There are plenty of reasons to look forward to the next Elder Scrolls game without Bethesda having to prove it. Oblivion gave one of the best-looking games that the Xbox 360 has seen, and the developers have had five years since then to craft an even bigger and better experience. We've already seen a look behind the scenes at development on the game, but no information has been released on the nuts and bolts of the game.
Now that Game Informer has gotten the developers to open up about the technology that the game will be employing, along with releasing the first official screenshot of the game, it's becoming abundantly clear that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a game to look forward to in 2011.
Since some sequels or game series may craft their experience onto an existing game engine, it would have been logical to find out that the developers had built Skyrim out of the remains of their latest massive RPG Fallout 3. But that isn't the case.
Sure, the team has learned a few lessons from the massively successful post-apocalyptic story, but for a world as unique as the mountainous and untamed wilderness of Skyrim the old engines wouldn't do. So Bethesda has thrown out the old, and started from scratch with their newly-dubbed Creation Engine.
It's no wonder that the game took so long to bake considering that the AI systems, lighting engine, and precipitation all had to be tweaked for the new game, as well as extending the draw distance on the environment to give the area a truly larger-than-life feeling. Games like Alan Wake have shown just how key lighting is to the mood of a story, and according to Bethesda's creative director Todd Howard, that's one of the areas they've greatly improved upon:
“Because our worlds are so big all of the lighting has to be dynamic...That's something we had a little bit of in the past with shadowing, but not on everything. Now we have it on everything. It just makes the whole thing a lot more believable when you're there.
“The big things for us were to draw a lot of stuff in the distance so we have a really sophisticated level of detail, more so than what we've had in the past for how things stream in and how detail gets added to them as they get closer to the camera,”
Giving developers and designers even more control over how the game environments will be lit, as well as the placement of foliage, and guaranteeing that snowfall covers objects in a realistic way are fantastic from a technical point, but how much impact does it really have on the player?
Wonder no more, as Game Informer got their hands on the first official screenshot that Bethesda is giving fans. There's no need to speculate as you can see one of the areas of Skyrim that players will get to explore firsthand, although it will likely make the wait seem even longer:
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The image above may bring memories of Myst to the minds of many, but make no mistake; these game environments will be unique. To make the worlds truly come to life, Bethesda will be employing something they call 'Radiant Story,' an ability to craft a specific story based on the past and present decisions made by the character. If you spent hours exploring the ruins in the image above, then a quest to free a kidnapped character would direct you to a new environment you had yet to explore instead. By doing so, the developers have the ability to direct players where they want them to go in a natural way.
Radiant Story won't just be concerned with areas and environments, but people as well. If you've become familiar with a character in a specific town, then the story will find a way of making that relationship integral to the plot. Howard explains:
“Traditionally in an assassination quest, we would pick someone of interest and have you assassinate them...Now there is a template for an assassination mission and the game can conditionalize all the roles — where it happens, under what conditions does it take place, who wants someone assassinated, and who they want assassinated. All this can be generated based on where the character is, who he's met. They can conditionalize that someone who you've done a quest for before wants someone assassinated, and the target could be someone with whom you've spent a lot of time before.”
It's clear from that simple example that the increase in player choice and repercussion that we've seen blossom in recent years won't be absent in Skyrim. Bethesda intends to take it all an evolutionary step forward, and carry choices forward, with other game characters having the ability to hold grudges.
We've all felt the sting of accidentally killing a quest-giver and missing out on game content, but in Skyrim, while that character's sister, brother, or friend may take over their place in assigning quests, you can be sure that they'll remember your face. The idea of a player's reputation preceding them was an interesting twist in games like Mass Effect, but to really have it impact the plot and quests would be something else entirely.
Clearly people will be just as important as quests in Skyrim, and even though the game won't be an MMO, every effort will be taken to make the NPCs seem as real as possible. Rather than locking players into a fixed perspective for conversations, the viewpoint will remain the same - whether first-person or third-person - and allow the NPC to go about their business as the conversation is conducted. A small adjustment, but one that could go miles in making the player feel as if the world is its own being.
And finally, we arrive at the dragons. The mythical beasts were teased in the game's announcement trailer, and the cover of Game Informer's Skyrim issue contained a secret message that emphasized their importance to the plot. Bethesda has given some more information regarding the nature and behavior of the animals, and the initial details are promising.
The hope for an RPG of this size is that scripting will be avoided at all costs. Bethesda will be employing the same system as games like Red Dead Redemption for random encounters, but where there be dragons, the winged beasts will have the last word. According to GI, we don't have anything to worry about:
"Bethesda has worked meticulously to make sure the beasts look powerful and menacing when banking, flapping their wings, gaining altitude before making another strafing run, and breathing fire on their hapless victims. None of the dragons' actions are scripted, and Behavior helps make the movements look non-mechanical, even when the dragons are speaking/shouting."
Free-wheeling, free-flying, free-speaking dragons? We're in. These details confirm our suspicions that Skyrim would be making use of the technological advancements since Oblivion, and the application of them to actual story beats and progression is beyond what many players had been hoping. Let's be honest, all it took were a few glimpses at some initial images and details to get fans of this series excited.
With the team's dedication to creating a one-of-a-kind experience from the ground up, Skyrim has a real chance at becoming a hit among the mainstream as well. We still don't know what consoles or platforms the game will be released on, but it's likely that it will push the limits of just about any hardware, which we can all agree is good news.
We'll keep you posted on all the Skyrim news and previews that become available, and any and every glimpse of the game that may redefine 'cause and effect' for modern gaming.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will be released on November 11, 2011.
Source: Game Informer