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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Skyrim Hands-On Impressions
by Andrew Reiner on Aug 05, 2011 at 10:00 AM
Platform Switch, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Publisher Bethesda Softworks
Developer Bethesda Softworks
Rating Mature

After years of waiting, the next installment of The Elder Scrolls finally lands in our hands. Follow my journey from Riverwood to Whiterun.

As we mentioned in yesterday's quick look at the QuakeCon Skyrim demo, my experience started in the character creator. My Twitter followers wanted to know about the Argonian race, the reptilian race that hails from the Black Marsh swampland. This race looks much like it did in Oblivion and Morrowind, with green scaled skin that sometimes gives off a bluish tint, and yellow, cat-like eyes. For my character, however, I chose the cat-like Khajiit race. The level of customization with this race was impressive. I could alter the eyeliner, change the color of the speckles on the nose, add earrings, and even apply a hairdo on top of my Khajiit's furry dome. As in the previous games, the Khajiit have long, humanoid-like legs and a tail. 

My journey started with my character bound in a dreary cave, which Todd Howard said is roughly 30 minutes after the start of the game. When I exited the cave I immediately equipped a destruction spell on one hand and a restoration spell on the other. The button layout is very similar to the previous Elder Scrolls games. The X button sheathes and unsheathes your weapon, the B button gives you access to the menu system, the Y button jumps, the A button interacts, and pressing L3 triggers stealth mode.

While the general controls are familiar, the combat controls have evolved considerably. If you have shield equipped you can bash enemies with it to cause them to stagger, opening them up for attack. If you hold down the attack button with a melee weapon, you trigger a powerful attack that is often accompanied by a cool animation. When I stabbed a wolf with this attack, my character drove the sword deep into the beast and then used the shield as leverage to pry the sword out of the dead animal. You also must actively block oncoming attacks.

The spells also have varying attacks. As I walked down a path toward the village of Riverwood, I spotted two wolves on a nearby hill. When they caught my scent they came charging down the hill and I met them with a powerful flamethrower attack by holding down the spell button. It didn't take long to burn these gorgeous animals, which look much more lifelike than the animals in Oblivion.

Since Riverwood was in the previous Skyrim demos, I didn't spend much time in the village. Instead I headed north alongside a babbling stream that had salmon jumping out of the water and stumbled upon a small farm populated by a cow and hen. I watched the hen for a bit as it walked around aimlessly while clucking, and then stole the egg that was sitting in its nest.

I then made my way into the farmhouse, which only took a couple of seconds to load. Judging from the spread on his table – goat cheese and Nord mead – this farmer is living the good life. When I went back outside I met a woman named Sigrid, whose first words to me were "I'm spoken for, don't get any ideas." She kept on farming while telling me about herself and her daughter. After she shared five or so details, she started delivering the canned responses of "Yes?", "Good Afternoon", and "What do you need?"

Leaving Sigrid and the farm behind, I made my way further north to a large murky river. I could have crossed using a bridge, but I decided to test out the swimming instead. The animations are a little rough, but as I swam across to the other bank I was able to grab a few salmon as they passed by. Who needs a fishing rod when you can just grab them with your fist? As I approached the bank I saw a large elk wade into the river. When I moved in too close for the beast's comfort, he made a run for it.

Continuing down the path on the other side of the river, I stumbled across a group of Stormcloak soldiers escorting a prisoner. When I approached the group a hostile soldier blurted out, "Citizen, I'm warning you." Then I was presented three of choices. I could do nothing, free the prisoner, or free the prisoner and give him an item, which I assumed in this case would be a weapon so he could defend himself against his captors. Considering that there were three guards with their swords drawn and I was a mere level one character, I opted to stay out of it. As soon as I moved away, the soldiers returned their weapons to their sheathes.

Heading north again, I ran into another farm. This was a much bigger plot of land, with several gardens. In the middle of this farm a group of three humans were battling a massive giant. Rather than joining the fray, I decided to just sit back and watch. The battle raged back and forth, but eventually the humans prevailed. Afterwards I met Alea the huntress and her sidekicks Farkas and Ria. My first interaction with her was a statement about the battle – I could say "You don't look like you need any help," or "I tried to help." When I chose the flattering option, she thanked me and explained that her band was a part of the Shield-Brothers. I was then prompted to inquire about joining the group or wryly responding "Sounds like a waste of time." Alea told me that if I wanted to join the group I would have to ask the leader of the Companions.

After going our separate ways, I ventured north again, picking items like lavender and tundra cotton on my way toward Whiterun, a large walled city on the hill. Before I walked up the hill, I stopped by a stable and talked to the stable-hilt named Skulva. I asked to buy a horse, he replied that his horse was seven years old and in fine health. His asking price? One thousand gold. Rather than pay the outrageous fee, I jumped on the horse and galloped up the hill to the city with Skulva cursing and running after me. Since there were no guards in the vicinity, I got off scot-free.

When I approached the gates of the city, the guard told me, "the city is closed with the dragons about." From here I had a few options to try and get into the city. I could offer him news about the dragon attack at Helgen, bribe him with 56 gold, or intimidate by asking him to stand aside. I chose to pay him off, and soon I was behind the comforts of the city wall.

The loading takes a bit longer when entering a big city like Whiterun, but as the screen loads you're given gameplay tips, bits of lore, and can even tinker with a three-dimensional object on the screen. Once the city loaded, I took a brief tour. Whiterun looks to be a wealthy city in good shape – the beautifully designed A-frame homes have nice brickwork and look pristine. A large courtyard I stumbled upon served as home to a giant tree and a gazebo. A large outdoor market offered several opportunities to buy or trade gear, and there was plenty of stuff laying around for those who prefer five-finger discounts.The city guards, who have black rams on their shields, would prefer you didn't.

I made my way into a beautiful manor, where all walks of life were sitting around eating and drinking. One guy was eating a large sweet-roll that looked like it could put a man out of commission with a food coma. I spoke to a musician named Mikael, who played a unique stringed instrument. After conversing, he switched to a wooden flute. In the back of the manor I came across a ledger. When opening it up I was busted by the citizens and apprehended by the city watch. To avoid imprisonment I paid a 44 gold fine.

With only a few minutes left before the demo concluded, I decided to leave the city to head toward a place called Dawnstar. Night had fallen, and the world took on a new personality with new creatures like a torchbug and luna moths that I collected. Stumbling upon Lorieus Farm, I walked in the home to find two people sleeping. Before I could steal the couple's valuables, Bethesda's Pete Hines tapped me on the shoulder and told me my time was up. All of my pleading to "play a few minutes more" was met with a shaking of the head.

Overall, Skyrim played great. The framerate was fluid, the combat satisfying, and the world beckons more exploration. After the demo concluded, I chatted with Todd Howard and he confirmed that the Dark Brotherhood is returning in Skyrim. As if we needed another reason to be excited about this game. 

For more Skyrim details, check out yesterday's quick look at the demo, Joe's impressions from E3, these screenshots, or a month of exclusive features from when we first revealed the game.

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

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