Skyrim PC Preview
Convincing, adaptive AI is the key to the experience, and for now we need to have faith that Bethesda can achieve what it's promising. We've seen the stilted NPC conservations in Oblivion, the puppety animations and the cyclic wandering. Here, we're promised more fluid dialogue, and an almost eerie level of awareness - for instance, a passer-by running up to you to return a sword you dropped earlier, or attacking you with it if they happen to be an enemy.
Sure, this dramatic step upwards from what's proven a commercially successful comfort zone is only a promise for now, but at least it's being promised.
It would be far too easy to get bogged down in a slavering, endless list of features and improvements for what's hoping to be the ultimate fantasy game fantasy, so let's focus instead on the killing. 'Dual-wielding' is a phrase that conjures up images of sweaty men getting far too excited about pretend guns, but in Skyrim's case it's much more about strategic complexity.
Specifically, it means being able to equip a weapon in one hand and cast spells from another, or better still lob different magic from each hand. Putting the same spell in each hand, meanwhile, offers the option of a mega-spell - double Chain Lighting, for instance, can blast a pack of Draugr (magic zombie Vikings, more or less) aloft and crunch them into a wall a few metres behind them. Meanwhile, another fight with a Frost Troll, an intimidating ape-like creature, sees his grey-white fur set alight with a flame spell, while the player character simultaneously hacks away with a blade. It's a dynamic, murderous fight; not a strange little puppet dance.
This is doubly true when you get in a scrap with a dragon. While these vast sky-beasts, once a mere legend in The Elder Scrolls' land of Tamriel, aren't saved for setpiece boss fights (they aren’t finite in number and thus can turn up at any time), the plan is that they'll always present a serious and memorable challenge. Combat is a matter of debate when it comes to these creatures - brutal magic, such as their flame-breath, is caused by the uttering of Shouts; strings of power words to which the player also gradually gains access.
As such, double-wielding is really more like triple-wielding, as the Shouts add an extra tier of ability to the battle. They come in three strengths, with each tier adding more clout but leaving you unable to utter any other Shout for a longer period. Unrelenting Force is the Shout we see for now; a bellowed burst of energy that makes it clear the circling dragon doesn't have quite the upper hand it presumes.
World wide webs
Though recognisably dragons, these beasts are weirdly long-limbed and impressively heavy compared to games' usual take on them. When the beast's vast bulk is finally brought to earth by a barrage of spells and arrows, it hits the ground hard then skids a good 100 feet like a crashing plane. Even then, it gets back to its feet and continues to fight from the ground, dragging itself along on its hole-pocked wings like a bus-sized bat. These creatures don't die easy.
They do die, though. As the hulk finally breathes its last breath, its body catches alight from within, flames scorching it down to the bone. The reason? Well, you've just devoured its soul. Why and to what end is one of the many mysteries that still remain in Skyrim. Also yet to be unveiled are the game's guild and faction systems, its five cities, whether rideable horses will return and just how powerful those Shouts will get.
Even at this early stage, though, it's already clear that this is a game in which you need to be live. It's a game that takes the Oblivion and Fallout model and expands and improves it in every way possible, including the menus.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is being developed by Bethesda Softworks and will be released on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on 11 November, 2011.