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Talking my way through Skyrim's free Kinect update


As much as I love Skyrim, there are some tedious parts of the game that could use a good streamlining.

The monotony of having to go through menus to deal with inventory and skills is something, in particular, we could all do without. Enter: Kinect. The free update coming to Skyrim on Xbox 360 next week goes more for function than flash, and after spending some time issuing voice commands, I can unequivocally say it's much-welcomed functionality.

The first obvious addition is the ability to yell Skyrim's "dragon shouts" at your television, both in English and Dragonspeak. It's neat at first – being able to control the intensity of the shout by speaking as many words of the shout as you'd like is handy – but the novelty wears thin pretty quickly. Ultimately it becomes a utilitarian function.

That's a good way to sum up pretty much the entire update. The available voice commands are utilitarian, allowing you to favorite inventory and spells and speak a command mid-game to equip or perform the appropriate action. Set a fire spell as a favorite then say, "equip fire spell" and it'll go into the default left hand. Favorite an axe or sword and a shield, say, "equip axe and shield" and you'll pull out the gear.

You can also sort your own inventory or a shopkeeper or container's contents by weight, value or name – all you have to do is tell the Kinect to sort by one of those parameters. My favorite voice command had to be "set loot value." Basically you can set the loot value to a certain number, and then say "loot items" and you'll ignore everything with a value lower than the set value. It keeps you from looting the bottles of wine, plates and other odd knick-knacks that the citizens and animals of Skyrim seem to be inexplicably carrying at all times.

Of course, Kinect's voice recognition capabilities aren't the best – even Bethesda's Pete Hines had a bit of trouble having his voice issues recognized. But for the most part the tech is sound. It's a real pleasure being able to switch between melee weapons and a bow, and equipping different magic spells on the fly, bypassing menus almost entirely. You do have to go through some menus at first, to favorite items and spells before you can issue voice commands regarding those items.

Skyrim benefits greatly from its new Kinect support. You can have different weapons for different situations and switch between them with a simple phrase. You can switch between shouts and spells on the fly, simply by uttering a few words. Most importantly, it's an update that values your time and helps you waste less of it.

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