The geography is significantly more mountainous than in former Elder Scrolls games, and while the landscape might be a similar size to the one found in Oblivion it's an altogether more complex environment thanks to the myriad of jutting land masses poking up all over the place. At one point we glance upon the largest mountain of the game - dubbed 'the throat of the world' - that consists of 7000 steps to its peak and almost completely fills the screen, despite the character being a considerable distance away.
Weather effects are dynamic, which enables the design team to create more intricate environments because they don't require multiple assets for each rock, twig, and roof. Seasons don't change in the game, however.
Then there's the world map, which is now rendered entirely in-engine and comes with a swishy zooming-out effect when you switch to it. Howard uses it to point out Riverwood, a logging town complete with a water wheel, cobbled streets, external wooden beams, and stone walls.
Riverwood is just the tip of the iceberg, existing as a fringe outpost in-between the five main cities of the region. Skyrim itself is made up of nine districts, each bigger than Riverwood. The finished game will contain over 120 mission-specific dungeons and over 100 points of interest relating to smaller quests.
In the demonstration we stop by a shop to pick up a quest entitled The Golden Claw from shopkeeper Lucan Valerius. Lucan, coincidentally, has a cheese wheel on his counter that's actually bigger than my head.
Talking to Lucan is effortless, and the neat and tidy overlays don't freeze you into position for the length of the conversation - you can wander about, break the conversation, and return to it at the same spot later on. The trader wants the player to head off into Bleak Falls Barrow, a nearby ancient Nordic temple nestled within a mountain, and retrieve his Golden Claw (presumably priceless, of course) from bandits who've nicked off with it.
Leave the shop and Lucan's sister, Camilla, walks and talks with you as you progress up the mountain. These sections, similar to those used in games like Red Dead Redemption or GTA 4, streamline the experience to allow players interested in the incidental details to experience them, while those who just fancy a bit of heroic questing can freely barrel up the mountain and ignore it entirely.
On the way up you run into trolls and bandits, and Howard dispatches these monsters by showing off the game's refined dual-wielding system. Spells can be equipped alongside weapons, or just in each hand for double the effect, and you can also choose to swing a couple of one-handed weapons in place of a traditional shield.