Still playing this game. Suspect I will be for some time. Hopefully I will keep blogging in the process so I don’t drop off the radar. My initial impressions have been confirmed, this is a great game and probably the best I’ve played to date. I can’t think of another experience that comes close.
The convoluted system from Oblivion for levels has been revamped into something that is a little bit less wonkish. A lot less wonkish actually. Stats like stamina, strength, agility, vigor (whatever that is) are gone. Or, at least they’re gone from front menu explanations. The major and minor level selection systems have also been removed. These systems for level advancement in Oblivion weren’t bad, but they required the player to make tough decisions about what skills you wanted right off the bat. The problem with the old system was that increasing “major” skills, which naturally are increased through in game use, were drivers in increasing a player’s level, but also in increasing the level of all the enemies. If you leveled too quickly, without boosting supporting “minor” skills, you could become quickly outclassed. Someone gaming the Oblivion system was motivated to choose “major” skills that actually the player would never need, thereby making increasing these skills subject to manipulation while your minor skills are pulled up through the roof. Skyrim removes this gaming incentive and presents you with a straight-forward, but intricate system.
Now, leveling gives two benefits; 1. you can choose to increase maximum life, maximum stamina (which are used for combat and sprinting), or maximum magic points; and 2. you can choose a “perk.” Perks are divided amongst the skill classes which are similar to the same classes from Oblivion (and probably older Elder Scrolls games as well). The perks are setup like constellations of stars, but this is really just a tech-tree format. Most of the perks seem pretty intriguing. Making a decision is tough, mostly because there are usually so many good choices to go for. Also go is the arbitrary distinction of giving perks at ever 25 skill levels. These perks are how your character is defined, rather than through a series of statistics numbers. A mage for example, might not have dramatically more magika than a warrior, but because all the skills that the mage has are geared towards reducing casting costs and boosting spell damage, the same skill has a much larger effectiveness. The warrior skills are the same; the swing of the sword or blocking with a shield does much more because of the perks.
With respect to layout, Skyrim represents a big improvement over Oblivion in terms of equipment. The smithing ability has been reworked totally into something more dynamic, complicated, and satisfying. Armor and weapons no longer wear down in Skyrim, eliminating the repair function that was previously present. Weapons, armor and accessories can be forged and created from raw materials found in the environment, improved upon, and then enchanted for additional effect. Although enchanting isn’t new to Elder Scrolls, sharpening blades and improving armor gives a lot of options as far as equipment goes.