The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Preview

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Preview

To say that we’ve compiled the most comprehensive and all-inclusive Skyrim preview would be akin to saying we’ve found the cure for cancer and a way for humans to live forever. Simply put, there is far more to this game than any one person could ever hope to cover in a reasonable amount of time, but we are going to go right ahead and give it the old college try.

UPDATE: The full review is live and you can read it right here!


Skyrim has been on the minds of even the most casual of Elder Scrolls fans even before the title was official announced. When Oblivion launched back in 2006 it was hard to imagine that the series could get any better, but then the realization hit that we would have to wait 5 years to find out if it could. Luckily, Oblivion was massive enough to tide people over, myself several times over, throughout the years. Well, the wait is nearly over and information regarding the prized Skyrim is beginning to ooze out of every available seam.

* The following information is simply a compilation of all the information released to date. Sources range from Developer press releases, hands-on demo reports, and gameplay reveals including a 45 minute demo from Todd Howard himself at Quakecon. *

The most notable piece of information that I feel I should get out of the way first, is that if you are fortunate enough to be welcoming a child into the world on exactly 11-11-11 Bethesda has an offer for you. If you agree to legally name your baby after the main character in Skyrim, they promise to provide you with every single Bethesda/Zenimax title ever –past, present, and future- … for free. Now, before you go running to your significant other and start spit-balling the idea, know this. Your child will forever have to live with the name Dovahkiin. Do what you must, but just know that option is available for you if you are a bit strapped for cash this fall. I digress…

Steeped in Lore

The entire Elder Scrolls Series is so insanely intricate and well written that it requires a team of people to document, track, and divulge any and all of the major and minor historical plot points through the series. Simply put, Elder Scrolls lore is massive.

It should be noted right away that no Elder Scrolls game is ‘technically’ a direct sequel to the previous. Rather, each one is a new chapter in the series and introduces an entirely new land in which you are free to explore and lend a helping hand.

Skyrim takes places roughly 200 years after the events of Oblivion and as the name suggests, is set in the land of Skyrim. Uriel Septim and his Dragonborn bloodline have long since ceased to be, taking with them the land’s only defense against the winged invaders. As luck would have it, the king of Skyrim has been assassinated, causing the all-out civil war foretold by the Elder Scrolls. For hundreds of years the citizens of Northern Skyrim, the Nords, have thought it best for Skyrim to secede from the Empire as it was not worth saving, but the rest of the nation still sees something worth fighting for. These two groups of people are at the heart of the war. Once again, political turmoil is at the heart of the story.

However, civil war is not the only thing the Elder Scrolls have foretold. Alduin, the Nordic god of destruction, has taken the form of a gigantic dragon and has been prophesied to consume the entire world with the help of his servants.

The Dragons, who thousands of years ago ravaged the countryside and waged war against the humans, have been glaringly absent in the land of Skyrim, but as foretold on Alduin’s wall, the day of their return has come. Skyrim’s only hope of vanquishing the dragons was lost centuries ago with the death of the Septim line.  Skyrim’s only chance of survival is for a legendary Dragonborn to emerge and ward off the invaders.

The once mighty blades have long since died off due in part to the fact that their sole purpose was to protect the Dragonborn bloodline and with the Septim line gone, there has been no one to protect for nearly 200 years. Only a handful or true Blades remain, holding out on the off chance that the Dragonborn bloodline returns. After all, the Elder Scrolls predicted the return of Alduin, but they also depict one who would rise up and defeat them.

Similar to the beginning of every other Elder Scrolls game, an imprisoned warrior who suddenly stumbles upon his freedom begins to realize that he plays a larger role in the outcome of the nation than previously anticipated. Enter you, the player… the final Dragonborn.

Storyline Happens to Other People!

If you find the game’s storyline far too intricate to accurately follow, you are not alone. Each time I replay any one of the Elder Scrolls titles I encountered heaps of new information and catch on to things that I previously overlooked.

Although story is at the heart of this epic game, it is far from the center of attention. Always pushing the boundaries of open-world adventure games, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is advancing the series beyond what was previously thought possible by improving on the stumbling blocks of past games and incorporating new, innovative ideas and features that will keep the genre as fresh and exciting as ever.

That is where things become so hard to nail down. With a game as massive and innovative as the Elder Scrolls it is really hard to cover everything new in enough detail. But then again, some information is better than nothing!

What do I look like???

Skyrim is going to offer up an entire buffet of warrior customization options that allow you to tinker to your heart’s content. How your character looks is entirely up to you. Hairstyles, beards, scars, face paint, body size, muscle mass, facial features, and a plethora of others are 100% customizable. Now, whether you deem it important to spend 2 hours creating the most badass looking Dragonborn ever to grace the planet just to cover him up with loads of armor is entirely up to you! Just know that the option is there for you.

You will also have the option to choose your gender and your race. Gender really doesn’t have any major effects on the game as people will treat men and women equally and one doesn’t do anything more effectively than the other.

Race on the other hand has a somewhat larger impact. Fortunately, thanks to the whole ‘define as you’ methodology – which will be covered shortly – whichever race you choose at the beginning does not dramatically affect your gameplay experience. Each race will have initial stat bonuses over the others, but those differences are easy to overcome in a very short amount of time. Each race does have a heavy bias towards specific play styles, but that doesn’t mean you have to choose that race to play the game that way.

Making a return are the Khajiit, Redguards, High Elves, Orcs, Bretons, Nords, and others so the level of customization keeps on getting deeper.

Define as You Go

The next step in the character creation process immediately following the physical appearance has generally been that of defining your combat roles and birth sign. Don’t plan on seeing that this time around as Skyrim is really pushing towards simply letting you play the game and become what you want to be when you want to become it.

If you want to be a warrior, simply start using heavy weapons; and if you want to suddenly convert to a mage, start using staffs and wearing robes. It’s as simple as that.

Throughout the game you will find guardian stones that will bless you with certain abilities. However, you can only have one active at a time.

You are really encouraged to define your character as you play the game, because how are you really supposed to know how you want to play the game before you even begin? This doesn’t mean that the skills section has been entirely removed. Rather than deciding everything before the outset of your sure to be lengthy adventure, you can access your skills on the fly by literally looking to the heavens.

All of your skills and the progress made within each will be displayed against a backdrop of constellations. You have access to absolutely every skill which will automatically increase as you use it. Fancy lock picking and want to hone that skill? Simply grab a lock pick and have at it. Prefer axes over swords and wish to increase that skill? Grab an axe and start splitting skulls. When enough have been increased, you will level up and with each level you gain access to a perk. You can really change your character on the fly with this new feature.

 A Complete Overhaul

Right off the bat you are going to recognize that this game is massive, and even that is an understatement.  But before you even get a chance to delve into the enormity of the game, you are going to be hit with the stark realization that this game just looks good. Oblivion looked incredible in its time, but a return now would certainly shows the game’s age. Thankfully, Skyrim has a shiny new coat of paint, thanks to a brand new engine, and a whole new set up upgrades to boot.

However, rather than simply focus on fancying up the graphics, the team has narrowed their focus and really improved some of the series’ past shortcomings. One such focus was on that of facial expressions and character animations. No longer are the NPCs going to look like the offspring of a bloated frog/chipmunk. Rather, NPCs will finally appear to be more human.. or Orc, or what have you.

Aside from the characters, the game’s technical achievements are second to none. Stepping back to the days of Morrowind, I was impressed when I was able to walk 100 yards before the game needed to load, and then even more impressed when Oblivion was capable of streamlining that load to an almost unnoticeable level. Fortunately, Skyrim is yet again improving on that formula to bring you a truly seamless experience, free of almost all pop-ups and short draw distances. You see that mountain in the distance? Walk to it… load free.

And that is another thing that has been completely redone; walking. In past titles your character, when viewed in third-person, seemed to glide across the landscape and really failed to give the impression that he was connected to the ground and moving in a believable manner. Due to that, most people opted to play the games in first-person mode. Well, Skyrim has completely revamped the character animations and third-person mode is sure to be a far more enjoyable experience. Your character will move appropriately across the landscape, interacting with the environment as needed and most importantly… your legs will not continue to run aimlessly forward as you strafe to the side.

Plenty of people are going to scream from the top of the highest mountain that the PC version will by far look the best, but the team has assured that all three consoles will be as graphically similar as possible. The only difference will lie with the higher resolution and anti-aliasing available on the PC.

If you consider yourself to be a more detailed oriented person, one who stops and appreciates the time and effort put into that particular plant or rock within a game, then you are going to have a lot to appreciate here. The game’s new engine provided the developers with the ability to include such things as dynamic shadows, trees with fixed branches and leaves, and wind. Yes wind. In Skyrim, wind determines which way the leaves point and even which way the water flows. How’s that for attention to detail?

The series has always dramatically ratcheted up the map size from title to title, but Skyrim has been confirmed to be roughly the same size as Oblivion. The land of Skyrim covers approximately 16 square miles and contains 5 major cities and over 130 different dungeons to explore.

Thanks to Luke Skyrimmer over at the Bethesda Forums for this GameInformer pic!


Update: The following picture is a screenshot from the Skyrim demo that Todd Howard presented at this year’s QuakeCon. My apologies for the poor quality, but it still gives you an idea of how you are going to interact with the map in game.


A small but welcome addition is the inclusion of a fully 3D map. No longer will you be looking at an ink drawn, flat map. Instead, the Skyrim map zooms out from exactly where you are,complete with topography, rivers, cities, and even clouds.

You may also notice that the world dynamically changes as you move about it. The artists opted against simply creating static environments that never really change. Rather, as you explore, especially up in the mountains, you will notice the snow is entirely dynamic and unique. The game itself is 100% responsible for the layout of snow and other textures.

It may seem like a disappointment that Skyrim is no bigger than Oblivion, but during a recent gameplay reveal, Todd Howard assured us that Skyrim has far more content than anyone is expecting, which makes it light-years bigger than Oblivion. It is surely the “biggest, craziest game” Bethesda has ever made.

How Do I Approach Something This Big?

As with everything, the first step is often the biggest and most exciting. From the very outset, you are going to have complete access to the entire breadth of everything Skyrim has to offer. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to want to wander off and start tackling dragons immediately. No, there is an order to things.

At the heart of the Elder Scrolls series is the seemingly endless supply of quests to keep you occupied throughout your stay, but how you go about completing those quests is an entirely different experience. Once again there will be a prominent main quest line that has a very definitive ending, but everyone wants to know if the series will finally be incorporating a branching storyline with various outcomes. The long and short of it is… ‘kind of.’ The main story follows the lore set in place by the Elder Scrolls and the team has really focused on telling that story in an engaging and thoughtful manner. Thus, the main storyline will not feature many game-changing branches that will alter the outcome of the story. That doesn’t mean that branching stories don’t exist in Skyrim because they certainly do. Just not within the main quest line.

The smaller side quests tell a variety of different stories that are generally unrelated to the main quest line and thus, can offer you a series of choices that alter the outcome of the quest. Will you betray someone and kill their entire family or will you do as they ask and earn your reward with honor? The choices are truly up to you.

All of the quests are governed by the new quest system called Radiant Story which basically tailors the entire game to your specific character. This system helps blend random encounters and quests more seamlessly into the game. Depending on your character type, where you’ve explored, and what you’ve done in the past, the game will custom-tailor missions for you. If you happened to stumble upon a dungeon and murder every living thing within, as you should, but later come to find out a major quest was supposed to take place in that very dungeon, the game will shift the destination to another dungeon you have yet to explore. The new systems ultimately makes it impossible for you to have a mission where you already killed the enemies prior to starting.

Random encounters, not only with enemies, will also be custom tailored to your character. If you find yourself to be particularly good at one skill, you may be approached by a random villager who wishes to challenge you to a duel or asked to do them a favor in relation to that skill. On the same note,  you may also be given random assassination quests where you must choose the best course of action as the target may be an old friend or a prior client. If you decide to kill the client who is a shopkeeper, the store will not cease to operate, but the next owner, perhaps a family member, will more than likely recognize you and frown upon your presence.

Many of the quests will be given by random NPCs but a vast majority will be featured in different factions or guilds. Only a handful of confirmed factions have been revealed such as the Thieves Guild, The Companions (a Warriors guild), and the College of Winter’s Hold (a Mages Guild).

For once, the game does not revolve entirely around you. The team is working more towards creating a virtual world where things happen outside of your control and you are simply part of the experience rather than the center of it.

The Sum of the Parts

Creating a sense of population has always been a difficult thing to do in a video game and other titles have seen a mild amount of success doing so. The Elder Scrolls has always prided itself on being able to populate the world with people who seem to have a personality and purpose all their own. However, anyone who spends a short amount of time following people around in any video game will soon realize that they are simply on a rotation. The people in oblivion this time actually have jobs that they carry out on a schedule and you can take over that job if you so desire.

There is plenty to do within each city aside from interacting with the inhabitants. For the first time you will have access to simple jobs such as wood cutting and farming. Whatever you see an NPC doing, you can do as well. Blacksmith shops have forges you can commandeer and upgrade your weapons or you can go run the local lumber mill if you wish. Again, it’s entirely up to you.

Your interaction with the game’s NPCs will also be drastically different than before. Rather than a static, in-your-face camera angle, Skyrim will feature a more casual, zoomed out NPC camera where the characters will continue to behave like normal humans even as you talk to them. Approach the busty waitress as she is making her rounds and she will talk to you as she continues her duties.

Something as simple as this is sure to create a deeper sense of immersion, because people really don’t drop everything are doing just to get in your face and talk for a few minutes.

The Game Interface

A game this massive requires a smooth, manageable interface, but we have seen just how clunky the series has been in the past. Morrowind, looking back now, was an atrocity that was simply tolerated because the game was so incredibly impressive, while Oblivion’s was rather confusing and cumbersome. Skyrim is hoping to change that.

No longer are you going to be tasked with navigating pages and pages of items laid out in list format. The whole goal this time around was to make the interface tactile and entertaining.

Your menu is broken up into 4 different categories: Spells, Items, Map, and Magic. Each one is assigned to a specific direction on the joystick. Upon opening a specific category you will be met with a very appealing flash animation of whatever you chose. Dropping into your items menu will give you the option of sifting through your inventory and actually seeing the item on full display.

The nitty-gritty details of the item are still available, but you can now physically examine each and every item you pick up within the game. Thousands upon thousands of items from weapons and armor to food and herbs have been painstakingly rendered for you to zoom in on and examine up close.

Most impressive though has to be the fact that each and every book has been rendered in full 3D for you to flip through. Much of the series’ lore is shared through these in-game books, but it has been such a chore to trudge through them in the past. Now with the ability to actually manipulate a physical book, reading them may not be quite the hassle it was in the past.

A New Breed of Combatant

For the first time ever, you have complete control over what you place in each of your hands. Are you partial to short swords and wish to wield one in each hand? Or do you want to go with the traditional long sword and shield approach? How about magic in one hand with a dirk in the other? Better yet, how about magic in both hands? Whether or not you can finally thwart the forces of evil as a southpaw has yet to be seen, but it would certainly be a first.

*Update: Bethesda PR rep Pete Hines has confirmed via his Twitter account that shields, torches, and bows can ONLY be equipped to the left hand.

Each setup is going to have its obvious advantages and disadvantages, but the game is so well balanced that choosing one over the other is going to be a hard decision and that was one of the main deciding factors behind the ‘define as you go’ approach.

Those who prefer their combat to be a bit more up-close and personal with the use of swords and such will be treated a bevy of new moves and abilities. The various swing styles and power attacks are back, but this time around you will have the opportunity to land a death blow. Dodge a swing, land a blow, and watch as the camera pops into third-person and displays your character cramming his sword through the throat of the one unlucky enough to cross your path that morning.

*Update: Bethesda PR rep Pete Hines has confirmed via his Twitter account that finishing moves happen randomly. You cannot control when they happen or which ones you see.

Seeing as how you are the Dragonborn, you are capable of harnessing the power of the dragons and executing a series of shouts acquired by defeating the enormous dragons within the game. Now these dragons aren’t going to be a walk in the park and they will require an extraordinary amount of skill and a splash of luck to defeat. However, the rewards for doing so are incredible. The developers have even gone so far as to say they really aren’t sure what the dragons are capable of within the game. They equipped the dragons with an insane amount of AI and that makes them rather unpredictable.

You may also be pleased to note that the game has entirely done away with the whole concept of weapon and armor degradation. Nothing was more frustrating in previous titles than receiving a friendly reminder that your armor or weapon was no longer functional because you forgot to hit with a hammer a few times. Rather, you can now focus your time and attention on visiting the various crafting stations around the world to upgrade and improve your weapons and armor at your leisure.

*Update: Bethesda PR rep Pete Hines has confirmed via his Twitter account that you can purchase enchanted armor and weapons rather than create them, however it will be more expensive.

Who Needs an Attitude Adjustment?

As we’ve already seen, Skyrim is teeming with life, but more than just people populate the world. There are plenty of people out there who need to be shown who’s boss. Everything from your basic woodland creatures and domestic animals will available for you to cut up, but the difficulty level is going to ratchet up when you come across the staple skeletons, trolls, giant spiders, ogres, and even woolly mammoths.

If creatures aren’t your style, you are certainly going to have plenty of humans and other bi-pedal enemies to hack through.

 The Power From Within

Unlike previous installments, magic appears to be far more accessible than ever before. Thanks to the new skill set approach, simply using magic increases your proficiency and thus opens up a wider range of combat possibilities for you.

If you decide to prance around the land instilling the fear of the Dragonborn into your enemies by rocking dual magic you will be happy to know that you can hold both triggers and can combine the magic from each hand into one giant, more powerful spell.

Magic does more than simply hurt people and affect various attributes. If you land a hit with a frost spell it is going to inflict obvious health damage, but it will also slow the enemy down, dramatically restricting his ability to perform more powerful attacks.

Within the menu, you can set now set favorites for instant, on the fly access to your best magic spells. The spells you set as favorites can be accessed during the game with the d-pad. These favorites also apply to weapons and other items.

However, if you feel like combining your magic with your weapons and armor, that will be handled much in the same way as it was in Oblivion. The system worked just fine before and there really is no need to fix what isn’t broken.

Magic armor is constantly on and never needs to be recharged, but enchanted weapons run on charges and thus need to be refilled using soul gems. Despite the relative inconvenience of these soul gems, they are steeped in Elder Scroll lore and therefore cannot be removed. Plus, it makes the usage of these weapons that much more exciting as you have to actually work for the right to use them.

Enchanting will be handled a bit differently this time around, though. Enchanting has now been tagged as a skill and you become better at it as you increase your proficiency in that skill. Enchanting stations will be located all over the world, making it that much easier for you to digress and pop out a few enchanted items from time to time.

What’s All This Shouting About??

As you defeat the various dragons around the game you will be granted the ability to consume their soul and thus embark on journey to deciphering yet another dragon shout. Simply absorbing the soul is not enough to grant you the power to use the shout. You must still embark on journey to seek out the long lost walls that contain the legendary dragon script. These shouts are perhaps the most important and beneficial skills you will obtain throughout your stay in Skyrim. The shouts provide you with tide-changing skills such as sprinting and slowing down time.

In all, you will obtain over 20 shouts, each with three different words that you must obtain from the walls around the world. Only when you obtain all three words will you be able to harness the true power of the shout.

The Hoarder in All of Us

So you fancy a massive collection of stuff? Well, rest easy knowing that yes, you can take absolutely anything you desire. Are you partial to that feathery hat the woman down the street is wearing? Kill her and take it! Do you long for that silver spoon on your neighbor’s dining room table? Bust in during the night and swipe it while they are sleeping. Do you want that watermelon at the local shop? Go ahead and give yourself the fiver finger discount.

Go on, we won’t judge you… and neither will the game.

What Goes Around Doesn’t Always Come Around

A true Karma meter in Skyrim is entirely absent, save for the expected fame you gain as you progress. Now, that doesn’t mean you really have free reign to do whatever you want and not have to deal with the consequences. If you run out and slaughter an entire family, people are going to know you did something bad and treat as such. That is, until you simply pay your debt to society. That’s right. The land of Skyrim is a generally forgiving place.

Holding Out Just a Bit Longer

The Elder Scrolls is truly a game like no other. You can go where you want, do what you want, and be what you want without really having to adhere to a whole lot of rules. Thankfully, there is sure to be enough content tucked within to warrant and justify the 5 year wait period. I remember after Oblivion launched and Bethesda said they really didn’t have any plans to begin work on The Elder Scrolls: V, my dreams were dashed in that instant. So the simple fact that this game is merely months away is simply incredible.

Plenty of people have already pegged Skyrim as ‘Game of the Year’ due to the fact that its predecessors won by a landslide, and that prediction may not be far off.

Again, this is as much information as one person could possible compile in a reasonable amount of time and more will surely turn up in my review of the game in the coming months.

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