Yes, that is an in-game screenshot (as posted on GiantBomb.com). And, yes, I have been to that very spot.
Where is that, you ask? Why, it's in Skyrim. Skyrim came out on 11/11/11 and it is an open-world, mostly open-ended role playing game. I say "mostly open-ended" because, like all adventures, you ultimately walk through a series of scripted paths. Well, might. It is open-ended in that you don't *have* to do anything. You decide to accept a quest or not. You decide, once you have accepted a quest, to complete a task. Heck, even after you complete a task, you decide whether or not you want to finish it - for example, do you *want* to give the recovered gauntlets to the requestor or do you want to keep them for yourself? You decide.
It's not a new concept. In fact, Skyrim is the next in the Elder Scrolls series of open-world games. But, after playing Morrowind and Oblivion, I have to say, I like Skyrim A LOT! Sure, it's got glitches... One of the first sequences had me talking to a woman who faded into the wall behind her, only to "materialize" after the conversation. And, okay, so you find randomly floating weapons, armor, bottles, plates, and even animals, during your romp through the countryside, but so what. The scenery is flat-out gorgeous, the characters are mostly well-created, and exploring the unknown digital realm of Skyrim will suck hours out of your day that you didn't even know you had. Granted, those hours may be the wee ones after everyone else in the house has gone to bed.
From the first dragon appearance to the bowels (yes, I said bowels) of various and sundry caves and dungeons, Skyrim sucks you in. I've only played a few days worth. I bought this past weekend and have played off and on since. It is the kind of game that could make a person happily use up a week's worth of vacation time and not regret it.
There are definite improvements in gameplay over Oblivion (the game's predecessor):
- No more "Too encumbered to move." In Skyrim, if you are overloaded, you simply cannot run. You can still walk (er, shuffle more like it). You also cannot "fast travel" which can be a particular annoyance when you are carrying a bunch of loot down from a remote mountain top. In games before, once you reached your carrying capacity, you had to drop stuff because you weren't allowed to move at all. "Fast travel" just means you pick any discovered location (one to which you have actually visited) and get there with one click instead of walking there in-game.
- Skill trees have been reworked. I'm not sure they are 'trees' so much as convoluted constellations with stars upon which you study to learn skill enhancements (like a percentage increase in two-handed weapons, summoning spells, etc). I like the depth and breadth of skill development, though I have to admit it can be a bit overwhelming.
- "Cleared" areas (caves, dungeons, etc) are actually cleared. I always hated going back into areas that I had already supposedly cleared (in Oblivion, etc) only to return to find it inhabited by more creatures. I do understand that a cave might not remain empty forever, but it just annoyed me.
- Combat seems much more fluid in Skyrim. That may be bad memory on my part (that is, not remembering what combat was like in Oblivion etc). I definitely love the hot keys (you can assign weapons, armor, spells, etc to a key 1-8), though that was also in previous games. In Skyrim, changing between items is pretty quick and can mean the difference between life and death. Of course, the fact that you can get down to your last few health points, call up the menu and save yourself with potions has always been a little wacky to me, but if the game lets you do it, then better to take advantage!
- The graphics, of course. Everything has been update with new textures. Some people don't like the "dirt" effect the characters have (everyone has a level of dirt on them, making everyone look a bit gritty) and you can download a "clean" mod for your game if you want (it removes dirt and fixes a few blocky areas like noses). I prefer to play it like the game maker intended. Besides, the effect gives the game a darker feel which fits well with the theme.
One of the biggest complaints buzzing about always comes with the Elder Scroll games: system requirements. The game requires multi core processors. The game requires a DirectX9 video card. The box says the video card must have 512MB RAM, but Tyler got his to run on his dual-core laptop with a 256MB video card in it. Granted, he had to dumb-down all the settings and ramp up mouse sensitivity, but it actually looks okay and plays very smoothly from what I've seen him play.
For the record, yes, we bought two copies - one for him and one for me. Target had a gift-card offer when you buy two games and since we both knew we wanted to play it, we each bought a copy. Besides, there's the whole Steam thing. I hate Steam. I've said that before.
Overall, though, I'm liking me some Skyrim. And, having a Thanksgiving holiday come around the week after I bought a copy ain't bad, either!