Skyrim’s combat detailed, no more “chopsticks”

Tuesday, 25 January 2011 01:59 GMT By Brenna Hillier


Game Informer‘s ongoing series of chats with director Todd Howard continues with a look at the game’s new two-handed combat system, which replaces the “chopsticks”-like efforts of previous titles.

“I think if you look at our previous stuff I sometimes equate it to fighting with chopsticks – you sit there and swing them in front of yourself,” Howard said.

In Skyrim, players can now equip weapons, shields, spells and special Dragonborn skills to either or both hands, allowing for multiple combinations including dual-wielding. Hotkeys or bookmarks permit rapid switches in playing style to suit the situation as players juggle melee, ranged and magic approaches according to class.


Many familiar Morrowind and Oblivion tactics have been nixed by the new combat system. Back-pedal speed has been reduced to disallow hit-and-run tactics, while stagger and balance have been implemented to ensure successful hits are far more dangerous than their base attack stat suggests.

Shields won’t help – you’ll need to time your blocks to meet blows correctly. In compensation, holding down the block key will produce a bash attack which may stagger your opponent. This move can be performed with two-handed and ranged weapons, at greater risk.

Pull it off successfully, and you may be rewarded with a flourish animation to mark your kill.

“One of you is going to die,” Howard said. “I think you get very used the idea that enemies are all there for you to mow through, but it doesn’t seem like someone’s life is going to end. We’re trying to get that across.”

Perks make a return to encourage specialised skills, including increased critical strikes for swordsmen; bleeding status infliction for axe-wielders; and armour negation for maces. Shield ability unlocks elemental warding.

Ranged and Stealth

Compared to Morrowind and Oblivion, Skyrim’s bows are increasingly differentiated from melee choices. Bethesda took inspiration from a popular community mod by turning up arrow damage but making ammunition scarce. Players may only have one shot, but if it lands, the result is devastating, increasing the role of stealth in the archer’s skill set.

Daggers get a serious boost, too, to the delight of rogues everywhere. Increased stealth skill unlocks dagger perks, and a successful stealth back attack currently does ten times the damage of a standard blow, although Howard isn’t sure this feature will make it to the final game.

An overhaul to Stealth introduces an “alert” phase between “aware” and “oblivious”, lending a more analogue feel to sneaking, and a chance to salvage a failed sneak attempt.


Apparently inspired by BioShock’s plasmids, Skyrim makes a return to Morrowind’s insistence on keeping magic and weapons separate. Although a player can equip a spell in one hand and a weapon in the other, gone are the days of firing spells while swinging a sword and shield.

Five schools of magic return from previous titles, with Mysticism spells being absorbed by other schools, but individual spells are now far more flexible.

Rather than fire each spell as a projectile, it can be held for a continuous streak, placed in the environment as a trap, or double-equipped for increased damage at higher magicka cost.

Each spell has been individualised, too, with varying levels of damage versus cost, and even added status effects, so that a choice between shock and fireball is no longer largely cosmetic. Bethesda may implement combined spell effects similar to Fable III’s before release.

Magical duels have received a similar treatment to melee combat, requiring timing and use of defensive measure rather than attrition and potion gulping.

Skyrim releases for PC, PS3 and Xbox 350 on November 11. Head on over to Game Informer for more details.