The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim • Page 2

Playing with fire.

There are bandits to eavesdrop on and sneak around - the Khajiit are especially good sneakers, so I huddle in shadow and draw a longbow on the nattering bad guys from a few feet away. Later there are the skeletal draguar, who employ magic as well as swords and axes, and there's a mini boss fight with a giant spider.

There are door switches rigged to banks of arrows that need to be disarmed by observing your surroundings and rotating totems like tumblers in a lock, and there are pressure plates and levers that activate spike doors and swinging blades, which are great for making short work of draguar as their numbers increase.

All the while your individual attributes continue to rise through use and you level up. With each level you can stare up to the heavens and the constellations of perks above you and, after deciding whether to increase Magicka, Health or Stamina, choose the upgrade you want.

You don't have to bank perks immediately though - if you are trawling through the constellations and spot a perk you want that requires a higher attribute value than one you have at the moment (Destruction 40 vs. your current Destruction 21, for example), you can simply wait until you've met that requirement.

Navigating the dungeon is no trouble. Skyrim's overworld map is in 3D and gives you unambiguous top-down 2D layouts for dungeons, but despite its name Bleak Falls is colourful and diverse - caves filled with running water sparkle with iridescence, the spider's lair is warmed by lattices of bright and intricate webbing, while burning torches illuminate the dusty catacombs and send flickering soft shadows cascading over the time-hewn curves of stone stairways.

And even within these linear confines, there is a sense of exploration - a mixture of adventure and archeology, manipulating picks to break through the locks on treasure chests and emerging with some arcane relic, or rummaging through your inventory for a golden claw with markings similar to the cylinders on a stone door.

It isn't long before, much to everyone in the room's frustration, Bethesda Softworks VP Pete Hines tells us all to stop playing. I look around and the guy next to me is in a tavern talking to someone about local politics. Over on another bank of consoles I can see someone hacking through a forest.

Speaking to Hines afterwards, he tells me that there were 13 players in the room and all 13 had done totally different things. He says that one of the things he loves about these games is that even when they are finished and he's spent a year or more picking through them for work, he can still take them home, play them and have new experiences.

There were a couple of lock-ups in this alpha build for other journalists, but I didn't encounter any bugs myself. Hines says that some quirks, like a rock floating a foot in the air, are probably inevitable in a game with such a dizzyingly broad spectrum of possible actions, but they are working hard to get better at quality assurance - and in particular to make sure the number of bugs that actually halt your progress is as close to zero as reasonably possible.

The small scale of our playtest means that there's about a billion things I haven't done. I haven't really had a proper conversation with an NPC yet. I haven't taken on any actual quests. I haven't fought a dragon (in fact they're turned off in this build, as are the dragon "shouts" that act as further combat modifiers).

To be honest, it feels like all I've really had a chance to do is run up a hill and then burrow to the bottom of it.

What's really promising, though - apart from all the other things that are inherently wonderful and exciting about a new Elder Scrolls adventure - is that all the important layers of artifice, whether it's inventory management, combat controls, pathfinding or even just texture quality and level geometry, are already so harmoniously attuned to immersing you in Skyrim that it's possible to pick it up from scratch and feel completely at home an hour later.

Bethesda hasn't let anyone play Skyrim before - something game director Todd Howard is keen to point out. "I'm f***ing terrified," he announces before we first turn on our screens and pick up the pads.

The fact is though that he could show it to us another dozen times in the same conditions and we'd find another dozen experiences to catalogue. November can't roll around soon enough.

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About the author

Tom Bramwell

Tom Bramwell

Contributor  |  tombramwell

Tom worked at Eurogamer from early 2000 to late 2014, including seven years as Editor-in-Chief.

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