Getting Your Fight On (Gameplay)
Like previous Elder Scrolls games, Skyrim is designed to be played from the first-person perspective. This makes combat different from many other fantasy games, which usually rely on top-down or third-person control.
There are some changes, however. Skyrim has introduced a new dual-wield mechanic that is an integral part of the game’s combat system. Every offensive item or spell in the game takes up one of your hands – left or right. This means that if you want to be a spellsword, you can equip a one-handed sword and a fire blast spell at the same time.
You may think this sounds like freedom, but as veterans from previous games will quickly note, it’s actually a bit restricting. You see, in previous games you could use spells at any time you’d like while having any weapon out as well, with the only restriction being that you could not perform a weapon attack and spell attack at the same time. That’s no longer possible.
With magic no longer as easy to access, characters have less chance to hybridize, which has the effect of making Skyrim a bit more difficult than previous titles, where it was very easy to level up Restoration and heal yourself constantly while wielding any weapons you’d like.
It’s not just the dual-wield system that encourages more specialization. Bethesda has also introduced perks, an idea no doubt learned from the company’s experience designing Fallout 3. Skills level up as you use them, which in turn cause your character’s level to advance. At each character level, you can pick a perk. But there’s a level 50 soft cap, so you only have enough levels to flesh out all the perks on four or five skill trees. For hybrid characters, this will result in difficult decisions.
There is one mechanic that allows for some fooling about, however – shouts. An important part of the plot, shouts are basically spells that aren’t cast by hand but rather conveyed through voice. Because of that, you don’t have to equip them like other powers. They become powerful as the game progresses, and just as importantly, they’re fun to use. One early shout lets you dash across a short distance in the blink of an eye, for example.
Personally, I think Skyrim is a mechanical improvement over previous games, as there’s no longer an easy path through which players can create nigh-invincible hybrid characters. New players won’t know the difference, of course, and should enjoy the slash-and-cast playstyle of Skyrim, where success depends heavily on how you manage your available skills and available resources (magika, health and endurance).