Spelunking, giant-hunting, swimming and looting in Skyrim

One hour of dicking around reminds us why we love this series

Mindful of the PR handlers (who I imagined were watching me with concealed disgust at this point), I abandoned my ghoulish fun and ducked inside a nearby cave, charged the unsuspecting bandit within and immediately heard a deep rumble from behind me. Assuming the entrance had been blocked off, I put down the bandit and turned to see that I’d actually triggered a trap, which had dropped a pile of boulders from the ceiling. Fortunately, I’d been too quick to get caught in it, and after ransacking the place for more treasure, I left, accidentally caught the attention of some other giants, and met with predictable results.

Breathing a heavy sigh, I set off in the opposite direction and attempted to scale the mountains near Riverwood. I had limited success, at one point stumbling onto a tower inhabited by a few Nord bandits, who made a point of yelling something about Skyrim belonging to the Nords. (Clearly, they didn’t think orcs should be allowed to just wander through their mountains, stealing things and killing indiscriminately. Racists.) Their anti-orc sentiments did nothing to stop them from being hacked to death, though. Just to see what it was like, I tackled this fight with a sword in my orc’s left hand, and a small axe in his right. Not only was I able to attack twice as often, but holding down both triggers let me unleash a devastating cross-slash that probably would have decapitated my foes if there’d been dismemberment.

During the fight, I also tried switching between first- and third-person perspectives. It turns out that this time around, fighting in third-person actually feels a little different; where Oblivion’s third-person view was a clumsy novelty during combat, here the action’s adjusted to feel a little more like a hack-and-slasher, with more useful camera angles and occasional slow-motion kill moves, just for the hell of it.

Once I’d looted their corpses and pressed a bit higher onto the mountain, it eventually became clear that I couldn’t climb any higher on the path I was on – the ground had become too steep. Unfazed, I found a cliff overlooking the river far below and – with a running start – plunged hundreds of feet into shallow water, emerging unscathed next to one of the farms on the outskirts of Whiterun.

All this wandering through breathtakingly pretty landscapes had built up an appetite for more mayhem, and so – after crouching low to avoid detection – I crept up behind a guard and attempted to pickpocket him. As any novice Elder Scrolls player who’s ever tried to pick a guard’s pocket can guess, this didn’t go so well. Annoyed, the guard immediately turned around and demanded I either pay a fine or accompany him to prison.

Eff that. Politely declaring my intention to resist arrest, I immediately took a swing at him with my axe and caught him by surprise. The advantage didn’t last for long, though, and he retaliated, devastating my health with a few quick strikes. Luckily, I had a healing spell and had a sizable stock of health potions, and quick use of these kept me alive long enough to nearly finish the guard off. Sadly, one of his friends noticed what I was doing, and before I knew what was happening, my orc fell dead, three arrows sticking out of his back. At least he went down swinging.

It was around that time that I was shooed off the game so that the next demo could start, but the things I’d been able to do and see in the span of 60 minutes didn’t just leave me impressed or excited for the game; they reminded me why I loved playing through the last two. Things like plot, “radiant story” and structured missions are great, but it’s the ability to make your own fun and explore the world on your own terms that keeps fans coming back to Elder Scrolls games for months and even years after their release, and so far Skyrim looks ready to deliver.

Sep 9, 2011