The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim Updated Hands-On Part 1 -- Go South, Young KhajiitBy Nikole Zivalich - Posted Oct 17, 2011
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was only announced less than a year ago and Bethesda is already gearing up to release the game to the masses. Despite only being official for some 10 months, I feel like I've been inundated with screenshots, trailers, and previews. Not that there's been too much media for it though. On the contrary, I'm eagerly anticipating the RPG. But the surplus of media has meant I feel like I've played the game; truth is, I haven't.
During (probably) the last playsession for the media before its launch, I got to finally play Skyrim. The file I played began 45 minutes into the main story, meaning all of the vital backstory setting up the overarching story of Skyrim was missing. I didn't care. Despite starting off nearly an hour into the game, I was able to access the famed character creator menu. All of the races we there: Nords, Bretons, Dark Elves, and more. I decided to be Khajiit, the cat people. When I get my retail copy of the game, I'll probably be something that looks more like me, so for the purposes of this preview I went full cat. The character I started out as was named Prisoner, but I quickly renamed her Meowth. I'm predictable, what do you want?
I started out in a tunnel, no direction, no quests, no idea where I was. As I ventured out into the open, I realized the world was just that, open. Maybe too open at first. Siting next to me was another G4 writer Jake "Kajagoogoo" Gaskill. We decided to go in opposite directions. He went to the town north of the tunnel. I went south to Falkreath. By pressing B, I was able to equip armor, weapons, spells, and access my map to set way-point. I was off.
There wasn’t a clear path to my destination. There were mountains, rivers, and an abundance of wolves who always attacked me no matter how much I stayed away. I went into this game knowing I was going to “national geographic” it; meaning I would just watch the wildlife AI from afar. Maybe it was because I was a cat, but those wolves were d*cks. Overly aggressive or not, I appreciated their programming. From a distance, I could see them find prey, stalk it, hunt it down, and then howl to call other wolves.
The long trek south was made easier by catching copious amounts of butterflies, lighting enchanted skeletons called “draugrs” on fire, and listening to my own footsteps. I say long trek, because Christ you walk a lot in this game. Walking what seemed like inches on the map ended up taking me 10 minutes. Going through an unnamed mountain pass would turn up undiscovered tombs, caves, and such. One area of I stumbled upon was called the South Shreikwind Bastion. It led me into a cave and down a tunnel that was inhabited by armored skeletons and “Vampire Fledglings.” There were no visual indications that these enemies were the blood-thirsty kind, but I lit their bodies on fire just the same.
Hidden caves were just some of the many distractions nestled in the mountainside. Eventually I made my way to Falkreath. The small town lacked any characteristics that would set it apart from any other fantasy RPG town. It did have a “ruler” for lack of a better word called a Jarl. The Jarl of Falkreath would have been just the NPC I was looking for but instead of being grateful I was offering to help around town, he demanded I proved myself worthy by finding him good booze. Seriously, I walked all that way, in the snow, uphill, both ways, without shoes, and the only quest I could get was to walk even farther north for some mead?! North it was.
By this point, the day had turned to night. It began to rain as I set forth for my new way-point: The Shrine of Azura. This shrine was easily four times as far as the first town, and as expected, it took longer to get there. The biggest challenge I faced during the journey was following the way-point up to a steep mountain I couldn’t climb. I’d have to backtrack and find a way around them. I’d only been playing for an hour so it wasn’t as if I was bored of the world or anything, but I could foresee myself farther down the line being frustrated with giant geographical bodies blocking my path.
Lone bandits are scattered throughout Skyrim. You won’t need to give them a reason to attack you, but they usually carry gold so you won’t mind. It was during one of my encounters with them I noticed my character had finishing moves. I only saw it happen twice in my three hours of playing. In occasional battles, the final blow would be delivered with a quick cinematic finisher with the camera slowly panning out so I could see the enemy dramatically die.
As I began to venture into my second hour, I noticed I couldn’t kill many of the enemies I discovered. This always resulted in me running away as fast as my stamina could carry me. I ran away from mages, trolls, fire monsters, all of them. Being a coward suits me; I die way less. Some enemies are easier to run from than others. I wandered up to a giant to see if we could be friends, but he wasn’t feeling that. He ended up chasing me for minutes (a long time in games).
I finally made it to the highest peak. The Shrine of Azura was a monumental statue of a woman, or the Goddess of Dawn and Dusk according to the lone worshiper at the base. Aronea Lenith was a follower of Azura. According to her: Azura lead their people out of Morrowind to safety. Aroenea knew I was coming. She had visions I would one day meet her here at the Shrine to take on my role as the chosen one. Me? A lowly cowardly cat woman? I of course agreed with her, and she sent me on my way to Winterhold in search of an Elven mage who had power of the stars. I could find him at the magic college, which I assume is Hogwarts Graduate School (I have a confession to make here, it’s possible I clicked the wrong location because I never did find the mead).
As the name suggests, Winterhold is pretty damn wintery. The weather mechanics implemented into Skyrim are the best I’ve ever seen. The blizzard I walked through looked like snow, milky white diamonds plummeting to the ground. To drive the point home, Bethesda made sure the room we were playing in was a cool -40 degrees. I explored the town until I found a weird and pointy looking woman at the top of some stairs. I followed her through some stone arches as she answered questions about the college and the mage I was looking for, an elf named Nelacar. In order to enter the college, I had to prove my magic ability by using the spell fireball, a skill I didn’t have. When I told the woman I lacked that skill, she offered to sell it to me for 30 gold. What a deal! Once I equipped Fireball to L, all I had to do was shoot the fire at a symbol on the ground. “Dear Meowth, you’ve been accepted to the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”
Just like in real life, I didn’t have much interest in actually going to college, so I set my marker for the mysterious mage. I found him in the town’s inn bothering a patron. He wasn’t happy a stranger was asking questions about him. I exhausted my dialogue options and was unable to continue a conversation with him. As an avid gamer, I figured I hadn’t unlocked the key piece of dialogue I needed yet. I left the inn and continued to explore.
The college was full of mages, each with their own dialogue choices. I know these mages are students, but they really did act like petty high school girls. One female mage thought another woman was jealous of her and was trying to shake her confidence. Another woman thought she wasn’t appreciated, and even though no one was mean to her, she could tell others were talking behind her back. An elder male mage was arguing with another mage. I didn’t know I was in an episode of Winterhold, 90201.
Winterhold has a Jarl of its own, and this one was fairly nice guy. He whined a bit about how no one took Winterhold seriously and the college had lost respect amongst the people of Skyrim. Once he was done complaining, I went back to the inn to see if Nelacar would be more cooperative. Sure enough he was.
Nelacar explained that he had been asked to leave the college due to some failed experiments. He told me the story of Maylon, a man who wanted to harness the power of soul gems or more specifically, the soul gem featured in Azura’s staff. This gem could hold an infinite amount of souls making its owner immortal. So yeah, it’s the Sorcerer's Stone. The stone, known as Azura’s Star, is the ultimate soul gem. Nelacar went on to say the stone only accepted white souls, not black souls. I don’t know what that means, but it’s racist. Two-hundred years have passed since the events of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, haven’t we, as a society, overcome such ignorance? Then again it’s possible I’m missing the point.
The conversation ended with Nelacar’s request for me to retrieve Azura’s Star. My next quest? You guessed it, on the other side of the map. It might be time to get some better shoes.
Remember how I said that Jake and I went in completely opposite directions at the start of our playthroughs? Well, be sure to check back tomorrow for part 2 of our hands-on impressions to hear his side of the story, and to see why Skyrim is on track to be one of the greatest water cooler games of all time.