PC Gamer
Skyrim 610x347

The inevitable bumper edition of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has been scheduled for a June 7 release. The Legendary Edition bundles the core game with the Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn DLC. It will also benefit from the perks update 1.9 ushered in, including a new Legendary difficulty level, tweaks to allow ongoing leveling of skills, and all manner of bug fixes as detailed here. So if you passed on the game the first time around for some reason, then now's probably a better time than any to dive in.

The news follows Bethesda's announcement that the core Skyrim team is moving onto other projects, marking the end of an era. Minor updates and fixes will continue, but, as we reported last week, the team's focus has shifted to the next major release, which Bethesda describes as their "biggest and best work yet."


PC Gamer
Elder Kings

In Skyrim, while you were shouting down dragons, dicing up Daedra and fast-travelling up a bloody big mountain, did you ever stop to wonder what it would be like to pack up adventuring and go live as a Jarl? Probably not - their life appears to be a repetitious bore of sitting on a throne, wandering to bed, going back to the throne and occasionally making a pompous speech. But, if untethered from Bethesda's engine, they could get up to all sorts of political and military mischief. That's the aim of Elder Kings - an Elder Scrolls themed mod for Crusader Kings 2.

It's set before Skyrim. In fact, it's set before all the Elder Scrolls games, taking place in the Interregnum period of the Second Era. Supposedly, it was a time of petty bickering and tribal warring - which makes for a perfect Crusader Kings setting.

The mod promises 25 races and cultures, with unique bonuses for each, as well as new traits, events and diseases - adding vampirism to CK2's already eclectic range of ailments.

It's still early in development, although the recent 0.1.1 patch has fixed a fair number of bugs from launch. You can download Elder Kings from ModDB.
PC Gamer
Skyrim 610x347

The core group at Bethesda Game Studios announced on the studio's blog today that they will be leaving the jagged, snowy climes of northern Tamriel behind for an unknown location. While minor updates and fixes to Skyrim will continue, the bulk of the development focus is being shifted to the next major release, which they hope will be their "biggest and best work yet."

Skyrim was in pre-production from 2006, well before the release of Fallout 3, so the team at Bethesda has spent almost seven years in its shivering sandbox. "We’ve invested so much of ourselves into Skyrim and will never truly say goodbye to it," the blog reads. "We loved hearing your stories, your in-game triumphs, and your suggestions."

All told, Skyrim received a similar amount of content as past Elder Scrolls games. Bethesda seems pretty set on the "two big expansions, and a handful of smaller stuff" model when it comes to TES. As for what this new project is, the most obvious answer would be Fallout 4. Then again, it could be something completely new—which we haven't seen out of Bethesda proper since the studio as it stands today was founded to work on Morrowind in 2001.

If you still pine for the Nine Holds, the modding community will likely maintain a steady flow of new Skyrim content until the heat death of the universe (or, possibly, TES 6).
PC Gamer
Achieve That! for Skyrim

I've never been much of a reader in the Elder Scrolls games. When I come across a stack of books, I'll just drift my cursor along the spines, looking for any that are high value, either to collect and sell or to briefly crack open on the off-chance they provide me with a skill point. Today, however, I'm in the library of the College of Winterhold, opening and examining every single book I can find. This change in reading habits doesn't represent a sudden interest in lore or knowledge. I'm chasing an achievement.

This is due to a mod called Achieve That! which adds over 100 unique achievements to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. More importantly, it adds tangible rewards for achieving them in the form of small bonuses to relevant attributes.

Achievements in games are kind of a mixed bag. Often they seem to result in pointless busywork that can distract players for hours as they chase milestones for the simple reason that the milestones exist. Sometimes the busywork can interesting enough: in Bioshock Infinite, peering into all of the game's telescopes and kinetoscopes for the "Sightseer" achievement will give you a broader view of the city and insight into its history. Other times, chasing achievements can even turn you into a better player: Team Fortress 2's "Hot Potato" achievement, earned for deflecting projectiles with the flamethrower's airblast, will help make you a better Pyro.

The achievements that shipped with Skyrim are neither interesting nor helpful, mainly focusing on the completion of quests or the act of leveling up. They're not even interestingly named. The achievement for getting married, for example, is called "Married." Wow. Achieve That! provides achievements that are relevant to different styles of play, names them well, and rewards the player with relevant bonuses for completing them.

For instance, an achievement called Treasure Hunter challenges you to loot 150 chests, something the average player will probably accomplish in the course of the game anyway, and provides you with a +10 to your carrying weight. The reward feels perfectly relevant to the task: walking around with trousers heavy with loot would probably cause you to eventually grow stronger. Another achievement is called Local, which kicks in after spending a full month in the frosty climate of Skyrim, and gives you a +5 toward your frost resistance. (Spend six months or a year in Skyrim, and gain +5 more for each.) Makes sense: if you spend enough time in the snow, being frozen will eventually lose some if its sting.

At least 1,745 of them were asking for it.

There are general Skyrim-style achievements as well, but they also have appropriate bonuses. Completing 50 quests for A Helping Hand or 100 quests for Famous Hero gives you a small bonuses towards finding better prices in stores, as you become more well known in Skyrim. Discovering 150 world locations nudges up your movement speed by 5%, unlocking 300 locations gives you an additional 5%.

As for you dastardly types, you have not been overlooked. Steal 10 horses and receive a small bonus to your sneak skill. Kill 30 innocent citizens, and get a bonus to your damage. Backstab 500 times and your one-handed damage will increase. Escaping prison 15 times will boost your sneak, lockpicking, and pickpocketing skills as you grow from a lowly jailbird into a career criminal.

Now there's even more of a reason to stuff everything you find in your mouth.

There's also a category for professions, with achievements and bonuses for crafting, enchanting, and  mixing potions and poisons, as well as some random achievements for plucking butterfly wings, hunting rabbits, and even the simple act of eating food. Here's a full list of the achievements and rewards. And hey, should you feel that the attribute bonuses are cheating or making the game too easy, but still want to track your progress and chase milestones, you can always disable the rewards themselves.

Achieve That! seems to be intended for new or lower-level characters, but I'm trying it out with my level 43 Orc, Braul (previous exploits here and here). After installing and enabling the mod, and watching all the achievements I've already gotten scroll by on my screen, I decide to chase one of the book-reading achievements. As I said earlier, I'm not much of a reader, and Braul has only read a handful of books during his 206 days in Skyrim. I head to the library at Winterhold, run by an Orc named Urag gro-Shub, and start nosing around.

After reading some loose books piled around the library, I move on to the bookcases, though I'm dismayed to find that they're all locked, along with the display cases. I hunch over sneakily, hoping to pickpocket the librarian, only to discover that he doesn't have the key. Well, at least I have money, so I buy everything Urag gro-Shub has for sale, read them immediately, and sell them back to him.

Behold: Stealth.

I still haven't reached my milestone, so I start lifting and reading the books on the tables. Naturally, in my haphazard race to absorb as many books as I can, as fast as I can, I accidentally wind up stealing one instead of simply closing it. This doesn't go over well with gro-Shub. Though the act of stealing a book only comes with a 1 septim bounty, it apparently carries a death sentence from the librarian, who immediately begins throwing magic in my face.

Jeez, man. It's not like I took a book into the bathroom with me.

You can probably guess how the rest of my quiet library excursion goes. My follower, a powerful wizard I picked up in Solstheim, isn't fond of nerds shooting ice magic into my nostrils and goes full-on meltdown, summoning a flame atronach and blasting the librarian with fireballs.

Boy. That escalated quickly.

Of course, the librarian is one of those unkillable characters, and while he's quickly beaten into submission, he just catches his breath for a few moments, and then he and my follower start up with the magical bombardment again. Meanwhile, I'm just innocently trying to read whatever books are lying around as their song of ice and fire turns the room into a cloud of debris.

Eventually, gro-Shub flees up some stairs and my follower chases him, allowing me to quietly finish my achievement in peace. The library, meanwhile, has seen better days.

The lesson: NEVER READ.

Installation: It's a snap. Just download and drop the two Achieve That! files into Skyrim's Data folder. HOWEVER! You will need both the latest version of SkyUI and the Skyrim Script Extender (SKSE) to make it work. (If you're into Skyrim mods, you've probably got both already working.) For characters over level 20, you'll need to enable the mod from the Mod Configuration Manager (MCM) tab on the main menu. Below level 20, the mod will automatically be enabled when you start, but you can still adjust the settings from the MCM tab.
PC Gamer
Skyrim legendary

Like a thieving Khajit with a Sneak skill of 100, Bethesda have surreptitiously uploaded Skyrim's Legendary patch onto Steam. As revealed earlier this month, Legendary - or to give it its proper name, Skyrim v1.9 - not only adds a harder difficulty level to the game, it allows skills to be made 'Legendary', resetting them to 15 so they can be levelled up all over again. Why on Tamriel would you want to do this? Well, to increase your character level beyond Skyrim's 'soft' level cap of around 81. More details below.

As announced on Bethesda's blog, and elaborated over on Reddit, to reset a skill you first have to raise it to 100, at which point you can use the Book of Waking Dreams item to revert it to a puny 15. This adds a little dragon symbol under the skill name, but doesn't appear to grant any benefits to your character - other than "effectively the overall level cap", of course. You can reset the same skill over and over again, if you desire. (Thanks, Eurogamer.)

That's in addition to the new Legendary difficulty level, and quite a few bug fixes - my favourites being "companions will equip better weapons and armor if given to them", and "fixed rare instance of couriers who would appear only dressed in a hat". Here's the full, massive list:

General memory and stability improvements
Fixed issue with quest scripts that were not shutting down properly
Companions will equip better weapons and armor if given to them
Fixed rare issue where player is unable to learn the Clear Skies shout during "The Throat of the World"
Fixed rare instance where Alduin would become invincible during "Alduin's Bane"
Fixed a rare issue where player could become stuck in Night Mother's coffin during "Death Incarnate"
Fixed rare issue where protected companions could be killed from poison damage
Fixed rare issue with certain ash piles left from resurrected NPCs not clearing properly
Fixed rare issue with NPCs and creatures respawning improperly after player fast travels
Fixed rare crash when entering Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary
Fixed rare crash when entering a player owned home
Random dragon attacks will no longer occur during "Battle for Whiterun"
Fixed a rare crash when attempting to save your game during "Waking Nightmare"
Fixed issue where "Glory of the Undead" would not start properly if player is in combat with Eorlund Gray-Mane
The white phial is no longer consumed if given to a follower
If player marries Aela, the "Totem of Hircine" quest will be available
Unused briar hearts can be dropped after finishing "The White Phial"
Fixed issue with paying off a crime against the Companions that prevented player from getting Companions quests properly
Thieves Guild caches are now properly enabled in the appropriate cities
The Dragon Infusion perk now works properly when taking Esbern's Potion
Cragslane Cave properly resets if player receives a radiant quest to clear it out
Fixed rare issue with bounty quest objectives not properly clearing after completion
Gallus' Encoded Journal is no longer a quest item after completing the Thieves Guild
In "No Stone Unturned" Vex will now accept Unusual Gems if you've collected them all before starting the quest
Vekel the Man now gives rewards for completing "Toying with The Dead"
Fixed rare issue with being unable to turn in stolen items in "The Litany of Larceny"
Fixed issue with followers becoming over-encumbered after being repeatedly rehired
Fixed rare issue with visiting Kynesgrove on horseback not progressing "A Blade in the Dark" properly
Fixed issue with receiving a duplicate radiant quest from a Jarl
Fixed conflict with clearing Driftshade Sanctuary before starting "Trouble in Skyrim"
Fixed issue with using shouts while in jail and having guards unlock the jail cell
Fixed rare issue with quest NPCs not properly moving to quest locations
Fixed issue with NPCs not selling master level spells
Fixed rare issue where player gets control locked outside the Thalmor Embassy at the start of "Diplomatic Immunity"
Fixed rare issue with disappearing containers after upgrades in player owned house
Fixed issue with being erroneously attacked while as a werewolf during "Ill Met By Moonlight"
The Ebony Blade is now only improved by two handed perks
Locked door to Proudspire Manor can now be unlocked by proper key
Fixed issue with merchants not receiving the proper additional gold with the Investor perk
Fixed a rare issue where the player would be unable to learn a word after leaving for several days during "The Way of The Voice"
The Nord Hero Bow can now be improved
The Purity perk no longer requires the Experimenter perk
Fixed rare instance where Lovers Comfort would not be applied properly
If you approach Frostmere Crypt from the north, "The Pale Lady" will start properly
Fixed rare issue where player could be prevented from speaking with Atub to start "The Cursed Tribe"
Fixed rare issue where a dragon could appear in the Mind of a Madman realm and kill the player
Fixed instance where player could get stuck in Japhet's Folly
Fixed rare instances where Arngeir would not teach Worldwind Sprint
Fixed issue with "Ill Met By Moonlight" if Sinding dies before the quest starts
Gharol can now properly train up to level 75
Fixed conflict with visiting The Karthspire before starting "Alduin's Wall"
Reduced the instance of random dragon attacks after fast traveling post main quest
Recruited Blades now have appropriate dialogue while at Sky Haven Temple
Fixed rare issue where an incorrect dungeon could appear as a location during "Totems of Hircine"
Fixed rare instance in "Fetch me that Book" where books found before getting the quest would not be properly recognized
Fixed rare issue with traveling to Thalmor Embassy with companions during "Diplomatic Immunity"
Fixed issues with Matching Set perk not working properly with certain pieces of armor
Fixed issues with Custom Fit perk not working properly with certain pieces of armor
Fixed issue with NPC dying in a bear trap blocking progress in "Time of My Need"
Fixed rare issue with swinging door becoming stuck and blocking an entrance in Volunruud
Imperial Light Armor can now be crafted
Fixed issue with "Vald's Debt" where Vald was not leveled properly
Fixed issue with Vilkas not giving proper greeting after completing "Battle for Whiterun"
Fixed issue with respawning actors that were raised by using the Ritual Stone power
Fixed issue with the Ancient Knowledge perk not calculating properly
The Palace of Kings now has patrolling guards on upper floors
Reduce percentage chance of getting a werewolf loading screen while player is a werewolf
Pantea's flute is no longer a quest item after completing "Pantea's Flute"
Placing an unread Oghma Infinium on a bookshelf in the player's house no longer allows the book to be reused again
Adjusted dialogue priority to improve chances of hearing more combat dialogue from certain NPC enemies
Fixed issue with falling damage on high difficulty levels
Fixed bad collision on certain clutter objects
Fixed rare instance of couriers who would appear only dressed in a hat
PC Gamer

If I had to pick a handful of gaming moments that will stay with me forever, three of them would be stepping into Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim for the first time. Another would be my first few days in World of Warcraft. At face value, combining Elder Scrolls with an MMO should lead to instant RPG nirvana. But the reality of the situation is much different.

Elder Scrolls Online is being created in an era of acute MMO fatigue. An era in which gamers who put off term papers to work the slot machine of mostly-samey content direction look to any new entry in the genre with the suspicion and cynicism of a too-many-times-spurned romantic. (Not that I would know anything about that.)

It was with this in mind that I went hands-on with ZeniMax Online's new contender to ask the question: Is this just another MMO with an Elder Scrolls veneer? Or has the dream of a living, multiplayer Elder Scrolls world been realized?

If you're looking for a comprehensive rundown of the game's headline features, meanwhile, Chris has discussed them all in some detail in his Elder Scrolls Online hands-on preview - including the newly announced first-person mode, stealth, skills and more. You should also check out our video interview with game director Matt Firor and lead gameplay designer Nick Konkle about their experiences crafting the game.

What I loved 

Elder Scrolls-style combat. ESO has been designed around a lot of the same basic ideas we're familiar with from Skyrim and Oblivion. Left mouse to attack, right mouse to block. Holding block and attacking executes a bash that can interrupt spellcasting. Arrows and spells have to be aimed with your reticle. You do have a hotbar, but it's pared down to about Guild Wars 2-size, and the devs have clearly stated that they don't want you worrying about it too much in combat. You also won't be forced into Tank/Healer/DPS roles. Adhering to said roles will help players manage the game's hardest enemies, according to the devs. However, they're looking to maximize the variety of builds that are viable against such challenges.

This isn't to say that it feels exactly like Skyrim or Oblivion... but we'll get into that on the next page.

You can build your character however you want, and skills level up as you use them. You do get a token choice of "classes" (which are kind of boring and unnecessary, and will be discussed on the next page), but it's a choice that can be completely ignored if you choose. Your class determines three of the Skill Lines you have access to, while the others, universal across all characters, are based on weapon types, fighting styles, armor classes, and magic schools.

You have to have a certain overall character level to unlock new skills (think perks from Skyrim, or talents from other MMOs), but once unlocked, they will progress in power through repeated usage. It's not precisely the same as the way it works in Skyrim, but if you, say, hit level 5 and unlock a two-handed cleave, that cleave skill on your hotbar will get stronger the more you use it.
The music and art style feel like Elder Scrolls. Some of the early previews we saw seemed to feature slightly goofy, overly-cartoony character models. That was not the case in the build I played (though it could be an issue of starter armor looking more Spartan and realistic). The models seemed proportioned correctly, and the textures, characters, and architecture struck just the right balance between fantasy and gritty realism we've seen in the series' history.

The environments still suffer from "MMO gigantism," which I'm told has something to do with camera distances, though I've never really bought its necessity. Luckily, from what I saw, it's not as horrendously distracting as it was in The Old Republic.
Full voice acting, and quest choices that matter. Every quest in the game will feature voice acting, and from what was shown, it mostly rates somewhere between okay and good. You'll also get to make choices in quests that affect more than an alignment meter, with recurring characters sometimes living or dying based on what you do. And unlike TOR, some of them will actually show up again if you spared their lives. We didn't get to play enough to see how far this extends, but it already seems to be more impactful than the "Take your Light/Dark Side points and never speak of this again" model that TOR used.

A promising crafting system. I could count the MMOs that have done this well on one hand, following an unfortunate table saw accident. ESO's crafting is actually one of the more potentially fun systems I've had a look at in a while. In addition to base ingredients, you'll be able to introduce additives to your creations, each of which have four random properties (like Skyrim's alchemy ingredients). It encourages experimentation in a way I found entertaining.

Oh, and every armor piece and weapon that was shown in the demo can be made in one of nine racial styles, tied to the playable races of Tamriel. All crafters start off able to craft their own racial style, but can learn others.
Enemies that work together intelligently.  The most unexpected thing that impressed me about ESO was the design of the enemy AI. As they move about in combat, enemies will adjust their tactics based on how many allies they have nearby, the position of those allies, and what their allies are capable of. Humanoids will call to each other, allowing you to react to their intentions. Synergies are created when rogue-types douse the ground in oil, so their mage friend can light it aflame under your feet. In a particularly extreme example, a group of necromancers sacrificed one of their own in a ritual to summon a powerful, undead bruiser.

They can't pull off the kinds of complex maneuvers a player party might, but compared to common world enemies in other MMOs, they're a few tactical steps ahead.

On the next page: What I didn't love.

Everything on the previous page has me pretty excited for Elder Scrolls Online, especially considering my level of indifference about it going in. But like a good skooma trip, the time always rolls around when you have to come down and face reality. ESO probably isn't going to be the mythical "WoW killer," nor the multiplayer game every Elder Scrolls fan has been asking for.
What I didn't like

The combat isn't quite there yet. Yes, I both loved and didn't love ESO's combat; it's one of the most important things for the game to get right. ESO has all the trappings of Skyrim's combat, but it lacks its immediacy and kinetic physicality. You feel more like you're swinging at or through opponents than actually connecting. Blocking and bashing, as well, are based on visual prompts, turning combat into more of a "hit the right buttons at the right time" exercise than Skyrim or Oblivion's gritty "keep your guard up and look for an opening."

I am willing to wait and see on this. There's still time for improvements before launch that wouldn't require a gutting of the entire system. And it's not terrible as it is: It feels about the same as Guild Wars 2, falling a bit short of Tera—the latter being the gold standard for MMO action combat, in my opinion.
Classes seem like an afterthought, and don't cover enough niches. ESO has classes. But it doesn't need them, and I don't really understand why they're there. Only four will launch with the game: Dragonknight, Sorcerer, Templar, and Nightblade. Those basically boil down to samurai, mage, paladin, and rogue. The thing is, you can already build more or less any of those character types using the universal skill lines that are independent of your class. Variety is nice, but I would have preferred the addition of more universal skill lines than these four, tacked-on, oddly-specific archetypes.

A lot of concepts are left out in the cold, since you can't just choose not to take a class. If I want want my build to be something like a Nord berserker, I can forge something along those lines with non-class skill lines. But I have to pick a class that doesn't fit my concept on top of that, leaving me with skill trees that will just sit, forever ignored, on my character sheet. I expect we'll see more classes added over time, but right now, they seem too narrow and almost vestigial.

The dungeon layouts draw from MMOs more than they do from Elder Scrolls games. The design of MMO dungeons—the ones scattered in the world, moreso than instanced content—is absolutely boring. I want to get lost in ESO's world, but in the game's cavernous, straightforward, open-layout dungeons, it would be hard for even a blind Moth Priest to get lost. Sure, the Dwemer ruins look nice. But they lack the sense of mystery, and the feeling of delving into the unknown, claustrophobic bowels of the earth that are such a hallmark of Elder Scrolls games. I want to pass through the threshold of a dungeon with the knowledge that I'll be plumbing its depths for hours, the sight of the sun becoming a fading dream as corridor after corridor of steam pipes and hostile constructs assault my hit points and my sanity.

If I had to pick one most obvious disconnect between the traditional Elder Scrolls games and Elder Scrolls Online, it's the dungeons. You can't make up for it with instanced group content, because it's impossible to have the same paranoia-filled, self-paced experiences in such areas. It's a key part of the Elder Scrolls experience, so this is a big problem.
It's zone-based. I don't think even the most optimistic people failed to see this coming, but it's still something that makes ESO feel more like an MMO than a genuine TES game. The world of Tamriel, expansive and open as it is, is divided up into level-based zones that make it difficult to explore as freely as you would in Oblivion or Skyrim. I didn't actually have the opportunity to go venturing off into the distance, as I had a limited amount of time in a build where portions of the world aren't even there yet. But there are separate zones designed for certain levels of characters.

The quest structure in the portions I played mostly led me by the hand from hub to hub, and I felt I was being whisked past experiences like getting lost and spontaneously adventuring into a cavern or a fort, as you do so frequently in other Elder Scrolls games. There is plenty to find off the beaten path, but the zone flow makes it feel like Zenimax doesn't care whether you find it or not. I also worry that partitions and loading screens will kill the sense of a seamless, immersive world, but I can't confirm how frequently these will appear.

All things considered, there are more reasons to be excited for Elder Scrolls Online than I expected to find, which was refreshing and encouraging. I could foresee it becoming a strong, second-tier contender in a league with Rift and EVE, based on the number of things it does right. Unfortunately, it seems to be cutting just enough key corners with the Daedric Knife of MMO Design Philosophy to fall short of the sublime, multiplayer Elder Scrolls experience we've all been dreaming of.

If you're anxious to see it for yourself, you can sign up for a chance at the closed beta on the ESO site. It'll also be playable at PAX East this weekend.
PC Gamer

While I was in the USA to see The Elder Scrolls Online I chatted to game director Matt Firor and lead gameplay designer Nick Konkle about their experience making the game, the thinking behind the class and combat systems, and why they've kept first-person mode under wraps for so long.

You can also check out my hands-on from earlier today for a detailed breakdown of all the game's biggest features.

PC Gamer

At a press event at Zenimax Online Studios last week, the Elder Scrolls Online developer waited until the end of a lengthy presentation to deliver arguably the most important piece of news about their upcoming MMO. In short: TESO will have a full first-person mode in the Elder Scrolls style. This is, I suspect, what the majority of fans have been waiting to hear. It should certainly delay the inevitable “meh” in the comments below, if such a thing is possible.

First person wasn’t available in the build I played - we were shown it in a video, but it looks great. The constraints of MMO development mean that The Elder Scrolls Online isn’t as technically impressive as Skyrim, but this was the moment when the penny dropped for me. Having powered through two and a bit zones’ worth of content - the first six levels of the game, playing as the Daggerfall Covenant faction - there’s much that makes TESO distinct and interesting as an MMO: but proper first person play is the thing.

T.J. will be writing about his experience of the game from the perspective of a longstanding Elder Scrolls fan later on today: in this article, I’m going to cover the new information that came to light in my three hours with the game. Up front, though, I will say this: I went in worried and came out pretty pleased. There are new ideas here. I don’t believe that there’s a single type of person defined by the phrase ‘Elder Scrolls fan’ and I can see it working for some but not others. If your time in Skyrim was exclusively spent tooling around with emergent systems, murdering townspeople in their beds and stacking cheese wheels, then you’ll feel the absence of those things from TESO. If you’re up for something a bit more structured, then keep it on your radar.

The UI is among the most minimalistic I’ve seen in an MMO. The only persistent on-screen items are a crosshair, a minimap, and a small quest tracker. Health, stamina and magicka bars along with the hotbar appear during combat or when you’re wounded, but otherwise the focus is on the world. There are no damage numbers or debuff indicators for enemies beyond what is visibly happening to them. At present, the game could do with better feedback - I can get behind the idea of toning down typical MMO on-hit fireworks, but they need to be replaced with something and at the moment it’s not quite there.

Dialogue takes place in a zoomed-in first person similar to Skyrim, with a slightly expanded dialogue menu that more closely resembles Morrowind. It’s all fully voiced, but facial animation is a bit rough at the moment.

The inventory and skill menus follow Skyrim’s trend toward representing as much in-world as possible. Bringing either of these up zooms the camera in on your character in the world, who then effectively acts as your paper doll for equipping items.

Combat, while not as impactful as Skyrim, is not based on MMO-style rotations. As in any of the post-Morrowind TES games, you swing your weapon (or fire your bow or staff) with the left mouse button and block with the right. Holding attack charges up a powerful strike, and attacking while blocking results in a spell-interrupting bash. If you manage to block an enemy’s telegraphed power attack you’ll stun them, and your subsequent blows do more damage.

The hotbar includes six slots for abilities plus an additional ultimate skill - I didn’t get to use these, but one example would be a Meteor spell - and a consumable. Its resemblance to a traditional MMO quickbar is deceptive, because skills in TESO are not cooldown based. Your ability to spam skills is entirely based on your available health, stamina or magicka, and as such combat is more about effective use of those resources than it is about settling into a set rhythm. Blocking, sprinting and dodging use stamina, for example, making them a trade-off with powerful melee skills like cleaves.

Unlike prior Elder Scrolls games, spells do not need to be equipped into a hand before being cast - they fire instantly. This speeds up combat and is the chief thing - besides the aforementioned feedback issues - that makes TESO feel different to previous games in the series. Expect to see more spells being cast, by more people. Nonetheless, the system is theoretically closer to the single player games than it is to most MMOs.

Stealth is available to everyone, but it isn’t as deep as Skyrim. Press control to crouch and you enter sneak mode, which allows you to bypass camps of enemies and complete quests without violence if you’re good at it. It’s based on line of sight rather than dynamic light levels, so sneaking about requires a bit of planning. Sneaking replaces your cursor with a Skyrim-style eye to let you know when you’re liable to be detected.

It’s also possible to loot disguises from select enemies or find them in camps. Wearing a disguise allows you to move around normally in hostile areas, but getting to close to an alert enemy can break your cover.

The skill system sits somewhere between Skyrim and Guild Wars 2, with select improvements over both. As in Skyrim, levelling up in TESO earns you a boost to either health, stamina or magicka and a skill point to spend. You start the game with a selection of skill lines based on your class, race, and equipment. Examples from the weapons group would be:

Two Handed
One Hand and Shield
Dual wield
Destruction Staff
Restoration Staff

Investing points in each skill line unlocks new passive and active skills. Active skills level up through use, and at rank five you can spend another skill point to ‘morph’ these spells and abilities into one of two variants. An example we were shown was a Daedric summoning skill that could be altered to conjure either an exploding scamp or a hulking clannfear.

Although there will be a finite amount of skill points available to a single character, more skill lines can be acquired over time. Members of the Fighters’ and Mages’ Guilds, for example, get access to new skills based on their rank in those factions. There are special abilities for PvP, and this is also how special player states like vampirism will be handled. The system is impressive precisely because it’s so expandable: its easy to see how new skill lines can add options to the game without imbalancing it in the way that an extended level cap or tacked-on alternate advancement system might.

The Fighters’ and Mages’ Guilds will be in at launch, with thieves and the Dark Brotherhood to be added later. Fighter’s Guild members will be tasked with hunting Daedra and banishing Molag Bal’s Dark Anchors from the surface of Tamriel. Mages are tasked with tracking down necromantic lore.

Towns are relatively static, but enemy combat AI has been reworked. NPCs in TESO live deterministic lives based on your actions: they do move about, but this is phased as part of your progress within the various questlines. In combat, however, things are more flexible. Enemies will interact with one another based on their type - for example, multiple humanoid foes will work together, calling for healing or special attacks as the situation demands. Then, enemies who all belong to the same faction will have access to additional powers. The example we were shown was a group of necromancers - a warrior and two mages of different schools - dynamically starting a sacrificial summoning ritual to hold off the player party.

Monsters also have special abilities. Spriggans will possess and enhance any woodland predators that stray nearby, and spiders will eat their slain allies to gain strength. Lovely.

Quests are very subtly instanced. Its surprising to be playing an MMO and find a quest giver jogging alongside you once you’ve picked up their quest - or to emerge from a dungeon only to have the person you’re helping run over to give you your reward straight away. This is thanks to a phasing implementation that is almost seamless. A major part of every personal story will be assembling a group of heroes, and these allies are not only consistent across zones but appear in the open world rather than in specific story instances. Other players’ companions are rendered as anonymous mercenaries, preserving your immersion in a way that evades TOR-style companion clone syndrome.

It looks like an Elder Scrolls game, but it has been designed as an MMO.

An evident effort has been made to match up TESO to the art style and geography established by the previous games, but interiors and doorways have been enlarged to accommodate more players. We were told that the height maps from Oblivion and Skyrim have informed the layout of the relevant zones. In a neat touch, the fortresses that you’ll fight over in PvP are based on the ruins from Oblivion, including their name and approximate locations.

You can play through every zone on a single character, regardless of faction. There’s a reason why few MMOs bother with three factions nowadays - it’s a vast amount of content to create, particularly when you’re only likely to see a third of it. TESO’s solution is clever. You’ll level from 1-50 and do your personal story with your chosen faction, then when you’re finished you can pick a second faction to play through in what amounts to a new game plus. Zones and encounters are buffed to 50 and loot updated accordingly. Then, when you finish that you’ll be able to play through the final faction in an even tougher mode. You’ll still only be able to group and socialise with members of your own faction, but it means you don’t have to pick what race you play based solely on what zones you want to adventure in. Your Breton will get to wander around Skyrim.

Crafting adopts a lot of what was good about Skyrim’s alchemy and applies it to the whole system. There are five professions: Armorsmith, Weaponsmith, Enchanter, Alchemist and Provisioner (cook). One player will be able to dabble in all five, but only one can be fully mastered. Items are made from a set of base ingredients and then a selection of bonus additives which all have hidden properties similar to alchemical ingredients in prior TES games. Reverse-engineering looted items will allow you to determine some of these properties, which can then be applied to your own items. In addition, you also pick a style for wearable items like weapons and armour: an iron axe could be orcish, Breton, aldmeri etc. We watched one of the game’s designers invest heavily in crafting a Fine Iron Battle Axe of Undead Bane of Lightning. I understand they’re working on the name.

The Elder Scrolls Online will be playable on the floor at PAX East this week and is in closed beta now. We’ll have a video interview with two of the game’s senior designers going up at 3pm GMT, with T.J.’s take to follow at 4pm.
PC Gamer
Skyrim Luftahraan mod

Luftahraan is a mod for Skyrim that—yes, yes, I know I talk about Skyrim mods a lot. How can I not? When ambitious projects such as this collaborative work from modding team Archon Entertainment challenge the depth and scale of Bethesda's own professional add-ons, it's only proper to acknowledge their quality. That's why I'm looking forward to stepping foot onto the streets of Luftahraan (bless you), the titular city-state of Nordic flair housing a full storyline, voiced NPCs, custom music, and optional activities.

Sitting west of Skyrim's capitol township of Solitude, Luftahraan emerged as an escape from the political power struggles plaguing the rest of the province. The main quest guides you through the city's own problems with a troubled monarchy and factional backstabbing, but you'll also be able to strike your own path and explore the boulevards and districts for side-quests. A few exterior areas surround Luftahraan with Skyrim's staple crags and wooded valleys, and the team plans to pepper several dungeons about the zones.

City mods are excellent opportunities for modders to flex their writing and lore chops, as the hub-like nature of an established settlement is a useful stage for exposition or dispensing tasks (which I have a feeling will involve Draugr, because everything in Skyrim involves Draugr). Luftahraan's size is about three times that of Whiterun, Skyrim's most recognizable hold, so there should be plenty to do and see.

Track Luftahraan's progress on Mod DB, where Archon is also looking for testing and modeling help heading into the mod's release later this year.

Here's a few more screenshots:

PC Gamer
Skyrim Legend of the Toa

I remember the Bionicle toys as one of my earliest obsessions—I even memorized all the cool Maori-sounding character names. File this one under "all of my childhood wants," then: the early concepts for Skyrim's Legend of the Toa mod is just the beginning for a planned total conversion to the island of Mata Nui and its biomechanical guardians.

Emphasis on "early." So far, the small Russian modding team has produced a few character models, weapons, and a region-grid of the island's planned dimensions, but a lack of experienced modelers and texture artists means slow progress. If the project comes to fruition, it could meet enormous popularity—the Bionicle universe features a surprisingly rich lore of disgraced gods and factional power struggles, and the modular nature of the toys' masks and weapons fits pretty naturally with Skyrim's loot system.

Check out Legend of the Toa's Mod DB and official page for more info. If you've got Creation Kit or modding experience, the team would also like your help.

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