PREVIEW: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

We’re getting very close to the official release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Bethesda is still playing its cards close to its chest. From what we’ve seen of the game, that must be taking a fair amount of willpower – if I had a game that looked like this, I’d be playing it on a huge screen so that everybody could see it.

But, alas. With 11/11/11 looming, much of Skyrim has been kept under wraps. What do we really know about the game so far?

[img_big]center,7257,2011-10-20/1618Tundra.jpg,It certainly looks pretty…[/img_big]

Skyrim takes place 200 years after earlier game Oblivion, and while the characters themselves have changed and the reasons have evolved, the nation is in a state of political turmoil once again following the assassination of the king of Skyrim. The resulting civil war (as predicted by the Elder Scrolls) sees a battle raging between the residents of Northern Skyrim – the Nords – and the rest of the nation.

Oh, and while the Scrolls predicted the civil war, they also predicted one other bit of drama: The Nordic god of destruction, Alduin, has taken the form of an enormous dragon, prophesied to consume the entire world. So, um. Yeah. Bad times ahead for the land of Skyrim, unless you – the final Dragonborn – can do something to help out.

Obviously in a game as huge as Skyrim, story plays a massive part, but it’s a tricky one to pop into a nutshell. It’s the sort of thing that will keep unfolding as you play.

Everybody that I’ve spoken to who’s played the game has had a completely different experience with it. There are some who’ve headed to the frozen wastelands, just to see what was there. Others went south to explore rivers, north-east to climb mountains, and every other point on the compass – and each came back with a unique tale.

Quests – and side quests – are marked to varying degrees. Some are triggered by speaking to specific characters, while others will start simply by walking in a certain direction at a certain point. If you’re looking for glowing yellow punctuation hovering above NPC’s heads, you’re in the wrong place.

Similarly, things are less blatantly sign-posted than they were in Oblivion. No handy flags point out the Thieves Guild, but once you know where it is, you can find it for yourself.

[img_big]center,7257,2011-10-20/1615RiftenGuard.jpg,You shall not pass, etc[/img_big]

Your character can be completely customised, just the way you like it. Some of the creations we’ve seen walking around have been mindblowing – this goes way beyond gender, hairstyle and skin colour. Choose face paint, scars, body size, muscle mass, and your character’s race – which does play a (small) part in the way other characters react to you.

The game does take a step away from typical Elder Scrolls character creation – the Skyrim developers want you to start playing the game straight away, rather than faffing about with birth signs and other carry-on. If you want to play as a warrior, grab a heavy weapon or two. Mage? Wear a robe. The more you do it, the better you’ll get – and your character will grow and evolve as you play.

I love the way the skill “tree” is presented – rather than anything worldly, with leaves and branches, your skills, progress and perks are all displayed in the heavens, against a backdrop of stars. Your personal journey is immortalised in the skies as you create your own constellations with upgrades and tweaks. (I do wonder though if people might upgrade certain skills just to complete star patterns…)

[img_big]center,7257,2011-10-20/1611DraugrLord.jpg,That’s an impressive battle-axe you have there, sir[/img_big]

Combat looks amazing – and, like everything else, is largely what you make it. Right-handed attacks are linked to your right-handed controller (which button exactly depends on your console), while left-handed… you get the idea. Equip a melee weapon to one and a spell to the other, two different spells, or two of the same type to double the strength. Depending on how you play out the fight, Skyrim is equipped with some shiny finishing moves, too – the camera panning out so you can see your character dispatch the enemy in a dramatic fashion.

Now – even though we’ve heard that QA testers within Bethesda have been able to clock this game in just a couple of hours, r that’s by no means standard. These are people who know the game inside and out, who know which quests to take and which to skip, and – importantly – where everything is. With a game-world as large as this one (16 square miles, 5 major cities and more than 130 dungeons), I’d be more inclined to take my time and just stroll around a while.

In your stroll, you’re likely to find vampires, ghosts, a headless horseman or two, necromancers (who can resurrect their fallen comrades), and a whole bunch of more wordly foes including bears, wolves and the sea-lion like Horken. And there are dragons. Always, dragons. They’re kind of the point, right?

[img_big]center,7257,2011-06-08/Skyrim_Screenshot_4.jpg,Distant Dragon[/img_big]

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is due out on the poetic date of November 11th (that is, 11/11/11 no matter which way you write things), for Xbox 360, PC and PS3. From all accounts, this one’s shaping up as definite Game of the Year fodder… if you haven’t already asked for the day off work, you might be leaving things a little late – not that we encourage that sort of thing, of course! *cough*

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