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A World Living Around You
Radiant AI in Skryim is meant to make the world feel bigger and more expansive than just a series of creatures and people who react to you, the player. While in Oblivion characters had preset scripts of places they could go and things they could do at different times of day, with Radiant, things are a lot more variable. Characters don’t have a list of actions to complete until they’re interrupted like in Oblivion, they have variables that cause them to change what they’re up to. During the E3 demo, for example, we wandered out to find giants herding mammoths at the foot of a mountain, going about their business. They didn’t have anything to do with the player character and would ignore Howard until he messed with them. In cities, you’ll see characters going about their jobs, farming, and basically living life. The better to immerse you in Skyrim.
The Graphics Are Amazing
t had always been presumed that open-world games had to sacrifice top-shelf graphics as a compromise of building a world that’s simply too big to fill with lush detail and jaw dropping visuals around every corner. Morrowind was functional. Oblivion was functional. Skyrim is… gorgeous?
The rocky mountains look like real rocky mountains with an organic formation, rather than something a level designer slapped together. Trees are dense with foliage rather than skinny saplings. Enemies have detail you wouldn’t expect of an RPG with more square miles to fill in than a top-level FPS can even dream of. No frame-rate drops, no glitches, no let-up in the quality and we’re still miles away from release.
A Story Not Etched in Stone
Bethesda has added a new system to Skyrim that’s similar to Radiant AI, but didn’t make it into Oblivion. It’s called Radiant Story, and like the character progression system, it’s all about gathering information about the player and pays attention to the way you play it, then adjusts your quests on the fly. Not only is Skyrim huge and expansive, but it’s learning while you play it (in a sense). The simplest examples have you murdering random locals in towns — situations that would then adjust how other characters, like the victim’s family members and community, react to the situation and to you. Kill a shopkeep and his daughter might replace him. The choices you make in quests will change the way the characters deal with you or reward you — do someone a favor now and he might do you a favor later, in another encounter. They game is constantly adjusting itself to the way you play it, meaning that every trip through Skyrim is your trip, and yours alone.
It’s a fact that dragons are awesome, so you haven’t learnt anything new by reading that alone. In particular, the dragons in Skyrim are awesome. During a battle you’re having with wandering giants, a dragon swoops in and before you have a chance to react, picks up the giant up and pulls him hundreds of feet in the air before dropping him to his death.
The dragon then flies off, slowly arcs around and thuds down in front of you before snorting fire your way while the screen is still shaking. A nearby adventurer gets involved and while the fight is going on, the dragon snaps at him, eats him and throws the body away with a quick yank of his head, the adventurer’s shield and sword sent flying. All this happens while the battle continues in real time without any obvious sign of the scripting. It is a genuinely jaw-dropping moment.
The Side-Quests Are Better
To give you the quick walkthrough of a quest – you’re exploring underground tunnels when you enter a cavern full of cobwebs and hear pleas for help. Sure enough, you’ve stumbled into the lair of a giant spider, who drops from the ceiling to greet you. A battle ensues, with the sound of scorch spells blasts accompanied by the dark elf trapped in the web shouting for you not to bring the spider near. Eventually, it falls and you free the dark elf.
The dark elf, Arvel The Swift, isn’t thankful for the help and wants to ‘keep the treasure’. As he runs off, you can catch up with him and run your sword through his back, an execution move that’s new to the game. Arvel leaves behind some gold coins and a journal.
Carrying on, you eventually come across a door with three symbols on it and a claw shape underneath. It’s clear you use the golden claw to activate the door but what do the symbols mean? Arvel’s journal tells you the clue is something to do with the golden claw. You know you have to use it but what if…
One of the new options to play around with in the menu is to look at items and examine them from all angles. Looking at the golden claw, you can rotate it to see the order of the symbols required to open the door. Do so, use the claw and it pops open. Success! The fresh injection of puzzles into the magic and melee mixture that Oblivion did so well looks like it’ll help main the Elder Scrolls reputation for quality. And if that fails, at least it has another four pillars to rely on.
The left trigger controls your left hand, the right trigger controls your right hand. What that means is while you can go for a traditional sword and shield combo, you can mix things up a bit. Spell-casting in your left hand, shield in your right. Spear in left, staff in right. Or axes in both.
Perhaps the coolest adjustment to the way you play the game is the BioShock 2-inspired dual-wielding system. During Howard’s E3 demo, it was clear that the system isn’t just robust, it’s damn near endless in its freedoms and combinations. You, the player character, have two hands, and what you choose to do with them at any time is up to you. Take a bigass broad sword in both and hack away at skulls if you like, or switch to a war hammer in your right and fill your left with a healing spell you can call whenever you need it. Toss the healing spell for fire in your left and hand put the same spell in your right and you can charge and combine it for way more power. Scream “You shall not pass!” at every encounter as you Gandalf it up with a staff in one hand, a sword in the other. Or opt for the more traditional shield. It’s up to you, and not only did Howard show off tons of variations, he was switching almost constantly. Players will have a lot of tools for combat in Skyrim; you’re gonna feel awesome when you play it.