Preview - Skyrim
“So, what are you looking forward to most about today’s event?”
“I want to fight a dragon!”
“Yeah, that is really cool!”
In no other industry in the world would you find two people from two different companies having a discussion such as this one and labelling it work. No other industry except of course the video games journalism industry
Having discussed the finer nuances and distinctions of dragon slaying, I sat down with the PR Rep from Bethesda, ready to be hurled headfirst into their latest title, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Sitting down with the Bethesda PR Rep, I quickly and eagerly clutched the controller and took the first tentative step into Skyrim, the Character Creation process…
“I’d probably just create something quickly, we have roughly 40 minutes for this demo and you can very easily spend half that creating a quick character” heeding the advice from the PR Rep, I quick created a character from the first Race that was in front of me, an Ork.
Even though I sped through the Character Creation process, I noticed that the suite came complete with all in intricacies and subtle fine-tuning options that have accompanied the previous The Elder Scrolls games, almost every aspect of my characters facial appearance could be altered.
I inevitably pressed the ‘Start’ button to confirm my characters standardised appearance and his impressive name of ‘Ork’ and found myself in a small cave, staring at a campfire. At first I assumed this would be some kind of cutscene as the graphics were very impressive, I was slightly mesmerised watching the flames lick the open air in front of me. I was then helpfully advised that the demo had started so I commenced my Skyrim experience, I started by looking around my cave which whilst standard enough bought a new sense of wonder when I realised finally that I was playing one of the most anticipated games of this year.
Fortunately I found my way out of my quant little cave and upon leaving was presented with a wondrous Alpine-esque landscape, Skyrim of course taking place in the northern-most region of Tamriel. Little details bringing the world of Skyrim to life, the occasional leaf blowing past my face, carried by the breeze, the salmon struggling to get up river, small woodland creatures scurrying away as my heavy and subsequently clumsy Orkish footfalls trundled through the undergrowth. One thing is abundantly clear with Skyrim; it is a living, breathing world.
“And you haven’t even seen the weapons yet” The PR Reps words sparked such elation in my mind that I almost forgot I was not playing Greatest Alpine Tours 2011, I quickly pressed the ‘B’ button, navigated quite intuitively to my equipment screen (that means I didn’t get lost on the way through the menus) and equip my single handed sword and also my single handed battle axe, the nice little touch here was that you can choose which hand gets which weapon so if you wanted to think your character had a bad left arm and could only use daggers in that arm, you can!
Returning to the main game I was presented with the two weapons, both made out of relatively dull metal so there were no ‘Ohh, shiny!’ moments but the intricate details on the blades did result in an ‘impressed’ noise from myself.
Continuing my forage through the frost and snow covered wilderness I happened across a small mountain-side logging village called Riverwood, it’s sturdy looking log cabins a testament to their main source of income in the town, I even spotted one villager walking through town with a large trunk of wood hoisted on his shoulder, these were hard working people, and they seemed it.
I spoke to a small number of people in the village, each of which seemed undisrupted by the appearance of an Ork in rag clothing wandering down from the nearby mountain brandishing two bladed weapons, perhaps this is commonplace in Riverwood, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Talking to the townsfolk I was treated to the much mentioned NPC interaction modifications since Oblivion came out whereas the game no longer essentially pauses when you enter a dialogue with someone and they no longer stare at you distrustfully whilst failing to blink or move their neck. No, in fact one of the women in the town I spoke to seemed bothered by my conversation style that she continued to dig in her garden whilst speaking, barely giving me the time of day.
But I could not fight my ancestral urges any longer, I was an Ork, an armed Ork at that and I wanted to kill something. (does that count as racial profiling? Nah, I’m sure I can get away with that)
I set out to accomplish what I always find myself doing in The Elder Scrolls games, getting lost in the wilderness!
I left Riverwood, picked a direction and started walking, determined that I would experience some random encounters in the land of Skyrim.
No sooner had I started badly attempting to scale a sheer rock face on the side of a different mountain (as I habitually find myself doing in TES games) than I saw a pair of bandits who had made camp nearby, well I assumed they were bandits, they could have been terrified Tamrielites who were camping and tried to defend themselves against a dual weapon wielding Ork in the middle of nowhere, but I assumed they were bandits.
No sooner had I set upon the possible bandits than I was promptly shot at with two arrows, both of which seemed to remove a disturbing chunk of my health and I was then cut to ribbons by the second, sword wielding bandit.
“Sorry, I couldn’t help that, I put the difficulty up for you” The PR Rep smiled as he went into the options screen and set my difficulty lower ‘so I could play more’ what a nice guy…
Finding the same group of bandits I was told by the PR Rep, who I had decided not to ignore for his previous shenanigans that I also had access to some magic in this demo – excellent stuff – I navigated to my Spells menu and equip a fire spell, then realised I could equip one in each hand to amplify the effect of said spell.
I can only imagine the digitized terror in the minds of those bandits as I rampaged forward spraying fire like a walking flamethrower.
The feeling of using the Flame spell in Skyrim was impressive. The spreading of the flames over the targets body and their reaction were both unexpected, one bandit even running off the edge of a cliff whilst on fire, though I’m not completely convinced that was scripted.
After incinerating my enemies upon the mountainside, I noticed that nearby was a large structure built into the mountains face, I ventured towards it and realised something…
“Waaaait a minute, I recognise this section from the E3 demo, am I going to get to fight a dragon?!”
“I can’t say, possibly”
The PR Rep motioned that I should go forward and investigate the structure, so forward I ventured.
Finding several more bandits on the front staircase of the structure, I attempted to perfect my meagre weapons skills by puling both trigger buttons at once to perform a double swing, the combat felt great in Skyrim, the weapons felt heavy and deadly, their strikes felt like they had an effect on the bandits who were attacking me, making them stagger etc.
At one point I was even attacked by a wolf which whilst usually being fairly uneventful happened to trigger the new Execution move which saw my Ork grab the wolf in a headlock and snap it’s neck, a wonderful treat that completely took me by surprise.
Having cleared out the staircase at the front of the ruins, I waited for a minute or so but no dragons appeared.
Disappointed, I reluctantly ventured into what I discovered was Bleak Falls Temple…
Bleak Falls Temple was a dank and dark cave system which ran into a more structured and altogether classic system of narrow corridors and square rooms. The simple ascetic touches around the dungeon were very nice, the shimmer of moisture on the walls, the moss on another wall, these things all culminated in the feeling that this dungeon was very much real.
Working through Bleak Falls Temple I happened upon a quest of ‘Find the Golden Mask’ which seemed simple enough. Working further still through Bleak Falls Temple I found a man dangling like Frodo from The Lord of the Rings style from a collection of giant cobwebs, I remember him telling me that if I let him down, he would give me The Golden Mask which seemed like a fair trade.
Unfortunately, once I had cut Shelobs Lunch down, I realised that the slippery little Dark Elf had in fact lied to me as he fled the scene; I had no choice but to chase after him.
Now, usually in TES games, when you run after somebody and attack them, they don’t really react, especially so if they are trying to get away from you and you have to basically chase them smashing the attack button until their life bar disappears and they die, but not in Skyrim, oh no!
I reached the Dark Elf and instinctively hit the Attack button, my character then grabbed the thief by the shoulder and plunged a dagger into his back, a very nice touch and one I was most impressed with but more than that it left a lasting impression on me, the very real act of mercilessly killing that prisoner made me feel slightly uncomfortable and made me question whether or not there was a better way of completing that section of quest, a nicer way of getting The Golden Mask from him.
This is exactly the kind of emotion that Bethesda is trying to invoke in their gamers, they want you to be emotionally invested in both the protagonist and the world around them, which I already was without realising it.
I worked my way through the Temple and in some of its inner most rooms, I found one of video games oldest enemies, the undead.
Now, lurching zombies might not sound like much in the Elder Scrolls world but the combat between my badly dressed Ork and these shuffling flesh-mounds was pretty intense, the combat felt heavy - not slow and sluggish heavy – but powerful and brutal heavy, zombies (stereotypically) are supposed to be barely walking corpses who throw their lifeless dead weight around to bludgeon their targets with and that’s exactly how it felt, the Skeleton warriors I fought after felt thin and flimsy in comparison.
Finding that the tunnels and caverns in Bleak Falls Temple lead off in several different directions, I took the seemingly less travelled path of a rock-hewn tunnel and stumbled upon what appeared to be a Necromancer, I deduced this by the fact that he summoned several skeletal warriors and archers to kill me, and the fact his name was ‘Necromancer’ gave it away slightly.
Throwing my lumpy green body at the necromancer in a fury of fire and blades I found myself decorating the opposite wall of his lair as he quickly dispatched me with his attacks.
This unfortunately became a trend for me over the next few minutes as, regardless of my methods, I could not seem to defeat this Necromancer, it was possibly because the game was not on the easiest difficulty setting, it could be because I had not investigated the Skills menu yet or it could be because I was still wearing a burlap sack for armour. Who knows!
This unfortunately heralded the end of my time with Skyrim, I am not at all surprised that I did not get to fight a dragon or use a Word of Power, this preview was intended to whet my apatite and that's precisely what it did. The game itself is stunning, the visuals are crisp the game feels right and the best thing is it is almost literally dripping with immersion, that feeling you get when you are so engrossed in a game that you realise that you have not taken any notes during playing it and have to then sit with a PR Rep for ten minutes and recount everything that just happened…not that this happened to me of course…don’t be silly!
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is due for release on 11/11/11 for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3