By John Gaudiosi
Bethesda Softworks showcased the much-anticipated Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim at Gamescom 2011 this summer in Cologne, Germany, allowing fans to check out the successor to the award-winning blockbuster hit Oblivion. Bethesda Game Studios has been hard at work on this new role-playing game (RPG), developing a brand-new game engine -- the Creation Engine -- for the open-world experience.
“Skyrim lets players make the kind of character they want and step out into this huge virtual fantasy world and do whatever they want,” says Todd Howard, game director for Skyrim. “There are dragons, different kinds of magic and thousands of items. What we try to do is just build the most detailed virtual fantasy world we can, and then we let people do whatever the hell they want.”
Howard says the team at Bethesda grew up on fantasy experiences like Dungeons and Dragons, Lord of the Rings and the old Ultima PC games. “All of these things inspired us,” says Howard. “We just keep returning to that basic thing of a fantasy world where you can be who you want to be. It’s just super-cool. We like to do it again and again, but we do it in a different way so it feels fresh to us.”
PC gamers will experience a more detailed fantasy world than ever before in Skyrim, which introduces third-person perspective action, as well as realistic horses that players can ride to help traverse the massive environments within the game’s world.
“The technology is always moving forward and allowing us to achieve more,” says Howard. “The effect of stepping out into this world is that it feels real, and new and unique. The other thing is we’re getting a bit better at how we create these massive worlds like Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Skyrim, and giving all of the power to the players so they can decide what they want to do. It’s about ensuring that the game rewards them for their choices and having a deep and robust skill system on the back end.”
While players will play the character of Dragonborn in this new adventure, they get to customize the character and then build on their character as they venture off on quests. As they kill dragons in the game, they absorb their souls. This plays out in gameplay through the dragon language -- dragon shouts -- which gives them power in these epic showdowns with dragons.
“The gameplay is the most important thing, but in this kind of game where we want to put you in another world, the world becomes the main character -- the thing you’re exploring -- and the graphics are what carry that,” explains Howard. “We spend a ton of time not just on the technology for it, but then huge art staffs spend years building tomatoes and beehives. It’s all the little stuff. What do their forks look like? How do they make their food? All the little tiny details are what we obsess over.”
Of course, the game is also filled with creatures, including the aforementioned huge dragons that soar through the skies and belch flames. There will also be plenty of trolls, giants, zombies and draugrs, along with other monsters. With those sliders cranked all the way up, this fantasy world stands out as one of the most breathtaking visual experiences yet for gamers.
All images courtesy of Bethesda Softworks LLC.
John Gaudiosi has been covering video games for the past 17 years for media outlets such as The Washington Post, CNET, Wired magazine and CBS.com. He is editor in chief of GamerLive.tv and a game columnist for Reuters and RhMinions.com. He is a frequent contributor to Digital Innovation Gazette.