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Skyrim preview – Abandon all hope, ye who expect to have a life once this dragon-born epic arrives

Hands and mountains. Those are the two things that immediately caught our attention when we first laid eyes upon The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – the craggy, jagged peaks that dominate this open world’s realistic topography, and the main character’s own two hands. But that’s okay, because hands and mountains are the perfect symbols for the improvements Skyrim makes over the last Elder Scrolls game, the epic Oblivion. We’ve got two hours of details to walk you through, but here’s the summary: Set 200 years after Oblivion, Skyrim’s world is more rugged and visceral, yet also more majestic and beautiful. Its citizens are more realistic. And both combat and your character’s evolution are deeper, but vastly streamlined. Oh – and also, there are dragons and you eat their souls.

We’ll start, as our demo does, with the world itself. Skyrim is not only the name of the game, it’s also the name of the game world, the northern-most province in Tamriel, the continent upon which all the Elder Scrolls games have taken place. It’s a rugged land, and an often frigid one. You can expect everything from dungeons carved out of glaciers to mountaintop aeries to caves to tundra to volcanoes to pine forests. There will be more geographical variety than there was in Oblivion’s province Cyrodiil, and although Skyrim is roughly the same size, the mountains make it seem larger because you can’t just zoom over them while traveling – you’ve got to go around, through, or over them. You can, too; the tallest mountain in the game (one of the tallest in all Tamriel) is the Throat of the World, and you can walk right up to the top – assuming you can make it up the 7000 steps to the temple at its peak (thank God this isn’t a Kinect game).

Skyrim is no frozen wasteland, though – at least, not all of it. The area we’re seeing in the beginning of our demo could be ripped right out of one of those “tap the Rockies” beer commercials. The sky is bright blue, there’s a postcard-perfect mountain in the near background, and we’re treading a rocky path along a cascading river, with fish jumping upstream to spawn and green ferns and pine trees lining its bank. Seriously, we’d go here on vacation.

And we’d probably also end up skewered, if the bandit who leaps out from behind the rocks has anything to say about it. Skyrim is home to the Nords, the Elder Scrolls universe’s earliest humans. They’re big, strong, rough-hewn folk who favor horned helmets, epic beards, and non-nonsense weapons like heavy axes and maces. In short, they’re basically Vikings. The brigand before us is a textbook example of one, and he gives our demoer, developer Bethesda’s Todd Howard, the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the new battle system. Which brings us to your character’s hands.

Your hands are actually controlled separately in Skyrim. Your left hand can hold a shield, wield a weapon such as a sword, or ready a spell like fireball or frost. You use whatever it’s holding by pulling the left trigger, holding down for a more powerful attack. Your right hand can also wield a weapon, a shield, or a spell. You use whatever it’s holding by pulling the right trigger, holding down for a more powerful attack. You can change these configurations on the fly simply by holding a single button and selecting something else to hold from the scrolling list that appears.


Above: We didn't actually see any orcs during our demo, but we weren't about to not show you this screen because of that.

And that’s all there is to it. So, no digging around in menus to swap gear, no restrictions like “you can only have one spell and one weapon equipped”, or “you can’t cast spells when holding a shield”. You can do whatever you want. A healing spell on the right and sword on the left? Fine. A shield on the left and fire spell on the right? That works too. And dual-wielding is welcome. You want two swords? Have two swords. Want the same spell on both hands? Go for it. In fact, if you set them both off at once, you’ll get a larger-than-double combined effect. You can even carry a shield in both hands, although that’s going to lead to a very long battle with you not doing much damage.

You would be building up your blocking (and possibly shield bashing) skill, though. Whatever you do, you get better at. So, cast a lot of spells and you’ll level that skill up. Swing your mace or sharpshoot with your bow and you’ll get better at that. It’s simple. Also, each of your 18 skill classes (Blade, Restoration, Conjuration, Enchantment, etc) has its own little evolution tree, so you’ll get to choose new techniques as you master the existing ones. Everything you do feeds into your overall experience level and you get perks – unique skills that will be familiar to Fallout fans – as you claim more and more levels in that arena. Finally, there are only three stats now: health, magicka, and stamina. See what we mean when we say the character development and combat are streamlined, but more flexible?

71 comments

  • thelazymackenzie - November 6, 2011 3:23 p.m.

    YEEESSS Three pages!!
  • Falloutking - July 29, 2011 3:35 a.m.

    The graphics compared to the original oblivian are perfect
  • DKayak - July 4, 2011 8:17 p.m.

    Fuck MW3, Im using all my cash for this bad boy. Who needs a life anyway?
  • EDfromRED - June 9, 2011 2:47 a.m.

    Thank you Todd Howard and Bethesda! This looks like the best no compromise, epic RPG since..Oblivion
  • NobodyLikesPaul - May 27, 2011 11 p.m.

    and will we see the return of... shitty CHITIN!!11?
  • NobodyLikesPaul - May 27, 2011 10:57 p.m.

    if im the last of the dragonborn, do i have to be a nord? or do i get to choose my race (obviously stupid Q, but still)
  • kor2disturbed - May 27, 2011 7:47 a.m.

    I've been trying a bunch of different RPGs but none of them quench my RPG lust quite like an Elder Scrolls games, and this looks to be the granddaddy of them all. I. CAN'T. FREAKING. WAIT.
  • dropdeadjames - May 11, 2011 8:42 p.m.

    I had several nergasms reading this preview. Thank you Bethesda, you officially earmarked several weeks of my life spent on this game now. I don't usually pre-order games...this one I certainly will, though. One thing I'm wondering...how is the armor system, d'you think? One thing I disliked about Oblivion was the fact that there were like...4 armor tiers with no variations. You just went from leather to iron to glass to daedric or steel. It was very boring. Weapons were very uninspired as well. Hopefully Skyrim addresses these issues.
  • toolgirl150 - April 25, 2011 1:09 a.m.

    I guess we all know what we're doing this winter...
  • Oxfordcomma4 - April 24, 2011 1:43 a.m.

    Look at that Khajit. That Khajit is amazing. Why in the bloody hell isn't it november yet?
  • EWeezy320 - April 21, 2011 10:26 p.m.

    This is coming out on the same day as MW3, but which one is gonna sell more copies? ridiculous.
  • BadCompanyBrik - April 21, 2011 2:12 a.m.

    Shit... 2 hours of demo, half the time (judging by amount of text) was in the dungeon, so 120 dungeons... 120 hours just to explore dungeons... yeesh.
  • FatDarkPlace - April 20, 2011 9:32 a.m.

    Preordered. Now to wait. Sheesh.
  • PipGirl - April 20, 2011 9:09 a.m.

    ... Words cannot describe the excitment i'm feeling right now.
  • c1nd3rcell - April 20, 2011 2:19 a.m.

    Pre-ordered this as soon as possible! Hours upon hours happily taken from my life is a tiny price to pay for Skyrim.
  • rottenpiggypie - April 19, 2011 10:51 p.m.

    Jesus H. Christ...I would stick bamboo shivs under my fingernails to play the demo. I never got into The Elder Scrolls, but this sounds entirely to awesome in the category of badassness to pass up. Dragons and limitless duel-weilding possibilities.....*Drools*
  • snipes101 - April 19, 2011 9:05 p.m.

    @Jake...well being that every skill you have has to be ground to make it advance, they may have just taken it out altogether or found a new way to train it. Hopefully they didn't just remove it, I like that skill :(
  • dalebutterworth - April 19, 2011 6:58 p.m.

    Roll on Nov 11 then my missus will be a Skyrim widow over the winter months
  • EricBratcher - April 19, 2011 5:42 p.m.

    @db1331 - Hmmm. I don't recall noticing any pop-in, but in a world this size, there's a fair chance it could be a problem in an area I didn't see. One thing I will say though is that the map was impressive. It just pulls the camera straight up from wherever you are. Then, when you're done looking, it swoops back down to earth again. The interface as a whole is remarkably stripped down from Oblivion's piles of menus and text. I was impressed - kept thinking "where did everything go?" but the only thing I can recall that I would actually miss is the quest log. And I'm sure they're put that somewhere.
  • Xifihas - April 19, 2011 4:44 p.m.

    Yeah no. The Elder Scrolls games have consistently disappointed me so I'm not even going to bother with this. My brother on the other hand is an Elder Scrolls fanboy and will likely buy this on launch day. I'm not saying they are terrible, just not nearly as good as most people say they are. I find the stories are weak, the characters non-existant and the gameplay repetitive. If you want to give me hell for this, go right ahead, I've had 20 years of practice dealing with shit from people.

Showing 1-20 of 71 comments

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