Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is already a game of the year contender. Yet, if it's anything like other Bethesda titles, it'll take a year of patches before it's the incredible title it will be... HOWEVER, there weren't any flaws in the demo I saw at E3 this morning.
First thing I noticed when they booted up the forest was just how lush it was, and just how far we've come since the last Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion. You stab an enemy, and it leaves blood on your sword. Individual leaves cast shadows on the ground. Snow is not pre-rendered; it's layered on top of the environment, allowing you to knock it off trees as you walk by (dang!). It's beautiful.
First thing they wanted to point out: you are what you play. Like Oblivion, if you want to increase your sword attack strength, use your sword a lot. Want to become a better spellcaster? Cast a lot of spells. Cool part: you can equip one weapon/shield/spell in each hand. Dual-wielding swords? Check. A spell in one hand, and a sword in the other? Sure. Two shields? Why not? Or, if you put the same spell in both hands, you're able to cast an even more powerful version of that spell. The "freeze time" spell was pretty nifty, if I do say so myself.
A big improvement to the series is the menu presentation. I know, not the most exciting aspect to talk about, but seriously. You didn't see what a huge improvement the overall design was compared to Oblivion. Hit the B button to bring up a simple, clean menu. All the items, books, and (the coolest looking part) the spells are in full 3D and can be rotated and inspected at your whim - sometimes revealing hidden clues that you would never otherwise notice.
Oh, and your skills? You look up into the sky and see them among the constellations, and each constellation has a trail of stars behind it representing your perks. The Bethesda devs figured that since you'll be spending so much time looking at your stats and inventory, they might as well make it appealing to your eyes. The inventory is likewise much cleaner than the general mess of Oblivion's system.
The towns likewise have received an incredible facelift. There is now a working economy, and people have day jobs. In the town we saw in the demo, for example - Whiterun - it was a woodmill town. There was a blacksmith with a sharpening wheel you could use to improve your own weapons. You can use the wood chopping machinery and earn some money, or you can even sabotage the machinery if you're feeling vindictive. You can even kill everyone in the town, if you wish! Except the children. You still can't kill the children.
Heading out into the world and doing quests has been improved too. There is a new "Radiant Story" system that makes the quests dynamic. Depending on where you are in your adventure, there are a variety of variables that can change in any given quest based on how much progress you've made in the game. And dialogue trees are new, too; you can move around while talking, and the conversation options float in the air instead of locking you into a conversation. Pretty spiffy.
Also: there's dragons. You fight dragons, a lot. They are thought of as boss fights and will take a lot of skill and resources to beat, and they are JERKS. If you happen to be near other people in the woods when you encounter one, however, they might even help you fight the dragons. On the other hand, maybe you can cast a frenzy spell on one of the NPCs, and he'll push the other out of a window. Or maybe there will be a mammoth herd being lead by a giant, and they won't attack you until you stab the mammoth in the neck. That's always fun.
Oh, that reminds me: killing blows. When you get to the final attack on your enemy, there's sometimes a special kill animation. In the demo, he pulled the enemy in close and stabbed him in the neck. It was awesome.
Let's see, what else, what else? How about Shouts? Shouts are powers that the Graybeards of "The Throat of the World" - the tallest mountain in the game - possess. For some reason, your character possesses these skills, too (referred to as "The Voice"), and can learn more by learning Words of Power. These Words are learned from ancient dragon writing scrawled on walls in any of the over 150 dungeons in the game, and they'll teach you new spells, like Storm Call, which darkens the skies and rains down blasts of lightning on your enemies. Or there's the Fire Breath Shout, which gives you the same fire breathing power that the dragons have. And kill dragons to absorb Dragon Souls, which enable you to unlock even higher level Shouts.
You can use magic in a few new ways, too, like setting floor traps that explode when an enemy comes into range. In summary, this looks to one-up Oblivion in every single way. Boo-yah. November can't come soon enough.