GamesCom 2011: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Impressions

by Staff August 17, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

Article written by community member KerzaPlanes.

One of the highlights of GamesCom 2011 is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and as such, I did my best to get inside the game’s booth at the event so I could (hopefully) score some hands-on time with the game. Unfortunately, Bethesda didn’t believe the time was right for fans and trade visitors to touch the game yet, so the best we got was a 30 minute commentated gameplay by the developers, which was pretty enlightening.

I’d like to start with my complaints, as they are minor so let’s get them out of the way. The textures and effects in the 360 version are a noticeable downgrade from that on the PC. Obviously, the PC has more horsepower at its disposal compared to 5 year old consoles, but I expected more of a jump from Oblivion in that regard. Additionally, some animations still look awkward and the AI was a little weird at times, but I’ll get to that later on.

Now on to what impressed me: the leveling system would be first on that list. One aspect that detracted from my Oblivion experience was that after choosing a class, you would have to level specific traits of your character by doing stuff that sometimes was just distracting. For example, as a Battlemage I would have to use types of magic I don’t really care about to be able to level up, filling the game with useless busywork. Skyrim on the other hand, kept the basic premise that you will only level up at what you use more, yet did away with all the classes so that you actually are completely free to level up your character as you want without having to worry about what other skills you don’t like you just have to use. Another nice addition in terms of spellcasting is the “Shouts,” a new type of magic that is only available to Dragonborn characters that can be acquired by either finding old runes or absorbing Dragons’ souls. Shouts are rather rich in variety, as we saw today, since there are Shouts that will help you get past traps, and others like the Storm shout that will be really useful when fighting bosses.

In Oblivion, the AI was really frustratingly bad at times and could cost you some quests. Although we only got to see the AI in combat, it was obvious that many things have been improved. The best and most obvious improvement is that Dragons have completely unscripted AI, meaning that you can’t really predict what they are going to do next or when. In one section of the demo we were shown, there was a battle with a Dragon that the player skipped to instead trek through a cavern. Upon exit, the player encountered a Giant, which was swooped by the Dragon all of a sudden, because the thing wanted payback from earlier. The AI on the Giant appeared to be in need of some tweaking, as in the midst of battle, he was doing nothing but walking forward.

Combat-wise, the biggest addition is the fact that you can now use your two hands to both dual-wield weapons or dual cast spells, this was heavily showcased during the demo. For example, we were shown the player dual wielding the spells “Detect Life” and “Frenzy”, and saw the character detecting enemies that were quite far ahead with one spell and then making one of those enemies go berserk and kill the other. Another example was seeing the character dual-wield two “Lightning” spells and combining them to blast away a mildly easy boss.

Besides that, I have to say that the game does indeed look beautiful, even if the console version seems inferior. The game runs on a new engine that Bethesda calls “The Creation Engine” and it is a really well detailed engine, specially in terms of effects. For example, when in the high mountains it started to snow, the sceneries look especially gorgeous and the water looked really nice. Another aspect that features notable improvments is the third person view. In Oblivion, the character made awkward movements when in third person mode, which was quite jarring. In Skyrim, the animation is fluid and you will really have a hard time choosing between the two perspectives. However, the reason why I say that the console version will be inferior is because the texture load times and some textures looked quite poor, resembling something of the maxed out Oblivion, albeit on a new engine. Then again, improvements on that front may be made by the time of release since there are still a few months to go.

The last thing I’d like to mention is the fact that towns actually live in “real time”. This means that things will go on in town, whether you are there or not. Also you can now participate in mundane activities if you so choose, like cutting wood or making swords, shields and such. A really nice addition for those that want to be able to sink even more hours into the game.

All in all, Skyrim really looks like it is going to be one of the standout RPGs of 2011, if not the best. Every aspect – from combat to the AI – has been given polished, with all-new features such as the Dragon Shout system to round out the package. I would keep an eye peeled for it and if you are into RPGs, I’d say that a review won’t be needed to convince you.

Read our previous E3 coverage on Skyrim here.