First things first: if you tried to access the link in my previous post and found it be broken, then be assured that it now works. Here it is again. You have no excuses! Right, someone mentioned a poxy little game called Skyrim today. What’s that about?
Bethesda have finally got around to releasing a proper demo video, in three parts, for The Elder Scrolls V, with useful commentary and no distractions. It’s the same footage we’ve seen at every convention for months but without the noise of cheering fans and gushing G4TV presenters in the background; just game director Todd Howard guiding us through a portion of Skyrim province. As a quick aside, I don’t know why more developers don’t release demo footage like this. I’d much rather see a game in action with some accompanying pointers from a developer than any amount of heavily edited trailers. Diablo 3‘s 20-minute gameplay trailer still makes me excited for the game even though it was released years and years ago (the date on the trailer page is definitely not when it was originally released).
Anyway, Skyrim looks lovely. Very lovely. As in many open-world games, the initial magic of a sweeping vista is enough to instil an early sense of wonderment in the viewer and Bethesda have had plenty of practice in crafting vast horizons. You only need to see the opening shot or the even better skyline at 6:40 in the first video to understand the appeal of open worlds, regardless of the gameplay within them. Whether it’s the snowy fantasy of Skyrim, the dusty plains of Red Dead Redemption or the fabulous backdrop of Venice in Assassin’s Creed 2, the promise of a world where you can visit any place that you can see, no matter how far away, is immediately alluring and one of modern gaming’s greatest assets. In this case, for once, graphical prowess definitely provides something amazing that older games didn’t have.
Still, good gameplay is obviously needed and Skyrim appears satisfying enough. It won’t provide the greatest swordplay or most pyrotechnic magical duels – The Elder Scrolls never has – but it will be good fun to play through. Meaty blows in combat look to have a more weighty feel and magical attacks certainly look more potent than the uninspiring wizardry of Skyrim‘s predecessor Oblivion.
Combat with dragons, seen from just after one minute into the third video, does look very promising. I can’t think of any other game where one-on-one combat between a normal-sized human and a giant beastie has been produced without resorting either to heavy scripting or quick-time events. As the central conceit behind Skyrim‘s main quest, the threat of dragons to the world makes it paramount that these titanic duels are spectacular, both in terms of gameplay and narrative. In the former case, things look very rosy with these battles looking very exciting to play through.
My concern is that Bethesda’s promise of ‘infinite dragons’ (they will spawn randomly at any time and place and will not be limited to certain quest lines) will turn against the game and make dragon duels routine, thus negating the supposedly apocalyptic threat they are meant to present in the story. The same thing happened in Oblivion, as I noted in a previous post: the story told you that the gates of hell were a deadly threat, but the gameplay turned the realms of the demonic into ordinary, arguably boring dungeons. To get pretentiously technical, Oblivion was rife with ludonarrative dissonance (look it up, even I only uncovered that gem of a term today). This is perhaps my biggest fear for Skyrim.
Everything else, though, is well on the way. The towns are more lively than in Oblivion, what with people doing jobs instead of wandering aimlessly, whilst the music is beautifully pitched. I still have various quibbles, as there always will be with games of this scope. Enemies don’t react enough when sliced by a blade, the menus are clearly designed with consoles and controllers in mind rather than PCs and keyboards, and, in a mix of good and bad, the horse seen at 5:47 onward in the first video looks adorably clumsy, like Bullseye in Toy Story. Yet whilst it won’t be as good as Morrowind – nostalgia commands that it never can be – I think, after the slight disappointment of Oblivion, I’m ready not to play in Tamriel, but to lose myself in that world once again.