E3 2011 Preview: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Dragons. Dragons, everywhere.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the next installment in the revered Elder Scrolls series, and was one of my most anticipated titles at E3 2011. I was fortunate enough to be given a live demonstration of the game by the team at Bethesda. Skyrim has evolved and changed the way we play Elder Scrolls, and takes no second swings to ensure that it hits its target.

The gameplay demonstration began beautifully. The perfect scene to show off how gorgeous Skyrim looks, we were shown an alluring landscape that reached out far into the distance. We were explained that the game hides nothing. Every little detail to every rendered object is carefully constructed to look stunning and realistic, said the team. From the leaves and hairs on plants you may pick, to the mountain far off in view, nothing in Skyrim is just simply painted on. It’s all rendered by Bethesda’s new Creation engine. Because of this, the mountain in the backdrop is not just scenery, but a fully textured and sculptured mountain the player may climb. It’s very hard to ignore the artistry and level of detail that has gone into Skyrim simply because it is so obvious and engulfing.

The level of detail doesn’t stop at graphics. Skyrim features an overhauled inventory system that allows you to inspect all of your items. Any item in your possession is subject to your personal inspection of every little detail on every end and area of that item. Whether the item is a weapon, key item, ingredient or book. Every book in the game can be picked up and read — the book will fold out in front of you (in your inventory), and allow you to flip through the pages and read every line as you please. Literature has always been a part of the Elder Scrolls series, as well as the culture of Tamriel. However, Skyrim brings literature and reading to a completely new level.

The world remains in motion as you speak to NPCs

Books and visual aesthetics barley scratch the surface. Gameplay has evolved greatly — combat is more engaging than its predecessor. Simple things such as swinging your sword and casting a spell have become more fluid. When the force of steel cuts across the body of a furious, hungry wolf, it not only looks right but it sounds right. Blood splattering across your blade looks wonderful, and the dynamic display of light, shadow, and fire looks even better as you hurl a fireball spell across the area at an unsuspecting thief. Your actions feel strong and your spells no longer as weak as they did in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. With the addition of kill cams, in the same fashion of Fallout, we may see heroic displays of execution as the player drives his blade through the hearts and heads of enemies. Everything has been tweaked and reworked so that it looks and feels just right.

During our demo, we were taken on a sight-seeing journey, the developers showing us just how good Skyrim looks, taking out a few creatures along the way. A thief here, a wolf there. It wasn’t very long before our hero was in town, interacting with and talking to NPCs. When speaking to others, the game no longer stops the world around you — everything plays out dynamically in real time. Around town, the hero may choose to disrupt business, or take on some jobs of his own to make some money, both actions we were told to have an effect on Skyrim‘s in-game economy. However, our hero had no time for such activities. There were dungeons to be raided and dragons to be slain.

After traveling to a nearby dungeon and making his way up its entrance steps, our hero is attacked by a dragon. Dragons are the ultimate bosses of Skyrim. Unscripted artificial intelligence that fight with no pattern, whatsoever. They serve as not only challenge, but one of your only ways of learning abilities called “Shouts.” As a dragonborn, the hero has the blood of dragons flowing through his veins, and is proficient in speaking, reading, writing, and shouting the language of the fire-breathing beasts. Shouts are mapped to a single button and can be cycled through as the player wishes. Defeating dragons allows you to absorb their souls and teach yourself new and different shout abilities. You may also learn shouts by reading the language of dragons on objects called “word walls.” Shouts can range power the player from anywhere between an amazing burst of speed, or your ticket to summoning a storm and calling down lightning to strike your foes. It is one of the most exhilarating features in a game I have ever seen.

As the dragon takes flight overhead and is landing behind our hero, the two engage in battle. A quick and short engagement, as the player decides it is not best to fight the dragon at this time. He instead makes his way into the dungeon, which is only one of over 150 dungeons included in Skyrim. Unlike Oblivion, the dungeons in this title are said to appear differently and unique, in attempts to set themselves apart from each other (a good sign, considering this was a huge drawback for myself while playing Oblivion). Our hero makes his way silently through the dungeon, and begins a quest entitled “The Golden Claw.” The hero fights his way through the caverns while showcasing a marvelous display of new spells and abilities. “Rune Magic” makes its first appearance as the hero inscribes a rune into the floor, acting as a trap for charging creatures. An ice rune encases all nearby enemies within a block of ice and gives the player ample time to begin his assault. Of course, we also saw environmental traps, such as a swinging door with sharp protruding spikes that kill ambitious, yet impatient enemy creatures.

There are over 150 dungeons in Skyrim

More Skyrim screenshots

Eventually, the hero reached a man caught in a spider web. After dealing with a sudden spider problem, the hero set free the trapped man who began to run away, the Golden Claw in his possession. The hero chased and struck down the man, looting the claw off of his body. Akin to Resident Evil, the player must inspect items to find solutions to puzzles. The claw is used to unlock a door. The correct combination to unlocking this door is engraved onto the claw itself. Inspecting the item in your inventory gives you access to the solution, and the is the key to continuing your game.

Upon exiting the dungeon, we received one last look at the game’s wondrous landscape. It is short lived, as the dragon from earlier attempted to engage the hero once more. The battle began as tooth and nail strike against the blade of steel. As mentioned earlier, dragons are unscripted — the dragon may take off in flight whenever he likes, in attempts to burn the hero with his breath from above. The fight is not long, but it is nowhere near a short bout. I should mention that the hero was given a boost in strength for purposes of the demo, and real fights should last longer. Due to this, I am unable to provide an accurate time frame for the length of dragon battles.

Upon defeating the dragon, our hero learned a new shout and is descended on once more by yet another dragon. The new dragon takes off into the sky and the hero shouts the language of the beast, calling down a storm of rain and lightning. Lightning struck the dragon down and clipped his wings, grounding it for the remainder of the battle. The hero took strong courageous swings, and finally ended it by jumping on the beast’s back, and severing its head.

With that, the demo ended, left to depart without breath. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a masterpiece in the making. It’s very difficult to put the game into words, as it’s something you must see to believe.

Skyrim is set to release November 11th, 2011 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.

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