Recently, one of the editors over at Kotaku got a chance to play a little bit of Skyrim at PAX and discuss many things with the game's creative director, Todd Howard. One of the things covered is a list of which characters in the game you can and cannot kill. Howard said that "Central" characters cannot be killed and will merely drop to their knees when defeated. Rare "Protected" players can be killed by you, but not by other NPCs in the game. Both of these ensure that certain quests and characters will always remain possible, so you can't just kill anyone wily nily in the game. Characters who are neither of those can be killed by anyone, be it your own hand or one of the NPCs in the game. In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, you can command animals to fight at your side, but those animals won't always obey you or be of use to you. Some animals, like a deer, may run away from any combat you engage in, while others, like wolves, can help you out.
One of the problems some people have with The Elder Scrolls and even Fallout games are the limits on how much weight you can carry. Howard knows this and says that the encumberance limits have been raised compared to Oblivion, but would not say how much more. You can raise your stamina level in the game to be able to carry a ton more items and heavier equipment than a character who does not, obviously, so hopefully we won't have to shed some gear just to be able to escape from a dungeon. As for the game's difficulty levels, Skyrim more closely resembles Fallout 3 than Oblivion in that regard. Gone is the ability that raises the level of all NPCs and monsters like in Oblivion, and in its stead are different areas of Skyrim with set difficulty levels. These levels can raise or lower some depending on your character level, so if you take a low level character into a high level area, you will be challenged. Howard did say that the loot you can find in those areas will be of the rare variety, so you will be richly rewarded if you manage to survive the trip.
There will be DLC for Skyrim and yes the first two will be exclusive to the Xbox 360 at first, but Howard did not say what we can expect from the DLC. He said that the team hasn't nailed down exactly what the DLC will be like, but expect it to be large, like Point Lookout of Fallout 3 large. Lastly, Howard said that the team has learned from Fallout 3 and when you defeat the final boss in Skyrim, you can still continue adventuring. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion let you keep on playing after defeating the final boss, and in fact gave you a nice set of armor after two weeks of in-game time had passed. Skyrim will be like Oblivion in that regard, meaning the finale is not an actual finale and the game is forever open-ended. Howard also said that future Bethesda games will let you keep on adventuring after the final boss, which to me is the greatest news of all.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim launches on November 11th for the PC, PS3, and 360.