One of the of the most impressive demos I sat through during E3 had to be the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim presentation. As a huge fan of the last Elder Scrolls title, I was eager to see how much the formula has been upgraded since Oblivion was released five years ago. The first major upgrade I noticed was the visuals. Skyrim is a much more vibrant and attractive game than Oblivion or Fallout 3. A lot of that appeal is due to the attention to detail. In the world, water realistically flows down rivers, salmon jump out of the water trying to swim upstream, and large mammoths roam the open plains oblivious to your presence. There is also dynamic weather in the game, which means that snow falls and collects on the ground just like in real life. These are all small touches, but they lend a lot to making the world feel more alive.
Even the map in the game is full of detail and small touches that lend to the game's atmosphere. Whenever you open the map, your view zooms out, and you get a topographical view of your surroundings. It's like looking at Google Earth inside of Skyrim. The map isn't the only menu item upgraded. Your inventory contains a detailed 3D model of every item in your inventory. This includes everything from weapons and armor to pieces of meat you collect from animals. You can fully rotate and examine these times as well.
In one puzzle during the presentation, the developer looted a claw-shaped key from the body of a dead thief. By reading a journal also looted from the thief's body, the developer learned that the key opens a locked, puzzle door further on ahead in the dungeon where he would have to align three sets of symbols in the proper order to open it. Interestingly enough, the answer to properly align the symbols was etched on the back of the claw key. From there, the developer went into his inventory, selected the claw key, rotated it in 3D, and found the answer to the puzzle. In an open world game like Skyrim where immersion is key, Bethesda realizing every item in the game in full 3D does a lot to draw you in. The claw-shaped key is only a sample of whats to come.
The developer's attention to detail really paid off in dungeon design. In Oblivion, all of the dungeons and underground caves were all the same dark and drab, brown corridors. They were difficult to see in and required you to constantly carry a torch or light spell to make your way through. In Skyrim, the dungeons feel like real places. The dungeons in the game were procedurally generated, but the developers went in and touched up over 150 dungeons, giving them a lot more personality then Oblivion ever had. The dungeon in the presentation had clear signs that someone had gone in and given it a personal touch. There are breaks in the celling where natural light pours through, underground streams and waterfalls, large bonfires and torches where important NPCs and bandits congregate, and a large cobweb-filled lair housing a giant spider. Seeing as how you spend so much of this game exploring labyrinth dungeons, I was happy to see the developers going out of their way to improve the experience of exploring them.
The last thing I'll touch on is the combat system. Skyrim is another huge step up over Oblivion in this department. It is all very simple, your right and left triggers control whatever item or magic spell you have equipped to that hand. The real fun is that you have a quick select, favorite menu that allows you to quickly switch from, say, dual wielding a sword and axe, to dual wielding a fire and ice spell, or dual wielding a million other combinations. The dual trigger system also allows you to combine magic spells. For example, if you have a healing spell in both your right and left hand, casting both at the same time will have a much stronger effect. I personally just love the flexibility it will afford you in both combat and role playing. If you want to be a nimble battle mage with an attack spell in one hand and an axe in the other, you can do that. There are no fixed classes in Skyrim, instead the leveling system rewards you for playing the way you want to play. You become more proficient over time in the tasks that you enjoy performing, and when you level up, you can select perks to further enhance those abilities. It all seems very easy and intuitive.
I could continue to go on and on about all the fine details contained within the presentation but what I have written above is what stood out to me the most. Bethesda took everything they learned making Oblivion and Fallout 3 and put it all into a brand new engine that looks better than ever. The game is coming out on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 on 11.11.2011. If you have any interest in open world RPGs, then you’ll need to keep your eye on this one.