Bethesda’s soon to be released dragon-slay-em-up The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a game that has already caught the imaginations of the gaming public. This is thanks to some fantastic in-game footage but also in no small part due to some healthy respect for there previous titles; most notably Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. At the show I got a good 20 minutes to wonder through the Nordic realm of Skyrim to find out for myself if it can live up to its already legendary status.
As the game opened it quickly became apparent we were playing the area that had been shown as a gameplay walkthrough at this years E3. Any fears that this might not leave much to discover were quickly dispersed however. Even though we were all playing the same small demo, and all starting in the same small cave, after just 2 minutes of gameplay everyone one of the 20 preview stations were showing some wildly different experiences. Some had found a village and were talking to some interesting-looking characters, moving thought the new silky-smooth conversation trees with ease. Others were climbing snowy mountains, or wading though fast moving rivers. Others still were fight humans or Orcs with swords and shields or fire magic. Some were picking locks, or trying to stealth kill some bandits in a cave. Some were hunting the huge hairy mammoths seen the demo with what, in the context of their prey, seemed sadly inadequate-looking bows and arrows.
The controls and movement felt fluid and responsive, everything seemed to be in a sensible place with the exception of the jump button which I was assured had been moved in the latest build. I quickly found I was running and jumping about in a manner that felt right for my human character class with my stamina bar depleting and recharging accordingly.
The spells and weapons in Skyrim can be equipped in either hand, or both hands as appropriate, though I sadly didn’t try to dual-wield bows or shields. For my first combat encounters I opted to dual-wield the fire spell and set about defending myself against a highly dangerous (probably) old women who said hello to me as I walked passed. The sound quality throughout the game is excellent, but as I hurled my fire spell at the geriatric fiend the audio really impressed; a violent and powerful rage of flame that complemented the excellent visual effects. I almost felt I might have overreacted. Latter attempts at sword combat were slightly hampered by my ill-advised decision to take on 3 elite guards simultaneously. I was wandering through the woods at night and they stopped me, politely telling me I should not be there and that I would have to pay a small fine. During the short battle that ensued the combat felt percussive and tactile. It didn’t last long.
The content we played was running on some form of Xbox 360, most likely a developer box, but as these boxes were hidden away from view there really was no knowing. We were also not playing the most recent build, and there were no sadly Dragons in the build that we played. Despite older build the game looked beautiful. Texture management was your usual Bethesda affair, with distant or new textures loading more detail as needed, which, as shown in Oblivion or Fallout 3, can be distracting. However the detail was evident at an impressively wide radius and the scope and scale of the world more than made up for any visible texture loading.
The seamless nature of the interface was particularly impressive. Pausing the action to bring up overlaid menus, pulls you out of the action just enough to allow you the freedom to make the right choices. Using the wait option to fast forward the game clock several hours shows the rapid transformation of the world as the day night cycles had their way with the colour palette and lighting effects. Another lovely touch was revealed when opting to look at your skill tree, your character looks wistfully upwards to the stars as the consolations for the stellar skill trees fad into view; as if they were there all the time behind the beautiful skyline. It’s a lovely effect.
Its not surprise that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is going to be a serious contender for game of the year even with the A-list competition that we are due to see in the next few months. Look out for Skyrim on the 11th of November, 2011… Oh, sorry – I mean 11/11/11.