5 More Things I’ve Learned About Skyrim, Murder And Encumberance

5 More Things I’ve Learned About Skyrim, Murder And Encumberance
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Fifteen minutes of play time with the fifth Elder Scrolls game isn’t enough. Skyrim is massive. A quarter of an hour in it illuminates the game’s world about as well as stepping just outside of an airport terminal explains a new city.

But, if you’ve got the man who oversaw construction of the whole megalopolis sitting next to you, you can adopt the open-world, do-anything spirit of Skyrim and ask anything you can think of about the game. You can find stuff out. This is what I did at the Bethesda booth at the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, with Skyrim creative director Todd Howard at my side.

What did I hit upon? My notes include words like “difficulty”, “encumbrance” and “DLC”.

We began covering this stuff while I was playing. I asked Howard questions, but I simultaneously was testing the ability of my random Skyrim lead character to run down a hill, swim a river, club people in a mine, command a deer to fight by my side, and eventually, to fulfil a man’s request for lumber by firing an arrow into his chest.

Who You Can Kill and Who You Can’t — We may not kill everyone in the massive world of Skyrim, Howard told me, though obviously some have tried such slaughters in previous games made or overseen by his studio. “Central” characters in Skyrim will not die. If defeated in combat, these people will drop to their knees. Rare “Protected” characters can be killed by you, but not by non-player characters who do have the ability to murder their fellow Skyrim dwellers during the kind of unplanned, dynamic chaos Bethesda players enjoy igniting. Those Skyrimians who are neither Central nor Protected may die by your or others’ hands — to be clear, those “others’ hands” are computer-controlled, as this is as singleplayer a game as it gets.

The man to whom I aggressively delivered a few arrows, I’m sad to report, had friends who proved to me that my character was neither Central nor Protected. Hey, but at least I’m the hero. I can respawn.

Animal Control — I’ve played too little of prior Elder Scrolls games to have the opportunity to control animals, but the save point from where I started at PAX put me in the boots of a man who has the power to do such a thing. I learned the limit of this ability, which is not unlike the ability of owning a cat. With great anticipation I used my power on some sort of deer or elk (same family?) only to watch it flee from the bandits I soon harassed. Some animals just might shrink from or stink at combat, Howard pointed out. My real cat isn’t much of a fighter either, even against the spiders she significantly outweighs.

Later in the game, I was chased by two wolves. I commanded one to follow me. He turned on his fellow wolf and snapped his jaws. Success. You can command an animal once a day in this game, if you have the power. Magic spells, on the other hand (that’s sort of a pun), can be used as long as you’ve got magic to burn.

Encumberance — Todd Howard knows that encumbrance can be annoying, but he must not believe that being laden with so much discovered gear that you can move only slower than a snail is so annoying that it should be stricken from the Bethesda role-playing-game list of commandments. Thou Shalt Be Encumbered in Skyrim, just not as easily as you would have been in previous Elder Scrollses. Maybe we the players shouldn’t pick up so much stuff in the game, not between visits to homes and other places where loot may be stored? Maybe Bethesda shouldn’t put so many appealing sets of armour, weaponry and kitchenware in their RPGs.

Howard laughed when I reminded him that players could be encumbered in the previous Elder Scrolls, Oblivion, before they even left the game’s introductory area. This new game won’t be nearly such a strict caution against covetousness. Howard said that the encumbrance limits have been raised relative to that last game (the statistic I was able to quote is that you can carry “a lot more.”) Players who manage upgrades in their stamina will find their ability to carry more and heavier items pleasantly bolstered. This is a game that lets you kill dragons, though, and Howard warned me that dragon bones are heavy.

Difficulty Levels We Won’t Hate — Even the biggest proponents of Oblivion sometimes speak unkind things about that game’s scaling difficulty, which made enemies in any of its regions tougher as the player became more powerful, sort of the way maths tests became harder every time you advanced a year in grade school. The new game, as has been reported before, doesn’t work like that. It works like Fallout 3, Howard told me. I, not being the sort who can see under the hood of a game’s difficulty engine while driving the action, requested clarification. Each area of Skyrim has its own level of difficulty, which the game might raise or lower a tad depending on how powerful the player’s character is, populating the zone with tougher or easier enemies,. These areas will maintain their characteristic level of challenge, but will basically offer a relatively wimpy a player a figurative cheek at which to aim a first punch–and will slug the more powerful player first.

There is much more loot to get in this game, Howard told me, and the brave player who ventures into areas too hard for him or her to have sensibly entered, will at least be rewarded with rare and special loot. If they survive their dangerous excursion, of course. “If you’re in over your head, we want to reward you for that,” Howard said.

DLC — Yeah, there will be DLC for Skyrim, just as there have been bushels of it for all of the recent grand Bethesda RPGs. It’s even coming to the Xbox 360 first. But what will it be? Howard said he honestly doesn’t know. It’s not been nailed down yet, though he promised it will be big. We played comparison. So, not the size of that Alaska DLC for Fallout 3? Nope. More like that Point Lookout one that was a whole extra island? Yup.

Note: I have more notes. — “Five More Things” was such a good structure for this story, right? But I have more to share. Let’s just say you’re now in the DLC part of this story then. Expansion pack time. Here we go…. Yeah, you can get married in this game, but it’s not a very involved thing. Your spouse will make you some meals, which is nice… Of course there are tons of in-game books , as is series tradition. Hundreds. Might be 300, but who keeps the number of books a game has in it in their head just in case a pesky reporter is nearby?… You can dual-wield some weapons, but you can’t hold a shield in your right hand, which I’m sure is not some complicated commentary on the handedness of Zelda‘s Link (nor is it pre-amble to the worlds worst DLC upgrade, I’m willing to guess)… The game doesn’t have an ending, not a final ending ending, if you know what I mean or remember Fallout 3 which had a credit-rolling lock-it-all-off finale. Bethesda undid that ending via DLC when it proved obvious that players would rather be able to keep exploring the game forever. Skyrim will be forever open-ended too, Howard told me. That’s the way Bethesda is doing it from now on.


  • So wait, can you still move slowly while encumbered a la Fallout 3? or are you stuck not moving at all like the previous Elder Scrolls games?

    I assume the former, but want to be sure we’re all done with the latter 😛

  • It’s funny, but all the amazing thing about Skyrim we keep hearing are starting to piss me off. I mean, it sounds great, and i’m sure we will all adore this game, but…I’m hearing too mcuh! The game is still months away! I cant wait, and you keep dangling the bloody carrot infront of my face! Ahhhh!

  • I didn’t have any problem with the scaling difficulty in Oblivion, but that might be because I had Goldbrand from quite early in the game, essentially turning all enemies into treasure chests that just need two whacks of the sword before you open them.

    • My main gripe about the difficulty was that it felt so unnatural. Bandits would end up with glass armour, but still be dumb bandits. The combat didn’t really get any more interesting or harder when fighting them, but neither were they any easier. It was as vanilla as vanilla can be.

  • I would like to see popular mods be made available via DLC. Maybe a competition can be held to make this happen, and the reward is a cut of the money made from these.

      • Well I figured it might take some time (money) to make the mods work on X360/PS3.

        Plus I don’t mind rewarding good modders that put in a lot of time and effort, not to mention we might see some better quality ones.

          • Yeah, who needs to keep updating every couple of years in order to continue playing new games.

            Oh wait, we were ragging on consoles. My bad. Here, let me try again.

            Yeah! Who needs to buy one console every ten years!

            Wait, crap, that still didn’t out right.

            What I’m saying is, consoles>computers when it comes to value for money and ease of use.

            Unless of course you’re just going to pirate the game. But PC gamers don’t do that, right? Right?

          • pirating aside, i bet i can buy any multiplatform game on steam, for less than you pay for the console version, plus it looks infinitely better. ease of use, maybe, if your dumb.

          • I think the point Ben is trying to make is: yes it looks infinitely better on PC because you probably spent hundreds of dollars recently to upgrade your sytem, as you probably did the previous year as well. Where as us console gamers haven’t had to upgrade our system since sometime around 2005. Some of us just prefer gameplay over graphic superiority.

          • This is how I roll with my computer.
            I buy indie games year round because I want to support them. With ‘AAA’ games I wait for the steam sale. Not a steam sale but thee steam sale at the end of the year.

            I have 205 games on steam, and I’ve only spent $700, on them. $150 of that $700 was 3 $50 games I bought when I was new to Steam.

            My computer is reasonably ‘specced’ it runs anything I own at 1920×1200 with full graphs. And I’ve spent $1000 on my tower.

            But that wasn’t $1000 in one hit that was small upgrades periodically.

            All up that is pretty incredible value.

            And you don’t have to upgrade constantly because new games are mostly ‘console ports’ these days. They will run great on my computer until their is a new generation of consoles. So by my reasoning there is no need to upgrade for a long time.

            Ease of use?
            Plug in a game pad. I own two.

            “Some of us just prefer gameplay over graphic superiority”

            The idea that if you prefer a computer for gaming then you are a either an elitist or a nerd. I don’t see how the ‘gameplay’ is any better on a console. These are the same games with the same mechanics after all.

            In the end it is all subjective. So there is no point treating gameplay on either platform as the best. Different mechanics suit different control schemes. But that doesn’t stop first person shooters from being immensely popular on consoles.

            The main advantage consoles have isn’t price, isn’t lack of upgrading, isn’t gameplay. It’s being able to play a game comfortably from your couch.

            Also on the price front, most people who have a console also have a computer, even if it is just for work. So if you think of buying an upgraded computer as a subsidy by saving you from buying a console and purchasing games at $100 then, wouldn’t that end up being cheaper?

            Some people want portability in a laptop and I understand that. And other people want to play their games from the couch and that is great. I just feel this ‘PC’ thing is misrepresented so much. The reality of the situation is skewed.

            Think of all the advantages you get when you have a computer. Even small things like a web browser. I mean how many people are typing using their d-pad?

            That seems like a cheap shot but I don’t think it is. It is ironic that these console vs ‘PC’ debates occur with the debaters at the helm of a personal computer.

            I think their is value in all control schemes but the console as a platform is locked down. I believe people think it is locked down by it’s very nature but it isn’t. A console could easily give more freedom to the user but that would give the user too much value for free.

            But sometimes console games are better than computer games. That is because the game usually has more access to the power of the hardware. The OS is not built for multi-tasking and that is a good thing. But that is all theoretical because in reality game developers write pretty good code, but the code isn’t some masterpiece of optimization.

            Then there is game shelf life. Games that have dedicated servers live longer, games that have modding communities continue to have a player base longer.

            I just wish everyone would admit what is obvious and true.

            1.Consoles aren’t the cheapest option in the long run.

            2.Consoles main advantage is to play your games from the comfort of your couch.

            3.Computers have more uses than consoles and therefore direct price comparisons are never accurate.

            I am happy consoles exist, I am even happy they are more popular than ‘PC’ gaming. I am happy everyone is playing games and that it is a growing passion for many people.

            I am not happy about the misrepresentation of the value of ‘PC’ gaming. Because in my view the value is incalculable.

            This isn’t helpful, what do you gain by telling someone that the way they like to play is not as good as yours.

            @Matt You could just as easily plug a computer into that 48″ LCD. And you could plug a controller into that computer as well.

            “‘us’ console gamers”? Why make it into an us vs them situation. It is more common that most people use both their computer and their console for gaming.

          • Of course, it’s not like console gamers can’t get something installed/modded onto their console to allow them to download and play pirated games. Of course not.

  • Yeah lol you guys have fun while you play with your key board and look at 19” lcd screen, while i sit back and play on my nice 48”lcd and play with magical and mysterious thing that some people call a “CONTROLLER”

    • I will enjoy playing with my keyboard and mouse on my 22″ lcd screen at 1600×1050 resolution. Good luck getting the inbuilt console resolution of 1080 x 720 to look like something other than a pile of lego bricks on your nice 48″ display :\

      And if you feel you can get precision control from a device that primarily uses your thumbs, well then more power to you.

    • I’ll just hook my rig with GTX580 up to my wall mounted 48″LCD with all the graphics settings cranked up to max. Yeah because I can do that. I’ll enjoy seeing the game in all its graphical splendour while you get to see it on your capped hardware. If I ceebs using my keyboard+mouse I’ll just plug my 360 controller into my USB port and chill out — scratching my balls and drinking my beer. I could also plug in a PS3 controller, but I don’t want to waste money on that junk.

      I guess while you buy the next console upgrade (PS4? Xbox 3600?) all I’ll really need to do is add another GTX580 in SLi and maybe another 4 gigs of RAM (which by then will cost less than a brand new console). Oh I can also overclock my processor. Did I mention I can use controllers and TV screens too?

  • i think the double shields idea wouldnt be that smart, what do you do with sheild bash? it ll be like clapping over someones ears, but with wood… on second thought, Bethesda should TOTALLY put on double shields.
    I wonder what a spear+shield guy would attack like. Achilles anyone? Fine, be that way.

  • “but will basically offer a relatively wimpy a player a figurative cheek at which to aim a first punch–and will slug the more powerful player first”

    “but who keeps the number of books a game has in it in their head just in case a pesky reporter is nearby”

    a player a punch in it in in it GODDAMN this article is hard to read! WTF

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