The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Previews

We have another pretty hefty batch of previews to report, all based on a 3-hours hands-on time with Bethesda's fantasy open-world action-RPG The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, although unfortunately many of them cover very similar territory, which is especially disappointing considering the "do what you want" nature of Bethesda's titles.

IGN tackles alchemy and enchanting:
With no associated quests I had no explicit reason to move beyond the ruin's entrance. The skeleton strapped to a post on the other side of the hatch was a strong indicator that friendly things did not await. But I moved beyond the ghoulish scarecrow anyway and into the lair flooded with ankle-deep water from the adjacent lake. This didn't feel like some dull cave or random dungeon, but was designed and decorated to look like a believable, liveable and unique space. I surprised two necromancers as they presided over a long dinner table in a cavernous hall. I trudged down basement stairs and discovered their sleeping quarters, and despite their enthusiastic use of ice magic I was able to take them down.

This gave me free access to their alchemical and enchanting setups. At the alchemy table I could choose from the list of all the ingredients in my inventory. If items with similar properties were combined, potions were produced. The formula for the potion then appeared in the alchemy window, serving as an easy way to make more potions provided the proper ingredients are available. If the properties of the ingredients are not known, you can still combine items, though you do so blindly. If the items are incompatible they'll form nothing and be consumed in the process. If the items match, then surprise, you get a new potion.

GamesRadar goes treasure hunting:
I proceed through the caves, deeper into the bandits' hideout. Along the way, I pass a locked door and then later, several desiccated human-looking corpses of 'Draugr' - pronounced 'drogger' - who have ancient weapons concealed about their icky persons. Later in my time with the game, I meet some of these very much alive, but still dead-looking. A loading screen informs me they are believed to be ancient soldiers, cursed into an eternity of living as punishment for swearing allegiance to the dragons. Awesome.

But for now, they're just dead things full of loot, which I take. I soon happen upon my first really difficult encounter - a girl with ice magic. As she throw torrents of ice shards in my direction (in a fashion not dissimilar to my own fire spell), wayward shots leave icicles on the crates around the room.

Several deaths later, I continue onwards. There's a locked chest which gives me my first taste of the new lockpicking system (more like Fallout's than Oblivion, as Mikel mentioned). It's hard, but once you've got the knack, it's definitely doable, though it is hard to remember to breathe when you're doing it.

1UP claims this is a "very early build", which sounds a bit weird considering we're so close to release:
What I did find, however, is that Skyrim's vast expanse encompasses an impressive array of stuff. Despite the wintry look of this Nordic land, there's far more to it than rocks and snow. Lower valley areas toward the southern half of the map feature snow retreating in the face of greenery, towns where villagers harvest hardy crops like cabbage and wheat. Rivers filled with mountain runoff trickle across the land, growing thick with ice toward the north -- fragile ice at first, but eventually durable enough to walk across. Small settlements and encampments are strewn across the countryside between the major city-states. A mead brewery here where the weather is warm enough for bees to survive, a lumber mill in the snowy hinterlands where nothing grows but scrub and the prosaically named snowberries. Wildlife both mundane and exotic roams the land; for every rabbit or goat you encounter -- and perhaps kill for food, barter goods, or alchemy components -- you're just as likely to fight off a giant ice spider or aggressive "horker," a beast that in less fantastic realms would probably go by the name "walrus."

The overall geography of Skyrim seems perhaps slightly more compact than Morrowind or even Oblivion, but it's still a huge land. That space is magnificently rendered. It's a good-looking game, and like Roger Daltry, you can see for miles. The land of Skyrim is built to feel like a place where mankind (and other races) has lived for millennia; in my wandering, I came across an ominous subterranean temple, what appeared to be an ancient circle of earth cleared away for rituals or some other purpose by forgotten peoples, and decrepit bridges. The nine primary cities from which Skyrim's Jarls rule are huge, and they're built as proper natural fortresses, overlooking deep chasms or protected from behind by unscalable cliff walls. In fact, once I reached Windhelm, I realized I'd gone about it all wrong: The city can only be entered by means of an enormous bridge that spans the city river it sits beside, so I was forced to backtrack to a point where I could ford the river safely and double back.

In the mill town of Riverwood, the elf archery trainer is mooning over Camilla, the sister of the town shopkeeper, while in the store, Camilla is bickering with her brother over the theft of a golden trinket. And in the tavern, a rival suitor, the local bard, is plotting against the elf. It's a neat little fantasy soap opera, with each of the players also a quest giver or helper, and their dialogue in direct conversation with you is as natural as their ambient nattering. When you talk with the shopkeeper, his sister chips in from the other side of the store. But if you'd rather not play matchmaker or hunt down a golden dragon claw, you might instead sink time into any number of the crafting systems.

Away from the towns, there are wild plants and mushrooms to be harvested and butterflies to be captured. Each of them are ingredients to be ground up and mixed into potions at an alchemy workbench, which intriguingly invites you to experiment with combinations of items to discover new elixirs. There are also tanning racks for treating animal skins you've nicked off Skyrim's wildlife, blacksmith forges for working weapons, and cooking spits on which to prepare food. We whipped up a batch of magically active cheese fondue that was flavored with illegal moon dust lifted from an orc dealer we met and murdered on our travels.

Soon realising that getting to Markarth is a near impossible task, we stop at a nearby inn to get a room and restore our energy and health. As we should've expected, it's not just your run-of-the-mill hotel, according to its owner, Eydis. She explains that the great Tiber Septim used to lodge in the inn as he raged war across the land, and you're offered his room, being the fine warrior that you are.

Taking rest in the grand lodgings, you're awoken by the landlady's scream. Rushing to her aid Eydis tells you she has seen a ghost and, low and behold, sat behind in a chair near the back of the inn is the spirit in question. Calm to the end, a quick conversation reveals it's one of Septim's soldier's spirits wanting to become blood brothers with Hjalti, the man he believes you to be.

Septim needs his sword so he can finally be at peace, which means another voyage into the unknown, complete with a conflict between yourself and a mini-faction who seem intent on keeping the brutal artefact hidden. With the sword eventually returned, the man vanishes, leaving you with a healthy increase for your sword and shield ability.

VG247 also had the chance to talk with art director Matt Carofano, and mentions leveling up five times in three hours:
Heading through the undergrowth I switch to third-person to get a feel for how this more alien viewpoint fits the game. It's a view that I return to several times over the period of the three hours, in order to see how those who like their action viewed from above and behind will be served. Happily, the sense of connection with the environment is much improved over Oblivion's feeling of gliding steps and floaty jumps, though I still can't imagine wanting to play the entire game this way.

(We primarily view the game as a first-person experience, but we know that people do play in third-person and that it's an important element for some players,) assures Carafano. (We've put a lot more work into it we have a new animation system that makes the controls and blending a lot better in third person.

(We also do a lot of tricks with the camera as you play, so when you go into combat the camera pulls back and pitches down a little so that you have a better view when fighting. We've basically just improved the whole third person experience which was perhaps a little clunky before.)

The Sixth Axis:
Riverwood is a small, idyllic little town down by the babbling water. Within it, I decided to spend some time with a kindly blacksmith, learning how to create and upgrade weapons and armour from raw materials, how to tan leather and such. It's a deep, compulsive crafting system, with its own levelling component. Fun, but I had business elsewhere.


I murdered the entire village in the end, including the archer, the blacksmith, the brother and their families. Their flesh seared with a fire spell that burst from my fingers like a flamethrower. I slashed at their bodies with daggers assigned to each hand. I picked the locks of their houses and chests in much the same way as Fallout 3. Then I fled the scene, traversing mountains, dungeons and icy tundra, weighed down with the very best loot Riverwood had to offer.

My journey continued. I tried to rescue a giant who was under attack. I boggled at the frankly astounding skill trees, caught butterflies and farmed herbs. I stole horses and galloped across the rocky landscape in a squall of rain. I fought off wolves and stumbled past mammoths, scoffing stolen food and potions to survive. I never encountered a dragon.

GameReactor UK, too, notes that this is supposedly a very early build and calls it "pre-alpha":
There were issues. Difficultly spikes were one of them; in our first quest, through catacombs in an attempt to reclaim a stolen item, we were repeatedly overwhelmed and slaughtered, enemy health and our experience not balancing quite as deftly as we'd like, meaning a fairly-placed fear of our life turned towards frustration. However, without the first area to play through, we're uncertain whether particular combat skills - or just plain familiarity injecting confidence - would have been in place by this point, and our deaths lessened as result. Only the occasional head-jerk, clearly in anger, by everyone else in our group suggesting Skyrim's a vicious place to begin for newcomer and veteran alike.

Also - and again, this was a pre-alpha build, so what results in the final retail title might be different - we thought certain fast-travel should be curtailed completely. You can only initiate the ability back to somewhere you've been, but a horse carriage at one of the first settlements raised our curiosity enough that we jumped onboard and took us far beyond were our legs could have taken us, and as a result we were plumped into both the middle of a town and ongoing story quest that disoriented us momentarily. Best bet? Stick to on-foot or buy a horse, but never accept a lift from a stranger.

Kotaku mentions an "exhilarating bug":
I travel to another town. But when I arrive a guard attacks me. Word has gotten round it seems.

I manage to pay off the guard and clear my surprise, apparently unwarranted warrant just in time for the play session to end.

It's pre-alpha code, I'm reminded by the attending PR folks.

It doesn't bother me. Even if it was a bug, it was an exhilarating one; one that created the illusion that no one knows what to expect from this game, not even the people who made it.

I finally made it to the highest peak. The Shrine of Azura was a monumental statue of a woman, or the Goddess of Dawn and Dusk according to the lone worshiper at the base. Aronea Lenith was a follower of Azura. According to her: Azura lead their people out of Morrowind to safety. Aroenea knew I was coming. She had visions I would one day meet her here at the Shrine to take on my role as the chosen one. Me? A lowly cowardly cat woman? I of course agreed with her, and she sent me on my way to Winterhold in search of an Elven mage who had power of the stars. I could find him at the magic college, which I assume is Hogwarts Graduate School (I have a confession to make here, it's possible I clicked the wrong location because I never did find the mead).

As the name suggests, Winterhold is pretty damn wintery. The weather mechanics implemented into Skyrim are the best I've ever seen. The blizzard I walked through looked like snow, milky white diamonds plummeting to the ground. To drive the point home, Bethesda made sure the room we were playing in was a cool -40 degrees. I explored the town until I found a weird and pointy looking woman at the top of some stairs. I followed her through some stone arches as she answered questions about the college and the mage I was looking for, an elf named Nelacar. In order to enter the college, I had to prove my magic ability by using the spell fireball, a skill I didn't have. When I told the woman I lacked that skill, she offered to sell it to me for 30 gold. What a deal! Once I equipped Fireball to L, all I had to do was shoot the fire at a symbol on the ground. (Dear Meowth, you've been accepted to the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.)

Just like in real life, I didn't have much interest in actually going to college, so I set my marker for the mysterious mage. I found him in the town's inn bothering a patron. He wasn't happy a stranger was asking questions about him. I exhausted my dialogue options and was unable to continue a conversation with him. As an avid gamer, I figured I hadn't unlocked the key piece of dialogue I needed yet. I left the inn and continued to explore.

The city to the northeast is a lakeside property called Riften. The town is controlled by the iron fist of the Black-Briars and their harsh leader, Maven. At the gate I'm told I'm required to pay a "visitor's tax" to enter. I refuse and wonder aloud whether or not the guards of the city know people are being shaken down for spare gold at the entrance, the "tax man" reconsiders his stance and lets me enter. Inside, Maven's right-hand man Maul tells me not to stir trouble in Maven's town. She doesn't take kindly to conflict, he implies, but seems more than willing to have a battle of his own.

Eventually I meet Brynjolf, the leader of what is essentially the Thieves Guild. It isn't as blatant as it was in Oblivion. There is no flags outside of a clubhouse signifying their association, it's something and someone you must seek out for yourself. In the market, I'm given a task to steal a ring from one merchant and plant it on another. Unfortunately, I'm unable to keep to the shadows and am caught.

Approaching my final fifteen minutes of the play session, Brynjolf tells me that he is still interested in my recruitment despite my failed mission. A hidden bar within the sewers of Riften houses the guild and Brynjolf assures me that if I make my way through the trap and enemy infested area, more opportunity awaits.

After learning these spells, it was time to select which ones would be my "go-tos." Because this demo was on Xbox 360, I assigned my Flame spell to the Right Trigger while Fury was tied to the Left Trigger. In addition, each of the spells can be set as a "favorite" to the D-pad, saving a trip to the inventory menu.

With my spells equipped I started to venture forth from Riverwood, up the mountainside to the ruins known as Bleak Falls Barren. The remnants of a castle jutted out from the hillside; this is where the bandits were, and it gave me my first chance to unleash a flurry of Magik spells.

Three bandits charged at me. Immediately, I fired off a Fury spell that sent one of them into a rage, attacking the two other bandits -- they ignored me and concentrated on their corrupted friend. This allowed me to move in close and flank one of the bandits, attacking him with a Flame spell that turned him into a quivering mess of fire on the ground. I scrolled through my "favorites" and cast Raise Zombie on the fresh corpse. After a few seconds, the recently defeated bandit rose up and began to attack the remaining bandits. The zombies I create only fight by my side for about a minute before they turn into a pile of ash, but it is utter chaos until then. I love it.

The New York Post:
During my three-hour playthrough, I was able to join a warrior guild called the Companions, recruit an elvish archer to come on my various quests and take on trolls (which I was unsuccessful with many, many times). Even then, I still left feeling I had not captured even one percent of what Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will bring to the table come November.

Throughout the game, you will encounter different stone pillars that will allow you to select a (sign) to carry, and each of the three signs provides you with statistic boosts related to either magical, combat or stealth abilities. In addition to those, when leveling up your character will be able to look to the sky and select a particular attribute to enhance and select from a grid system a new ability. This allows for a great deal of choice and customization when leveling up your character.

Visually, Skyrim might be the most appealing title Bethesda has ever produced. From breathtaking natural-seeming environments complete with snowy peaks and rushing rivers, to the charm of civilized life both big and small, The Elder Scrolls V might as well be up for a few awards. In the previous game in the series, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, there were some issues to be had in this department (as well as others) due to bugs that crept up along with the game's initial release. The game's developers don't believe that such bugs should be an issue with Skyrim, telling me in an email over this past weekend that "We get better each time. Our last game, Fallout 3, was a lot more solid than Oblivion." -- implying that Skyrim should be even more solid than Fallout 3.

One final thing worth noting is that while Skyrim is the fifth game in the Elder Scrolls series, players don't need to have played the previous four numbered games to get a grasp on The Elder Scrolls V. Bethesda treats each game in the series as its own stand-alone title and, while light references might be made to locations and such from earlier games (my playthrough mentioned about something having happened in an area known as Morrowind), previous knowledge or gameplay experience from the other Elder Scrolls titles is not required.

To conclude, Alec Meer offers another Skyrim vignette on Rock, Paper, Shotgun:
Heh. I have a favourite spell in Skyrim, and that is the raise zombie spell. Fell a foe (bosses apparently excluded) and you can spend a good chunk of your mana resurrecting it as a shambling slave who fights for you. I'd successfully experimented with wolves and bandits already, but while exploring a dungeon inhabited by the magically-animated spirits of long-dead Nord warriors (known officially as Draugr), I had an idea. What if I resurrected a zombie as a zombie? A meta-zombie, if you will.

I was slightly worried it would cause reality to fold in on itself, but in fact it worked out rather well. The Draugr were presenting me with rather a stiff challenge, as I'd poured most of my upgrade points into crafting and being able to run for longer, so being able to turn one of their number against the rest got me out of a lot of trouble. My own personal, unprotesting meatshield. I found a particularly hardy and well-armoured one that could also cast some sort of life-draining magic and kept it by my side (or, rather, at my front, taking all the blows meant for me), and dungeon life was good. I had a protector, doing all the hard work for me, and because he was technically already dead before I got to him, there was none of that icky morality stuff to worry about.