A First Look at Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Living up to its name as one of the most immersive and memorable RPG IPs of all time, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim made a huge splash at E3. Ten Ton Hammer was there to report on all the details.
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.



Leveling up in Skyrim is similar to the other Elder Scrolls games by simply using your focused skills. After you gain enough skill ups in those specific areas, you'll level up. The new addition to this system, though, is the perk tree feature. Every skill, like swords, staffs, etc. has a unique perk tree that gives extra perks as you skill up. This means a swordsman will have more variations of attacks as they skill up their sword skills, for example.

elder scrolls v: skyrim

Bethesda kept the game's interface simple but powerful. There is very little screen clutter unless you want to see certain details. And when you want to see those details, it's as detailed as the hand-crafted art of the rest of the world. The inventory is set up in a menu system, allowing you to quickly and easily select which armor and weapons you want to equip. In addition every single item you pick up has a fully rendered model in the game. So when you browse your inventory you'll be able to actually examine each and every item as if it was a real physical object. This was emphasized by demonstrating the feature with something as simple as a fish to eat. In the inventory, we saw a fillet of salmon which was textured and colored as a hunk of salmon would look like. A quick cooking in the fire changed the model to a tasty looking cooked and seasoned fillet that was so realistic, it was mouth watering. That's a lot of detail for in-game food. And again, this is the case for every single object you pick up in the game, including over 300 books you can find and read to catch up on the back story and history of the world.

The 3D renders of the items has practical use, too. We were shown an example of one of the many puzzles in the game that players will need to figure out and the solution to the puzzle was all found in the inventory items. If the player were to read a journal they found off one of the thieves they had killed, they would have learned that the golden claw they looted had three markings on its underside. The player could then match those symbols with those they find on a stone-ring puzzle in one of the cave's walls to unlock a door.

elder scrolls v: skyrim

3D rendering doesn't end with just the world or its items, either. In fact, the entire map screen is fully rendered, allowing an immense level of detail to zoom in and out of. The map itself was so wonderfully done, in fact, that I expect many players will spend some time just playing around and exploring it. Should they need to, though, the map can also be used for fast travel back to places they've already discovered.

Next, we were taken into the first town players will come across in the game, known as Riverwood. It's a small town with friendly-enough residents. All of these NPCs have a mind of their own. As you walk through town you'll overhear conversations of events happening in the world, or listen in on some naughty children plotting ways to torment their dog. Practical applications here can include overhearing rumors that may be of interest to pursue.

Riverwood's residents are hard workers too, with a lumber mill in town that supports the local economy. Those of an evil persuasion may even opt to sabotage the mill and thus cripple the town's economy, and jump on a mount to flee the scene. Player choices have consequences and reactions, so every player will have a somewhat different experience with the game depending upon their actions.

elder scrolls v: skyrim

While in town, we stopped by the local blacksmith where we learned that crafting can be done at stations. Full animations for crafting are included for even the simplest task, such as sharpening a sword at a grinding stone.

One of the sticky points in the earlier games was that it was very easy to get lost in the world. At certain points, it could prove difficult to remember what you were doing or where you were supposed to go. That's not as much of a worry in Skyrim though, as the quests are custom-tailored to the player as they play through. Should they get too far off track of the main story line, the game itself will offer them paths and tips on where to go, eventually luring them back to the main story.

The weather system is as dynamic as the quests. From rain to snow, expect a variety of different weather conditions as you play through the game. Detail, once again, is generously applied as the game renders the actual snow on surfaces, such as rocks. This means as you climb snowy mountains, you won't be seeing pre-rendered snow on rocks, but rather the game will draw in the snow as it falls, offering an incredibly life-like gaming experience. Some of this weather is player-made too. A Storm Call spell, for example, will summon an actual storm. The skies will gray, and rain will begin to fall while lightning strikes your foes from the heavens. It's beautifully epic.

elder scrolls v: skyrim

The features list only goes on further. Sneaking and stealth attacks are all in, Rune Magic exists in the form of magical traps that can be set, poisons can be made from venom found on creatures with which you can coat your weapons, traveling spells like Sprint will have you whisking around the world in all sorts of ways and clairvoyance spells will lead you out of one of the game's 150 dungeons should you get lost. Magical weapons will have you tossing fireballs which can be charged before releasing, and every class type has its own faction and guild-type system.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is shaping up to not only be one doozie of an RPG, but quite likely one that will shake the industry as much as Oblivion did in its day. Look for its release on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 November 11th of this year.


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