In a recent interview with GameSpot, Bethesda's VP of PR and marketing Pete Hines has revealed some new details about the heavily anticipated fifth entry in the Elder Scrolls franchise, Skyrim.
Unsurprisingly enough to anyone who's followed the game, Hines says dragons will form the core of Skyrim’s story. After a long absence from Tamriel, they’ve finally returned, heralding the coming of the evil god Alduin. Only you, the Dragonborn, has what it takes to save the realm. If you haven’t already guessed, in this case “save the realm” really means “kill an assload of dragons.”
According to Hines, each dragon you encounter will serve as a challenging boss battle, forcing you to use all the skills and resources at your disposal to take down the winged menace. Though many of them won’t be scripted plot events, these fights won’t be anywhere as easy as the random encounters you’re used to in Oblivion.
Once you’ve taken a dragon down, you’ll absorbs its soul and be able to learn a new shout, a magical phrase that grants you special attacks and powers. That added prowess will then make it easier to kill even stronger dragons. In a way, the shouts provide a new method of leveling up your character beyond the standard skill points and perks.
So should you feel bad for slaughtering all these dragons and stealing their souls? Not one bit. Hines says that, as a general rule, all dragons in the world of The Elder Scrolls are pure evil. When pressed, he did hint that there might be some exceptions and nuance throughout the course of the story, but didn’t go into any more depth. Would it be ludicrous to infer from that brief statement that we’ll get a pet dragon in Skyrim? Yep. Will that stop us from dreaming? Not a chance.
Hines also briefly discussed the game’s four main factions: the Companions, the College of Winterhold, the Thieves Guild, and the Dark Brotherhood. The first two might seem unfamiliar, but in reality they’re just renamed versions of the Fighters Guild and Mages Guild from Oblivion. (Why they decided to only renamed half the guilds is a mystery to even me.) From the sounds of things, these factions will function much as they did in Oblivion, providing you with a big chunk of sidequests and new chances to train your character.
Given that Skyrim is heavily populated by Nords, it’s easy to wonder if the other races might encounter some discrimination or added difficulties along the way. According to Hines, Bethesda has made sure that your race won’t be a significant factor in terms of changing the fundamentals of the experience or altering the story. Instead, it will merely add a different flavor to the experience in the form of racial perks and slightly altered dialogue.
That’s not to say that everyone’s experience with Skyrim’s quest will be identical. On the contrary, Bethesda has poured a great deal of effort into Skyrim’s Radiant Story feature, which dynamically alters the game to provide variety and ensure there’s a constant challenge. Sure, that sounds good in theory, but how exactly will it work in practice?
“You could be walking down a road to a dungeon, and along the way you pass a couple of bandits who jump out of the bushes and try and kill you,” Hines explains. “And let’s say you die — the bandits kill you — and you reload your saved game and you walk down that same road, it might not be bandits this time. It might be a novice conjurer who’s out in the woods practicing stuff. It might be a guy hunting a deer.”
”It’s subtle,” he continues. “We don’t want you to ever know or notice you’re experiencing something that’s got Radiant Story.” That, Hines says, will help make sharing your experiences much more valuable and entertaining.
Unlike in Oblivion, you’ll no longer have to worry about whether a particular skill is worth putting time and effort into. Gone is the distinction between major and minor skills, so anything you focus on will still help you level up your character. That means heavy specialization won’t be as heavily punished, nor will deciding midway through a playthrough that you’d rather concentrate on an entirely different style of play.
All these major changes are accompanied by a host of minor ones, from the inclusion of Fallout: New Vegas’s cooking system to the more richly realized landscape, from a roster of new wildlife and enemies to the ability to get married. The game is so massive, in fact, that Hines says the game’s director, Todd Howard thinks most people who play Skyrim will only ever see around 30% of what they’ve created. As far as I’m concerned, that sounds like a challenge.
For me and millions of other Elder Scrolls fans, November 11 can’t come soon enough.