Powerhouse publisher Bethesda had a sizable booth this year at the 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, one almost as big as the three titles they brought with them to show off to legions of fans.
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The booth’s largest theater, with its largest screen, was reserved for a live gameplay preview for this latest chapter in the Elder Scrolls series. The game’s Art Director first showed off a gorgeous mountain valley with rocky paths, plants gently waving in the breeze and tall mountains that despite their apparent distance and size are all reachable. He took great care in emphasizing this: you can see it, that means you can go to it, and even climb to the top. Next was the new and very clean menu system that simply lists the weapons/spells/items available in a clean font. In Skyrim your hands can wield any combination of weapons (provided they are one-handed), shields, staffs or even spells. Players can also dual wield any one handed weapon, hold different spells in each hand, or the same spell in both that will enhance the effect when cast. The same real-time combat from Oblivion has returned but been enhanced with finishing moves and cinematic kill-cams. The world map is now a zoomed out aerial-style view of the world, and the skill trees have each been assigned a constellation in the heavens, which will track your progress and allow you to unlock perks in each one (one-handed weapons, destruction magic, etc.) as you gain levels.
Upon visiting a small logging town, conversations were revealed to happen in real time, without pausing the rest of the world, you can even walk away while talking or being talked to. NPCs in the towns will also sometimes talk amongst themselves, adding to the realism of the world. After pointing out the dynamic weather system that will actually cover the environment in snow or soak the player and world in rain, the player character approached a dungeon, where it was shared that Skyrim will have 150 unique dungeons to explore. When a dragon appeared, the ’dragon shout’ system was illustrated. Shouts are special spells that the player can use to mimic the power of dragons, including fire breath, speed enhancement, time dilation and the ability to summon a powerful lighting storm to devastate your enemies. Afrer the dungeon crawl which featured a puzzle solving element, the player character emerged on an open plain where a neutral giant was herding a pair of woolly mammoths, revealing that not all animals and NPCs found in the wild are hostile. The demo ended with a pair of epic battles with a fire and an ice dragon, where the spells and shouts were used to great effect. When it was released Oblivion was a beautiful game, Skyrim, out on 11/11/11, already puts it to shame.
A tangential sequel to 2006’s Prey, this time you play as a different alien abductee, US Marshall Killian Samuels, who finds himself marooned on a distant world and self-employed as a bounty hunter in an “alien noir” environment. Portals and gravity walks have given way to agility based FPS gameplay and an array of alien technology that will help Killian, and you, do your job. Scanners, hover boots, electro-bolos and more come to your aid as you navigate the open world picking up bounty assignments to earn money or shake down civilians for cash or information by drawing your weapon (which otherwise stays holstered by default). A core part of the gameplay is chasing down your targets using your technology, clues to the best movement paths given by the architecture, and cues provided by the game. For example, it will show that a distant ledge is reachable by bringing up Killian’s hand on screen in anticipation of making the jump. Like its predecessor, Prey 2 has a sense of style, and the same willingness to do something unexpected with what on the surface feels like a simple concept. Prey 2 will be released on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2012.
The only hands-on in the booth, players of the RAGE demo were offered a few select scenarios to try out the game. The first was a typical fetch quest in the open-world wasteland. After an optional demo of how to use the game’s signature nano-tech enhanced boomerang called the wingslicer (basically point and throw…and watch limbs and heads fly) you venture into a junkyard to recover engine parts from a savage gang. In addition to your three ranged weapons: pistol, shotgun and assault rifle, you are given a few enhanced pistol bullets and some grenades to aid in your effort. Throughout this ’dungeon’ crawl the game showed off its very impressive character animations. Each enemy moved fluidly, even when just shifting about idly in cover. The FPS combat is basic and lacks a cover system, though crafted weapon modifications, like half a binocular used as a scope, and the aforementioned special ammo helps make quick work of it. Sometimes the enemies seemed strong just for the sake of being strong; a shotgun blast to the chest from 3 feet away or two pistol shots to the face don't guarantee a death here. The other game segment sampled was an arena where another very well animated (in the way that he’s gross-looking but compelling to look at) NPC challenges you to survive his blood-sport gameshow that consists of five small, trap-filled rooms where you fend off hoards of feral mutants. The fight ends in a boss battle with a giant man with an octopus tentacle for an arm. RAGE also has a significant element of racing built into the storyline, as well as RPG style character development. Those elements, plus weapon modifications and a wasteland environment will draw RAGE a lot of parallels to games like Borderlands and Fallout 3. This first new IP from id software in a decade and a half will be in your hands this September.