After taking a detour into The Apocalypse, Bethesda's getting back to its roots with some good old-fashioned swords 'n' sorcery. Well, ok, that's not entirely true. See, we're not in Tamriel anymore, Toto – and also Toto's a giant 30-ton dragon. Welcome to Skyrim.
According to a recent preview, Skyrim's set to take place 200 years after Oblivion – just in time for the return of the dragons, which (in addition to sounding like an oddly amusing Bruce Lee/Star Wars mash-up) is where you come in. You're a dragonborn, so it's your duty to put an end to the dragon god and save the world from certain destruction. Which, in Elder Scrolls-ese, roughly translates to “dick around for 70 hours while ignoring humanity's grim fate in favor of 'Hey! That looks neat!'”
Sounds pretty standard so far, doesn't it? Well, Bethesda's also torn out the franchise's old guts and replaced them with something more sensibly streamlined. For one, class selection's out. Instead, you'll only be leveling skills this time around, and every skill level gained contributes to your overall level. Levels, of course, bring new and interesting perks, so there looks to be quite a bit of room for variation. The Skyrim's the limit? Oh come on; at least wait until we're done with this post to shoot us.
Skill types have also been pared back, but only a bit. This time around, you've got 18 to choose from versus Oblivion's 21. Again, though, you can mix-and-match skills whichever way you want or specialize in a couple different types, so you definitely won't be at a lack for options.
Combat, meanwhile, is set to emphasize a two-handed approach so as to create more “dynamic and tactical” battles. In other words, you'll be able to create just about any arsenal you can think of. Sword and shield? Sure. Sword and axe? Go for it. Shield and bare hand? Sounds kind of suicidal, but, er, all right.
The vaunted “Radiant AI” popularized in Oblivion has also been retooled from the ground-up, resulting in quests that take stock of your impacts on the normal workings of the world and readjust accordingly. For instance, the game might search for a dungeon you've never explored in order to dynamically generate a quest. Or you might never be approached by, say, a quest-giving mage because you're not buddy-buddy with mages in general.
In other words, Skyrim isn't aiming to be revolutionary, but it sounds like the smartest, most sensible take on Bethesda's brand of massively single-player role-playing yet. The game's out on November 11, which – not so coincidentally – is probably around the time we'll be out of a job.