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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Hands-On Preview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 03:57pm 08/08/11 | Comments
AusGamers was one of the first media outlets in the world to get hands-on time with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Read on for what we discovered...

“This is a new build, it’s only a few days old, and I am fucking terrified,” proclaims Bethesda Game Studios’ Todd Howard while we sit in a 20th floor hotel room, limited in number and exclusive in access. We’re a small troupe of journalists from around the world, and all getting very, very early hands-on access with Skyrim. In fact, the build has barely been shown to anyone outside of the studio, which makes this hour-long play-session all the more special. So when both Todd and Bethesda’s Pete Hines tell us to play with the game’s character creation system, I run for the hills, literally. As awesome as it looked, and as in-depth as it might be, there was no way I was wasting any time creating a character when there’s a brand-new Bethesda-developed Elder Scrolls game-world to explore.

To this end I whipped up a basic Nord character, having fallen in love with the image the team have been using to sell the "Viking" angle. And while I only brushed through it, it's definitely as deep as you'd expect with all the right races and sexes, and facial-hair dials, you'd expect from Bethesda.

So, character created (very quickly) I do indeed run for the hills, immediately flicking the game to third-person for the all-important test. Yes, it smashes the previous animation system in both look and feel. There’s no more ice-skating; your character moves with purpose and weight, and looks so much more attached to the world around him. About the only gripe I would offer is that jumping still felt a bit floaty, but certainly not enough to break the game, and when you think about it in a sense of RPGism, the fact you can level up your acrobatic skills means, by and large, it’s a requirement anyway. But I digress.

For the duration of my play through, I switched the view to first and third-person often, and couldn’t decide which I preferred. On the one hand it looks awesome being able to see the character you created moving about and being a general Nordic badass, while on the other, the game-world is so lush and rich, your first-person view exposes that even more. Suffice to say, the introduction of Havok Behaviour is going to fundamentally change the way many people play, and absolutely for the better.

For the purpose of our hands-on, the team basically gave our characters a host of equipment, so there was no real sense of struggle against any of the foes I came across. And to be fair, that’s not what I specifically wanted to explore. The game was open to us from an early point, and Todd enthused that we just do whatever we want as they’d disabled the main quest-line. So, empowered with no direction, I took my character off the beaten path and moved away from a nearby town we’ve seen in demos before to the hills yonder, to see what surprises lay in store.

The new UI for Skyrim is incredibly intuitive. I never once struggled with where anything was (playing on Xbox 360), and felt completely at home with the system. From your inventory or abilities menus, a simple push of the Y button immediately stacks them in a Favourites list, which is then simply accessed in-game via the D-Pad. Action still pauses while you’re here, but it doesn’t draw you out of the game. So, for example, I chose both a Healing spell and a Fire casting spell and lopped them in my Favourites list alongside a sword, axe and shield. Then, tapping up on the D-Pad while tackling a few bandits meant I could easily switch between spells and weapons, dual-wielding with ease, and appropriately healing when hurt, or blocking and parrying for more visceral combat, and all without shifting through heavy menus every time I wanted to change things up.

During my cross-country marathon, I came across a lot of items to pick for the obligatory crafting component of the game, including a bee-hive where I could even harvest a bee. I could also kill the bees buzzing around the hive, and also dragonflies floating around a stream, adding an even deeper sense of interactive life to the game-world. If I’d had longer than an hour with the game, I would have actively explored how deep and diverse its ecology is, but even from a few small encounters with insects and other animals (a wolf attacked me and I saw plenty of other docile life), it’s a safe bet Sir David Attenborough could make a documentary wildlife series about the world of Skyrim.

But it’s not just the animals you need to be weary of, and I mentioned earlier I’d encountered a few bandits, but what I wasn’t ready for was the level of sophistication the baddies have apparently been granted here. Certainly fighting a rogue bandit on a road is something of a staple for the series, but walking under a makeshift bridge with a hostile gentleman above, clearly annoyed I was on his turf, and thus dropping pre-set boulders on me, is not. This was then followed by an ambush of his cohorts, ready for anyone the boulders didn’t crush, and while I did make quick work of them, it was an exhilarating encounter nonetheless, if not for the visceral combat that seamlessly flows through the game’s DNA, then just for the creative scenarios through which you utilise it.

Of course when you’re not coming across hostile enemies, raiding bee hives or swatting dragonflies with your sword, there’s more than enough eye-candy to keep your attention glued to the screen. And it’s not just the technical aspect of how this looks in comparison to previous efforts, either. At one point I came across a small empty hut harboring a chest with a few goodies to loot and an empty bed to sleep in if I wanted to - nothing out of the ordinary here. Just outside the hut, however, were the charred remains of the hut’s former inhabitants who were clearly burned alive, with one even still in a kneeling pose; genuflecting her life to the bullish thugs who raided this outpost. Just a few meters away was another body draped over log, this time featuring stab wounds. Something very gnarly had gone on here.

At some point I reached a settlement called Falkreath, where apparently I’d done something bad. Guards came out and started attacking me and these guys were much, much stronger. I spent my mana, became fatigued and was rapidly running out of keep-me-alive options, so I decided to sheath my weapon, and they immediately stopped, telling me I could pay my fine, or spend some time in prison. Obviously - for me here - time was of the essence, so I paid the fine and was free to walk about the settlement, but went straight for the first tavern I could find. It was here Todd had decided to come and check on my progress, and seemed surprised that I’d made it to Falkreath, but let me in on a secret - within most taverns, you can pay bards to sing songs, and if you choose the right song, or the right combination of songs, you encourage the bar’s patrons to drink up and be merry. Merry damn drunk, that is, even to the point of passing out where you may then casually pickpocket them and be on your merry way, without so much as flinch.

But time really was running out. I’d spent the last 50-minutes combing the countryside and avoiding quest-lines to just explore, but I wanted to see how the new animation system worked with swimming, and so went out to look for a watering hole with my final 10-minutes. I found a stream and followed it some, but never really found anything large it connected to like a deeper lake or the coastline. However, with only a few minutes left I noticed the glimmer of sunlight on water just beyond an embankment. Here there was a decent sized pond, though the drop down was a steep one, I took it anyway knowing I’d been buffed. I waded through the water which was only about knee-high. Disappointed, I turned around to face the direction I’d just come and underneath the embankment’s overhang, etched right into the rock-face, was a steel door with a skull emblazoned across it. This thing was so out of whack in is place, there was no way I was going to ignore it.

Approaching the door I was given the option to interact where I was immediately presented with an ethereal voice offering me a riddle to solve, and three options to choose from (I can’t specifically remember the riddle because I had only minutes left and Todd was now looming over me, expressing that I’m never allowed near his games again for having found this hidden gem). Suffice to say, I chose incorrectly, and went back to test the other two options to see if I could activate anything, but alas, no. It’s not clear if this door (or doors) was disabled for this hands-on, but it was one of the most exciting discoveries I came across, and given Todd’s reaction, definitely something they’ve been harbouring up their sleeve. I only wish I knew more about it.

And with that we were done. We’ve been told we’ll be getting a screenshot of the character we each made to post on our respective sites, so stay tuned for the slap-dash AusGamers creation, but at least know that this is probably the most tantalising hour I’ve spent with a game in a long time, and there was just so much to do. Crafting, looting, exploring, killing, questing, working, hidden steel-door finding... the list goes on. It’s a visual treat, unbelievably intuitive, as open as all hell, aurally pleasing and utterly Elder Scrolls. Please [Bethesda] sirs, we want some more.
Read more about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on the game page - we've got the latest news, screenshots, videos, and more!

Latest Comments
Posted 08:21pm 08/8/11
Must admit, I've gone from cynical to excited for this. Good to hear that the animation and UI (though console) met your approval. :D

On the jumping animation thing, I've always wondered why they don't take a page from the Jedi Knight/Academy jump animations, which could handle varying jumping heights pretty well (except it's seemingly impossible to find some good footage of it, even the A.I. could traverse the map with jumping, seemingly with set landing points though).
Posted 04:52pm 08/8/11
great write up. cant wait for the game.

Posted 08:05pm 08/8/11
I need a new rig ASAP haha
Posted 08:06pm 08/8/11
Sounds awesome, another great write up, I'm going to lose to much time to gaming in the coming months/year.
Posted 08:37pm 08/8/11
Can. Not. Wait!
Posted 09:30pm 08/8/11
Posted 09:32pm 08/8/11
p.s the cheering and clapping is f*****g irritating.
Posted 10:12pm 08/8/11
The spells look much more fun and varied in their animations, and the blood when you slice them looks great. Still looks like they become a limp ragdoll when they die though, which looks pretty s***. They need to make it more violent, like in Dark Messiah, with dismemberment/gore, otherwise it just feels old.

Don't get me wrong though I am excited about getting into a new RPG, just don't think animations/physics are much of a step up from Oblivion.
Posted 10:41pm 08/8/11
p.s the cheering and clapping is f*****g irritating.

I was wondering "what's up with these guys' reactions?..." throughout it. It was just a pretty-ok tech demo, and some guy is yelling "OH YEAH" to a fireball and rag doll demonstration. O_o
Reverend Evil
Posted 10:54pm 08/8/11
Jesus. What an annoying audience. It's like the first time they've ever seen a game.
Steve Farrelly
Posted 09:33am 09/8/11
Heh, checking out the Bethesda forums for this feature the more hardcore community is pointing out my "harvesting bees" comment. So, to clarify, I basically found a beehive and grabbed the honeycomb inside and collected a bee. You could also kill the bees. I was just being flavourful in my description ;)
Posted 10:46am 09/8/11
I was wondering "what's up with these guys' reactions?..." throughout it. It was just a pretty-ok tech demo, and some guy is yelling "OH YEAH" to a fireball and rag doll demonstration. O_o

i think the same thing when i watch a footy match. why do the crowds have to cheer and clap like that? it totally ruins it for me.
Posted 09:14am 17/8/11
cannot wait
Posted 04:43am 25/8/11
There's a bajillion new character screenshots at the bethesda blog.
Posted 05:49pm 25/8/11

last edited by Dan at 17:52:27 25/Aug/11
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