Written by Joseph Trotter and Adam Shepherd
With Bethesda having had a pretty rocky year by their standards, they need The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim to soar more than ever. With Brink and Hunted: The Demon’s Forge failing to live up to expectations, Rage and Skyrim have a bright spotlight being squarely shined in their direction.
After rushing through the extensive character selection screen to get the most out of the demo, your character awakens in a luminous cave before stepping precariously out into the big wide world of Skyrim. Just like exiting the sewers in Oblivion and emerging from Vault 101 in Fallout 3, seeing the big wide world of Skyrim for the first time is an equally eye-widening experience.
Thought to be larger than Oblivion’s world, Skyrim drops you out at the feet of a snow-capped mountain, with numerous tall pine trees looming above you and a fast-flowing river flowing full steam ahead towards your left. Although Skyrim doesn’t look as spiffy on the Xbox 360 as it does on PC, the fact that Bethesda have squeezed everything onto one disc is impressive in and of itself. Still, this is not really a problem, as I was assured by a rep that this is nowhere near the quality of the finished build still being worked on.
The faces of the people in the nearby town of Riverwood are worth mentioning too, due to their increased level of detail and varying expressions compared to previous Bethesda open world efforts. In fact, this is true of all visible facets of Skyrim, from the natural movements of timid mammals, to the snow that falls gracefully from the sky. This is in no small part thanks to the old Gamebryo game engine falling by the wayside and Skyrim being built from the ground up using the new Creation Engine.
What also stands out in the latest epic Elder Scrolls RPG is the revamped combat. Although the general controls have stayed the same, on the consoles the left trigger handles the weapon, or shield, in your left hand, and the right trigger deals with the item in your right hand. Many different combinations of weapons are possible to dual wield, such as the classic sword and shield combo, two swords, a sword and fire spell or the same spell in both hands for maximum potency. Thanks to this, combat feels more involving, frenetic and exciting than it did before, and it’s also a lot less of a stop-start affair due to health slowly regenerating after each fight. Even though I personally missed the instant win button that is Fallout’s VATS system, randomised slow motion killing moves help a hard fought victory feel all the more sweeter.
The lack of all-out action in my demo left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, so I’ll let my colleague Joseph Trotter walk you through the thrills and spills he experienced in Skyrim. Enjoy.
Slowly moving down from the starting cave, I decided that the best way of spending my limited time on the game was to explore both the urban and countryside areas. As such, I went storming off into the forest to the east, leaping from rock to rock, much to the bemusement of the Bethesda rep. He recommended I head to Riverwood, so off I trotted in the vague direction of the town. Upon reaching a raging river, I was assured that I could simply trot across the top of the waterfall. He was wrong. No sooner had I put my Imperial's foot into the water was I swept off the precipice and, demonstrating the game's impressive ragdoll physics, I was thrown down the rapids like a jumper in a washing machine. Eventually emerging from the depths, after somehow collecting some fish whilst swimming (I have no idea how that happened), I stumbled upon the slick new menu system. Having a quick look around it, I decided to put fire into my left hand and an iron sword into my right. Using my new power of judgement over life and death, I chased a nearby deer and scorched to death what looked like a descendant of Bambi.
Now more confident, I made my way up and down a small mountain to the outskirts of Riverwood, where I walked into the middle of a battle between a giant and some human hunters. Relishing the opportunity for combat, I waded in bravado first, before realising I was the worse off in this David vs. Goliath contest and ran headlong into the woods again as the giant made me its prime target. Just as it reached me, it died, apparently due to the hundreds of arrows in its back. Kindly giving myself the credit for killing the beast, the leader of the humans invited me into their guild sect as a protector, to which I of course accepted.
Feeling popular, I made my way into the centre of Riverwood, a beautiful Nordic settlement akin to a wood-based Rohan settlement in Lord of the Rings. Soon into my short stay I was challenged by a hairy man who asked if I was a Battle-Born or a Graymane (an apparent source of racial tension). Not knowing the answer, I hit him in the face with my sword and ran away. In no time at all guards and villagers alike were swarming after me. I bravely continued to run out of the settlement and found the stables, from which I stole a beautiful black horse and galloped off it into the woods.
Now, I would have gone further into the woods and continued in my journey had my horse not become attached to a tree, hanging there like an equestrian leaf. Unable to move, or do anything apart from furiously take out my inaction on the horses head, I was ushered away from the controller by a kindly rep, who assured me that my time was nearly up anyway.
Whilst the scale of Skyrim hits you immediately, it's the variety of detail that really hits home. It is a wonderful achievement, and one that finally feels like a living, breathing, believable world, which I can't wait to escape into again. Skyrim is certainly a sweet prospect for a sequel indeed. Bigger, more beautiful and full of bloody, brutal and bloody good combat, Bethesda are setting themselves up to improve upon Oblivion in almost every conceivable aspect. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has the oh-so easy to remember release date of 11.11.11.