If a game has a grand scope, many locations, and a huge map to traverse the way you can travel can make or break a game. Oblivion and Skyrim share the same size territory of 16square miles. This massive amount of land to navigate could either make the player enjoy the gameplay and the amount of time going from point A to point B, or could severely aggravate even the most patient RPG-expert.
The Acrobatics and Athletic skills have been removed so traveling won't consist of you jumping around like a drunken jackrabbit to gain XP. Instead, Todd Howard and Bethesda have given you a Sprint Button. I see you thumbs start to perk up already.
Todd Howard explains, "There are boats but you don't sail them around. As far as mounts and horses it is something we'd really like to have but we're still messing with it. We're definitely not ruling it out. We want to make sure it's a gameplay addition. Horses have come a long way in games. We want to make sure we're paying off on that. It's looking good right now but we'll yank the feature if we think it makes the game better."
Taking away such a staple of Oblivion as the horse was, it is scary to think how travel would differ. But Bethesda has assured its fans that, unlike Oblivion, Skyrim is not barren; there are many occurrences in between point A and point B.
"One of the designers put in a random encounter where three dragons swooped by this town. It's just a visual. But [the dragons] think on their own so here come the three dragons and they saw me and it was party time. So I ran up the mountain to try and lose them, it felt like Two Towers when Frodo's going through the swamp, it was really terrifying. But I did make [the designer] take it out. Three is too many."
Many dragons will try to fry you with fire. Some might speak English. Rounding the corner of a mountain range to see one of these spiny beasts perched atop a crumbling piece of ancient architecture is a terrifying sight. Running away isn't always the best option, though, since killing a dragon allows you to absorb its essence and power up.
Because your character in Skyrim can speak the language of dragons, you'll also be able to use dragon shouts. These are learned in the depths of caverns on stone slabs called word walls. When you string words together, it produces magical abilities. You can scream out force waves, slow time and crazier stuff depending on how much effort you're willing to put into finding word walls. The shout system is on a separate resource system from magic, which means even if you decided to play as a ropey muscular monstrosity who only knows how to crush things with heavy stuff, you should still be able to take full advantage of this system.
#3- Rural Vs. Suburban
Unlike Oblivion's ever-green forests, there'll be a lot more diversity in Skyrim, which lies to the north in Bethesda's fictional land of Tamriel. You'll travel through pine thickets, mist-laced mountains, grassy and volcanic tundra, autumn woods, and glaciers way up north. In all there'll be six or seven types of environments that'll be dramatically different, which should be good news for those who played Oblivion and were looking for a little more environmental variety. Howard also said that there'll be a much greater diversity in the 120 or so dungeons in the game so it won't feel like you're clearing the same one over and over again. As you run around the weather will change, but the seasons won't.
Skyrim has five major cities, each with their own culture and architecture, and eight or nine smaller towns. Though the system still sounds like it's in its early stages, it sounds like you'll be able to mess up the economies of the individual population centers if you want. The idea is for your actions to affect products and services available in each town. All of this just adds the the sandbox of possibilities within the game making it a great re-playable title.
"I think it's always a good idea on paper," says Howard.
"You make it too granular and the player can't tell those arrows are a gold piece cheaper. So what we're trying to do is actually remove things from the economy. That tends to impact it more."
That means instead of cheaper arrows, there simply wouldn't be any arrows left in town.
"The lumber mill, we have mines and smelters for iron that affects weapons, then we have farms that affect food and ingredients that affect alchemy. We have all that working but we haven't found the gameplay sweet spot."
You really could end a whole town if you wanted to. Topple a city to its knees or create a lustrous city of wealth and prosperity.
#4- Radiant Story
There was a time before Oblivion released when TESV and Radiant AI were connected at the hip. Radiant AI was the term for the artificial intelligence (NPCs) that were able to make decisions on their own based on the situation and environment they were in. Skyrim is all about Radiant Story. Remember in Oblivion when you tried out your new Death Spell on a random NPC only to find out later that they were part of a very important quest or a side mission? Skyrim does away with that hob-knobery and can replace the dead NPC with a live NPC. And the beat goes on...
"One of the things that we really struggle with in our games is control," says Howard.
"We really have no control. It's a big playground, and for certain players it goes great but there's still a lot of players it goes poorly for. This allows us to control that some. Now we're at a good point where we know where we want to use it.
We can use it for miscellaneous quests, you go into town, you want to make friends with somebody, we'll generate a little quest for him that seems simple and that it's ok to go through the radiant story system. For a bigger quest, we want somebody who you're enemies with.
We want to use him in that quest in some way. We'll pick the closest person who hates the player. He fills in that role."
This system can pull in dragons too. So if you've been a terrible adventurer and tried your best to avoid clashing with a dragon, one of your quests might soon include one. And if you're a pitiless pyromancer and delight in covering the living in lethal flame, ideally you'll still be able to continue to quest even after setting the world on fire.
#5- Skills & Attributes
Bethesda's ditching the eight main attributes you may remember from Oblivion. Intelligence, Agility, Speed and all the rest are out. Instead, you get Health for hit points, Magicka for magic points and Stamina for doing anything athletic. It's a loss of a layer of complexity, but it's not necessarily a bad thing according to Todd Howard.
"In Oblivion you have your eight attributes and 21 skills. Now you have 18 skills and three attributes. What we found is that all those attributes actually did something else. A fan may say 'You removed my eight attributes!', and my answer is, which ones do you want? They're all a trickle down to something else. Now when you level up you can just raise your Magicka. In Oblivion you have to raise your Intelligence knowing that you're Intelligence raises your Magicka."
Like in previous Elder Scrolls games, skill levels increase with use. The more you use a sword, the better you're able to wield it. In Skyrim, each skill increase contributes to your overall character level, sort of like experience points. If you boost a skill that's at a higher level, you'll see a bigger increase on your character level gauge.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is set to release 11/11/11 and it is at the top of my list for Most Wanted Game. Make sure to check back here for all the updates and news on this title and many great others. [IGN]