I know, I know. You’re all excited. I was too. But settle down, and I’ll tell you all about it.
Right, then. First things first. The demo I saw was running on the Xbox 360, rather than the PC. But this is a good thing, because it was looking beautiful and really smooth, and we all know that hardware-wise, any PC bought in the past three years > the Xbox 360.
In terms of the development history, Skyrim is being put together by the same team as Morrowind, Oblivion and Fallout 3. Not a huge surprise there, of course, but it’s nice to know that the development is in good hands. Skyrim’s built on a new engine, though, called the Creation engine, which has allowed the devs to make great leaps in the quality of the characters’ faces, as well as optimising the code for the available hardware. Which is presumably why it was looking so lovely even on the now-aging 360. Perhaps this optimisation means that even older PCs might be able to handle its loveliness.
But enough about modern technology. Step back with me into the fantasy world of Tamriel, and let us explore the realm of Skyrim.
It is a barren and mountainous place. Gone are the lush forests and areas of verdant beauty we explored in Oblivion. As the demo begins, the difference in the visual style is evident, with a high level of detail that goes from the shadows on the smallest plant up all the way up to the highest and most distant mountain.
The music however is really familiar to Oblivion players. Orchestral scores that change based on the pace of the game, be it combat or exploration, are once more the order of the day, and I’d wager the composer is the same because it certainly sounds similar.
I don’t know about you, but I tended to play Oblivion split between the first and third person views. Combat tended to work better in first person, but in order to check out all my fancy new armour and equipment I loved exploring in third person view. Well, it’s nice to know I’m not abnormal – apparently this was a common way of playing, and so Bethesda have embraced the third person look, making sure that the game is really playable in this mode – although they were quick to point out that it’s still a first person game at heart.
Hands up who has two hands! In Skyrim, you can equip different things to each hand, so you can plough around with a huge two-handed axe, or a traditional ‘sword and board’ if that’s your thing, but – get this – you can also equip a sword to one hand and a spell to the other, giving yourself a cool battlemage-type look. That’s not all, though. Just as I was getting excited watching the Bethesda demo-monkey plugging enemies with fire blasts and his sword at the same time, he equipped the same spell to both hands, and by activating both together he combines the two to form an uber-powerful super-spell. Oh, and when dual-wielding spells gets old, you can dual-wield weapons instead.
These days, melee combat ain’t worth jack without a ton of finishing moves. Remember Brad Pitt sheathing his broadsword in that big guy’s spleen at the beginning of Troy? Now you too can pull off the very same ‘leap and stab’ death blow, and feel like Achilles.
The inventory system was one of the weak points in Oblivion – this was evident by how many mods were released that sorted the system out. Bethesda have clearly recognised this, and have overhauled the system. Equipment stored on the inventory screen can now be examined in 3D, rotated and inspected to your heart’s content. There are thousands of pieces of equipment, from magic weapons and potions to plants, food and treasure. If you collect raw food from a creature you kill, that food can then be cooked to make it more nutritious and health-giving. The different graphical look between, for example, slimy-looking raw salmon and mouth-watering, ruby red cooked salmon illustrates the level of detail these guys have gone to. If cookery’s not your thing, you can improve your armour at forges, and do any manner of jobs around town such as working in a sawmill. The more villainous players can sabotage the same sawmill, and that will affect the economy of the town. So plenty to do, in a truly sandboxy style.
Sawmills are all well and good, but there’s more to the life of a hero than chopping a few logs or having the odd barbecue. The quest system has been expanded with a visionary new approach which is going to raise the freedom bar in RPGs for the future. You know in the previous Elder Scrolls game where you can go anywhere and do anything except kill the important questgivers? Forget it. The new system, Radiant Story, means that for the first time the quests are truly dynamic based on your story so far, such as the places you’ve been and places you haven’t been. And the people you’ve killed! If the quest normally comes from the guildmaster, for example, and he’s already dead for whatever reason, you can still get the quest, maybe from his deputy. Skyrim will iron out the wrinkles that the player will inevitably throw in, and make sure that the path to progress is still left open. Personally, I’m really looking forward to stressing its limits!
It’s the eye to detail, and the great little touches, that really caught my attention. When you move to the character screen to check out your stats, the view moves up to the heavens. Each of your stats, be it one-handed weapons or destruction magic, has its own constellation up in the sky. As you level up your individual skills, you unlock a choice of perks, and as you choose these perks the lines in the constellations become visible, giving you a customised zodiac. It was a simple, elegant and dramatically appropriate touch that I’m really looking forward to exploring.
So there have always been dungeons in the Elder Scrolls games, but what are dungeons if you don’t have dragons? Well, that’s a worry for the past. Skyrim is absolutely swarming with the beasts. Dragons are a big part of the world here. Not only are they powerful, elite enemies to challenge the player throughout the game, but they’re tied into the character progression tree as well. See, the player can learn certain words of power from ancient Word Walls, then combine these words to create phrases of power with various ‘shouts’ that allow special abilities ranging from a burst of speed or slowing down time to calling down a huge storm, filling the sky with dark rain clouds and the air with rain and lightning. In order to actually construct the phrases of power needed for a shout though, the player must harvest the souls of felled dragons – and the only way to do this is to murder them. And that’s no easy feat. They tend to stay airborne, using their breath weapons to take out their enemies, so some form of ranged weapons or magic is a must. Although dragons are clearly boss-level enemies, don’t expect scripted battles: These beasts have their own personalities and will act accordingly but in a completely organic way.
So that’s the dragons. Now, back to the dungeons! There’s a lot here that will be familiar to Elder Scrolls fans, and each of the over 150 dungeons are carefully hand-crafted by the Bethesda team. Lighting is certainly enhanced, but essentially it still looks and feels very much in keeping with what we’ve come to love from the series.
Speaking of familiarity, there are things that will be immediately recognisable to anyone who sank weeks of their life into Oblivion. Weapons and armour are steel, elven, glass, orcish and so on, just as in Oblivion, and many enemies make their return. For completeness’ sake, let me tell you of the catalogue of monsters I actually saw in the demo: Draugr Scourges and Wights. Restless Draugrs, a Draugr Deathlord (draugrs are a type of undead monsters), dragon priests and frost trolls. On top of this you can add the usual human bandits and the aforementioned dragons, of course. Additionally, there are huge mammoths and giants roaming the wilderness, many of which will amble around peacefully if the player doesn’t mess with them. But let’s face it, the first time we see a woolly mammoth wandering past, we’re all going to have a pop at it.
The map is huge. There are five major cities as well as a number of smaller towns and villages. There’s a whole lot of Skyrim out there, my friends. The game is released on the 11th of November this year. Best book yourself some holiday now.
Welcome. From this page you can submit a personal benchmark to GD. Once approved by GD admin everyone can search for your bench results here. The more results the more we all learn.
There are lots of free benchmark tools that test parts of your PC. Select a Type in the form to the right, then select a Tool and then select a Test. You will see a weblink appear beside your selection. Click this link to get the benchmark Tool. Try NovaBench for an all in one benchmark that is only 12Mb to download.
Run your choosen Benchmark Tool on your PC, using the benchmark tool's default setting. Take a screenshot displaying the benchmark score and information displaying your rig and submit that to us.