Hands On: The Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimBy Tom Yeates | September 24, 2011 | Previews | 7 comments | Share
I crept slowly through the long shadows of a broken and musty hall. The entrance to a barrow long forgotten which had festered slowly into to ruin over the centuries. Men were once proudly buried here, their bodies interned before their long journey to the afterlife, to Sovngarde. Stretching my bow back, I thought about how even now, bodies are still being buried here…just not as ceremoniously. The shot strikes true, the man falls with an arrow buried deep within his skull and as his companion advanced, I drew my sword…Then I set him on fire with my left hand and stuck the sword through his chest with my right in a rather lovely execute animation. This is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and it’s bloody marvellous.
I’ve been itching to get my hands on the games for weeks, as you may know if you previously read my impressions from the gamescom demonstration. Finally the opportunity presented itself to me at this year’s Eurogamer Expo, a good solid sit down with a new Elder Scrolls game. It’s the stuff Thursday afternoons were made for as far as I’m concerned…and every other afternoon of the week…and evening.
So, first things first – character creation. Let’s be honest, for many of us it’s one of the most important parts of a game. It’s simply a necessity to have a character that looks great. Sure, you might occasionally throw together a look that inspires more laughter than pride…but it’s not the way you want it, not really…The good news therefore, is that the character creator is deeper and slicker than ever. There seemed to be a lot of variety available in the little time I had with it (I admittedly rushed through to get to the real meat of the game…) and the new engine has given the faces and character animations a much needed upgrade. I always felt that Oblivion’s non-human races looked quite awkward, but they have definitely improved the quality of those designs in Skyrim.
I opted for a Nord female, Skyrim is the Nord homeland after all, so why not? Immediately I was on my way, bouncing along a path through the countryside, the snow capped mountains ahead of me and the sound of a river running…It looked excellent, though admittedly the Xbox 360 version is suffering with a lot of jagged edges at the moment (as is the PS3 version, I would assume), though this is not the final build of the game. The environments are richly detailed. No wait, vastly detailed…No…gorgeously detailed. The place feels alive, I stopped for 30 seconds to marvel at a rabbit hopping merrily nearby before I was suddenly set upon by wolves. After I quickly and efficiently dispatched said wolves and collected their pelts, I went back to admiring my surroundings. I drank in the salmon leaping in the river, the sound of the trees rustling in the wind…I’m getting all wistful just thinking about it!
So of course I ran up a mountain into the snow and attacked bandits guarding a shattered watch tower. It seemed like an appropriate thing to do at the time.
However, my time was limited, so I took a deep breath and plunged deeper into the wilderness. More wolves fell to my hot left hand and steel sword combo and before long I found myself in the little village of Riverwood. The voice acting feels like an improvement here as well, though I must admit that I grew strangely fond of many of the bizarrely voiced characters of Tamriel, wandering around the place talking inanely to each other. Here, in Riverwood, the townsfolk gossipped about goings on, the inkeeper and his wife argued quietly and they dealt with me relatively politely. I toured the town, collected gossip from as many people as I could because I love a good rumor or too, then I decided I was eager for a real challenge. So of course I ran up a mountain into the snow and attacked bandits guarding a shattered watch tower. It seemed like an appropriate thing to do at the time. Plus it was snowing and they had furs…
It was at this point that I felt it would probably be a good idea to investigate the other features of Skyrim. I tried out the map, which is a vast improvement on Oblivion’s offering and renders the game world in real time which has the added bonus of being really pleasing on the eye as well as giving you much more detail about the world around you and what sort of places you can explore across Skyrim.
The whole package is slicker than ever before and Bethesda have clearly gone to great lengths to improve not just the combat and gameplay experience but the whole interface from the way you navigate Skyrim’s jagged rock formations to the way your skills are mapped out into personal star constellations as you progress. Sure, you spend a lot of time in menus, switching between items and weapons but this an RPG, it has an inventory and it’s also a game that promotes you using different weapons, items or abilities for different situations. In my short time with the game I switched regularly between healing spells, the aforementioned fire spewing spell, a trusty little bow and a sword and shield combination. Bethesda have made navigating these menus as simple as they can on the console and it’s much better than the way similar activities were handled in Oblivion.
All in all, I felt immensely satisfied with the game, even after only sitting down with it for around 25 minutes or so. Bethesda once again seem to have delicately mixed that special brew which combines a breathtaking and immersive open world with an advancement system that allows you to really have a good go at creating the character you want to create. It’s a tonic I heartily look forward to drinking this coming November when Skyrim magics itself into my greedy little paws.