Gamescom 2011: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Preview - Venturing Off The Beaten Path
Written Thursday, August 25, 2011 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Considering the huge impact Skyrim had upon us when we saw it originally at Bethesda’s BFG showcase in Utah this April, it was rather disappointing for us to see pretty much the same presentation at E3. Gamescom however was a return to form for Bethesda’s killer franchise and rather than seeing 5 minutes of new gameplay tacked onto the end of what we’d already seen, the Washington DC-based powerhouse came with 45 minutes of pure Skyrim bliss with a focus on off-the-beaten path shenanigans. And we lapped up every single damn minute of it.
Like any other Elder Scrolls game to date, Skyrim sees your character, Dovahkiin, break free from the shackles of oppression and ascend upon the diverse environments of Tamriel’s northern most region, Skyrim, with some higher quest to tackle. This time, you’re off to fight dragons and shit… well, not shit in the literal sense, we’re talking entirely theoretical here. The Gamescom demo picks up from the get go, with Pete Hines, Bethesda’s VP of PR and Marketing steering the presentation, opting to choose a male Orc – you can be a female Orc too, don’t worry! – whilst showing off various other options you can opt for to customise your character. Want one blind eye, coloured eyes, scars or war paint for instance, then the options are all there to realise your Orc fantasies. Of course, there are ten races, including Khajiit and Argonians if you fancy something much different.
Now, there’s a lot to cover here, so I won’t dilly-dally too much on setting the scene; remember, this is all about the freeform exploration that the game will offer players, so the when and the why really don’t matter.
Hines was keen to point out a few of the neat assists that Skyrim will offer players, from the location icons on the compass at the top of the HUD – which get bigger the closer you are to the points of interest – to the ability to tag favourites in your inventory. For us though, the simple use of marking items with a triangle item if they are the best of their class in your inventory – and even being able to quick equip items from downed foes – will be a saving grace for item hoarders like us!
It’s not all about the huge improvements in Skyrim either, Bethesda has taken extra care to improve your experience with a whole host of subtle tweaks as well. Apart from the aforementioned favourites and marking of best of class, Bethesda has also allowed you to sprint – using LB, but it does use up your stamina metre – while adding a colour-specific glowing effect on enchanted items – in this case, the Iron Boots of Minor Stamina have a green hue around them.
The combat seems very much untouched from demonstrations gone by, with Dovahkiin dual-wielding a number of spells and weapons. We did however get to see the torch being used as a shield for what I believe is the first time, and if your timing is spot on with the block-esque push, you can even set them on fire for a short amount of time in the process. The combat definitely seemed to be a lot trickier here than we’ve seen to date, with Dovahkiin having to tend to various spell-wielding necromancers who have an uncanny ability to heal themselves being top of the list of challenges. That said, Hines wasn’t using/didn’t have any dragon shouts to make use of. Speaking of special abilities, Hines did run us past a set of Guardian Stones which imbue the quester with a certain power to take advantage of – the Shadow Stone for instance can make the caster invisible once a day. According to Hines though, they can only be used one at a time, but can be switched out and changed at any point.
Food, according to Hines, will have more of an impact in Skyrim than it ever has done before in an Elder Scrolls game. Not only will you be able to munch on it for a much needed health boost, but players can now cook and follow recipes to improve the effects of said ingredients. So for instance, eating venison raw could give you 4 health points, but if you cook that with vegetables and some herbs, you can probably extend its effectiveness so that it’ll recover 14 health points. Having the ability then to jump into the water and catch some fish or chase dragonflies around the grassy pastures might not seem so dumb after all.
Then there’s smithing, which by first impression, seems to be the most rewarding of all. Before hitting the smithing station, Hines picks up a Light Armour Forging book to improve his smithing skill, allowing him to craft better items. In Skyrim, crafting items is a multi-faceted process which will mean you have to mine iron ore from iron veins, to craft into iron bars, which you can then use to forge into items like weapons and armour. What items you make depends on your smithing skill: at the beginning of the game players can smith a variety of items – leather, iron, etc – but depending on your smithing skill and how you level it up, you can use the perks to craft new materials.
If you’re more into potions and what not, then alchemy will be for you, and it’ll allow you to use all those pelts and flowers to create some handy items. According to Hines, alchemy is merely about experimenting with the items to see what you can create. The more you do it, the more attributes you know a certain ingredient will offer the potion. For instance, combining a Mudcrab Claw with a River Betty will combine to create a resist potion spell. In an alchemy lab though, you’re only limited by your ingredients and your ability to experiment, but the rewards – like high powered health potions – can be a more than worthy reward.
Last but not least, in terms of the creationist aspects of the game, we also got a sneak peak at the enchanting workbenches dotted around Skyrim. Enchanting is essentially to do with you finding soul gems, combining them with items, and then applying them to the various weapons and armour to give them magical effects. That’s all well and good if you have a plethora of soul gems coming out your anus, but if not, you’ll be left breaking down weapons to learn skills to apply to other weapons and pieces of armour.
Other points worth noting are that the lockpicking in Skyrim will be similar to that in Fallout 3, the third-person animations are smoother than they’ve ever been in the franchise – or from any Bethesda Game Studios title for that matter – and Bethesda will be rewarding players who get their exploration on – in this instance, a hidden underwater tunnel in Ilinata’s Deep – a sunken imperial fort in a lake – could have some great surprises for players.
It was a presentation packed with information galore and one that answered many other lingering questions that have been hanging around since the game’s announcement like a bad smell. With 20-25 hours of the main quest promised as well, it’s already starting to overshadow Oblivion in terms of scope and with Hines finally confirming the existence of the Dark Brotherhood faction, it’s shaping up to be an epic sequel of all proportions. Look, we don’t give our Gamescom Game of the Show out to just anyone, so that should speak volumes. Geddit!? I mean, what other game allows you to kill a crab with a sword?
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is scheduled for a November 11th 2011 release worldwide.