6 Reasons why Skyrim is even better than Oblivion
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - A long awaited return to the world of Oblivion
When The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was released in 2006 it was one of the first games I bought for my new XBOX 360. Having seen the trailers and read the previews it sounded like my kind of game. I have to admit though; I was unprepared for just how awesome it would actually turn out to be. I spent hours and even days exploring the massive world that Bethesda had created, completing every quest and rising to the top of every faction. Then, months later, when all the subsequent downloadable content had been hungrily devoured my thoughts turned to what could potentially be next. Although the announcement of the next instalment in The Elder Scrolls series was still years away, it was inevitable that there would be one. I can remember thinking, if Oblivion is this good, how amazing is the next one going to be? That next one was Skyrim, and... It's here!
And here I am! (well my Skyrim-self anyway...) - And despite the rather serious expression, I am having a very good time!
So in order to find a way of expressing my mounting glee as I explore the wilds of Skyrim, I'm going to have a look at five of the things that I think have made Skyrim surpass all my expectations again.Given that Skyrim sold over 3.5 million copies in the the first 48 hours it seems wasn't alone in my anticipation of the game, and more than any other games developer I've ever encountered, Bethesda delivers on the hype time and time again, so I'm pretty sure Skyrim will be no exception!
For now though, lets start with the Theme Tune... - Just to get us in the mood...
1. The Graphics
The Creation Engine
Now, unlike some, I never actually had a problem with the graphics in Oblivion. Sure looking at them now the character models look a little wooden and the animations are a bit awkward, but at the time this in no way detracted from my experience or sense of immersion in the game. That said though, when you take a look at the videos that were released pre-launch for Skyrim, is easy to see that Bethesda have upped their game exponentially! Bethesda have developed a new in-house graphics engine, aptly named the Creation Engine which has paved the way for many graphical improvements to be made over it's predecessor the Gamebryo engine. Official Xbox Magazine interviewed Todd Howard (Skyrim's Game Director) a while back and he explained how the new engine allowed for much larger draw distance to be rendered. The way that you could set off to explore anywhere you could see, unhindered by invisible walls was a revelation for me in Oblivion, and this has been built upon in Skyrim. Not only can we roam unhindered as before but now we can do it with unprecedented graphical fidelity! There's nothing better than climbing to the top of a hill or emerging from a subterranean passage to see a vast and detailed vista in front of you, just waiting to be explored! Remember finally escaping from the sewers beneath the prison in Oblivion? Skyrim tops that moment several times!
..and these aren't even Skyrim's biggest mountains!
Bethesda has recently released a quite lengthy walkthrough video, split into three parts. The first part is below and watching it you can see just how much attention has been paid to both detail and distance as Todd Howard narrates a few facts about the Creation Engine.
Pretty impressive don't you think?
Now I have to admit there is another reason why I was personally looking forward to Skyrim's release from a graphical point of view. Although I played Oblivion on the XBOX 360 I now do my gaming on my PC and have recently been lucky enough to be able to upgrade to a new, wide screen, high resolution monitor. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the first game to really test my new set up and it looks fantastic, even though the DX10/11 didn't make it in for launch! RPGs like Skyrim are, at least to me, all about immersion in the gameworld, and the some of the graphical effects made possible by the Creation engine are absolutely amazing in terms of bringing a sense of reality to Skyrim. Speaking to Game Informer, Howard revealed some more mouthwatering details. How do you like the idea of individually designed trees, with individually wieghted branches that can react realistically to wind and rain? Or what about a system that allows snow to fall realistically, piling up in some places and not in others? The attention to detail is both unprecedented and exciting and its not just the environment that is receiving the love. Howard explains how Bethesda have also incorporated Havok's new behaviour technology to make character animations more fluid and lifelike, which has had an especially positive effect on the third person camera view - something much maligned by the fans in Oblivion! There really is a wealth of tantalising information in the interview on Game Informer, I recommend reading it for yourself there.
An eerie mist settles over the Skyrim marsh...
I guess I'd better back this confidence up with some facts though, which leads us nicely into...
2. The Story Manager
Be Careful, you're being watched...
Skyrim's Story Manager got a lot of press prior to the game's launch. It's basically a system that keeps track of all your actions within the gameworld which could potentially influence how NPCs react to you. For example if you kill an unarmed villager in the middle of the local tavern, its not going to do your popularity much good, but if you perform a good deed in front of witnesses then word will spread of your heroics. The upshot of this is that should any of your admiring fans see you in trouble they may possibly decide to help, or if they don't like you they may even assist your enemies! The effect it has on immersion in the game is fanatastic, breathing virtual life into scores of NPCs. Players might be a little more reluctant to pickpocket (or even attack) that passing merchant if there is the potential that the rest of the town might find out and come looking for the culprit. Although it can work both ways too. The Skyrim Blog relayed a report from Eurogamer that if all the NPCs who witness the player committing a crime are killed, a message flashes up to advise that "all surviving witnesses are dead"! It's a good job that the cities of Skyrim are well populated, or attempts to clean up after a botched heist on the local nobles could end up in some quiet streets as players rush to cover their tracks...
You'll get to meet plenty of people...
There are other background elements to the story manager too, also covered by Howard in the aforementioned interview with Game Informer. It keeps track of where you've been and which dungeons you explored, then subsequently tailors side quests to make sure you're not going over old ground repeatedly. The quest givers themselves are also part of the system, apparently if you earn favour with certain people, the new quest chains will open up to you. To get the full idea of the awesome complexity of Skyrim's Story Manager, you're probably better off checking out the full article over at Game Informer.I think its safe to say that Skyrim has a depth and immersiveness unlike anything we have ever seen before!
Tempted yet? I pre-ordered mine - but only a standard one...
And if there is anyone still out there who hasn't been to Skyrim yet... - ...the Legendary Edition is now available!
Not quite sold on it yet? Then read on...
There's more to come...
3. The Dragons
Well, what else can I say...
If that video doesn't get you excited about Skyrim...
Then nothing will!
Seriously though, the first time I saw this teaser trailer I was entranced. I thought it was a cinematic and it was an impressive enough a taste of Skyrim even then. The two and half minutes the video runs for are packed full of drama and excitement. The seemingly outmatched hero first flees from the massive dragon swooping through the air after him, before turning the tables on his pursuer and slaying the winged reptile. Skyrim's high production values are obvious, with the thundering theme being used to great effect in conjunction with what we can only assume is one of the game's "Dragon Shouts" - mystical words that can be collected to give the player some clearly powerful abilities.
What makes this trailer even more exciting though is that it is actually created using the game engine! When I first saw it I though "OK I'm sure it's been buffed up a little, and as players we won't have the dramatic camera angles, or the perfectly timed rousing score, but still I couldn't help thinking... that's going to be me... I'm going to be fighting dragons! Real dragons! (Or at least as real as they can be in a virtual world...)
But I was wrong! It is possible! - Here's me slaying a dragon just like in the trailer!
You see the dragons in Skyrim aren't like the dragons in any other game. They're not end of level bosses, with scripted attacks that have to be learnt and countered by rote, they are just like any other denzien of Skyrim and roam the land (and skies!) freely. You could encounter one at any time, with no guarantee whether it will be friendly or unfriendly. Believe me, when you're fleeing down a mountain chased by a crazed necromancer and an Ice Troll the last thing you want to hear is the screech of a dragon overhead. When this happened to me I panicked so much I rode my horse over a cliff and wound up in another slow-motion death with my trusty steed on top of me!
Maybe I should have fought instead of fled, but I was hopelessly overmatched. Skyrim's new levelling system has done away with the scaling of Oblivion which means that some areas and creatures will be tough for you to beat until you are a certain level. At the beginning of the game Ice Trolls definitely fall into this category. However there are some inprovements to the combat system too...
4. The Combat
Two hands are better than one!
As you might expect there are plenty of improvements on Oblivion's combat system in Skyrim. The most discussed and anticipated appears to be the ability to dual wield. A player can have a weapon or attack in each hand which can either be identical or different. So you can have two swords for example, or two spells (which are equipped like weapons), or one sword and one spell, or... you get the idea! I personally enjoy dual weilding swords - this seems to give the best chance of a dramatic fatality style finishing move during combat. These moves are also a new addition to the game and a welcome one. There's nothing like finishing off the last of a group of assailants with a bone crunching, spinning slash delivered with cinematic drama! Dual weilding is great as it expands the potential combat styles available to the player massively. One the attractions of Oblivion for me was the complete control you had over you player character, you really could play how and who you wanted to be. Skyrim is taking it even further even allowing you tailor your attacks to each hand so you can even fight the way you want to. Different combinations of weapons and attacks (obviously perhaps) have different strengths and weaknesses. For example, equipping the same spell in both hands increases the power of the spell, but I'll go out on a limb and speculate that there are other less obvious combinations to discover as well.
Check out some of the finshing moves I've witnessed so far:Click thumbnail to view full-size
Spells look awesome too...
Check out the second part of Todd Howard's walkthrough below to see some Skyrim style combat...
Why not visit some of these other Skyrim related sites? - Mods, lore, blogs... its all here...
- Skyrim Nexus
An excellently presented site that lets people upload and download their own mods for Skyrim. The creation kit hasn't even been released yet but already people have been busy putting their own mark on Bethesda's game.
- The Elder Scrolls Wiki
A great site that contains information on just about anything you can think of relating to Skyrim - and as it is a Wiki you can register for an account and contribute yourself.
- The Skyrim Blog
This is one of the community sites that I have followed since the before Skyrim was released, and is very well put together and managed. Constantly updated with plenty of interesting and enthusiastic news and articles.
- Bethblog - Bethesda's Official Blog
Bethesda's own blog that contains entries on all the company's other games as well as Skyrim. Interesting and informative.
- The Official Elder Scrolls Website
The main site for the game - plenty of high quality media and downloads like wallpapers. Covers the whole Elder Scrolls series.
5. The Magic of Bethesda
The Dragons are back!
Now it maybe that I'm a little biased here, being a fully paid up member of the Bethesda fan club, but the games they have released over the last five years all rate up there in my favourite games of all time. I'm still playing Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas now, and I would still be playing Oblivion if I hadn't exhausted everything there is to do in that game. My Oblivion character still sits in his Sorcerer's Tower, surrounded by opulent luxury and with a cellar stuffed with enough loot to buy the entire realm. You could say I got my money's worth there!
If I had to explain why Bethesda's games are so special for me, the first things that come to mind are the sheer size of the game worlds, and the freedom the player has to roam around them. I haven't found a game by any other company that matches Bethesda's offerings in these two respects. Dragon Age's narrow instances only held my interest for about two days, and the Witcher games were good but again depressingly linear. Only Bethesda makes games like The Elder Scrolls and the Fallout series where you really can explore as much as you want, where you want, with no invisible walls and artificial constraints. Skyrim will be the same, make no mistake. If you can see the top of a mountain or a cave in depths of a valley, then you can without doubt climb that mountain and enter that cave!
I think it is this expansive freedom that allows gamers to experience so many memorable stories when playing Elder Scrolls games. Some of my favourite moments in Skyrim so far have involved the companions that you can pick up during your travels. Bethesda have got this just right as far as I am concerned. The followers you could enlist in Oblvion were a little bit generic and faceless in my opinion, while their counterparts in the Fallout games were a little bit too well developed. If they died you missed out on certain quests, which encouraged you to go back to previously saved games if you lost them, which is something I don't like doing. In Skyrim however, the motley crew of helpers you run into lies somewhere in between - they have a few stock phrases which they mutter at amusingly inappropriate times, but have no other real bearing on your game unless the quest you are doing is actually the one that indebts them to you. After that they follow you happy (or not so happy) to help you out in whatever you may be doing. I have read elsewhere on the net that some people find they're recycling of their individual stock phrases a little annoying, but I haven't found this a problem. The situation they utter them in is always different, and I can't help but chuckle when I hear some grumpy Nord over my shoulder complaining about his freezing toes as I am trying to sneak up on a bandit camp or coven of vampires.
Some of the mercenaries you can hire are also quite tough, and when they die in your defense you know it's been a hard fight...
Some of the friends I've made (and lost along) the way...Click thumbnail to view full-size
6. The Creation Kit
The possibilities are endless... (really!)
Now this might be a Bethesda tradition that a lot of gamers are unfamiliar with, but the Skyrim Creation Kit is a fantastic addition to the main game that really does provide something unique in the world of video games. The kit is a collection of the tools the developers used to create Skyrim, and its free to download so that players can create and share their own user generated content. I first came across this idea on Bethesda's earlier game Fallout 3 and was amazed at the potential to basically create, add or modify whatever you want in the game world. A toolkit had also been released for Skyrim's predecessor, Oblivion but I played this on the XBOX 360. That's the only downside. Unfortunately the Creation Kit is ony available on PC, at least at the moment. I had read that Bethesda wanted to make it possible for the user created "mods" to be transferable to console, but I can't remember where so I'll have to leave that as a rumour for now.
Check out this video from the Bethesda Softworks YouTube Channel that gives a brief overview of what the Creation Kit offers...
Creation Kit & Skyrim Workshop Preview
I must just warn all you potential modders out there however, that if (like me) you don't have much experience in using software tools like the Creation Kit, setting out to create your first mod can be a little daunting. The kit is the actual software utilized by the developers and as such is not necessarily user-friendly to the layman. The good news however, is that Bethesda have created a Creation Kit Wiki which contains lots of helpful tutorials for those new to the world of modding. You can also find lots of videos on Youtube with more experienced modders sharing their knowledge. The best way I have found of going about things is to simply think of the thing you want to alter or create and then start looking for a way to do it - because the chances are it's possible if know how...
Also if you want to get an idea of what is possible with the Creation Kit PC Gamer has collected their 25 Best Skyrim Mods which I think is a good starting place.
My Favourite Modding Sites
There are also plenty of sites on the internet dedicated to collecting and sharing user-created Skyrim mods. Just looking through the endless variety and originality of some of the mods available is entertaining in itself, and the quality of a lot of the work is frankly amazing. Players have created mods for just about everything, and they have obviously done so with a lot of passion and enthusiasm. Listed below are a few of my favourite mod related sites, where you can probably find a mod for anything you can think of, or maybe even get some help putting your own idea into action...
- Skyrim Nexus
In my opinion the best site to find Skyrim mods. An extremely well presented and user friendly site which also contains links to sister sites for mods related to all of Bethesda's games. There is some adult content on the site but this is not accessi
- Planet Elder Scrolls
This site is part of the Gamespy "Planet" network and also has links to modding sites for other games. A good place to start as the number of mods isn't quite as overwhelming as the Nexus...