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Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Discovering a dangerous new world

The last game you'll ever need...

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Are these roles planned out so players are guided through the world, but without losing that free-roaming ethos The Elder Scrolls has made its trademark? Howard agrees. "A good example is when you walk into a town, we can have it [the game] look for someone with a child. We can have that child kidnapped and put in a dungeon nearby, one you missed for some reason. Before, we would have to do that all by hand, but now we have a system that does that stuff for us. We're kind of hoping that it's a light touch and people don't notice it too much."

EPIC SCALES
It's surprising to hear a developer wishing for a key new feature to remain largely unnoticed. No doubt Howard expects secondary pay-off for the Radiant Story system when fans start to compare stories around watercoolers - virtual and actual - boasting about what happened to them last night, secretly envying the loot collected by friends, counting the seconds until they can ditch reality and return to Skyrim...

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If Howard is confidently understated about the Radiant Story system, he's more vocal when it comes to the dragons. Fittingly, Skyrim's largest predators appear throughout the game - you won't be waiting 100 hours for your first sighting. Once you've finished the opening sequence (an escape from your own execution for an unnamed crime) you're free to explore the world as you wish. And that means finding and killing dragons.

According to Howard, the reappearance of dragons, and their motives within Skyrim, form a big part of the main plot. It makes perfect sense: you're called Dovakin (literal meaning - 'Dragon Born') and you're destined to rid the world of an ancient dragon demon. Tracking down the beasts will be easy enough - let's face it, they're pretty obvious - but bringing them down is tough. These dragons are unscripted and won't attack in set patterns. Consequently you must adapt to each fight.

One scrap we're shown sees a dragon attacking an isolated tower in the middle of a vast, heatherstrewn marshland. The tower guards rush out to help, firing arrows into its scaly hide as Dovakin unleashes dragon shouts - magical abilities learned from slaying other dragons - to bring down the massive flappy beast. The dragon lands and, with an arch of its neck, bites down on a guard. It plucks him up screaming, shaking him like bad child with a doll before flinging his now limp body into the distance. We stare and wonder who'll tell his mum. Then it turns its attention to us.

We use Dragon Breath - essentially a powerful fire spell - which sets it alight. Mmm, crispy. The beast is already too wounded to fly, but it still paces around on the ground, snapping and spewing flames until we batter it enough to finish off. To kill the dragon, Dovakin vaults onto its head, jumps into the air and brings an axe down on its skull with brutal force.

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Fight over, he absorbs its soul - part of the process for learning newer, more powerful dragon shouts. It's only when this is over that Howard points out a second dragon circling the tower. It's a Frost Dragon, and apparently they're even harder...

The dragons are undoubtedly the jewels in Skyrim's crown. Howard is keen to talk them up, but even from the small snippet we've seen, we're convinced.

"In a lot of games, including ours, you're used to, 'here comes the person at you' and 'you're in a hallway or an open area'. But this thing is a beast that can fly off quickly, go around a castle and come back round. Often you can lose them and spin around looking at the sky because you don't know where they're going to go. They have a lot of cool behaviours that make fighting each one interesting."

The next dragon fight is a continuation of the first, and we jump in halfway through. Dovakin has made his way up the tower and is stood at the very top while his enemy circles with menacing, deliberate beats of its massive wings. We unleash a new type of dragon shout, which creates a furious storm for as far as we can see... and that's a long way.

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