“What we found in Oblivion – you start the game, you pick your race, and you play for a while. Our intent was: you played for a while, you got to figure out some skills, and then depending on how you play… one of the characters asks you ‘okay, what kind of class do you want to be? Here’s my recommendation based on how you’ve been playing.’
“And sort of our thought process was, what if that guy never asked that? I was perfectly happy right before then, ya know, I was just playing the game and skills were going up, so we just got rid of that. You just play, and your skills go up as you play and the higher your skill, the more it affects your leveling. So it’s a really, really nice elegant system that kind of self-balances itself.”
So, Bethesda will be doing away with classes then? Apparently that’s got people chuffed. For the life of it though, I can’t understand why if the underlying system remains. Classes and leveling in particular weren’t that great in Oblivion and it seems they’ve realised that in one shape or form. For me personally, it’s not an issue. I never used the pre-built classes anyway – I built my own.
“What we found in Oblivion is people would play, and even though they played for a half hour and then they picked their class, it’s still – in the scheme of the games we make – not enough time to really understand all the skills and how they work. So people would play, and the general pattern would be they’d play for like, three hours and then ‘oh I picked the wrong skills, I’m going to start over.’
“They weren’t necessarily upset about that, but to us, someone who’s making a game you’re like… ‘is there a way we can solve that? Is there a better way of doing it?’ And we think this is it.”
Bethesda has gone back to the drawing board to redesign their menus – something of a theme in RPG games of late (just check out Fable 3 for example) and have taken inspiration from Apple’s interfaces.
Apparently, Bethesda wasn’t satisfied with the menu system used for Oblivion, and took the opportunity to change a broken system along with nearly every other aspect of the game. Detail is the name of the game, as the developers are bringing the same tech that will flesh out the game’s environments to the inventory system.
Collecting various potions, items, and plants is always more focused on the object’s effects than its appearance, but Skyrim will give players the ability to examine in three-dimensional space every single item they acquire. Attention to detail is always a plus, and Bethesda hopes that the players will appreciate the game’s story even more when they can see every root on a healing plant.
According to the game’s director Todd Howard, the development team figured out a way to make Skyrim‘s various menus and spreadsheets easier to peruse while at the same time making each bit of the game world feel that much more realistic:
”You know in iTunes when you look at all your music you get to flip through it and look at the covers and it becomes tangible?…One of our goals was ‘What if Apple made a fantasy game? How would this look?’ It’s very good at getting through lots of data quickly, which is always a struggle with our stuff.”
With smooth and streamlined access to menus as their guiding light, Bethesda has used the console’s controllers to their full potential. The D-pad will not only grant access to various weapons, but nearly all essential menus. Simply pressing ‘up’ on the pad will bring up the player’s favorites menu, into which they can place any and all items and weapons they’ll frequently be using.
Button presses will be all that’s needed to examine maps, star constellations, and inventory in an effort to make the experience much more immersive than finding your way through endless menus. The game’s new combat system is built entirely around the idea of players being wrapped up in the moment-to-moment experience of the game, so it wouldn’t make sense to leave menus as they were. Especially considering the brand new addition of epic dragon shouts to the gameplay.
The game’s various styles of spell-casting pose one of the greatest challenges, and are perfect examples of the heavy aspects of RPGs that tend to scare off more casual players. Whether or not the skills have been simplified, Game Informer went into detail on how the upgrading and selection will work in Skyrim:
“Three prominent nebulae dominate the Skyrim heavens – the thief, the warrior, and the mage. Each of these represents one of the three master skill sets. Each nebula houses six constellations, each of which represents a skill. As in Oblivion, every player starts out with the ability to use all 18 skills – any player can use a two-handed weapon, try alchemy, or cast a destruction spell (provided you find or purchase one). As you use these skills in Skyrim, they will level up and contribute to driving your character’s overall level higher.
“Every time players rank up their overall level, they can choose a supplemental perk ability for one of the 18 skills. For instance, if you fight most of your battles with a mace, you may want to choose the perk that allows you to ignore armor while using the weapon. As in Fallout 3, several of the perks have their own leveling system as well, allowing you to choose them multiple times. Once you choose a perk, it lights up the corresponding star in the constellation, making it visible when looking up to the heavens while interacting in the world.”
Arguably the biggest issue surrounding RPGs is that they have their roots in tabletop games, where instances of combat are designed around dice rolls, not realistic interaction. Dragon Age 2 seems to be moving away from the old way of doing things to put the power into the hands of the player, and Bethesda will be doing the same.
Rather than a simple slash of a weapon or spell being cast, every combat scenario will be designed around real factors like balance, speed, and a mixture of defense and offense. Mindlessly hitting the ‘attack’ button while watching numbers fly out of your enemy’s head can be satisfying, but for Skyrim the plan is to bring far more moment-to-moment decision-making and strategy.
The same Havok Behavior system that will be bringing new levels of realism to the game’s environments will also be used to plant Skyrim’s combat squarely in the real world. With additions like camera shakes and staggering, Skyrim’s moments of violence will not only be strategic exercises, but a test of one’s ability to think on their feet.
Players who equip a shield will not merely be awarded more defense points, but will need to time their blocks to prevent attacks. Holding down the shield button will charge up a shield bash that could send your opponent off balance and open them up for attack, but again, timing is everything.
Bethesda has also removed the run-and-gun strategy of taking quick strikes and fleeing from danger, making a retreat rely on turning your back to the enemy and risking an attack on your exit. All of these adjustments have been made to lend more significance and investment to each conflict, and to keep players engaged where they may have once been playing the game merely on an intellectual level. Skyrim’s director Todd Howard elaborates:
“There’s a brutality to [the combat] both in the flavor of the world, and one of you is going to die…I think you get very used the idea that enemies are all there for you to mow through, but it doesn’t seem like someone’s life is going to end. We’re trying to get that across.”
To keep even newcomers to Skyrim on the edge of their seats and feeling in control, the developers will be employing a strategy last seen in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – animated finishing moves. Different types of weapons and enemies will mean different killing blows, all in an effort to make what will constitute a large part of the game time into a satisfying and joyous experience.
Bethesda has learned quite a lot in the past few years, and in their eyes, one of the best examples of two-handed combat was witnessed in BioShock. Skyrim’s players won’t just have the option of carrying a sword or a shield, but will enjoy all of the benefits and drawbacks that come with the ability to assign different weaponry or powers to each hand.
What does this mean for actual gameplay? The standard RPG options between dual wielding or using two-handed weapons will still be there, but the system really changes things up when it comes to magic.
Players will have the chance to learn any of the 85 spells out of the five distinct types of mysticism: destruction, restoration, illusion, alteration, and conjuration. It’s a tough decision, since spells can only be used by a vacant hand, which Howard believes will bring an entirely new level of immersion and realism to the series:
“Before when we had magic, it never felt to us like you were actually doing it…It was a separate button, it flew out of your fist, and you could have a shield in your hand or a two handed-weapon – you could do it with anything.”
With the ability to use spells as directed strikes, traps, or area attacks will add a depth that the series has yet to see, and the effects of different spells on different enemies could turn any engagement to a miniature RTS. Magic duels on par with Harry Potter are just one possibility, with attack and ward spells having to be timed and executed with precision.
The developers at Bethesda have been keeping an eye on the modding community, and have made significant adjustments to the game’s weaponry based on the changes adopted by the players themselves. The bow and arrow has received a major boost in damage and the ability to score one-hit kills, but ammunition has been made a scarce commodity to keep a level playing field.
Similarly, the formerly useless dagger has been crafted specifically for stealth characters, dealing substantially more damage if the player manages to attack from an enemy’s back.
If you’re more interested in swinging swords than casting spells, you still won’t be left out in the cold when it comes to unique mystical abilities. As the last of the dragonborn, you will still possess the ability to use the previously-detailed dragon shouts without any magic training. A good move by Bethesda, since the new mechanic will likely be what many gamers are eager to see in action.
That’s just a small selection of things us gamers can expect from Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim come November. It’s perhaps my most anticipated game of this year and I cannot wait. To finish up, I’ll throw up a couple more screenshots. Enjoy.