I'm trying hard to harness my enthusiasm for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. After all, just because it's pretty much the exact game I would try to design if I had the talent and means doesn't mean that it's a game that everyone would like. But the more I think about it, I can't imagine how any fan of mature games would be unable to at least appreciate what Bethesda Softworks has created.
The theatre presentation I attended during my final day at E3 showed about half an hour of gameplay, beginning with a leisurely stroll in a snowy, wooded mountain range. This part of the demonstration was meant to show off the beauty of the game's world, and it did a terrific job.
Pine trees and flower bushes looked real enough to touch, while the craggy peaks in the distance beckoned to be journeyed to and explored - which, as anyone who has played an Elder Scrolls game knows, they can be. Dynamic weather effects mean that the snow the game's hero tramped through is placed by the game engine, not Bethesda's artists. And if at any time a player should want to get a better handle on the lay of the land, she can just tap a button to have the camera cinematically pull back and show the whole of the game world in three dimensions from an aerial perspective. Another touch and the camera zooms back in.
Of course, a lovely and enormous open world is nothing without something to do in it. And, as has always been the case in Elder Scrolls games, players are presented hundreds of things to do, and they choose from them as they like. They can join guilds, find workbenches to hammer out dents in their armour, or become a part of a town's economy by, say, chopping up lumber.
But most players will spend the majority of their time exploring caves and dungeons, taking on quests, and engaging in combat. And combat looks absolutely delightful.
Players have the ability to dual wield all sorts of things, including a sword and shield, different kinds of magic, and even an axe and a spell. Your skill with all of these weapons and abilities grows as you use them, which means you're free to develop your character in as many and whichever magical and military arts as you like.
And then there are the dragons. These massive, magical, and majestic creatures are at the heart of the game. I saw three of them in the brief demo and they all proved wildly fierce as they performed unscripted actions, doing things such as biting and tossing victims like a dog would a bone, or picking them up, flying away, and then releasing them for a fatal fall.
These beasts are so beautiful that it almost seems a shame to kill them. But kill them we must. For every time a player takes one down - the fellow playing the demo did this by unleashing a magical lightning storm that caused the sky to cloud over, rain to pour and bolts of electricity to cascade down to the planet for several minutes - he can then absorb its soul. With each absorbed dragon soul comes an unlocked power - a shout issued in dragon language - that provides players the capacity to move quickly or magically push back enemy characters.
If the range of abilities sounds intimidating, don't worry. Bethesda has developed what could be one of the simplest, cleanest, and yet most visually engaging menu systems ever created for an RPG.
Options are presented in white text sitting in simple grey columns overlayed on the game world. More than 2,000 three-dimensional item icons have been drawn to provide graphical representations of items, weapons, and magical spells as players scroll through them.
Ability trees, meanwhile, are depicted via constellations in the heavens. The camera pans up to the sky and we can see lines drawn between stars as players select and improve their skills, creating custom astronomy. It's a perfect fit for the game's mythical Nordic vibe.
I saw so much more - lifelike woolly mammoths roaming the tundra, a gleaming city begging to be explored off in the distance, a clever looking puzzle the solution to which was revealed by a key found on a defeated enemy - but I think I'll leave it here. If what I've described isn't enough to make you mark Skyrim's November 11th release on your calendar, nothing will be.