One of the long-running complaints about "Oblivion" was its limiting experience system. In order to level up their character, players had to use skills which they selected as "primary skills" at the beginning of the game. Players would even intentionally avoid using primary skills to keep from leveling up faster so that the game's scaled monsters wouldn't get harder. It was ridiculous.
In "The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim," the experience system has been modified significantly to make things a bit more straight forward. At a recent press event, Todd Howard, the game's director at Bethesda Game Studios, explained some of the differences.
NOTE: Many of the specifics on skills, races and perks are still being developed. As we get closer to the game's 11/11/11 release date, we'll be updating this feature with more detailed information.
LEVELING AND SKILLS
"[In Skyrim], every skill affects your leveling. In the demo, every time I get a skill raise, there's level up bar that moves, so skills become our XP. The higher the skill, the more it pushes you to leveling, so you want to use your higher skills. And the nice thing is, if you're playing the game for a while...you can be level 10, having focused on magic the whole time, and then found some great sword. If you start using the sword, your skill starts going up in it and it affects your leveling a little bit. As the skill raises, it affects your leveling more."
Basically primary and secondary skills are out the window. All skills are treated equally and whenever you raise a skill to a higher level, it'll push your character's experience higher (with more experience for higher level skills). Hit a certain amount of experience and your character will level up. It's much simpler than it sounds.
Despite the same terminology, perks work differently than they do in "Fallout 3" or "Fallout: New Vegas." When you character levels up in "Skyrim," you'll be able to select a skill perk which is specific to an individual skill. For example, you could select a perk under Marksmen (the bow and arrow skill) which would allow you to zoom in and slow down time when aiming. Or a perk under Blade weapons which adds a chance to cause bleeding damage.
Perks have certain requirements, though, so you may need to get Blades up above level 50 before you can select the bleeding perk. The perks are also in perk trees, so there may be pre-requisite perks to unlock before you can choose the one you want.
Remember, you can only select a perk when your character levels up, not when you level up an individual skill.
Another big change in "Skyrim" is the trimming down of the number of primary attributes. In "Oblivion," there were eight attributes: Strength, Endurance, Speed, Agility, Personality, Intelligence, Willpower, Luck). In "Skyrim," there are just three: Health, Magika, Stamina.
When you level up, instead of selecting one of those eight attributes to boost, you're just picking which of those three main attributes to boost. Howard explained the rationale for the change:
"What we found is that all of those attributes actually did something else. So a fan might say, 'You removed my eight attributes!' and my answer is, 'Which ones do you want?' 'Well I've got to have Intelligence, because it affects my magika!' Well, now we just have magika. They were all a trickle down to something else. We just get rid of that so now when you level up, you can just raise your magika. In Oblivion, you had to raise your intelligence, knowing that your intelligence raises your magika to cast more spells...so we got rid of them."
RACE AND SEX
The last major change is the initial character creation system, which has also been simplified. With the removal of primary and secondary skills, as well as attributes, you only have two choices to make at the very beginning of the game: the sex of your character and their race. The sex won't make a huge impact on the game, but the 10 races each have their own starting perks (just as they did in "Oblivion"). Other decisions, like Birth Sign, have been removed, so players needn't worry about making a game-ruining decision within the first hour.
So there you have it. Obviously there are a ton of other changes throughout "Skyrim," but these are just the crucial character creation differences they're highlighting. We'll be talking about some of the other gameplay differences over the next week, so stay tuned.