The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim In-Depth Hands-On Preview – The Long Road to Falkreath

Dan Webb

When Bethesda got in touch just after Gamescom and said, “Want to come and see Skyrim at PAX?”, admittedly we were a bit like, “Well, we have only just seen it.” It wasn’t until they said, “hands-on,” “free-roam” and “Gamescom code” that we did a swift U-turn… after all, this was the perfect opportunity to venture into Skyrim with no limitations, only that of time. That’s an offer you can’t turn down, right? Damn straight!

In a bid to steer ourselves down a completely different path to the hands-off presentation at Gamescom, our objective was simple: pick a city on the map and trek towards it, sampling the delights of everything that we come into contact with along the way. The lucky city was that of Falkreath and all that stood in our way was a big fuck-off mountain. Good choice, Dan! Picking up about 30-40 minutes into the game, at roughly the point you had broken free of the shackles of oppression in Oblivion, we were finally ready for a freeform adventure. Shame the opening few seconds didn’t have the same wow factor that Oblivion’s did when you first hit the wild, but it more than made up for that as we got further into the demo.

As was the case at Gamescom, our first objective was to create our character. Having been an unsightly Orc at Gamescom, we though we’d opt for something a little less conventional this time – you know, because Orcs are conventional – and as such, opted to set ourselves up as an Argonian – you know, the reptilian looking creatures from The Elder Scrolls series. Being an Argonian has many benefits, like every race in fact, and as such, we were blessed with the Histskin ability, which is the ability to resist disease by up to 50%; a spell that allows us to regenerate health a lot faster; and of course, the ability to breathe underwater. Look mum, I’m a fish!

Seeing as Todd Howard, Bethesda Game Studios’ Game Director, has always used the phrase, “If you can see it, you can get to it,” I put that to the test by attempting to walk up the mountain and take the shortest route to Falkreath. Turns out, I couldn’t get to the top – well, not this way, anyway – so I did the next best thing: I went potholing… well, I saw a cave and I wanted to get my explore on. The cave in question, Greywater Grotto, was a rather dank and oddly picturesque crystal cavern with a quaint waterfall running through it. I should have been able to tell by the skeletal remains of some poor bugger outside its entrance and a half-eaten deer carcass at the tip of one of the interior’s ledges that looks can be deceiving. As with anything in Skyrim though, you’re rewarded for venturing off the beaten path and after slaying more than a handful of wild wolves, we’re able to loot the corpse of an adventurer and open a chest and get our hands on the Amulet of Arkay – granting us a bonus 10 HP points when equipped.

Thankfully, because Skyrim is such a large location, Bethesda has rather neatly added “Cleared” tags to all locations you’ve visited in Skyrim that you’ve completely rinsed, something that also allows you to see whether you’ve got all that you really need from said location. After realising that the words of Diana Ross didn’t ring true here and this mountain was definitely high enough – well, too steep to ascend from this point anyway – we descended back down from where we had come and found ourselves at the base of the mountain by a stone archway with ice-covered steps leading up to another cave entrance.

Seeing as we said we’d do everything along the way, we didn’t have much choice and so we climbed into the unknown, a place known as the Bonechill Passage – and that it did. It was another area occupied by wolves, if not slightly tougher than the last lot, but making use of our trusty bow and arrow we were able to dispatch them rather quickly – sneak bonuses and attempting to stay out of sight is still as beneficial here for an archer than it was in Oblivion.

Rather soon after being in the Bonechill Passage we were able to level up, allowing us to venture into Skyrim’s rather impressive menu system. When it comes to levelling up your first job will be to assign a point to either your health, mana or stamina, but the part people will enjoy most is picking a perk, although you can’t just pick any willy-nilly. Picking a perk is a multi-staged process, so not only do you have to have the perk preceding the one you want unlocked and purchased, but you need the relevant skill level too. In our case, we were able to select the Overdraw perk – adding 20% damage to our archery attacks – as we were the correct level for that skill and it was first on the tree. However, Eagle Eye, which allows archers to zoom slightly before shooting an arrow, and the Critical Shot, which improves your chances of getting a critical shot, were both perks that required a level 30 in the archery skill… and of course, every perk that preceded it. Unfortunately for us we never got that far because of a shortage of arrows, and as such had to move to dual wielding the Flame spell or wielding the Iron Greatsword which were both rather powerful and made quick work of the skeletons, Draugr and magic-happy bandits we met on our travels.

It was a fruitful trip through the passage though, picking up some heavy armour – allowing us to quick equip it off another unfortunate sod’s corpse without faffing about in the inventory – along the way, as well as a book and some Iron Armour of Minor Illusion, which grants the wearer a 12% save on mana with illusion spells and stands out in the inventory screen with its blue glow. That said, the real reward lay back in Skyrim at the far end of the passage.

What lay at the end of the relatively short trip into the unknown was another snowy path much higher in the mountains, at the end of which was an ancient stone structure with three wolves protecting in. All three of them were dispatched in seconds though thanks to our dual-wielded Flame spells and we finally had our first real experience of discovering a Dragon Shout – a special power that players can make use of throughout the game. Etched into this ancient stone piece was one of the three Words of Power required to use the most powerful version of that specific shout and as we approached it the screen dimmed, the Elder Scrolls-esque chants started to roar through the headphones and the words start to sizzle as we got closer. Mere seconds later, we had been notified that we had learnt one word of the Animal, Animal Allegiance Dragon Shout which you can use to summon “beasts of the wild” to assist you in battles – unfortunately, because we hadn’t harvested the soul of a dragon yet though we weren’t able to use it, but nevertheless, to say it sounds ultra badass is an understatement.

Before we hit Falkreath – it was within touching distance by now – we stopped in at an abandoned hut by a small stream and a huge lake to catch our breath. By this time we were out of the depths of the mountains and the blue lake nearby sparkled under the day’s sun and the butterflies fluttered across the bright green grasses of a much friendlier looking environment. I say friendlier in the loosest way possible though, as the charred remains of the house’s inhabitants that sat outside the hut and a haunting note warning others of a local dragon in the house’s drawer were a startling reminder that Skyrim is a dangerous place for everyone – incidentally, the note also gave directions to the dragon as well, so if it’s dragon souls you’re after, you’ve got somewhere to start!

About an hour into the demo we reached Falkreath and it must be said, it was probably the most disappointing aspect of the hands-on, mainly because what we had come to was an ex-fort that acted more as a military town of sorts. Even after contributing to the locale’s economy by doing a spot of milling – basically just a series of button clicks at various places on the wood mill – the locals looked down on our reptilian warrior and treated him as an outsider. We were offered a quest to join the Imperial Legion here though, so it’s not all doom and gloom.

Disappointed by what Falkreath had to offer us, we carried further on into the depths of Skyrim, heading towards one of the most northern places on the map: Solitude, knowing full well we wouldn’t get close to it. Along the way we ducked into Peak’s Slade Tower – an abandoned tower protected by a Spriggan, which is a little like a tree man with the power to shoot illuminous green flies at you – before heading into the Hall of Dead and the Shrine of Arkay, almost bringing our journey to a close at a snow temple called the South Shriekand Bastion. Outside we made quick work of the skeleton-warriors and the Draugr guards that jumped out of various tombs as we ascended its steps, but without further ado, we ventured further than we had ever been before… or something like that.

It’s a dungeon – or series of them – that is vastly different to the ones we’d previously encountered, with stone walkways, steep stone steps, an iconic glowing tree in the middle of one of its cylindrical chambers, huge steel doors and vampires blocking your progress. Here, anything went and that included fighting Skeevers and watching a dead vampire get resurrected by a nearby powerful mage. It’s such a diverse game world, filled with many iconic moments and situations, and this just goes to prove that… and this was just in one hour!

After reaching the other side, our demo was coming to a close and where better to end it than under the orange moon of Skyrim on a clear night dominated by the powerful stars that left such an impact on the opening moments of Oblivion. So many years on, they’re still as enigmatic as ever and seeing them twinkle in the night sky with the crickets chirping certainly made up for the initial wow moment that Skyrim’s opening lacked – like you had when you reached the plains of Cyrodiil in Oblivion or when you broke free of the Vault in Fallout 3. Incidentally though, it took us an hour and 20 minutes to get about a tenth of the way to Solitude and Markarth which sit at the far north of the map, so get ready to lose hours upon hours this November.

For me personally though, Skyrim oozes the same draw that Oblivion did all those years ago, and that’s the compulsion just to explore the heck out of it. With no real purpose we darted from point-of-interest to point-of-interest and before we knew it, our hour was up – in fact, we went over by a good 20 minutes, but shhhh, don’t tell anyone! It’s very rare that you can immerse yourself in a game and saunter around with no real purpose, but like Oblivion, Skyrim does just that… and it does it in style.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is scheduled for a November 11th release.

  • This game is going to be SOOOO amazing, i cannot wait for it!!!!!
  • :D preordered already Elder Scrolls/Fallout series FTW
  • Have the separated character saves yet? The single huge list from oblivion and the Fallouts has always bugged me.
  • Can't wait, this November is going to be insane. I love the fact they included a "completed" tag on things you've done.
  • I'm looking forward to exploring 'Big Fuck-Off Mountain' too! Great write up - thanks
  • I like to estimate what X360A will give in a review, and I'm guessing 93-95% :P
  • Oct-Nov is going to be one of the most epic stretches of gaming I've seen in quite some time, with this being the crown jewel IMO. Come Nov 11th, so long social life, it's been fun!
  • I feel I might fail my Degree this Winter.
  • This game better get more sales than MW3. (which i doubt cause there are many COD suckers out there)
  • The more I read and see of this game the more I want and it will be the 1st elder scrolls game I'v played.
  • Fuck my life. . . might as well say good bye to the old lady right now
  • Show me Skooma and a tall tall mountain and I'll show you an Argonian who thinks he can fly.
  • I love elder scrolls....hears to hoping nex game is fallout 4! by bethesda that is
  • I CANT WAIT FOR THIS.....i want my life to be revolve around this game
  • Skyrim is FUCKING AWESOME!!!!!!
  • This is game will be incredible....
  • GOTY, calling it now.
  • Glad this comes out at the end of the year, so i will have finished the other 12 or so awesome games coming out earlier, and can spend a lot of time on this. @11 If youve played one of the later fallouts you will see similarities. If not it may take a little while to get the hang of the game(because of the size of it and innumerable amount of things you can do) but u will definitely love it.
  • Massive article. . . .hahaha I'm envious. If I ever move to where you guys are can you maybe. . . hook me up with a job as apart of your staff?
  • Definitely looks good. A few months ago I decided to pre-order Halo C.E. and wait until Christmas for Skyrim. I am starting to regret that choice.
  • @21 So you should. Halo is already out, but this.....
  • It wasn’t until they said, “hands-on,” “free-roam” and “Gamescom code” any word on that code? :D
  • I have been waiting for more Elder Scrolls since I cleared all gamerscore on Oblivion. I can't wait for this game and I can't wait to fight my first dragon! Skyrim is gonna be EPIC!
  • GEARS OF WAR 3 WOOOOOOO I mean Skyrim looks great
  • Gears 3!!!
  • 2 months and 2 days until any bit of a social life goes away for a looong time @ 23 I was wondering that too. I would imagine it was the same code as the build they showed at Gamescom?
  • EPIC!!!
  • What's wrong with all u people saying " goodbye social" really if your saying that u mustn't have much of a social life to start with besides skyrims a load boring, nerdy , waste of a time crap. Skyrim us a waste of time for people who have no sense of achievement in their life.
  • game of the year: of the millenium???...probably!!!
  • #29 why do people like you hate for the sake of hating?! :/
  • i wanna see the achievements now
  • @29 Says the guy with the Fruit Ninja gamerpic...
  • Dangit grossmesser I was scrolling down to write the same thing till I ssw you beat me to it!
  • I've been contemplating waiting to pick up the inevitable GOTY version of this, but then I read articles like this and I realize I likely do not really need more content than what is already being provided. Of course, then I remember I have a degree to earn this year and also am hesitant... who am I kidding? This will be mine.
  • I have been waiting for this game ever since I heard rumors of it. Oblivion was a great game and I know Skyrim will be even greater.
  • So I've only got a couple of months left to figure out how I'm gonna go without food, drink, sleep and human contact for a month or two?
  • i love skyrim. i love my wife. i love skyrim
  • How the hell is their like 50 more comments on watching Ice-T open a toy lancer than this??!?
  • @13: LMAO! I feel like im not worthy to play this game and won't be till I sacrifice 1 virgin and 3 whores on the front steps of Bethesda's Studio. This should appease my lord and master Todd Howard. :3
  • i've put over 350hrs into oblivion. this game is going to make so so anti-social
  • Might as well cancel my Gamefly, come 11/11/11. Not like I'll be playing anything other than Skyrim for the next few months. So excited for the next game from my favorite developer.
  • God I can not wait for this, been a faithful follower since Morrowind when I was just a young boy haha
  • Surely everyone knows that it was Jocelyn Brown who sang "Ain't no mountain high enough"??
  • Oh how embarrasing no that was a cover version... oops
  • Looks like you had a blast. That is exactly the reason why I'm putting playing this game until beginning of next year. It will eat up way too much of my time:-P
  • #3, I hear ya. Developers like Bioware and Lionhead do it, so maybe Bethesda will take a hint and do so as well. It just seems to be a must when you're talking about an RPG you will probably want to play through again and again.
  • Had never played a elder scrolls game until Oblivion GOTY. I can not wait until November/December to get this game.
  • Ditto #41. I can't wait to waste 300+ hours of my life on Skyrim!
  • I'm so excited for this one, I just hope I have enough money to buy it the day it's released
  • @#44 - Actually, Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye did the original, but it was easier to say Diana Ross and it's possibly the most well-known version of the two anyway.
  • I took a vacation from just to be a bum and play this for a week.
  • #51 BURNS #44!!!
  • mmmm skyrim
  • #29 is serious? Really? What games does he play? Fast-paced shooters that require no thinking at all? He a grenade spammer with no skill and no brains? You can have a social life AND still sink a lot of hours into a game. I passed up plenty of weekend plans to play and finish Oblivion. When I finished that game, my social life came back, and people were glad to see me, despite the jokes about my absence. 412 Hours invested into Oblivion. I did EVERY QUEST in the game and reached level 61 before I had to quit. Ran out of stuff to do. I hope Skyrim is just as fun and exciting and fantastic. From what I've seen, it will be. Especially with mining and smithing and all the other super fun stuff thrown in. Been wanting to do it since I saw mines and ores in Oblivion. Though, I DO hope they've made things much better on the price end. Selling a diamond for 100 gold kind of sucks. Selling gold for 50 gold kind of sucks. Money needs to be less worthless in these games.
  • This game looks great, didn't play Oblivion. Bought it...was able to play about 20 minutes the day I bought it and then some asshole robbed my house the next day and stole all my games except for Halo 3 I think which didn't matter because I didn't have an Xbox anyway. Never re-purchased it but I'm looking forward to trying again with this game. Hopefully I have better luck.
  • Preorder too, ready and willing to lose hours of my life gaming this pearl! November is too far away ... I guess i'll stay on my social life until then... ah ah ah!
  • "Don't worry mum, Ill still go to school.....Just Ill bring it with me :3"
  • i hope they put a bit of originality in to the achievments and not just completing all of the guilds in oblivion. obviously there will be progression acheivments but i just hope there are some funny ones.
  • @29 Why go on posts like this if you're obviously not interested in the game? It seems pathetic...
  • @29 says the person who likely spends their time yelling swear words into their mic on Call of Duty.
  • This is going to be my favorite rpg ever. I can just tell. Still yet to pre order.
  • Wow if you all go so defensive when I date my opinion then sorry and besides @61 what makes u think I'm one of those idiotsthat yell swearing into the mic on call of duty
  • I have never played one of these games before, but after reading several reviews and seeing videos on the xbox dash board I have already put money to one side to but it. Infact, it looks that good I think i may need a weeks sick time from work! ha ha Looks wicked, cany wait
  • Looks amazing, can't wait for it's release.
  • #31 some people just want to see the world burn
  • Elder Scrolls is not a game, its a way of life lol. Might have to pick up that Oblivion 5 year anniversary edition just for the hell of it.
  • @29/63 Umm I don't think that was 'stating' (not dating, check your post before you submit please) your opinion as much as slating the game and everyone else on this thread... shut your whiney ass up if you don't like the game and certainly don't troll the thread... Plus I would agree with d0ct0rscarecr0w - judgement purely based on language used in your posts and the fact you use 'u' for you... denotes text speak and therefore highly likely to be a younger member of the population...therefore logically concluding someone who likes yelling swear words into mics thinking they are 'cool'. OT: I want this game!!!! Come on November 11 :D
  • Want.
  • With so many super star games hitting the line up in the next 6 months I feel utterly optimistic. Skyrim - Best game for rainy days, snow days, sick days and unused vacation days. Battlefield 3 - Best way to avoid bring automatic weapons to work. Mass Effect 3 - Best way to be that person you never could be. I'm sure there are more but these are at the top of my radar. @29 - Some of us use games as an escape from reality. We wouldn't need that if there were less people like you who are a part of it.
  • Looks awesome. Just hoped it isn't too dumbed down like that stinker Oblivion was.
  • It can be said that Bethesda can create one hell of a game with a rich world filled with amazing locations, characters, creatures and full of things to do (or not do in my case, I spent hundreds of hours doing sod all in Oblivion/Fallout3/NV). With so many grade A titles coming out this year we are being spoiled for choice. Although this, Deus Ex:HR and Battlefield 3 get my money(DX:HR I already have but im going nuts on it right now finding new ways to play)
  • Have the collectors edition pre-booked Cant wait. Goodbye social life :)
  • OMG this game looks amazing i love the fact its not just hack and slash they have incorporated finishing moves!!!
  • looks way better than oblivion and i thought that oblivion was ver well done cant wait to play skyrim already pre-ordered.
  • Oh My God, November is so far away at the moment. I shall freeze myself for 2 months.
  • I have spent around 500 hours in the realm of the Elder Scrolls with Morrowind and Oblivion, I hope(and it looks like) I can double that with Skyrim. Morrowind was the biggest/coolest game I had ever played at the time.... Oblivion was WAY better.... I can not wait for my awe inspiring first steps in Skyrim and my first Dragon sighting!
  • @63 Evidence: you go onto a video game forum posting about how "nerdy" a game is. Obviously that makes you a casual who likely only plays games such as CoD, Halo, Guitar Hero, and Madden. Also like #68 said, your demeanor shows you are a likely candidate for screaming into the mic. I find it very amusing that you state we are "people with no sense of achievement in our lives" and then get all surprised when we get defensive. Back on topic, another one of these stories was printed in the latest copy of Game Informer. I really love these tales from people who played the game first hand. Keep trying to find more. xD
  • This game will be the thing that finally tears me away from Battlefield 3.
  • @ comment 29 ... you say this is a game for people with no sense of achievement in their life? Isn't your gamerpic from FF? You obviously like final fantasy if that is your gamerpic. I don't understand how enjoying skyrim is any different than final fantasy. Please explain that to me.
  • OmG!! I get butterflies in my tummy thinking about this game!! I'm just too excited to be playing this soon(ish), roll on November 11th. It cannot come soon enough.....
  • #29's trolling
  • Can't wait, Game looks amazing and will probably have me playing for months if not years.
  • Yeah i had over 380 hours of gameplay in oblivion, im really gonna injoy this, and dual wielding....F-ING SICK!!! I hope theres more boss's then the older ones, but then again its perfect either way =)
  • I've spent so much time in oblivion searching for every location and exploring, I'm glad they've added the "cleared" tags. It looks amazing.
  • I wish the %100 version would come to north america.
  • Cant wait for this. Having to use Skooma to ease the pain.... mmmmmm..... Skooooma...
  • Skyrim or sex? skyrim sex? hmm social and sex life will be gone for months but i can have sex and play skyrim MWUAHAHAAHAHHA
  • cant wait...
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