Skyrim preview: We stumble upon the secret of Pinewatch Sanctuary

The Elder Scrolls games may be famous for their incredible side quests. But I wouldn't even call Pinewatch Sanctuary a side quest. Granted, it is something that you complete, appearing checked off on the map as 'cleared' alongside more potential adventures in Falkreath, Riverwood and Whiterun. But to demystify this into a mere video game completion statistic is to do Bethesda a monumental injustice. So let me tell you about the secret of Pinewatch Sanctuary – and why Skyrim is very likely Game of the Year.

Above: We contracted Rockjoint from one of these things. Kill it with fire!

Having chosen an Argonian and named him 'Spud', I'm pretty sure I'm starting in the same place that Mikel did during his hands-on time. But, after chasing a rabbit through the snow (sounds lovely, but I was trying to kill it with arrows), I end up in a place called Pinewatch. It actually looks familiar, as I'm not the only attendee at the demo event and I'd been watching the screen of the journo next to me while my game loaded. And, to be honest, I'm disappointed that I'm in the same place as someone else. But never mind. Might as well have a look in that farmhouse to see if there's anything worth taking.

The farmhouse is quite small, and occupied not by a farmer, but by two bandits, who don't take kindly to my intrusion. They must've offed the farmer and used his home for their own needs. Perfect fodder for my fire spell, then, which is unlike Oblivion's rather pathetic projectiles and more like a GTA flame-thrower, firing continuously in a magnificent stream of destruction magic for as long as you hold the L trigger (and have magicka, naturally). Two toasted bandits later and I'm momentarily alone again, only for another bandit to suddenly emerge from the basement staircase to my right.

Message in a bandit

Having dealt with him, I check the bodies for gold. And what's this? A letter from one bandit to another. It speaks of knowing a guy who knows a guy who can 'set us up with some pirates' in a far-off town I haven't seen yet. The plan is to travel there, all the way 'living high on the treasure'. Treasure, eh? As a footnote, it says 'I've left you some wine in the bucket behind the shelf'.

Hmmm… I don't see a bucket. So I quickly search the room. A couple of bookcases, both flush to the wall and neither with any hint of a bucket, let alone wine. Perhaps the note isn't talking about this farmhouse. But just as I'm about to leave, I think to myself 'maybe it's not a shelf I can move', so I look for a higher shelf on the wall on its own. Sure enough, there is one – and next to it, a tiny switch. Click!

The wall swings around revealing an alcove. And there, sure enough, is a bucket containing three bottles of wine. Woot! But wait – this isn't an alcove… it keeps going. It's a secret passage...

Inside, there are more bandits. They're not aware of my presence, either, until I push a cart full of round cheeses off a ledge, watching the impeccable physics play out as they scatter on the rock below. Uh-oh – they've seen me. The fights play out on elevated wooden platforms, which makes circling impossible.

Above: The game's almost done now. Just crossing the 'T's and dotting the... lower case 'J's

You can tell the combat is still based on Oblivion's system, but it's way better. There's no feeling of having to run backwards here. I stand my ground, blocking with a shield and thrusting with a sword. The camera jolts brilliantly as hits land on my poor Argonian's face, the flinches highly reminiscent of Condemned's thumping impacts.

But soon, three more bandits lie dead. Most of them are female, and of course the one time I hit 'Take all' is the one time the guy next to me glances at my screen. With the suddenly near-naked girl lying before me and a sudden uncomfortable feeling, I quickly search another and take only their gold and lockpicks. He looks away again. Better.

It soon hits me how good the enclosed areas look, even compared to the amazing outside scenes. I mean, looking back at the demo gameplay footage from outside...'d wonder how it could really get any better, but it does. It clearly helps when the 360 isn't having to render miles and miles of open scenery (which it still does with aplomb, mind), as the caves look even better than outdoors. Light sources from torches line the walls, blinking off as I steal them and put them in my inventory.


  • matt-nold - October 23, 2011 12:26 a.m.

    BF3 coming out Tuesday, that will do more than tide me over till Skyrim, but Skyrim is still going to be my favorite game!
  • gr1m_dan - October 20, 2011 4:14 a.m.

    Two games that I am really looking forward to coming out with days of each other. Battlefield 3 and Skyrim...although after all the videos I am sorry to say BF3 will be shelved on the 11th of November!!! I've recently moved to Xbox from PC and whilst I know the graphics won't be as good they still look absolutely mind blowing :-O A lot better than Oblivion on it. Misty mountains = £40 lighter in my wallet!
  • Detonation44 - October 19, 2011 12:08 p.m.

    I don't think I've ever wanted a game so much! Forget waiting for the Game of The Year addition! I've waited long enough! I'll pay full price for all the expansions, I don't care any more! Even if I waste 50$ I can't wait longer than 20 days!!!!
  • ParanoidAndroid64 - October 17, 2011 8:10 p.m.

    Jesus. I didn't think I could look forward to a game this much.
  • I-Is-Kilr0y - October 17, 2011 4:35 p.m.

    does anyone else think that castle looks like the one from highlander...
  • sweetchiliheat - October 17, 2011 4:34 p.m.

    A water breathing amulet? For us non-argonian players that's an invaluable item right there. I remember the Fin gleam helmet in Oblivion. Nighteye & waterbreathing together. Not like you need night eye underwater...
  • lilspooky - October 17, 2011 4:04 p.m.

    WANT! WANT! WANT! I am so excited for Skyrim. I pre-ordered and asked for 11-11-11 off work. I hope the SDK is released day one also. I'm sure I'll want to mod a few things right away.
  • joshdaman123 - October 17, 2011 3:51 p.m.

    does anybody else notice that impossibly badass battelaxe that the player is using in the draugr picture?
  • Evanesco - October 17, 2011 3:03 p.m.

    GR, I just want you to know that the expanding Skyrim add on the top of this page said "in stores now" when it ended.
  • TheZigMan - October 17, 2011 12:55 p.m.

    Easily my most anticipated game of the year. I'm sorry, but even arkham City doesn't look as good as this
  • Fetalspray - October 17, 2011 11:13 a.m.

    In the unlikely event they sell my pre-order there will literally be no means of identification.
  • calebgerbs - October 17, 2011 11:11 a.m.

  • mothbanquet - October 17, 2011 9:59 a.m.

    And there goes another forty quid
  • AwesomeMan - October 17, 2011 9:50 a.m.

    AHHHH SKYRIM!!!!! I literally cannot wait for this game!
  • Odis - October 17, 2011 9:48 a.m.

    Has no one noticed the big ol' non-material bow with the non-material arrows that you can shoot. That's a good reason to buy the game right there. Not even mentioning the side-quest, which sounds amazing. That the awesome thing about Elder Scrolls. I remember that while I didn't finish Oblivion, my favorite part was when I was walking, saw a little shelf on knee level, and after looking, found a sapphire. Talk about hidden in plain site. I just hope Skyrim gives me many more of those.
  • FuperFaiyanFeth - October 17, 2011 9:47 a.m.

    I am jizzing pure excitement right now.
  • Manguy17 - October 17, 2011 9:33 a.m.

    Awesome article, its wierd, now i REALLY want to do that quest, but the knowledge that there are so many more like it makes me even happier.
  • PopeBenedictXVI - October 17, 2011 9:22 a.m.

    Want, want, want! But please, no more oblivion gates. Ahhhhh!
  • kor2disturbed - October 17, 2011 9:20 a.m.

    This may seem stupid but, how does the movement feel? Like does walking and attacking feel weightier, or does it still feel like you're walking on air like in Oblivion and Fallout 3?
  • matt-nold - October 23, 2011 12:25 a.m.

    Judging by what i have seen and played (Played 20 min at Pax) i would say it feels weightier. I did not feel like i was floating, then again i was mostly in third person, which looks amazing! Anyways, you can now Sprint so thats way different from Fallout or Oblivion, and i absolutely love it. No more being over powered, but we get to sprint now. Thanks Bethesda. Anyways i sadly had no time to actually go into any dungeons but the outside environments looked great. I almost made it to river wood (Started going one way then turned around and went towards river wood), but it was too late. My time was up right as River Wood came on screen from behind a rock. No more than 100m away from me.

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