The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Previews

Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim keeps receiving largely positive impressions from the press after their hands-off demo at E3, as the new batch of previews we've rounded up for your reading pleasure can attest.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun:
So what can I tell you about it? Well, it's The Elder Scrolls, and we all want more of that (yes, you Oblivion haters, you DO no one is the least bit fooled by your antics). It's a beautiful frost-bitten land, and it's one where players need never let the main quest trouble them as they play for dozens of hours.

Of what we were shown a trek through green fields, woods, a village, dungeons, and eventually a mountain-top dragon fight the most exciting feature was the player's hands. That's not dismissive. They're brilliant. Every single-handed weapon can be dual-wielded, meaning you can improvise your own style to some quite impressive degrees. Sword and shield combat looked especially entertaining. Holding up a shield has always been so disappointing in gaming, but here it felt like it was genuinely protective. Obscuring most your view, seeing the edge of the attacker slamming into it felt intense.

But even more entertaining is the magic. There's all manner of magic types, from Runes to regular spells to Shouts, each of which make your hands glow an appropriate colour. Spells are assigned to hands in the same way as weapons in fact, this can even be done from the same menu. There's a (favourites) option, much like a web browser, that lets you opt for your preferred tools and spells to appear in a quickly accessible pop-up menu, letting you quickly assign to each hand in an on-the-fly paused moment. If such a thing isn't a massive contradiction.

CVG makes liberal use of quotes from Todd Howard:
The first thing we're shown is one of those signature Bethesda moments in which the hero (they aren't talking character generation specifics yet) steps out into the light and surveys an incredible open-world panorama. Skyrim is the northernmost province of Tamriel, with a chilly Nordic flavour to it. "Our goal is to create the biggest, craziest fantasy world that we could imagine," says Howard. "And we're all about the little details, from plants with full shadows to big macro detail like a mountain in the distance you can walk up to and climb."

Which later on is exactly what we do, and as the snow starts to fall, Howard explains how the weather changes are entirely dynamic. Everywhere you look there's fine detail, like the glowing corona of light on the tip of a mage's staff. And you really can see for miles. For that you can thank the new graphics engine, which like all of the gameplay, has been completely rewritten since Fallout III.

Although the first person view does make the game more accessible than many role-playing games the text-heavy interface has always been a problem for the series. There's only so much Bethesda can do about this without reducing the range of your abilities, but the new compromise in Skyrim seems a very sensible one.

Apparently inspired by Apple's classically clean approach, you simply scroll up and down a list of spells while still playing the game there's no need to quit to a separate screen.

In theory the skill trees should be hugely complex, given there are over 280 perks in the game, but although they do need their own menu screen they're laid out as constellations where every star is a new ability. Which is not only a really clever idea but the only time we've ever thought of a menu screen as being beautiful.

Combat and equipment aren't necessarily streamlined, but they're certainly different. Bethesda is focused on a system where "you are what you play." Characters skill up based on what you do (which is nothing new for TES fans), but your equipment is bound to the left and right triggers. These are your left and right hands in practice, and whatever equipment you decide to put there is what's used. This provides a great amount of customization, and the demo ranged from turning undead and hitting them with chain lightning to running with a simple sword and board. Howard even showed us that you could put the same spell in both hands and cast an even more powerful version.

The dragonborn player also has access to shouts, which are abilities that aren't specifically linked to each hand. As you explore and find new power words in the 150+ dungeons in Skyrim, these words can be combined into different types of incredibly powerful shouts. These range anywhere from fire breath - which is exactly what it sounds like - to the ability to call down thunderstorms to smite your enemies. It's another area providing depth to the game, alongside other TES standbys like alchemy.

Middle East Gamers:
We trudged down the hill until we came upon some enemies, which is where the combat mechanics came in. Your character can mix melee, ranged, and magic attacks during a fight, so you can choose which weapons or abilities work best in battle. You can also equip different items or abilities in either hand; for example your left hand can be equipped with a frost spell, while your right hand holds your sword. Or equip a sword in both hands. Maybe even spells in either hand the choice is entirely yours. After polishing off a few deranged wolves, we found Guardian Stones further down the path these ancient relics can be activated to boost a specific character skill, but only one stone can be activated at a time and can be swapped around during your journey. While other RPGs often have a less than stellar inventory system, Skyrim has included a simple Favorites feature which allows you to quickly access your most desire weapons or spells, and map them to either hand. Given that there's a lot of loot to be found in the game, this is a handy way to get to the items you need without flipping through long lists of items.

In addition to the Guardian Stones, there are also other ways to improve your character. Hitting Up on the D-pad will make you look up to the sky, and brings a set of constellations into view. Each constellation affects an ability, for example magic, one-handed combat, shield use, etc. Each constellation consists of a series of dots which can be unlocked to fine tune and hone that particular ability. It's a beautiful and no-nonsense approach, and it works incredibly well here. The other specific ability you have is in the form of (Shouts). As you are 'ňúdragon borne', you have the ability to discover and learn words of power. When combined correctly, these words of power can be used to unlock more devastating abilities, such as the power to slow time or fling your enemies away.