One of Bethesda's loftiest claims about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is that this is a much bigger game than its predecessor, Oblivion. On the surface, that seems dubious: the two world maps are almost identical in size, so you've got more or less the same amount of room for exploring that you did before. But Skyrim is less about running from point A to point B than it is about setting off from point A and getting so hopelessly distracted by all the things you find along the way that you've begun to wonder what's so great about point B anyway. It is, in other words, a lot more dense with features and reasons to go exploring. Here are some that grabbed our attention from a demo Bethesda showed us earlier today at Gamescom 2011:
You remember Oblivion's dungeons, right? Those underground stone labyrinths or dirt tunnels that you'd sometimes, maybe, feel tempted to go exploring on the off chance you might find some neat loot inside? They were fine for what they were, but they don't exactly cling to your memory as one of the better parts of the game. According to Bethesda's Pete Hines, the development staff has taken quite a different approach with Skyrim's dungeon designs. Literally. Whereas Oblivion's dungeons were largely drawn up by the staff's artists, now dungeons are in the hands of a team of full-time level designers. The aim is to make each dungeon stand out, serve a purpose, and feel like its own unique chunk of the world with its own backstory. Hopefully, that will mean more incentive to explore dungeons you'd otherwise pass by during your overland adventuring.
Making Something From Nothing
Things like crafting, enchanting, and potion-making have all been greatly expanded in Skyrim, but what really caught our attention is the way you can forge weapons almost entirely from scratch. Sure, you could do something similar in Fallout 3 with weapons schematics, but in Skyrim you're working with much-less-refined ingredients. Here's an example: you come across a wolf that looks at you funny, so you clobber it to death with your mace/blunt sword/clobbering fists. Suddenly you have some raw animal hide that you can take to a tannery to convert into leather. Later on, you're off adventuring through one of those fancy new dungeons when you spot a shiny vein of iron in the wall. You pull out your pickax and chip away at it until you get a nice supply of raw ore. Then you go find yourself a weapons forge, and suddenly you're able to create a fancy new leather-hilted iron dagger and feel the calming satisfaction that you just became a blacksmith. Now those wolves will think twice before looking at you funny.
Making Nothing From Something
You don't always have to be crafting new items to improve your handiwork. When it comes to enchanting, you can actually learn a few things from being destructive. You start off the game as an enchanting newbie without any knowledge of the magic that goes into creating fancy magic-enhanced items. What you can do to fix that is find an arcane enchanter (a magic station, basically) and disenchant any item you have that carries with it special magical traits. What this does is destroy whatever item you had, but with the added effect that you learn the enchantment that the item previously contained. So if you find a pair of enchanted pants that give you higher attack rates, but pants just really aren't your thing, you can disenchant said pants and learn the attack boost enchantment for another item you may find more to your liking. Like that sweet iron dagger you just made.
The custom character that Hines made for the demo belonged to the Khajit race of cat men and sported some truly amazing muttonchop sideburns. This doesn't really have anything to do with the exploration side of Skyrim. We just really liked seeing a cat man with muttonchops.