Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Skyrim : Improving Upon The Traditions

With me finishing Dragon Age 2 and The Witcher not being out for a couple of months, I was at an all time low. Sort of. So, in the meantime, I decided to go crawling about the web gathering what information I could about Skyrim and post it here to worsen everybody else's Elder Scrolls itch too.
After announcing Skyrim, Bethesda was kinda tight-fisted with information it, just periodically giving out trickles of info to keep the ES nerds drooling. But by now, we have a good enough picture of what is to come. So, here is all the bits I found:

Storyline a.k.a. We Got Those Big Winged Reptile Thingies Now

Yep. That's what I'm Talking about
Skyrim is the frozen Nordic nation between Morrowind of freaky elves and Cyrodrill of beautiful vistas. It is supposed to be ruled by nine holds but war has broken out and chaos abounds. And then, the dragons arrive.
The game is set 200 years after Oblivion, the Septims have all died out. The Septims are the Dragonborns, their bloodline gives them the power to use dragon magic. The Dragonfires (from Oblivion) are supposed to keep the mortal world safe. With the Septims out of the way, the barriers burst, but instead of  demons, dragons come to ravage the lands.
You start the game in a prison (like every freaking ES game), but apparently you are the last remaining Dragonborn and so you gotta save the world. And you will be just roaming around killing stuff, looting dungeons, taking side-quests, joining guilds and looking at the sights, you bastard.

The Visuals a.k.a. Staring In Wonder While Dragons Eat You
Be Careful, Or You'll Keep Staring While Someone Whacks You To Death

When Oblivion came, it was the best dang thing in terms of graphics. But times change, and Fallout 3 and NV suffered a lot of heat for the dated visuals. Bethesda finally acknowledged the fact that we gamers invariably are graphic-whores, as much as we may deny the fact, and created a brand new engine for Skyrim. We will have dynamic lighting effects and enhanced visuals; cool stuff like wind affecting leaves and branches and dynamic snowfall.

The character models too, thankfully, are overhauled and NPCs are really nice looking. As shown in the screen-shot here. During dialogues, you are no longer zoomed-into the atrocious character models, NPCs move around doing their thing while talking to you; its a subtle but noticeable improvement.

The RPG Mechanics a.k.a. Begone Pointless Repetition
The leveling-up by doing system in the previous iteration was a great concept, but with crappy implementation. You chose a few major skills and advanced in them to level up. Not only did it create messed up unbalanced characters due to bad selection of skills, but it lead to employing cheap tricks to level up, detracting from the fun. It was also unintuitive for the newbies, who spent dozens of hours playing only to wonder where they went wrong.
Bethesda scrapped this complicated system in Skyrim. Now, there are no major skills. Everything you do advances the relevant skills, and all skills contribute to your level.
A system of perks is introduced taking que from Fallout. There are perks relevant to the various weapon classes and magic schools which you choose every time you increase in level. The leveling-up itself is twice as fast as in Oblivion. There is no level cap, skill progression just slows after level 50.

Game Mechanics a.k.a. Scaling, Radiance and What-not
Oblivion was infamous for excessively scaling everything to your level, ruining the since of progression that is so integral to RPGs; to the point that a level 1 character could potentially finish the game. Scaling is still there, albeit now its much more flexible like in Fallout 3; which was pretty effective while still allowing you to roam freely rather than locking you out of certain regions due to your level.
Bethesda is also employing a system to make the story and quests more flexible according to your gameplay choices. The system is called Radiant Story, which is sure to raise some eyebrows considering all the hype about Radiant AI in Oblivion and what it eventually amounted to. Still, the concept is interesting and may even work out. If a quest is set in a dungeon you have already explored, then the game will switch the location to some other dungeon. Or instead your Brotherhood assassination target being some unknown bandit/guard/count, somebody you won't give a damn about, it will be some NPC with whom you have spent plenty of time.
Radiant AI itself is back, and much improved. So, when you now break into somebody's house, rather than just staring at you, their reaction will depend upon their disposition. A friendly character may offer you a place for the night while a stranger will run off screaming for the guards.

Combat Mechanics a.k.a. Using Those Pointy Things and Colorful Displays Better

Bethesda says that they wish to bring about a sense of involvement in combat for the gamer in Skyrim. In Oblivion, there was a detached feel to the combat. noting that the dynamic system of blocking and attacking of Oblivion has a lot of potential, Bethesda made it more dynamic by tweaking some things. Instead of the slow heavy feel of weapons in Oblivion, the combat is faster and more visceral. There are various weapon related perks and weapon and enemy specific finishing moves have been introduced. You also cannot run backwards like in Oblivion, so you have the choice to stay and fight (stupid) or turn around and run (coward)
The greatest change, however, is dual wielding. You can chose to wield a dual-handed weapon, a weapon and shield, two weapons, a weapon and a spell, or even two spells in each hand. Not only this, but you can equip the same spell in each hand which will increase the spell power considerably. Bethesda tentatively hinted that they're looking into implementing a mechanism to combine spell effects by using two different spells in each hand. If properly implemented, this could turn out to be one of the best combat mechanic in RPGs. Although, I think we will see less use of two-handed weapons, since they won't allow the flexibility to use a spell in the other hand. And what happens when some nutcase equips a shield on each hand?
The magic schools are still present, though there are some changes. The Mysticism school has been done away with and its spells are distributed among the others, mostly the Alteration School. So Alteration a good choice this time around, it used to be pretty meh before. Enchantment skill is reintroduced from Morrowind. I hope it is implemented better this time, it was useless in Morrowind, since there was always a pretty hefty chance that your enchantment may fail and people usually got their stuff enchanted from stores.
The spells in the school of Destruction are much more flexible now : the fire spell, for example, is not just a fireball. You can use it as a flamethrower or plant fire traps in the ground. This, coupled with dual wielding, can really add to the tactical aspect of the game.

Dragonshouts a.k.a. Three Word Phrases of Awesomeness
As I said before, you are a dragonborn. This gives you access to a whole new kind of magic : Dragonshouts - these are three word phrases in the dragon tongue and function as powerful spells. What can be more cool? The way you get them. You first kill a dragon take its soul which allows you to learn its shout. Then you find the words of that shout from glyphs in tombs. There are more than twenty shouts to learn, ranging from a Jedi-esque 'Force-Push' to teleportation.

Archery a.k.a. From Peashooters to Snipers
All of us remember archery from Oblivion. It was fun, especially with enchanted equipment, but anything except rats were turned into pincushions by the time you killed them. It involved a lot of aiming and moving back, which was not only unrealistic but also quickly became tedious. The arrow physics themselves were rubbish, it seemed you were throwing them, instead of using a bow.
The archery system is revamped in Skyrim. Arrows are much faster and deadlier this time around : most foes can be killed in one or two shots. This is compensated by the fact that arrows are rare and expensive; no longer will you be chugging around a couple of hundred daedric arrows.

The Interface a.k.a. Finding a Pin in a Haystack
The Interface in Oblivion was a bit unintuitive and left most of wanting. The developer assure that the Interface is much better this time around. Game director Todd Howard says that the new interface is inspired by Apple's iTunes. Hitting a button will bring up a sort of four-point compass; each point for your inventory, skills, journal and map. The loot is sorted in proper categories and 3-D models of everything can be viewed with all their characteristics. Any item or spell can be 'bookmarked' to a favorites menu for quick access. The skill menu is essentially a view of heavens to three major constellations : each for warrior, mage and thief. Each time you choose a perk, a star in the constellation lights up.
There are plenty of other distractions ranging from salvaging ore for crafting your own weapons and armor to finding alchemical ingredients for potions. Skyrim will feature five huge cities, more than a hundred dungeons and a plethora of guilds; so you can be sure there is hours upon hours of side-questing to be done. Or if you're in the mood, you can always stop being a jerk and actually go and save the world from those asshole dragons. Food for thought.

From all these details, I anticipate a great experience from Skyrim. But November seems far far away, and I'm hungry for some RPG stuff. Now where did I put that disc of Fallout : New Vegas . . .

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