I take it from the lack of response that Skyrim dual-wielding doesn't offer any significant advantage over Oblivion combat casting? I played a bit more with my buddy, and I've found the inability to block while holding a spell or second weapon in the offhand to be VERY frustrating. Maybe it's just the way I play: I'm most often a defensive player that hates potion popping, spam healing, etc. Obviously, the game mechanics are meant to force specialization, but is that a good thing in a TES game? This isn't Dragon Age; Skyrim isn't a party-based game. Anyway, frustration vented. Still keeping an open mind about the game.
Well like I already said, the dual-wield thing forces you to make sacrifices depending on your playstyle. If you want sword and shield then you can't quickly cast magic. If you want dual-wield then you can't quickly block. I think specialization is good, no matter the style of RPG, so for me it's a plus.
As for the benefits of this system, I would say dual weapon wielding and spell combos would be the obvious ones. Pure mages can have healing in one hand and offense in the other, then combine offensive spells to create bigger effects. Beyond the different combos and such though I think it's more different than improved really. It forces you to play a role, to make a choice and sacrifice something else. If you like blocking then my suggestion would be to play a style that allows it. I like being all offense, spell in one hand and sword in the other. Skyrim improves on all TES games that came before in actually making you play a role, not a god.
Question: Does the "favorite an item" feature help with this issue? I haven't played around with it much. What's the switch time/animation/etc like during combat? Is it viable to quickly switch to nothing in the offhand, allowing you block with your one-handed weapon, and quickly ready a spell in the offhand when you want to cast, switching back and forth as needed?
You mark items, spells, powers or whatever else as "favorites" which are then brought up on a simple menu at the press of a key. When you press the key time stops, allowing you to quickly change weapons or spells to suit the situation. So if you really wanted to block and also cast a lot of magic for instance then you could have a shield and offensive spell on favorites, use the shield most of the time, then quickly swap to magic for an attack and swap back. Without even using the favorites menu you can of course assign weapons and spells to the number keys, so you could press "2" to swap to a fireball, attack, then press "1" to bring back your shield, or whichever combo you like.