February 11, 2011
Many might associate Bethesda Game Studios with the irradiated wastes of Fallout, but slightly older video game fans know the company established itself on swords-and-sorcery fantasy. Without the success of The Elder Scrolls role-playing series, there likely would be no Fallout 3 as we know it today, and Bethesda’s parent company Zenimax Media probably wouldn’t have been able to build the impressive stable of studios it has. That’s not the only reason The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a big deal.
Elder Scrolls games represent an old-school kind of open-world fantasy. Go anywhere, do anything, kill anyone. The freedom offered in these games is one of the most thrilling parts, as is encountering the thousands of world-breaking bugs that tend to pop up. There aren’t many studios in existence capable of not only creating these kinds of games but also making them comprehensible and fun. Now that there are a few screenshots of Skyrim floating around, it’s possible to more closely examine changes Bethesda’s making to its flagship series.
Better Character Models
Bethesda’s using all new technology to build Skyrim, which ideally means a few things like shorter loading times and better draw distances and so on. It also most definitely means the character models look a lot better. The evidence for this is pretty obvious, I think. Hopefully it also means 75 percent of Skyrim’s population won’t refer to you as “The Hero of Kvatch.” Maybe the new AI system that governs non-player character behavior will make for some more interesting variation across multiple playthroughs.
Better Spell Effects
Hitting someone with a fireball in Oblivion was a satisfying act. It dealt damage, made you feel like a badass, and sometimes caused the targets to fly across the landscape like victims of fatal trampoline accidents. In Skyrim, judging by this screenshot and the small flecks of flame around the impact point, it looks as though the spell effects will be much more detailed. Bethesda decided to reduce the total schools of magic from Oblivion, dropping Mysticism, but that doesn’t mean there’ll be less to choose from in terms of combat options. Leveling will be faster and Skyrim will include Fallout-like perks.
This screen shows off some of some statistics for a character that’s talented at tossing out offensive magic but stinks at enchanting. It looks very slick, displaying the game’s magical schools in an eye-catching way. As much I love picking through dense grids of numbers to determine how to best optimize my equipment and skills (I’m not being sarcastic), I also appreciate an interface that’s fun to navigate. Is it weird to say I’m looking forward to seeing the in-game map?
Hacking apart horrors in the depths of the earth is a big part of many fantasy role-playing games, and looks to be a part of Skyrim, as would be expected. The cool part is checking out all the graphical detail packed in. Notice how each enemy is distinctly detailed, from the armor to the weapons down the rotting neck muscles. Notice also the curvilinear designs etched into the rock walls and the shadows and lighting effects caused by the torch. This screen makes me kind of scared about system requirements, but I suppose that’s par for the course with Elder Scrolls games.
Different Environment Types
Gone is the ubiquity of Oblivion’s bright green forests. Oblivion, as you might know, is set in Cyrodiil. Cyrodiil, as you might not know, is a territory in the fictional land of Tamriel. Skyrim, where The Elder Scrolls V is set, lies north of Cyrodiil, and appropriately has different forest types, as you can see with the birch trees here. You can also see a deer, meaning nerds like me who like to sit in the woods and hunt non-hostile creatures in fantasy role-playing games will be happy.
Not much of a description is required here. These winged monsters make Skyrim instantly better than Oblivion. Dragons are the nuclear weapons of fantasy games.