Whenever a long-running series releases a brand new entry, the expectations and risks are much higher than a completely original property. With a game like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the game must not only follow in the path set by previous titles in the Elder Scrolls series, but also learn from past mistakes and ideas from elsewhere in the industry. We already know that the story of Skyrim will be taking its cues from a great deal of fantasy mythology, and now Game Informer has revealed that where combat is concerned, Bethesda is approaching things from an entirely new direction.
Arguably the biggest issue surrounding RPGs is that they have their roots in tabletop games, where instances of combat are designed around dice rolls, not realistic interaction. Dragon Age 2 seems to be moving away from the old way of doing things to put the power into the hands of the player, and Bethesda will be doing the same.
Rather than a simple slash of a weapon or spell being cast, every combat scenario will be designed around real factors like balance, speed, and a mixture of defense and offense. Mindlessly hitting the ‘attack’ button while watching numbers fly out of your enemy’s head can be satisfying, but for Skyrim the plan is to bring far more moment-to-moment decision-making and strategy.
The same Havok Behavior system that will be bringing new levels of realism to the game’s environments will also be used to plant Skyrim’s combat squarely in the real world. With additions like camera shakes and staggering, Skyrim’s moments of violence will not only be strategic exercises, but a test of one’s ability to think on their feet.
Players who equip a shield will not merely be awarded more defense points, but will need to time their blocks to prevent attacks. Holding down the shield button will charge up a shield bash that could send your opponent off balance and open them up for attack, but again, timing is everything.
Bethesda has also removed the run-and-gun strategy of taking quick strikes and feeling from danger, making a retreat rely on turning your back to the enemy and risking an attack on your exit. All of these adjustments have been made to lend more significance and investment to each conflict, and to keep players engaged where they may have once been playing the game merely on an intellectual level. Skyrim’s director Todd Howard elaborates:
“There's a brutality to [the combat] both in the flavor of the world, and one of you is going to die…I think you get very used the idea that enemies are all there for you to mow through, but it doesn't seem like someone's life is going to end. We're trying to get that across.”
To keep even newcomers to Skyrim on the edge of their seats and feeling in control, the developers will be employing a strategy last seen in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood — animated finishing moves. Different types of weapons and enemies will mean different killing blows, all in an effort to make what will constitute a large part of the game time into a satisfying and joyous experience.
Bethesda has learned quite a lot in the past few years, and in their eyes, one of the best examples of two-handed combat was witnessed in BioShock. Skyrim's players won't just have the option of carrying a sword or a shield, but will enjoy all of the benefits and drawbacks that come with the ability to assign different weaponry or powers to each hand.
What does this mean for actual gameplay? The standard RPG options between dual wielding or using two-handed weapons will still be there, but the system really changes things up when it comes to magic.
Players will have the chance to learn any of the 85 spells out of the five distinct types of mysticism: destruction, restoration, illusion, alteration, and conjuration. It's a tough decision, since spells can only be used by a vacant hand, which Howard believes will bring an entirely new level of immersion and realism to the series:
“Before when we had magic, it never felt to us like you were actually doing it...It was a separate button, it flew out of your fist, and you could have a shield in your hand or a two handed-weapon — you could do it with anything.”
With the ability to use spells as directed strikes, traps, or area attacks will add a depth that the series has yet to see, and the effects of different spells on different enemies could turn any engagement to a miniature RTS. Magic duels on par with Harry Potter are just one possibility, with attack and ward spells having to be timed and executed with precision.
The developers at Bethesda have been keeping an eye on the modding community, and have made significant adjustments to the game's weaponry based on the changes adopted by the players themselves. The bow and arrow has received a major boost in damage and the ability to score one-hit kills, but ammunition has been made a scarce commodity to keep a level playing field.
Similarly, the formerly useless dagger has been crafted specifically for stealth characters, dealing substantially more damage if the player manages to attack from an enemy's back.
If you're more interested in swinging swords than casting spells, you still won't be left out in the cold when it comes to unique mystical abilities. As the last of the dragonborn, you will still possess the ability to use the previously-detailed dragon shouts without any magic training. A good move by Bethesda, since the new mechanic will likely be what many gamers are eager to see in action.
With so many details continuing to pour out concerning the fifth installment in the series, it's amazing to think that the game will be released in less than a year. The developer has yet to even announce what consoles will be supported, but at this point, it's a safe bet that fans will be ready to support whatever they choose.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is already one of our most anticipated games of this year, and whether more information is released or not, you can bet we'll be lining up to try our hand at Bethesda's next title when it's released on November 11, 2011.
Source: Game Informer