taking place 200 years after Oblivion) clearly states that the Empire is starting to crumble. At first I wasn't sure about how I felt about removing the Blades, but I think I kind of like the change. Yes, trekking into Caius Cosades's house in Morrowind is nostalgic and Cloud Ruler Temple in Oblivion was one of the lovliest places in the game, but I never much cared for the Imperials, so it is nice to see Bethesda trying something new. So many TES fans are obsessed with keeping things the way they used to be, and I know there are people that scoff at the dragon concept and how overrated it will be. I am [more or less] one of those people, but I am excited to see how they fashion the Blades. As long as you aren't inducted into an order of one person. That would just be ridiculous.
  2. Bethesda is going for at least one big-name actor. This hints heavily at the Oblivion voice-acting method, and I am praying to GOD that they don't utilize the same system. Yes, voice-acting is inevitable in newer games, and while I would have liked to see the Morrowind text-system back, I realise it's impractical in 2011. But if every single Dunmer, Altmer, and Bosmer have the exact same voices again, I think I am going to go into a coma. Oblivion made me hate Wes Johnson with a passion. If we have the same system of three or four popular actors doing important characters and Wes Johnson voicing everyone else, I will be severely disappointed. I don't know much about voice acting, but I'm sure there are plenty of good voice actors that would lend the game a variety of voices that will make the voice-acting more bearable. Just please, please no more Oblivion-style voice acting. Don't misunderstand me, Max von Sydow sounded incredible in the teaser, but I don't think I could bear another game voiced like Oblivion was.
Next we have the Greybeards. We pretty much figured out that the Greybeards would be involved from the VGA announcement, so this wasn't a surprise either. The 7,000 steps to High Hrothgar is interesting, though -  it looks like, since we won't have the Blades, we'll have the Greybeards to guide us instead. As long as they aren't made out to be stereotypical wise-old-hermits, I will be looking forward to meeting them.

And Skyrim having a civil war was probably the most obvious part of the teaser. There is really no reason to even talk about it. We knew about this already, I'm fairly certain.

Now the screenshots on this page interest me a lot as well. The topmost middle screen gives us a look at dual-wielding (which I will talk about later), and it looks a lot better than I would have expected. The armour featured in this screen looks incredible as well (I am guessing Nordic based on Morrowind). I might actually have to create a character that uses armour this time around, if it all looks that nice.

The middle screen is simply breathtaking. It looks like something straight out of Tomb Raider Underworld, only ten times better. The caption suggests the screen is some sort of ruin, and I'm hoping that we will have the same kind of variation with ruins that we will have with the landscape. In most games, I absolutely hate dungeon diving, but if the ruins in Skyrim all have the ancient, craggy feel that this screen does, then I will be spending a lot more time underground than I did in the past Elder Scrolls games. Edit: GI has released this screen, so I can show those of you that don't have the issue.

The bottom screen is also impressive. It looks like Oblivion on steroids, which, gathering from the tidbits I have heard about the new engine, it basically is. A few things that especially caught my eye were the shadow pattern on the crouching character, how you can tell he is standing under a tree by the way the sunlight is dappled over him. I am also very impressed by the character's build, the way his clothes look, the way his arm is toned, etc. It all looks very visually impressive.

Page 50 - Weapons of Choice
This page's text is a bit confusing. I had to read it a couple times to make sense of it, so I will do my best to summarize before I analyze.

First and foremost, we have a feature that a huge amount of people wanted but were convinced they wouldn't get - dual-wielding. I was originally in the group against it, mostly because I didn't want TES to turn into a samurai game. I have never seen dual-wielding carried out in a game that didn't end up looking ridiculous. But Bethesda has an interesting approach. You can literally equip any two weapons/spells/equipment, be it an axe and a katana, a dagger and a fireball spell, or a warhammer and an iron shield. One sentence in particular that caught my attention was this: "Set two completely different spells in either hand, or put the same spell in both hands, letting you combine the spell to extraordinary effect." As a person who almost always plays as a mage, this is particularly appealing to me. I don't expect to go barreling into Whiterun swinging a mace in one hand and a claymore in the other, but I certainly like the idea of shooting two different spells at an assailant at once or one huge, powerful spell with both hands. I am just hoping the controls aren't ridiculously complicated - I can still barely get through one city in Pirates of the Burning Sea. Other than that, though, it looks like Bethesda is going to do a fabulous job with dual-wielding, something I honestly was not expecting at all, but I am looking forward to it.

Then we have some crazy wild jargon about leveling, and here is where it gets tricky. I, like so many TES fans, far prefer the Morrowind system, which, by all means, was not perfect, but was better than Oblivion's. Mostly I just hated level scaling. Basically, what Todd is saying is this:
  • The player will not choose major and minor skills upon character creation. Instead, your skills will increase depending on what you do (i.e. if you cast a lot of healing spells, your restoration will improve).
  • As your skills increase, it contributes to your progress towards your level increasing, hinting at the class experience point system of most MMOs. This encourages the player to focus on several skills rather than spreading out their skill increases to create a more focused character.
  • With each level gained, the player will get a health boost, then a choice to gain an additional fatigue or magicka boost.
  • Straight out of Fallout, advancing a level will also give access to perks, which can, from the sounds of it, do any number of things concerning your skills (I can't elaborate much, as I have never played Fallout).
I am really liking the idea of this system. I was fine with major and minor skills, but I, like most others in the community, was dissatisfied with the leveling system, although I just couldn't figure out exactly what it was that irked me - I think this was it. This will, as Todd stresses in the article, allow the player to completely shape their style of play. I am not sure about the perk system though. Since I have never played Fallout, I can't completely judge how they work, but the way the article wrote about them they sound a bit silly and out-of-place in an Elder Scrolls game. I'm willing to try it though - and if it helps the leveling system, I'm all for it.

Page 51 - The Feel of Combat
First and foremost, I absolutely love the top screenshot on this page (not as much as the one of the ruin on 49, but it's close). It looks like we will be having wolves again, but this time they don't look like happy white puppies and they travel in packs like actual wolves. They look very menacing, even in that Great Forest-esque setting. The other thing I love about it is the character's arm. The texture is a little low-resolution for a 2011 game, but I'm sure that they will be refining it later. The amount of detail is very impressive though. As long as the women don't have arms that ripped I will be okay. I have an issue with veins.

So now we have a brief blurb about combat, and this I was looking forward to reading. I was hoping it wouldn't be like Morrowind, where you would get arthritis from trying to kill a Mudcrab at level 1, but I was also hoping it wouldn't be like Oblivion, where you hack mindlessly at whatever's in front of you to kill it. From the sounds of it, Bethesda has hit my expectation spot-on. Melee combat will be a system of offense and defense, watching for "openings" to defeat an enemy. Todd mentions that he wants an attack to have energy in it, so I'm guessing it will be quite different from the brainless shooter-style melee of Oblivion.

In the past TES games, I have always tried to create an archer character, but it never ends up working. Bethesda simply doesn't make bows as powerful as they should be. In Oblivion you could fire until there were arrows sticking out of every surface of your enemy and they still wouldn't be dead. In Skyrim, bows will be "much more powerful, allowing stealthy players to take down targets with one hit from a great distance."

The article, to my dismay, doesn't talk much about the magic system, other than the fact that they got rid of Mysticism. When I read this, I immediately found the Schools of Magic page in my Morrowind and Oblivion manuals to see what I was going to be missing (Dispel, Soul Trap, Telekinesis, Mark/Recall, Divine and Almsivi Intervention, Detect, Spell Absorption, Reflect, and Absorb from Morrowind; Dispel, Soul Trap, Telekinesis, Detect Life, Spell Absorption, and Reflect from Oblivion) and I'm not sure what to think. Todd says that they "moved some stuff around," but how much did they move and how much did they remove? I always have Dispel on my Hotkeys. Soul Trapping is one of the defining features of TES. Detect and Absorb are just so useful. How could they get rid of things like that? I am hoping that by "some stuff," Todd means "everything," because I only just realised how much I love Mysticism. And I was really hoping that they would bring Mark and Recall back.

Page 52 - Relates Well With Others
And now we get into one of the things I was really looking forward to - the NPCs. Let me first talk about the screens on this page - the top one is excellent. Even with just two visible NPCs, the village looks alive. For once, I can see Bethesda animations that aren't awkward and gawky, and the narrow, rambling design of the street makes it actually feel like a village.

The screen at the bottom is magnificent for one sole reason - it shows a female NPC. Since I always play as a girl, I figured we wouldn't be seeing much of the women, but she looks fantastic. Her face is so vastly different from the Oblivion faces, and I can't wait to delve into the CharGen. Even her hair, while maintaining the simple Oblivion-style, looks good (I'm just hoping for a bit more variety in hairstyles than we had in Oblivion and Morrowind). The caption also mentions distinctions between different races, which I am praying means we won't have Wes Johnson back ever again.

The text here mentions two things of major interest - conversations and crafting. I was desperately hoping for a conversation overhaul, since I felt like my poor character got whiplash every time I wanted to talk to someone, and it sounds like Bethesda has done it. According to the article, you can speak to NPCs while they move about and go on with their activities, which will provide a delightful level of realism that I am looking forward to. As long as we aren't frozen on the spot while they move around, I will be happy.

I knew about crafting ahead of time, because in this video there is one part where Todd is showing a whiteboard on which the word is clearly written, so this didn't come as a surprise. I am a little put off about the crafting. It just seems like an Elder Scrolls game should be exploring and adventuring and learning rather than making broom handles. But I suppose I am biased - magic-based characters have always had alchemy and enchanting. I guess combat-based characters should get to make their own things too. But cooking and farming? I don't want Skyrim to turn into The Sims. I suppose I would be okay with it, as long as there are no more dreadful mini-games.

Page 53 - The Radiant Story
This page is mostly discussing the new AI , which Bethesda has dubbed the "Radiant story" system. They give us a little story about the various scenarios that could happen if you drop something, including a young boy (are we finally going to have children?) giving it back to you, two people fighting over it, etc. etc. We had something like this in Oblivion, where you would drop something and someone could come and pick it up, but this new system of different situations sounds interesting. I am interested to see how it plays out. I am hoping that Bethesda has a lot of different scenarios ready, because I don't want to be interrupted by a boy trying to give me back something I dropped every time it happens.

Page 54 - Inside the Interface
I have been wondering how Bethesda was planning on doing the menu for a while now. I liked Morrowind's menu the best out of all of them, how you could just right-click and have everything there for you. Oblivion's was ridiculous and exhaustive to get around, and it sounds like Skyrim's will be a vast improvement. The new menu will have four sections:
  • Skills - Clicking this will have your character look up at the sky, where we will see Skyrim's constellations (which makes me assume that we are still going to have birthsigns - a plus). The stars show your different skills, including combat, magic and stealth.
  • Inventory - According to the article, everything in the inventory screen is "well-organized," with the ability to "tag" items for quick use. Everything, apparently, will have a zoomable rotating image when you select it, which I'm hoping looks more appealing than tacky as it did in games like the old Tomb Raiders.
  • Magic - Naturally, the one I'm most interested in. The first thing this paragraph mentions is that there are 85 spells. I had to reread this. 85? 85? But then I read it again and realised I was mistaken - there aren't only 85 spells in the game, for each spell will have divisions within it (the example they give is having, within one section of fire spells, a fireball, fire spray, or burning rune). Hopefully this means that there will be a ridiculous amount of spells and that many of them will be Midas Magic-style epic, because I know without even thinking that most of my characters will be magic-based.
  • Map - The way they explained the map in the article made me chortle a bit. Apparently, the PC will look down at the ground, then we will experience a Google Earth kind of thing and zoom way out to see a topographical map of Skyrim. This sounds a bit ridiculous to me. It might be neat at first, but it sounds like it will be tedious to do it every time I want to see where I am. And apparently fast travel will make a reappearance, which I am not overly thrilled about. Fast travel in Morrowind was the way it needs to be done. I'm hoping Bethesda executes it well and doesn't make it blatantly immersion-breaking like it was in Oblivion.
Page 57 - Here There Be Dragons
Now we are getting into the story more, which is delightfully exciting for me. This page is all about the dragons, which we pretty much figured out were involved from the teaser. As the article mentions, dragons have only been referenced in past TES games. But now it is 200 years later, and the Elder Scrolls have foretold that the dragons will return, heralded by Alduin the World-Eater. Apparently, the return of the dragons has been prophesised before that as well - the destruction of the Staff of Chaos, the appearance of Numidium, the eruption of Red Mountain, and the Oblivion invasion. I'm still not sure how these foretold the dragons coming, so I will have to reconvene after I finish writing on the official forums, which I have been quarantining myself from since the cover reveal.

Then we get into the Dragonborn details. The article says that there were people that are "anointed by the gods" called Dragonborn that could fight the dragons, supported by the Blades, which were then called the Dragonguard. Apparently the Septims were an entire line of Dragonborns, but since the last of them perished in Oblivion, there is nothing to keep the dragons at bay. I think all the people that think this will be a stereotypical dragon game need to read that section carefully. I have been praying for another game as deep and ambiguous as Morrowind, and, while it looks a bit unlikely, I think Bethesda might be able to pull it off.

Page 58 - The One They Fear
When the teaser first premiered, several people on the forums were smart enough to bring up the lovely swirling design radiating from the Dragonborn's mouth. While a few Nord enthusiasts suggested hopefully that this meant there would be facial hair in Skyrim, the more lore-oriented of us decided that this was a reference to Thu'um.

Thu'um is, essentially, destroying things by screaming at them. It has been discussed before in Skyrim lore, and the GI article confirmed it - only now, they are referring to it as "Dragon Shouts." There are 20 unique shouts in the game, and each one will do something different. They can only be used by the Dragonborn, so, presumably, the player will be the only one in the game making use of them. Thu'um can do all manner of things - throws enemies away from you, slows down time, creates stealth, summons a dragon. I have never been a huge fan of Nordic lore, but this sounds interesting and I am looking forward to seeing how Bethesda executes it.

Page 59 - It's All Come To This
So! All in all, I am very impressed by the article. It was well worth positively stalking GameStop every day for two weeks, and I am glad they were nice to me despite my repeated phoning. I've drawn mostly good speculation from it, and I'm hoping that Bethesda utilizes what they've learned from Oblivion and Fallout in a positive way.

Thank you for bearing with me through the entirety of this essay! New chapter on Saturday :)



  1. I've been reading different online posts all week pertaining to Skyrim, im eating them all up without any tiring. huge elder scrolls fan and im almost cross eyed with joy about all the news. Will keep readimg your posts, by far the most speculative an accurate so far. happy gaming!!

  2. Thank you for the kind comments! I am quite excited too, as soon as I got the issue I had to share my thoughts somewhere :) I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Sorry you hate me with a passion... but I personally like YOU :)

    Interesting thoughts on the game. Very detailed and well thought out. Truthfully, I'm as interested in seeing how it all turns out as you are.

    Take care,