Eurogamer Exclusive: Skyrim
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A precious half-hour with Skyrim....
I’ve always been told that size doesn’t matter. Or perhaps that’s just what I wanted to hear. Either way, it’s lucky that the guys at Bethesda have chosen to completely ignore that little nugget. Developing a game like The Elder Scrolls V is a monumental undertaking, but Bethesda make it look easy, even effortless; however, we all know it’s far from that.
Having spent a couple of hundred hours with the previous game, I was more than excited to finally see Skyrim up close, despite feeling as if I was getting my girlfriend and trading her in for a new model. Sure, I had watched the debut trailer a couple of (dozen) times. I had also scrounged the Internet like an addict without his fix when the 40-minute demo from Quake Con leaked thanks to a handy-cam recording. Despite being great in their own right, neither can truly compare to sitting down with the game, taking the controller into your own hands and actually pushing those buttons, seeing the beautiful world sprawl out right in front of your eyes.
Not surprisingly, taking control of a game like Skyrim can yield a plethora of results. Watching the dozen or so people playing as I queued, it was so interesting to see how each individual spent their time (not showering). Whether murdering innocents, slaughtering rats or simply admiring the admittedly beautiful scenery, it was clear in the time I waited that Skyrim was massive. Snow-enveloped mountains constantly visible in the distance as the weather swirls around you. Pine forests home to wildlife both friend and foe. Dungeons are also more varied this time around, with hand-crafted layouts packing out the underground portion of the landscape. I was salivating.
When I sat down, I was met with the character selection screen. Race, gender, facial settings and a whole load more options were available to me. Fans of past games will be well accustomed to the similar character creation suite, but in this instance I didn’t care, I just wanted to play. 30-40 minutes aren’t enough in a game like this, let alone when you waste time creating a character that’s going to get deleted as soon as the next player comes along.
Skipping, skipping and more skipping through creation menus and finally I reach the game. In a cave-like prison, I quickly assess the view of first person and third person, comparing the two, scrutinizing the new animation system that will hopefully allow for true third-person play. This time around, your character looks attached to the ground when running along. Your body movements look real, as opposed to the crazy third-person animations we saw in Oblivion. Thank you, Bethesda.
Running towards a bright light, I exited the cave. A lengthy loading screen (remember, old build) passed in what felt like hours, and then I was there, ready to explore the world I was going to be sucked into come November. Having already watched people go through the ropes, I knew what I wanted to do: kill something. This isn’t due to some burning desire to murder and slaughter anything that comes into my path, I don’t need to be sectioned, I simply wanted to know how the game handles.
Accessing the new menu interface I went to have a look at my items, scrolling through the various 3D close-ups of my weapons, armour and other miscellaneous loot that had been preset in my inventory. Selecting a rather daunting looking axe, I quickly equipped it using the right trigger to automatically arm my right hand. Then, after looking through the various spells I had available, I put a nifty-looking fire spell in my left hand.
Before returning, I had a sneak peek at the map, zooming right out until I could see the topography of the landscape below me. Cloud cover obscured some of my view, but I could see that I wasn’t too far from the small town of Riverwood and the nearby city of Whiterun. In the distance there were several other cities already marked on my map; however, I couldn’t fast-travel, so was limited to how far I could run in the time I had.
The combat worked great, still retaining that hack-and-slash formula that Oblivion had, but introducing a more dynamic system that really lets you experiment with weapons, magic and all manner of things in between. Slashing at a vicious wolf, I finally brought it down using a mix of attack and defend tactics, scorching it with fire whenever I could and eventually finishing it off with a slow-motion stab through its neck. In the words of Nolan North, kitty got wet.
Feeling big and manly in front of the spectators behind me, I gleefully sprinted off towards the town of Riverwood, admiring the horizon vista as I went. All of this is beautifully presented, graphically smashing Oblivion in its half-decade year-old face. Despite some graphical glitches and a considerable drop in frame rate at one point, I was hugely impressed. I was also told it was a relatively old build, so don’t write to Bethesda in anguish over some performance issues just yet. Disappointingly, there were also no dragons, presumably because Bethesda want to keep the spectacle boss encounters to themselves until release.
Just as I was getting a feel for the game, reading books and looking in shops, exploring the town and speaking to various NPCs, my time was up. Begrudgingly, I put down the controller, glaring at the next lucky person who would carelessly erase my character who I’d spent so much time creating and nurturing. Many won’t need a 30-minute hands-on to be convinced that Skyrim is already set to be one of this year’s best games, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to wet my appetite that little bit extra. November can’t come soon enough, that’s for sure, lets just hope that a couple of performance issues are ironed out completely for day one release.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will be released on November 11, 2011.
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