E3 2011: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Preview

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one of the most anticipated video games of the year and it has lofty expectations to meet, coming off the success and critical reception of the franchise’s previous installments. Matt Carofano, Lead Artist on Skyrim walked us through a lengthy and detailed gameplay demo of the sequel to Oblivion where we got to see the game’s new Creation Engine at play as we battled dragons, dual-wielded bloodied swords and angered some peaceful mammoths.

Skyrim has been in development since Bethesda finished work on Fallout 3 and it introduces a new game engine and an overhaul of all core gameplay mechanics. Over the past several months we’ve learned of the of newness Skyrim is bringing to the franchise in its RPG elements, controls, menus, spells, etc. but the demo showed us all of these ingredients mixed together with the more detailed and fleshed out Northern-most province of Tamriel.

“We created an all new game engine for Skyrim. It’s got a new renderer, a new user interface, new animation system, new scripting system and it’s really been tailored to fit this game.”

Dynamic shadows, weather and snow add to the improved day and night cycle players of Morrowind and Oblivion are accustomed to. Details including bloodied swords after making contact with flesh of an opponent and Fallout 3 style slow-mo killcams help make combat sequences much more cinematic and immersive, made better by a variety of finishing moves.

While playing the game, each trigger on your Xbox 360/PS3 controller controls whatever weapons, spell or shield you have in that hand. The neatest feature is putting spells in both hands, and casting each hand at the same time to perform a more powerful version of that same spell. This combat can be enjoyed in the traditional first person perspective or the much improved and better-animated third person view, which heavily builds upon what Bethesda tried to introduce as a viable gameplay option in Oblivion.

Skyrim screenshot Tavern Stealth Kill

Just like in Oblivion, whatever you see you can travel to or in the case of mountains in the distance, climb. But it’s not just the vast and lush lands of Skyrim that see a beautifully rendered makeover, but the menu systems as well.

“We also wanted to change our user interface and make it a lot more exciting. We find that in a lot of games, the user interface ends up being a spreadsheet, and we wanted something a little more interesting to look at. So, you can use the left stick to go between the four different menu sections… going into the inventory section, every item is detailed in 3D for you to look at. So you can really get an idea of the culture behind each weapon and item and what makes it unique.”

In modern RPGs, the word “streamlining” usually refers to something not wanted from loyal fans of said franchise but in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Bethesda has done a remarkable job at making an intuitive menu system that works for fans new and old. The details and functionality is still there – it’s just presented in a more sensible and user-friendly way.

Activate the menu and the re-designed HUD pops up, segmented into four sections in a design reminiscent of a compass; Skins, Items, Map and Magic representing the four directions of North, East, South and West, respectively. The menu system also includes a Favorites section which works just like any web browser would and it allows players to quickly access chosen spells, weapons etc. via the D-Pad.

When opening the Skills section, the player literally looks up to the stars and here all of the player’s progression is detailed. The skills are broken down into perk trees, allowing the player further customization of their character – every time a player levels up, they can pick a perk.

“You are what you play. Anything you do will help you level up.”

From the demo we witnessed, the RPG system employed in Skyrim seemingly rewards players much more frequently. We saw one-handed weapons and heavy armor jumping up a level more than once.

The world map also sees a redesign and now offers a 3D view of the land. From here, the player can fast-travel between explored locations and it all works very smooth and quick.

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