|The title screen, sans title for some reason|
|You can find salmon jumping in rivers|
As usual, while the game has much of the same look and feel of previous games, there are numerous changes. This time in particular it feels like they were more interested in tweaking existing design rather than wholesale changes, and you can see the influence of their Fallout game on the design. It is to Oblivion what Daggerfall was to Arena, if that makes sense.
The game opens with your character on a cart, heading for execution for the minor crime of crossing the border. You share the cart with a couple of other unfortunates, and also one of the major characters: Ulfric Stormcloak. Stormcloak is accused of murdering the ruler of Skyrim, and attempting insurrection. You are talked at by the various characters, filling in the backstory as you make your way to your death.
Of course when you arrive at your destination, the event is interrupted by a dragon attack, something that hasn't been seen for generations. This allows you to escape with the help of a guardsman, and find your way to safety in the small town of Riverwood. This is by far the weakest point of the game that I've seen so far.
The execution seems to involve a handful of people, the town is already ramshackle before the dragon attacks so the damage it does is less than impressive. The exposition is dull and uninspired, and there's not much of a civil war feel even though people do occasionally talk about it. The set-piece issue is a holdover from Oblivion, and I saw it again with a later dragon attack. There's just no way the engine could handle a large number of actors in any scene, which is why the world is so underpopulated.
It's not as bad as Oblivion, but the limits of the technology (not just the engine, but having to be designed with the previous generation of consoles in mind) do show in such situations. The older games used their limited technology to create a huge world, filled with large towns and cities and plenty of people. However the limitations of that technology mean that it's all a bit of a trick, and every town and person feels crafted from a handful of cardboard cut-outs.
The newer games followed a model used by the likes of the Ultima games, in which the majority of characters in the game world have names, homes, routines and so on. The world is more hand-crafted and full of detail, and is generally much better for it. But you have to understand the limitations and work around them. There's no point in having such wonderfully created people when you can only fit six of them into what should be a thriving town.
A lot of the game world I've seen so far would be far better as a "frontier", full of small colonies trying to newly establish themselves in a harsh environment. It just doesn't look like a world in which there's been centuries of civilization. This would also reinforce just why it's so dangerous to venture off the beaten track, and why there are mysteries and secrets behind every rock. Again, this is less of an issue than it was in Oblivion, but the design remains similar.
Next time, I talk about how the game improves when you're allowed to roam around, and also the user interface.