Skyrim is unlike any of the other anticipated games I’ve seen this year. When you scrolled through comments, whether YouTube or your favorite game news media site, Skyrim‘s fans were more than happy to remind us that Skyrim was coming, either through a simple reminder or a more brazen, “Skyrim!” scrawled across their post in all caps.
And why not? The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion was widely loved for its humongous fantasy world which offers a plethora of things to do in any fashion you see fit. While you could still play Oblivion now and enjoy it, it certainly shows its age, especially when juxtaposed to it’s new sibling, Skyrim. Everything Oblivion does, Skyrim does better. I certainly enjoyed Oblivion but there are some things in Skyrim that, when encountered, make me think, “Man, Bethesda really made it better!”
1) Magic – The one thing that feels infinitely better compared to Oblivion is the magic system as a whole. Magic in Oblivion felt generic in some aspects; a simple series of effects or consequences that are the result of a specific rule or action. If I wanted to generalize Oblivion‘s magic, you can cast an effect that either damages the enemy or changes their behavior. This magic could be cast either to be on touch, as a projectile, or on yourself. Magic was more about the parts that made up spells rather than the spell itself.
This time, magic is much more vibrant. There are only a set number of spells but they become progressively stronger as you use them. In Oblivion, you’d have to buy a newer, stronger fireball spell to keep up, but in Skyrim, your fireball spell grows stronger as you use it.
Also, the ability to craft unique spells doesn’t return from Oblivion, so you can no longer strip apart spells to see them as they really are and mix up new spells. You also can no longer make crazy, game-breaking spells such as a 100 damage to health spell over a period of one second. Spells like that in Oblivion let you plow through the opposition like it was nothing.
2) Enchanting – Enchanting jumps off the same general idea as magic Skyrim offers new ideas that just make sense when you think about it. In Oblivion, simply knowing the specific spell effect allowed you to enchant an item with a similar effect. If you knew how to use a flame spell for example, you could enchant a sword to apply fire damage on hit. In Skyrim, you must instead break apart existing enchanted items to learn how the enchantment works. So in order to make a fire sword, you must find an existing weapon that applies fire damage (even a dagger works), break it apart to learn the enchantment, and only then will you be able to apply the fire effect to weapons.
The new process just makes more sense as enchanting a weapon and casting a spell must be two entirely different things; the process of learning is much more involving. It makes the revelation of receiving magic equipment much more thrilling as you decide to whether to keep magic items or break them apart to learn their secrets.
3) Leveling – If there’s one thing I didn’t like about leveling up in Oblivion, it’s that I had to go to sleep to feel the affects of leveling up. I could slay a hundred monsters, walk a thousand miles, and cast a million fire spells, but would still remain at level one because I didn’t get a good night’s rest.
But in order to level up, you had to train the major skills you chose at the start. This was how you’d create your themed character. If you wanted to be a badass knight for example, you would be inclined to make blade weapons one of your major skills, as the more you use a major skill (blade weapons in this case), the more you’d level up and become stronger.
But in Skyrim, you aren’t pigeonholed into specific roles. None of the traditional values such as strength or agility exist in Skyrim. Everything is decided by how well trained your existing skills are. So if you play as a mage for a few hours, your skill in destruction magic will obviously increase as you use offensive magic a lot. But if you start sneaking around and stabbing people in the back like a thief, you can get better at that as well. The only limitation are the perks you earn every time you level up, which are dependent on your individual skills.
The new system of leveling up encourages you to explore new options, while at the same time not empowering you to spread yourself thin. You can gain perks in magic to reduce the amount of magic you use to cast a spell, but still train your proficiency in other areas like smithing and daggers. The perks you choose are limited to your level and help define your character, but if you simply keep using that dagger, you’ll still be good with it. You just won’t swing it absurdly faster or gain special abilities with it unless you invest in the perks associated with that discipline.
Focus your selection and your character will be good in some areas while still capable in others. Spread yourself out and you’ll be able to do a a little bit of it all but not as great. Just like the huge map and quests Skyrim presents, how you create your character is truly up to you.
4) The Outdoors – When it came to Oblivion, fast traveling was the way to go. While the forests of Oblivion‘s Cyrodill were indeed impressive, they seem downright dead compared to what’s to be had in the land of Skyrim.
The landscape of Skyrim seems much more vibrant with traveling caravans, roaming parties of giants and their pet mammoths, vicious wildlife, and the occasional bandit or two. Despite Skyrim being a land dominated by mountains and snow, you’d be surprised at the amount of diversity you can find from running rivers, somber marshes, and eerie wastelands.
But of course, the stars of the show are the much anticipated dragons. In addition to exploring the land for Elder Scroll‘s patented dungeons and landmarks, every now and then the ground will shake at the roar and presence of an incoming dragon. Imagine exploring the local area for new alchemy ingredients when all of the sudden, your screen shakes and you hear the unmistakeable roar of a dragon just before it flies overhead in an attempt to roast you with its fire breath. All alone in the wilderness, you’re forced to make a fight or flight decision: will you stand your ground and defend yourself, or will you run in order to find some signs of civilization to help you? Because whatever you do, the ire of a dragon will never fade, and it will chase you so long as you stay outside. Running from a dragon only to find a guard post to assist you in slaying it can be a truly gratifying moment of immersion.
5) Dual-Wielding – While dual-wielding wasn’t actually in Oblivion, it is a major factor as to why combat feels much more fleshed out and flexible in Skyrim. Dual-wielding is also a major reason why magic is much more enjoyable now as you can supplement anything in any way thanks to it. Do you want a shield to block as you cast spells? How about freezing foes to a crawl as you go in with a sword? Perhaps two axes at once for a quick flurry of edged justice? Dual-wielding lets you do it so long as you’re not interested in two-handed weaponry.
Pure magic characters can even supplement other spells this way. Cast fear on approaching wolves and shock them with lightning as they flee. Or even turn a normal flame spell into a powerful flamethrower by using the flame spell in both hands. You can hold a dagger in one hand for sneak attacks and resort to your trusty fireball spell when things don’t go well, or even heal yourself with the healing spell as you create a magical shield to protect yourself.
Combat in Oblivion could sometimes be a slog but the amount of variety you can create with the new dual-wield mechanic makes skirmishes less of a battle of attrition and more of a fun experiment as to how you’ll mangle your foes.
Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls games have always been highly anticipated and well remembered. People still remember and enjoy Morrowind to this day and Oblivion continued the expansiveness of the Elder Scrolls games. Throughout the previews of Skyrim, it promised to show a whole new side to the Elder Scrolls series and Skyrim certainly delivered with these changes.