A First Look at Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Ken Rolston may no longer be behind the
style="font-style: italic;">Elder Scrolls
games, but Bethesda
made it loud and clear today that the saga lives on and the IP is
nowhere near giving up. style="font-style: italic;">Elder
Scrolls V: Skyrim is big,
beautiful, and contains a heaping
amount of kick-assery that would make even Big Daddy cry.
The team at Bethesda has been working on the title ever since they
finished up with style="font-style: italic;">Fallout 3
2008. This has given them time to create a completely new Creation
Engine which has been custom tailored to the specific needs of style="font-style: italic;">Skyrim.
This doesn't mean that the
game will look foreign though. From the first screen loading, it was
obvious that this was an style="font-style: italic;">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, style="font-style: italic;">Oblivion.
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."
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 style="font-style: italic;">Oblivion
were fantastic, but the
models left a bit to be desired, even more so in style="font-style: italic;">Morrowind.
That is not the case in style="font-style: italic;">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).
Combat is action based much like
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Leveling up in style="font-style: italic;">Skyrim
similar to the other style="font-style: italic;">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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 style="font-style: italic;">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.
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
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 style="font-style: italic;">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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