A First Look at Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Posted Fri, Jun 10, 2011 by B. de la Durantaye

Ken Rolston may no longer be behind the Elder Scrolls games, but Bethesda made it loud and clear today that the saga lives on and the IP is nowhere near giving up. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is big, beautiful, and contains a heaping amount of kick-assery that would make even Big Daddy cry.

elder scrolls v: skyrim

The team at Bethesda has been working on the title ever since they finished up with Fallout 3 in 2008. This has given them time to create a completely new Creation Engine which has been custom tailored to the specific needs of Skyrim. This doesn't mean that the game will look foreign though. From the first screen loading, it was obvious that this was an Elder Scrolls game -- just newer and prettier. The same amount of painstaking detail is in place as we have come to expect from its predecessor, Oblivion. The engine allows streaming of textures and content so load times will be almost non-existent once you're in the world or a dungeon.

But just how vast is the world? There are nine Holds in the game (or Countries) and the vast landscapes in which you can explore will allow you to venture to any part you can imagine. We sat in awe of the detailed terrain as our host walked us through the countryside. He pointed out some towering mountains that were miles in the distance. "Yes," he said. "You can climb to the top of those."

Skyrim can be played in both first and third person, which will be welcome for some. The good news here is that the character models and animations are very well done as well. I always felt the environments of Oblivion were fantastic, but the models left a bit to be desired, even more so in Morrowind. That is not the case in Skyrim. The characters we saw were as detailed and attractive as the fish swimming and leaping out of streams and the plant life blowing in the wind (these could also be picked up and used for alchemy).

elder scrolls v: skyrim

Combat is action based much like Oblivion. A right click will use your right-equipped weapon or spell and a left click will raise your shield or swing your left-equipped weapon or cast your left-hand spell. Everything is interchangeable allowing any number of combinations to really customize your play style. Wield a sword in your one hand and cast a spell from your left, dual-wield two weapons, make use of sword and board, cast different spells from each hand, or slot the same spell in both hands that, when combined, will cast a stronger version of that spell.

The implications of having different spells from each hand are enormous. To illustrate how powerful this type of system can be, our host loaded up a Detect Life spell in one hand and an Illusion spell in the other. Casting from his left to detect, we were able to see quite clearly two figures in the distance. Keeping the detect spell going for ease of targeting, he then cast Illusion on one of the distant figures, causing them to attack and kill the other. A second encounter later in the demo made use of a Circle of Protection spell combined with Chain Lightning. During a fight with undead, the Circle of Protection would send the skeletons running, getting zapped with Chain Lightning which bounced off the walls and floors while they fled. Players will be able to combine any two spells they've learned to come up with some truly unique techniques.

Guardian stones exist in the game and are standing statues which will offer a power boost of some sort, whether it be improved swordsmanship or a bigger health pool. Only one Guardian Stone can be active at a time, but the player can switch them out as they want, so long as they're able to physically get to the stone to activate it.

elder scrolls v: skyrim

Another boost to the combat system is the addition of killing blows. These finishing moves vary greatly depending on the type of attack the player is performing and they look fantastic. They really bring out the action and brutality of the game while managing to balance it with an eloquent finesse seen in very few titles.

The coup-de-grace of the game's combat is its 'shouts.' These skills can be learned by uncovering runes hidden around the world, or even by absorbing dragon souls after you kill them. We were assured there would be many dragon fights in the game so learning these shouts likely won't be too infrequent. There are several types of shouts, including a knockback that throws your enemies several feet away from you, the ability to slow time, and a fire breath that the dragons themselves use.

As mentioned, collecting Dragon Souls will help you unlock some of these shouts, which begs the question: how tough are dragons? There are several types of dragons you will be fighting in the game, and they vary in difficulty. The key point here, though, is that dragon fights are completely unscripted events. There are no "phases" or set scripts you need to repeat to kill them. You simply need to be aware of their abilities and figure out how best to defend yourself and gain the aggressive advantage. Dragons have several powerful abilities including the capability to pick up an opponent and fly off with them. One fight we witnessed against a giant was suddenly interrupted by a dragon that seemed to come out of nowhere, pick up the giant in its talons and drop it from hundreds of feet in the air. Obviously, the fight from that point quickly shifted attention to the dragon.

elder scrolls v: skyrim

Running to a nearby guard tower employed some help from the locals who fired arrows and whatever else they could at the massive flying beast. The good news: after a dragon becomes wounded it will fall to the ground, making the fight a lot easier from that point on.  When the dragon finally fell out of the air, the player was then able to commence slashing at it with his swords and finished it off with a final blow that had the player climb atop the dragon's head and drive his sword through its brain.

This event was just one example of an unscripted fight that players will encounter when they play through, and with the variations in weapons, spells, shouts and play styles, players will find their own unique brand of dealing death to the dragons they face while they level up.


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