The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim Updated Preview Part 2 -- Head North, Young ImperialBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Oct 18, 2011
Emerging from the cave prison that I had landed in for reasons unknown to me (seeing as our play session picked up 45 minutes into the game without any explanation of the events that transpired during that time), the whole of Skyrim lay sprawling in front of me, and I had just three hours to explore it. It felt a bit like using a toothpick to make ice cubes out of a glacier; that kind of daunting. With no active quests, no info, and no means of travel besides my leather wrapped feet, I had no choice but to just start walking, and walk I did as I began my first hands-on session with Bethesda's upcoming relationship killer The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
As Nikole "Cat Lover" Zivalich told you in part one of our joint preview session, we decided to go in opposite directions from the demo's starting point. She headed southwest towards Falkreath while I headed northeast towards the town of Whiterun. As I strolled through the gorgeous riverside wilderness, towering mountains looming in every direction, I used the time to get familiar with the controls, skills, and menus.
While the layout of the menus is clever, by the end of the session, I was still mistakenly hitting the start button to pull up my inventory screen instead of B, where it actually is, mainly because the quest tracker is in the start menu, even though it seems like it should be located with your map, skills, magic, and items. Still, it didn’t take long before I was assigning spells to my favorites and swapping between an axe and shield, a mace and a fire spell, dual magic spells, and every other combination I could think of. At one point during my playthrough, I was wielding fire in one hand and healing in the other like some kind of invincible inferno beast.
I made my way towards Whiterun, which was a healthy distance away. Luckily, the hefty trek gave me plenty of time to soak up the ambient noises of wind whipping through the trees, crickets chirping, animals howling, and all the other wonderful audible details that bring the world of Skyrim to life. Coming around a bend, I happened upon some fellow Imperial soldiers escorting a prisoner. Clicking on the prisoner brought up the option to free him, but not knowing the circumstances, and given my lowly level 1 status, I declined. The prisoner then told me about something called the Stormcloak rebellion, and that I should go into town to find out more about it (side quest number one).
From where I was standing, I spotted the top of a windmill over a hill. As I moved closer, I saw two people were fighting a giant. Not sure whose side was the right one, I sat back and watched as the two warriors brought down the big guy. Just as I was about to approach them to ask them about the fight, a woman strolled up to me and said smugly, “Didn’t feel like joining in, huh?” (or something to that effect). I’m still not sure if this was a scripted sequence designed to look/sound like an organic interaction, but the “Whoa!” response it elicited out of me made me not care all that much.
The woman, Aela the Huntress, said she and her crew were bounty hunters of sorts, but more importantly she told me that Whiterun had a bit of a Shakespearian issue, thanks to the two feuding houses known as the Gray Mares and the Battle-born. Clearly, this fight has been going on for some time, and given my limited play time, way beyond the scope of anything I could really look into thoroughly, so despite Aela’s insistence that I talk to a local barkeep to find out more about this storied and heated rivalry (another side mission), I decided to lockpick my way into her house and snoop around a bit.
Inside her house, there was a large fire pit in the middle of the living room, complete with a cooking spit. Had I possessed the right ingredients, I could have made a delicious apple cabbage stew or Elsweyr fondue or any number of foods, each one with specific benefits that I’m sure would come in quite handy in battle. From the looks of it, food crafting will easily consume a few dozen hours of gameplay if you’re into that sort of thing. For now though, I would have to settle for premade potions and elixirs.
Moving on to Whiterun, which bears a striking resemblance to the town in that original Infinity Blade tech demo, I visited the Bannered Mare tavern. The high-ceilinged, wood beam-enforced bar contained a number of patrons milling about the big, central fire pit, and there was even a musician who would take song requests (I asked him to play the “true Imperial ode,” “The Age of Aggression"). Again, it’s these kinds of details that stuck with me the most well after my play session was over, and I have no doubt this will also be the case when I get my hands on the final game as well.
- PREVIEW: The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim Hands-On Preview -- Time Flies When You're Dual Wielding Fire Spells
After leaving the bar, I encountered a woman named Fralia Gray-Mane who was in a heated discussion with two hunky guard types, accusing the Battle-born of kidnapping her son despite the guards’ insistence that the son is dead. Once the guards left, Fralia asked if I’d help track down her son, triggering my first official quest, “Missing in Action.” I made my way to Fralia’s house, which was located in a beautiful courtyard-type area encircling a massive, dead tree (another side mission). With the massive full moon hanging in the sky just above a multileveled, gothic looking mansion on a distant hill, I entered the house.
Inside, I was confronted by Fralia’s other son who insists the Battle-born know the whereabouts of his brother, and that I must retrieve some kind of evidence from a nearby Battle-born lodge. I’d just like to stop for a second and point out that this entire scenario was initiated simply by me wandering in the direction of a point on a map, spotting a windmill, and then somehow getting caught up in the drama of two warring families. If that’s not the markings of a brilliant RPG, I don’t know what is.
Securing the evidence was as easy as snatching a journal from the Battle-born house (making sure to close the door behind me after a woman spotted me the first time and was none too pleased) and bringing it back to Fralia’s son. We discovered that his brother was alive after all and was being held by Thalmor agents in a place called Northwatch Keep, many, many miles to the north. The brother asked if I’d help him assault the fort, but I thought myself more than capable of handling a breach and rescue mission and refused his help; big mistake.
The only places in the game that you’re allowed to fast travel to without having to discover them first are hold capitals. So I hired a carriage to take me to the capital nearest to my destination, which was still a good 10 minute hike from the fort. While Bethesda has confirmed that Skyrim will feature vampires, they never said anything about headless horsemen, so you can imagine my jaw-dropping surprise when I watched as a glowing blue figure appeared in the darkness and rode right past me on its way to who knows where. I have no idea how ghosts factor into the overall story, but this was easily one of the most delightfully surprising moments I have ever had in a game, so whatever it is, I’m on board.
Pushing on through the bitter cold of a newly arrived snow storm, I hacked my way through a number of massive wolves, burning them to a crisp with one hand, cracking their skulls with the mace situated in the other. The path I was on eventually led to a sheer cliff. Far below, I could see Northwatch Keep peeking through the blizzard. After hopping down the mountain, I encountered a pack of horkers (similar to elephant seals) along the shoreline. Luckily, I had saved just before this showdown, because despite my best efforts, I was no match for the four beasts.
Speaking of being outmatched, my grand visions of storming the fort to free Fralia’s captured son were sorely misguided as there were easily 15 heavily armored guards just waiting for the opportunity to horribly murder a lone hero type like me. Realizing it was going to be impossible to pull off the rescue alone, I reloaded my save back in Whiterun and agreed to have Fralia’s other son join me in the siege. Another fast travel and hike later, and I met up with what I was expecting to be a mighty fighting force, but was actually four measly dudes. Needless to say, the group approach was equally fruitless, and after giving it one more go, I accepted the fact that I simply wasn’t strong enough to pull off the rescue at this time, so I abandoned the quest, and decided instead to hike to the next nearest town, Winterhold, where a previously assigned side mission awaited me.
Now, as Nikole told you in her preview, we were sitting next to each other during the play session, and at no point during those three hours did our journeys bear any resemblance to one another. So you can imagine my surprise when I arrived at the College of Winterhold and met with a council of Elven elders to find out about joining their magical club, and I happened to look over at Nikole’s screen to find that she too was meeting with the same group of elves! Despite our best efforts, we had somehow ended up in the same spot at pretty much exactly the same time via entirely disparate paths. You want water cooler potential? There you have it.
My time in Winterhold wasn’t terribly fruitful. While I did learn how to cast ward spells (i.e. magical blocks), I didn’t have enough time to complete any of the time intensive quests assigned to me. So for the last 10 minutes or so of my play session, I headed north and swam through a large portion of arctic ocean before noticing a shipwreck through the frozen haze. A group of bandits had set up shop on the splintered boat, but I disposed of them quickly and raided their loot chest.
The session ended with a vicious showdown with an Ice Wraith that was protecting something called a Serpent Stone. Activating the stone gave me the ability to paralyze enemies for five seconds. It didn’t help bring down the Ice Wraith (my dual-wielded fire spell sure did though), but I’m sure it would have come in handy had I been given another three, or preferably 300, hours to put it to good use. Thankfully, in less than a month, that’s precisely what I’ll be able to do, and I can’t horking wait.