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Three Hours With The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Was Not Enough

180 minutes felt like nothing, but it was all we needed to realize how far Bethesda's come.

With the new "favorites" tab, switching between magic/sword/shield combos is very easy.

If I walked up the stairs, there was an screen-filling demon happy to stomp my face in. If I walked down the stairs, a stone creature with a banana-shaped hammer would do the same thing. For an hour, I would die, die some more, then ask Twitter for help, die a dozen times trying out their help, finally figure it out, sigh with relief, and reluctantly move on.

So goes Dark Souls. In pursuit of trying to understand From Software’s unique RPG tick, I’ve been playing the sequel to Demon's Souls. I just so happened to be doing that the night before playing three straight hours of a very different RPG, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

If you read my story about a conflicted relationship with fantasy, you either understand where I’m coming from (simply not finding fantasy very appealing) or were left wondering why those stories are on the front page (a bunch of you!). The reason I felt compelled to write that story was working through a paradox: if I don’t like fantasy, how come Skyrim is my most anticipated game this year? Because of Bethesda Game Studios. After 100 hours inside Fallout 3, I’ll play whatever that studio decides to put out.

Keep that in mind. My impressions rooted in spending days in Fallout 3 but less than an hour with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I was in college at the time, so my aversion to fantasy, combined with a heavy interest in going to bars and acting like an idiot, got in the way. That said, if you are coming from Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas, Skyrim feels lovingly familiar.

Skyrim feels like Fallout 3 in two respects, neither of which should scare Oblivion fans. On a superficial level, Skyrim has adopted the cinematic kills from Fallout 3, seemingly triggered by the last strike on an enemy. The camera moves from first to third person, followed by a satisfying finishing animation. More importantly, Skyrim combines the leveling structures of both Fallout 3 and Oblivion, rewarding players for investing in specific skills while also having diverse skill trees for perk points.

The two systems feed into one another. If you want to unlock a blocking perk, you’ll have to start blocking. You’re not allowed to access certain perks until each skill has been leveled to the point the perk has become unlocked. This both rewards players for performing certain actions, while also encouraging them to avoid dumping perk after perk into the same paths. You don’t have to spend a perk point when you level up, so if you’d like to save them for later, go right ahead.

It's not clear in this shot, but fighting through a blizzard in Skyrim is tense, your vision is completely skewered.

But let’s back up. While I was allowed to play more or less the first three hours of Skyrim, my save skipped the intro. I was able to pick a character, class and customize my look, but as for how the game really opens up, I have no idea. Bethesda told me I was starting about 45 minutes into the game.

Everything started by leaving a cave, which felt quite a bit like exiting the Vault in Fallout 3. This meant quickly encountering a scary, sprawling world directly in front of me, and while there were markers pointing me in directions that would progress the story, if I wanted to head left, there was nothing stopping me. This proved to be both an absorbing and terrifying feeling at the same time. All around me, other writers were playing the same game, and it felt like a thousand eyes were judging at once. To keep calm, I decided to load up the inventory and figure out what life was like without a Pipboy to help me out.

One of the best parts of any Bethesda game is trying to break the world. Why not kill this dude?

The interface is much improved, but I can only speak for how it worked on an Xbox 360, as that’s what Bethesda had me playing on. By far, my favorite new addition is actually called favorites. When you pick up a weapon, item, scroll--basically anything that could be useful in the heat of battle--you have the option to assign it as a “favorite.” By tapping up or down on the d-pad, the favorites list comes up and combat pauses. You can then scroll through your preferred list of combat options and equip as the battle requires. Tap LT to equip on the left, tap LT for the right.

This proved especially useful in situations where I’d used up all my available magic points, and needed to quickly start blocking a small army of incoming skeletons with my shield.

One of the combat memes from both Fallout 3 and Oblivion seems to be walking backwards, waiting for meters to recharge. That appears true in Skyrim, but my combat abilities were so limited in the three hours that I’d hardly consider that a settled statement, especially since I had not been able to unlock my first dragon shout, which would allow me to push enemies back.

And boy, and do those skeletons (and everything else) look good this time around, too. This was punctuated early on by the impressive weather effects. While pursing an early side quest picked up in the game’s first town, I started up a nearby mountain. In the town itself, all was calm--it was a gorgeous day in Skyrim. As I began to scale the mountain, heading higher and higher up, the piles of snow began to build, and the wind started to pick up. Soon, I was tossing fireballs and swinging a sword through a full-on blizzard, and I actually found myself squinting to see more. It adds a noteworthy dynamic to even the simplest of battles, as you’re not only focused on employing proper tactics, you’re fighting through the (virtual) elements, too.

This immersion extends from the atmosphere that's literally swirling around you to the tiniest, seemingly insignificant, and easily avoidable details. While wandering around the game’s first major city, Whiterun, I encountered a table adorned with a map. Said map was littered with little markers that were examinable, but like so many things in a Bethesda open world game, I figured this was an object I could steal for no good reason. Instead, examining the markers actually added those details to my own map, filling out parts of the world that I probably wouldn’t come across hours from now.

If you can see it, you can probably walk there, even if you probably shouldn't.

That’s the biggest takeaway from three hours with Skyrim: the little details. Bethesda has spent decades building these games, and no one does it better. Even the annoying quirks on the lowest rungs are getting worked out, such as acquiring a quest item ahead of getting the quest itself and not having the game acknowledge how weird that is. Now, the quest givers will actually compliment you for being so proactive.

And then there’s how the NPCs chat with one another more realistically, how some of the perks sound incredibly useful (convincing police to forget about a crime you just committed), exploring dungeons with legitimately interesting environmental puzzles to suss out, missed spells leaving marks around the world, much improved local maps that make getting around much easier--the list goes on and on.

Have I really made it this far without talking about fighting a god damn dragon? Well, fighting and losing--three times. But that's only because I rushed to fight it as the clock wound down, and Bethesda was warning me my time was almost up. I didn't even care about fighting the dragon--I just wanted to keep exploring.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
246 Comments
Posted by patrickklepek
With the new "favorites" tab, switching between magic/sword/shield combos is very easy.

If I walked up the stairs, there was an screen-filling demon happy to stomp my face in. If I walked down the stairs, a stone creature with a banana-shaped hammer would do the same thing. For an hour, I would die, die some more, then ask Twitter for help, die a dozen times trying out their help, finally figure it out, sigh with relief, and reluctantly move on.

So goes Dark Souls. In pursuit of trying to understand From Software’s unique RPG tick, I’ve been playing the sequel to Demon's Souls. I just so happened to be doing that the night before playing three straight hours of a very different RPG, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

If you read my story about a conflicted relationship with fantasy, you either understand where I’m coming from (simply not finding fantasy very appealing) or were left wondering why those stories are on the front page (a bunch of you!). The reason I felt compelled to write that story was working through a paradox: if I don’t like fantasy, how come Skyrim is my most anticipated game this year? Because of Bethesda Game Studios. After 100 hours inside Fallout 3, I’ll play whatever that studio decides to put out.

Keep that in mind. My impressions rooted in spending days in Fallout 3 but less than an hour with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I was in college at the time, so my aversion to fantasy, combined with a heavy interest in going to bars and acting like an idiot, got in the way. That said, if you are coming from Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas, Skyrim feels lovingly familiar.

Skyrim feels like Fallout 3 in two respects, neither of which should scare Oblivion fans. On a superficial level, Skyrim has adopted the cinematic kills from Fallout 3, seemingly triggered by the last strike on an enemy. The camera moves from first to third person, followed by a satisfying finishing animation. More importantly, Skyrim combines the leveling structures of both Fallout 3 and Oblivion, rewarding players for investing in specific skills while also having diverse skill trees for perk points.

The two systems feed into one another. If you want to unlock a blocking perk, you’ll have to start blocking. You’re not allowed to access certain perks until each skill has been leveled to the point the perk has become unlocked. This both rewards players for performing certain actions, while also encouraging them to avoid dumping perk after perk into the same paths. You don’t have to spend a perk point when you level up, so if you’d like to save them for later, go right ahead.

It's not clear in this shot, but fighting through a blizzard in Skyrim is tense, your vision is completely skewered.

But let’s back up. While I was allowed to play more or less the first three hours of Skyrim, my save skipped the intro. I was able to pick a character, class and customize my look, but as for how the game really opens up, I have no idea. Bethesda told me I was starting about 45 minutes into the game.

Everything started by leaving a cave, which felt quite a bit like exiting the Vault in Fallout 3. This meant quickly encountering a scary, sprawling world directly in front of me, and while there were markers pointing me in directions that would progress the story, if I wanted to head left, there was nothing stopping me. This proved to be both an absorbing and terrifying feeling at the same time. All around me, other writers were playing the same game, and it felt like a thousand eyes were judging at once. To keep calm, I decided to load up the inventory and figure out what life was like without a Pipboy to help me out.

One of the best parts of any Bethesda game is trying to break the world. Why not kill this dude?

The interface is much improved, but I can only speak for how it worked on an Xbox 360, as that’s what Bethesda had me playing on. By far, my favorite new addition is actually called favorites. When you pick up a weapon, item, scroll--basically anything that could be useful in the heat of battle--you have the option to assign it as a “favorite.” By tapping up or down on the d-pad, the favorites list comes up and combat pauses. You can then scroll through your preferred list of combat options and equip as the battle requires. Tap LT to equip on the left, tap LT for the right.

This proved especially useful in situations where I’d used up all my available magic points, and needed to quickly start blocking a small army of incoming skeletons with my shield.

One of the combat memes from both Fallout 3 and Oblivion seems to be walking backwards, waiting for meters to recharge. That appears true in Skyrim, but my combat abilities were so limited in the three hours that I’d hardly consider that a settled statement, especially since I had not been able to unlock my first dragon shout, which would allow me to push enemies back.

And boy, and do those skeletons (and everything else) look good this time around, too. This was punctuated early on by the impressive weather effects. While pursing an early side quest picked up in the game’s first town, I started up a nearby mountain. In the town itself, all was calm--it was a gorgeous day in Skyrim. As I began to scale the mountain, heading higher and higher up, the piles of snow began to build, and the wind started to pick up. Soon, I was tossing fireballs and swinging a sword through a full-on blizzard, and I actually found myself squinting to see more. It adds a noteworthy dynamic to even the simplest of battles, as you’re not only focused on employing proper tactics, you’re fighting through the (virtual) elements, too.

This immersion extends from the atmosphere that's literally swirling around you to the tiniest, seemingly insignificant, and easily avoidable details. While wandering around the game’s first major city, Whiterun, I encountered a table adorned with a map. Said map was littered with little markers that were examinable, but like so many things in a Bethesda open world game, I figured this was an object I could steal for no good reason. Instead, examining the markers actually added those details to my own map, filling out parts of the world that I probably wouldn’t come across hours from now.

If you can see it, you can probably walk there, even if you probably shouldn't.

That’s the biggest takeaway from three hours with Skyrim: the little details. Bethesda has spent decades building these games, and no one does it better. Even the annoying quirks on the lowest rungs are getting worked out, such as acquiring a quest item ahead of getting the quest itself and not having the game acknowledge how weird that is. Now, the quest givers will actually compliment you for being so proactive.

And then there’s how the NPCs chat with one another more realistically, how some of the perks sound incredibly useful (convincing police to forget about a crime you just committed), exploring dungeons with legitimately interesting environmental puzzles to suss out, missed spells leaving marks around the world, much improved local maps that make getting around much easier--the list goes on and on.

Have I really made it this far without talking about fighting a god damn dragon? Well, fighting and losing--three times. But that's only because I rushed to fight it as the clock wound down, and Bethesda was warning me my time was almost up. I didn't even care about fighting the dragon--I just wanted to keep exploring.

Staff
Edited by Javes

I need this game.

Posted by sionweeks

EXCITED

Posted by DaemonBlack

Ugh I envy you so much Patrick...

Posted by Bobby_The_Great

It's never enough.

Posted by themangalist

MUST.RESIST.URGE.TO.READ.ANYTHING.ON...
 
NOOOOSSSTTTRRRUUUUUKKKTTTTAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by SlashDance

3 weeks...

Posted by zombie2011

This game better be amazing, i've held off on getting Dark Souls until next year because i felt this game would be better.

Posted by Animasta

patrick does this main story seem interesting at all, this is basically the only thing preventing me from getting this game.

Posted by Tan

Maximum hype. Stop trying to sell me this game, Patrick. ;_;

Posted by InfamousBIG

Fuck goddamnit it and JUST when I thought I could wait.

Posted by patrickklepek

@Animasta said:

patrick does this main story seem interesting at all, this is basically the only thing preventing me from getting this game.

Hard to say yet, but Fallout 3's main quest wasn't that great--but the side quests were.

Staff
Posted by jasonefmonk

Great read. Getting me more excited then my wallet can handle.

Posted by Koshka

I don't mean to be nitpicky as I loved the article...

but why so many grammar errors?

Edited by InfamousBIG

@patrickklepek:

Tap LT to equip on the left, tap LT for the right.

Typo there, should be RT for the right.

Posted by ShadowKnight508

Oh how the next three weeks will be painful waiting for this potential masterpiece.

Edited by Antihippy

The dark souls excerpt was kinda random. Doesn't really seem to tie into the overall preview.

Still a good preview though. Skyrim looks amazing.

Posted by mikey87144

And that is why we love Bethesda games. Yes, you can do the main quest. Maybe you should try to get it out of the way, but that mountain looks really cool, that girl has a quest for me, that dungeon just got added to my map, what do those plants do, oh shit I accidentally stole something and now the Wardens are after me, that bandit tried to rob me, and so on and so on. In my opinion reviewers should just play the game for a while and then write a review of whether they like it or not. The main quest has never really been the best part of TES games.

Posted by fatman032

I'm scared that this game is going to take the last of my free time. The more important question i should be asking is will it also take the time I have devoted to other games and eat that also? I'm a little intimidated to play something this big a great.

Posted by jorbear

Fuck I need this.

Posted by AndrewB

Stop talking about it. It just makes the wait even more painful.

Posted by biozal

WTB clone to go to work for me so I can play this...

Posted by 9999dmg

October is way too long of a month.

Posted by A_Wet_Shamwow

My body is ready.

Posted by mikey87144

@Animasta said:

patrick does this main story seem interesting at all, this is basically the only thing preventing me from getting this game.

Ask any Elder Scrolls fan, the main story is not the best part of the game. The side quests are were these games truly separate themselves from other Fantasy games.

Posted by RadixNegative2

For the love of god be 11-11-11 already!!

Online
Posted by Franstone

Between Battlefield and Skyrim I don't think I'll ever need to buy another game again...

; )

Posted by SlightConfuse

Do the police still say "stop thief you hav broken the law"

Posted by Metal_Mills

"This was punctuated early on by the impressive weather effects" 
 
I loooooooove good weather effects!

Posted by UltraMagnus

Why, wouldn't you care to explore this mountain land full of dragons that clip through walls and brain-dead NPCs?

Edited by Kixxi

The first four paragraphs were entirely irrelevant, and again only about you, but thanks for posting some actual details about the game.

Posted by NekuCTR

that's some high ass praise. Officially ordering on Amazon because of you Pat.

Posted by LaszloKovacs

Patrick, you're a fantastic journalist, but you really ought to have somebody proofread these before they get pushed to the front page. Given how high the quality of the work is, it seems like a real shame to let such a minor issue distract from it.

Posted by lockwoodx

I'm not sold on this yet. It's the modders who have always had to save elder scrolls games and make them playable. Buying Skyrim at launch would be like shooting myself in the foot.

Posted by ValiantGrizzly

The question on everyone's mind, though...

Will there be diagonal running animations?

Posted by Beforet

My new wallpaper!

Posted by Buddah

I should really stop reading about this game, it just excites me even more.

Posted by MightyDuck

I think this may be the game I'm most excited for this holiday season. Can't wait.

Posted by CharAznable

Excellent preview, Patrick. I am beyond pumped for this game's release.

Posted by Tru3_Blu3

Why is there cinematic blur when concocting potions? Did they just get that from Fallo--

OMG, PLEASE TODD! PUT THAT GUN AWAY FROM MY FAMILY! GOD DAMN IT, TODD!

Posted by ValiantGrizzly

@Kixxi said:

The first four paragraphs were entirely irrelevant, and again only about you, but thanks for posting some actual details about the game.

This post was entirely irrelevant, and only about your need to be a dick on the internet.

Posted by SSully

Great write up. I am looking forward to this even more now.

Posted by 420BONERJAMZ

"Tap LT to equip on the left, tap LT for the right."

Posted by Ravenousrattler

well i knew that already, of course three hours isn't enough.

Posted by punkxblaze

If I could preorder this again, I would. And then I'd preorder it a third time.

Posted by gregoryc

Are those screenshots from the Xbox build? They look pretty good (comparatively speaking).

Posted by Moloney

Yeah, still can't wait.

Posted by Excast

Yep, this is definitely going to be a Black Friday pick up.

Posted by drew327

9 words to first typo! New record?

Yes, I'm a jerk...

Posted by IrishBrewed

On their official website they have a three part demo of the game. And although their is some framerate issues it's by far the best over all looking game I have seen on a 360. Considering it's scope and detail. Really torn between the PC version and my 360. Looking forward to it either way, Bethesda might be one of the few companies left that understands how to make a in depth compelling fantasy RPG.