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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Preview

Game Informer has run a big feature on Bethesda's newly announced Elder Scrolls sequel, Skyrim, and boy does this sound good. It's been two hundred years since the events of Oblivion, and the world has fallen into chaos. Elves have taken over the empire, the Blades have died out, and the country is sitting on the precarious brink of civil war. As if that weren't enough, a super-powerful dragon has been tearing the world asunder as prophesied by the Elder Scrolls. Just when it seems that the kingdom, and perhaps the world itself, are doomed to be flame-broiled dragon snacks, a hero arises to slay the foul beast. This is, of course, where you come in.

In Skyrim, you will take on the role of the last of the Dragonborn. These fierce warriors have been appointed by the gods to fell the dragon. You will make use of a totally revamped combat system in your quest. The major addition here is dual wielding. Any weapon can be equipped to either hand, including versions of the same weapon, so it will be possible to wield a longsword and a dagger or two short blades, to name a few examples. The combat improvements do not stop there, though. Spells can also be assigned to each hand, so you can blast away with two of them at once, or use one spell alongside one weapon. The possible combinations are numerous, to say the least.

All of this sounds great, but how could the glitch-ridden Gamebryo engine, on which Oblivion and both recent Fallout games were based, possibly handle such intense action? The simple answer is that it won't. Bethesda has issued a shiny new engine to display Skyrim, and as these screens can attest, it looks gorgeous. The draw distance has been greatly improved, and every object in the game world will now cast realistic shadows. Additionally, textures now looks sharper, cleaner, and all around more realistic. If you want to gaze upon the glory of Skyrim without being encumbered by the HUD, a new "clean" view can be enabled that will remove all HUD elements from the screen. The new engine will also allow for more ambient movement in the environments, making them feel more alive than before (despite the whole "kingdom being scourged by a massive dragon" thing.)

Appropriately, the 200 year jump in the timeline has brought with it new species of animals. Lumbering Wooly Mammoths and fierce Saber-Toothed Cats will be among the more prehistoric wildlife featured in the game, and will hopefully go a long way towards selling the world's fiction. Recent games such as Red Dead Redemption have done a fantastic job of using wildlife to make their worlds feel more alive, and it will be interesting to see if Skyrim will measure up to such standards.

The visuals and the combat are not the only elements that have seen an overhaul, though. The player and the way he/she inhabits the world has also been influenced, most notably in the realm of character classes. Gone are the comparitively rigid classes from Oblivion, replaced instead with a free-form leveling system. Like in Oblivion, using skills will level them up, but unlike that last game, this is actually the crux of the class system. You will have access to all abilities evenly, and which ones you use the most determines your specialties. Speaking of leveling up, it will actually be possible to surpass the game's "cap" of 50, but at that point the going will become slower and much harder. It should be a good incentive for experienced players to continue to explore the world.

Further drive to continue leveling comes in the form of perks. Yes, Skyrim is borrowing a few elements from its post-apocalyptic cousin. Following in Fallout 3's irradiated footsteps, you will be granted one perk for each level gained. A few of the perks mentioned in the magazine include increased damage for dagger-based stealth attacks and the ability for your mace to crush straight through enemy armor.

NPC interactions have also been improved. More voice actors are being tapped for this project, so hopefully Oblivion's issue with many characters sounding eerily similar will be a thing of the past. Additionally, NPCs will actually go about their daily tasks as they talk to you, so instead of dropping everything to spread the local gossip, a bartender will serve drinks as he converses and shopkeepers will tend to their stalls while you chat. The towns themselves will also be more interactive this time around, meaning you can chop wood, cook, mine for ore, or tend a farm. Luckily, your labor will pay off in the form of new crafting materials that can make better weapons or healing items, for example.

Navigating this new, fleshed out world should be easier than ever thanks to Skyrim's improved menus. Bethesda designer Tod Howard was quoted in the magazine as saying that the team took inspiration from Apple's streamlined iTunes menus. Upon delving into the menu, you will see a compass-like menu with four options at each of the points: Skill, Inventory, Map, and Magic. From these menus, it will be possible to tag items as "favorites" for quick selection later.

It sounds like Bethesda has poured their hearts into improving every aspect of the Elder Scrolls experience. Come November 11th of this year, a massively improved role playing experience will be unleashed. Are you ready? We certainly are.


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