If Bethesda manages to channel the spirit of Oblivion into its sequel, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will be the best game on Xbox. No maybes, no disclaimers, no back tracking... this will be the game everything else must beat.
The proof is in the world. It's so detailed, the designers have gone in and changed the weights of tree branches to govern how much or little they sway in the wind. It's so vast, it's impossible to see everything it has to offer. Ever. It's so beautiful you'll be sorry to turn off your console and go outside. And it's so rich, Bethesda's created an entire language from the bottom up, just to imbue the land with a believable history.
While parts of Oblivion's Cyrodiil were churned out using algorithms, Skyrim's been painstakingly pieced together by hand rather than maths. Each of the five major cities is rammed with unique buildings and this time around the forests have been carefully created by world designers. The dungeons will be another major step forward in design too: whereas Oblivion had one dungeon designer, Skyrim has eight.
WAR OF THE WORDS
Skyrim is set 200 years after Oblivion. As civil war tightens its grasp on the northern Nordic province you step forward as the first Dragonborn since Tiber Septim with a goal of halting the (evil) Dragon God and bringing peace to the land. According to the legends, Dragonborns both talk to and hunt dragons and seeing as Skyrim's skies are teeming with the winged beasts, there are plenty of opportunities to put the scriptures to the test.
Skyrim's new language doesn't just exist for decoration. To converse with the dragons you must wrap your tongue around the right words, and such writings aren't easy to find. Many quests see you traipsing off to the darkest, dingiest corners of the world to find ancient letters carved in stone, while other keywords are only relinquished once you've slain a particular dragon and absorbed its soul.
There are around 60 words in all dotted about, and they're glued together three-a-piece to form 20 unique 'Dragon Shouts'. Bellowing these out will have numerous results depending on the type and the strength of the command (the length of a button press dictates whether just one, two or all three of the words are spoken).
Some shouts trigger time dilation, others knock enemies backwith a Star Wars-style 'Force push'. Some simply summon aid in the form of a friendly dragon. In combat the shouts are going to be your new best friend. One of Skyrim's biggest new features is its 'radiant quest' system. Killing quest-givers in Oblivion was a sure-fire way of shutting the door on certain side-missions.
Now, if a shopkeeper happens to accidentally, say, draw your latent fire magicka out from your hand and ignite his clothes (through some form of mystical, magic osmosis) and then clumsily slip and impale himself on your sword, his quest opportunities will pass over to his family who will take over the business.
They won't necessarily trust you, of course, despite your protestations it was an accident, but put in enough work and you can work your way onto their good side for the quest. Either that or they'll exact their revenge later on.
More exciting is the prospect of quests attuned specifically towards your experience up until accepting the mission. Bethesda has designed a dynamic system that looks at your play history before sending you off to do something new. If you need to retrieve a stolen object from a network of caves, for instance, the game checks through its statistics to see which parts of the map you've explored and whether you've missed any areas.