Like many E3 demos, we saw Skyrim on Xbox 360, and the way the gameplay integrates to the trigger-based controls is pretty impressive. Effectively, you’ve a trigger for each hand, and what you equip in each hand in turn shapes your play-style.
So, if you want to cut a classic swathe, you can load up a shield in your left hand, which you can use the left trigger to block with, and a sword in your right hand, which your right trigger will swing. You can use both triggers, and this causes you to shield-bash an opponent, but only at the expense of stamina.
It’s a wonderfully intuitive system, and allows for pretty much endless customisation. If you fancy spell-use, you can load up spells on either hand, such as flame and cold-based magic, or combine an off-hand spell while wielding a sword. You can even choose to double up on the one spell, which then lets you fire off more focused version by using both hands at once.
Skills progress and improve based on usage patterns, and since the game is class-less, what you use will shape the way your character grows. Even simply wearing armour will boost your skill in moving and fighting in those armour types.
There are of course many non-combat skills, and you can empower yourself with the many standing stones that can found throughout the world. The skills also tie back into the game world, with many of them mapping to a constellation – you’re literally looking up at the sky for inspiration as you unlock and improve the up to 280 perks that the game is going to feature.
With all this richness, the game’s inventory and menu system is going to need to be smooth. Luckily, it’s not just smooth, it’s positively slick. There’s pretty much no HUD to speak of, unless you’re in some situation where your health or stamina is being deleted. Items and spells can be easily book-marked and mapped to the Xbox controller’s D-pad, and we’re sure it’ll be even easier to map items to a fully-fledged keyboard in the PC version of the game.
On the wing
Of all the things we saw in our demo, however – the unique dungeons, the range of spells and magic, and the intensely alive world – one thing sticks in our mind even now.
The classic fantasy beasty, all scales and mighty, beating wings, has never looked as impressive or as terrifying as they do in Skyrim. These creatures of destruction are completely unscripted, and their behaviour can range from staking out their lairs on mountain peaks to crashing and burning a city into ruins. And if you want to take advantage of the most powerful magic in the game, you’ll need to slay these monsters to take their souls – it’s no easy task, but also looks to be one of the most satisfyingly epic parts of the game.
All of these great features – the smooth combat, the excellent inventory and menu systems, the living world and the mighty dragons – comes together with an incredible eye for involving the player in the game to a truly personal level. Skyrim’s Radiant Story system creates side-quests that are personalised to your character, that play to or challenge your strengths and weaknesses. “We can conditionalise or randomise anything in a quest,” said Todd, “so quests can be built around your character.”
We can’t wait for the game’s November release date, when we fully expect to feel the full effect if what’s looking like a year’s end packed with great games. Maybe it’s time to book a holiday around then...