Given the scope of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, it's not surprising to learn that early production kicked off five years ago. It was just after Bethesda Game Studios' hit The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion shipped when the developer started kicking around rough concepts and early designs.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)
The heavy lifting didn't start on Skyrim until Fallout 3 shipped in 2008. With its Elder Scrolls games, Bethesda usually waits for a new hardware cycle. With Skyrim, it didn't feel it was necessary.
Skyrim begins some two hundred years after the close of Oblivion. The player is a prisoner being led to his (or her, if you please) execution. The crime for which he's been convicted isn't particularly relevant -- were you guilty? were you framed? -- since there will soon be an escape. Good thing: the player is the last of the Dovahkiin, the "Dragonborn," and the world's only hope in surviving an attack from a malevolent god who has taken the form of a dragon.
More notable perhaps than the game's visuals is the interface, which has been given a complete overhaul since Oblivion. Pressing a single button brings up a four-point compass interface. From here you'll use the D-pad to look in any of the four directions: up to the sky to see your character's skills; down at the earth to see the world map; to your right ("over your shoulder") for your inventory; and to the left for a quick glance at your magical items and abilities.
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