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Published on June 12th, 2011 | by Ken Yarbrough, Editor

E3 2011: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Demo Impressions

Developer: Bethesda
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Release: November 11, 2011

On November 11, 2011, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will be unleashed upon the world. You might as well clear your schedules now, because it’s going to be awesome.

Bethesda ushered us into a dark theater to show us the new gameplay demo that they had brought to E3. As I sat, staring at the title screen, my anticipation was hard to contain. Soon, the demo began, with the narrator guiding us through the entire process.

The demo began in the already revealed town of Riverwood. As the character wandered through the small village, Bethesda began talking about the jobs that could be taken, and explained that the NPCs in the game all have jobs as well. We were told that chopping wood, blacksmithing, and cooking were all jobs that the character could take up with different rewards for each. Chopping wood can net the player more money, blacksmithing can be used to repair weapons, and cooking will allow for better results out of the players’ food items.

A quick jaunt through the small town, and we were off to battle. Once the player was outside the comfort of the city (which was, surprisingly, NOT in a separate cell), we were shown just how well the “quick-select” system works. While the controls were not explained to us, it was clear that selecting weapons, spells, and shouts on the fly would be extremely simple, and would not require entry into a cluttered menu system.

After selecting the equipment that our guide wanted to use (a standard sword and shield combination), he began his trek. A few meters of walking and he came upon what Bethesda referred to as “Warrior Stones.” The name, however, might be misleading. Essentially, these stones are absolutely identical to the Birth Stones from Oblivion. Using these stones allows the player to change his affiliated “sign.” These Warrior Stones seemed to be a little easier to spot than the Birth Stones were in Oblivion.

After choosing a sign from the Warrior Stones, we were shown that, yes, in fact there was a normal menu system as well. It appeared from here that this menu system will be activated by use of the d-pad on consoles, but that is speculation. By pressing “up” the player was able to access his skills, “right” for items, “down” for armor, and “left” for magic. We were also shown that once in the menu system, the player can look at any item he possesses in full 3D by rotating the object around, and zooming in and out. This will prove to be extremely useful in the solution of puzzles, as we were shown a little later in the demo. As a side note, I was able to notice that within the player’s inventory existed a small herb we all know and love (or hate) in Oblivion: The nirnroot. Yep. It’s back.

Moving on, we were shown the skills menu, and every skill in the game is represented by a different constellation. Within these constellations each star in a given skill, is actually one of the many perks announced by the team. While I was unable to read specific perk names, or what they did, I was able to see that perks do require a certain level of proficiency in a skill before they will unlock. Overall, it appeared that there would be roughly five perks for each skill. That’s a lot of perks.

After showing off the menu system for a bit, it was time for combat. The player began following a path that took him by a river, and while walking we witnessed a rabbit being chased by a wolf. The wolf completely ignored the player as it’s focus was on the inevitable meal that it was chasing down. Bethesda explained that this was part of the ecology that the game employs. Not every enemy will be hostile all the time, and some will only appear hostile when provoked. It definitely gives the game a more life-like appearance. Shortly after witnessing this hunt, however, the player came across the rest of the pack. The player engaged in battle with the wolf, and slayed it easily with a devastating finishing blow that sliced the wolf’s throat. There was a slight graphical hiccup here (the wolf stayed standing and appeared alive after death), though the game still has plenty of development time for polish.

Shortly after the battle with the pack leader, the player came across a random Khajiit bandit. It was here that the graphical differences were most apparent from it’s predecessor. The level of detail in the mancat’s design was astounding. At this point, the player used the quick-select system to swap out his shield and sword combination for a trusty bow and arrow. Two shots later, and the bandit had been felled. This is a far cry from other Elder Scrolls titles, where using ten arrows to kill an enemy was common place. Archers should be very happy with the change. Upon searching the body of the Khajiit, the player found a note, which he then examined using the 3D modelling system. Of note here, was that the note was from someone in the Black Hand, well-known to long-time players to be from the Dark Brotherhood. While this is hardly a confirmation of their inclusion as a faction in the game, it definitely raises plenty of speculation.

A few yards later, and we were treated to the first sight of the dragons in this game. A huge lumbering angry looking beast, the player did not want to engage him at this point, so he fled to a nearby cave. The dragon did not follow, but could be heard roaring outside the entrance. It was a very cool effect, that definitely raised a few goose-bumps. Once inside the cave, the player used stealth to land a sneak attack with his bow on an enemy a few feet away. For those that were wondering, it appears that sneak attacks are worth twice damage, at least with the bow/arrow, and at least in the demo we witnessed.

After the bandit fell, the player switched to dual wielded swords to best the next bandit in his path. We were told at this point that the bandits had been searching this cave for something known as the “golden claw”. After fighting off a few Draugr (zombified Nord warriors) using a multitude of different spells, the player came across an area in the cave that seemed covered in spider webs. The webs looked great, and had to be hacked through to progress. At the far end of this area was a bandit trapped by spider webs. As the player approached him, however, a giant Frost Spider appeared. This battle seemed very much like a mini-boss battle. It was a fairly lengthy battle, and during the fight we were able to witness a flamethrower type spell, and some two-handed axe action.

Upon killing the arachnid, the player cut the webs of the trapped bandit, who promptly began to run away. The player chased him down, and with a piercing stab dropped the bandit like a ton of bricks. Searching the body yielded the aforementioned “golden claw”. It was at this point that we were treated to one of Skyrim‘s new puzzles. Shortly after discovering the claw, the player came across a wall with three concentric circles, all depicting a different animal. The circles were able to be manipulated, and spun to try and match the correct sequence. Once again entering the menu, the player showed us that the “golden claw” actually held the answer on it’s underside. Once the circles were correctly lined up, the player pushed the claw into the wall, and the wall opened to reveal a path deeper into the cave.

In this newly found area, we were shown a wall with writing in the dragon language on the wall. Upon investigating the wall, the player was awarded with a new shout. It was hard to see exactly which shout was awarded, as the player had several available to him already, and each shout has three levels of power. Whatever the power was, at this point we had witnessed the first level of the “force push” shout, which knocked one of the earlier bandits back, and even sent books flying off of shelves. At this point, a group of Draugr appeared, led by a “Dragon Priest” which looked very similar to the nether lich of Oblivion. The player then showed off the slow time shout, which afforded him 5-10 seconds of slowed time to move around and destroy his enemies.

After the enemies were all defeated, the player began moving through the cave again, coming across more draugr, and more bandits. During this trek through the cave, we were able to witness the use of dual wielded magic, showing us a very powerful fireball spell, as well as healing spells, and a few frost spells. It was very cool seeing so many effects being used in different ways to make more efficient use of magic in Skyrim. During this segment we were also shown the “Clairvoyance” spell, which creates an ethereal line on the ground, leading to the next objective. Very handy if the player gets lost.

Eventually, the exit of the cave was found, and the player began his trek across the open wilderness. This journey didn’t last very long, however, as the player decided to show us what happens when you attack a Wooly Mammoth in Skyrim. The result? A battle with two mammoths, as well as a pair of Giants. Surprisingly, this battle didn’t last more than a few seconds, however, as the dragon that had chased the player into the cave reappeared, more angry than ever. The dragon quickly dispatched of the two giants, carrying one into the sky, and dropping him from the air, while sending a stream of flame through the second. While firing off a few dragon shouts that appeared to be giant fireballs, the player led the dragon to a nearby fort type of encampment. Immediately upon reaching the fort, a few of what appeared to be Imperial archers began to fire upon the dragon, attempting to help the player. After a fairly lengthy battle, the dragon dropped to the ground, dead, and began to turn to ash. While this was happening, the player absorbed the soul of the dragon, which apparently is used to activate the different dragon shouts that have been discovered.

While absorbing this dragon’s soul, however, a second Frost Dragon appeared. The Imperial guards were already dead, having been dropped during the previous dragon fight, and the player was definitely not in top shape. The player used his newly acquired dragon soul to activate the final level of the Stormcall dragon shout. Immediately, he activated the shout, and after a short time something amazing began to happen. The sky darkened, rain began to fall, and lightning struck from the sky over and over again, bringing the frost dragon, and thusly the fight, to the ground. Don’t think that dragon fights are any easier on the ground though, as they are quite capable with giant claws, and enormous jaws with which to destroy the player. The player was victorious however, and earned another dragon soul for his troubles.

This ended the absolutely stunning gameplay demo, and served to make me even more impatient while waiting for November 11 to arrive. While this was only a small portion of the game, the player was able to show off quite a few things that fans had been asking about recently. While November 11 is still a few months off, it appears that this game will be well worth the wait, and likely a STRONG contender for Game of the Year. Oh…and did I mention this game has DRAGONS!?

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