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Published on October 17th, 2011 | by G. Bargas, Managing Editor
Skyrim: The Rookie Playthrough
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC (Played on Xbox 360)
Release Date: Nov. 11, 2011
[Editor’s note: Since we had two people at the hands-on event, we had them write two different articles based on their experience with the Elder Scrolls franchise. Greg, the writer of this article, has not played any TES game and went into the preview a rookie, thus the title of this article. Cam, the other editor, has experienced the previous two TES games and compared them to Skyrim. His article, named Three Hours by the Veteran, can be accessed by clicking here.]
To write these hands-on impressions like I’ve never played a single game in the Elder Scrolls series would be easy. The Elder Scrolls series was just one string of games that never really drew my attention, especially being that it was an RPG type game, an immediate turn off for my likes. While my palette has broadened over the years of gaming, there is no better time to jump further into my expansion of this first person game of epic adventures with RPG elements.
For the most part, Cam’s experience started like mine. We were booted up in the main menu and filtered through the character customization screen. After reading through various character descriptions and histories, my final selection landed on the Khajiit.
“Hailing from the province of Elsweyr, they are intelligent, quick, and agile. They make excellent thieves due to their natural stealthiness. All Khajiit can see in the dark at will and have unarmed claw attacks.”
As soon as I read about the use of the Night Eye, which is the ability to see in the dark, it made the decision so much easier to make. Although the cougar-like-feline has a similar stance to that of human, many of the facial features such as the whiskers, nose and hair exemplified the notable cat-like structure. Being that they are still animals,the color variations and attributes were reflected well in their fur and spotting. When making adjustments for brow color, or even eyeliner, it was important for me to keep the overall attributes looking as natural as possible, but to also give my Khajiit a weathered warrior look.
The use of facial scars, war paint, and other tinting in the color of the characters skin/fur allowed for my warrior to receive a seasoned look. What I found most creative were things like the spotted pattern that showed variation after making changes to the color. The typical facial features could be modified with slide bars and selections, but the amount of selectable options beat out previous hyped up console customizations promises even for games like the prior Bethesda published title Brink.
After discussing various options and modifications with Cam, which we had already spent about half an hour adjusting our characters appearance alone, it was finally time to start exploring that which is Skyrim.
The first thing that was noticed after emerging into the world was the sheer scale of the environment. When a game promises to bring the goods for graphical integrity, my first and foremost step is to walk up to textures and examine their quality with a magnifying glass. Looking at certain rock formations gave way to some notable differences between other massive scale RPG games and Skyrim. There were noticeable differences in quality and when it came to the little things in nature, such as mossy rocks in the wilderness, there was some great care taken in providing an experience that would make it believable. Pixelation of layered textures usually gets noticed right away, but was minimized for a game with such a massive scale.
The same can be found in the expansive sweeping skylines and rising mountains in the distance. Staring up at the night sky as it becomes day, shows off the depth as clouds move at a snail’s pace through the moonlight. For someone who does not particular find themselves committing to double digit hours of gameplay on a single title, it was surely becoming noticeable that getting lost in the world’s findings would not be hard. At this point, I hadn’t even made it far enough to jump into some combat.
The menus were easily navigable. The options to select equipment, weaponry and other items weren’t as overwhelming as others, but did provide enough information to make informative decisions on carrying load and statistics. This also lead me to discover the carrying load, which you can drop items on the spot to reduce the weight and apply armor and other such items that occupy weight. This was also a crucial moment after discovering the Guardian Stones, which activated your role as a Mage, Warrior or Thief. Although I sometimes like to take my hand as a Mage, the Warrior seemed like a notable choice.
The access to the Warrior class also gave way to more than just an identity perk. Using this role meant that my character would also learn combat skills 20% faster. This was also the same case with the skills of the Mage and Magicka and the Thief with Stealth. It always seems confining to me when choosing these types of roles and being stuck with only one route to take, so I try and do my best to well round my character.
On the move to guide Muskrat Pete to become a more valiant entity, I began using magicka more often in my hand-to-hand encounters. Fighting Draugr Warriors on the journey to retrieve the Golden Claw, one side mission into the hills after leaving Riverwood, it was where my skills began to speed up. After discussing the whereabouts of this item that local bandits had stolen, Muskrat Pete was directed to a mountain top that could be seen in the distance. It is also the area where some nifty trial and error shaped my journey and left me saving more times than just with the autosave feature. I began to scale the terrain of the mountain and make my way towards my objective. This was where it was time to put the anticipation of combat to good use.
Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the Draugr Lord tomb this morning, didn’t we?
After solving a light puzzle inside the caves, Muskrat Pete was now on his way to encounter an injured Frost Bite Spider. This over-sized web spitter dropped down from the ceiling and guarded a ‘thief’ that would play a part in finding the Golden Claw. What moved the story along was the fact that in the limited time we spent playing the game, my character had already leveled-up to have a full ‘3’ bar and almost to the 4th, but was still able to defeat some visibly larger enemies such as the spider.
On the way to these skill upgrades, I began shaping my characters destruction Magicka. It always seems empowering to emphasize the use of spells, but also wield a combat weapon. The spewing of fire let off like a flamethrower, but could also be harnessed into pulses. In this pre-alpha build, there were a few times I noticed the stream not following the general physics that you would expect from the attack. Tracking the spider with this row of flame was satisfying in combat, but you could notice the obvious misstep. After attacking and saving my stamina bar, the arachnid was defeated by many piercings from the shots from a Hunters Bow.
Just wish there was an extra hand so that I could light my cigarette.
Although the game performed as it should, there were still some noticeable areas that would be hitting some final run-throughs.
While journeying into one of the cities, a civilian had mentioned his despise of the Khajiit, making the remark along the lines of their kind not being respected and that they shouldn’t be allowed there. The conversation tree gave the options to become passive in the interaction, or take a fighting stance and duke it out. We all know that violence is the answer.
After winning the battle, the peasant dropped to the ground and the money was supposed to be collected. The characters were stuck in a single motion, left looking like a dance line from a Broadway musical. After a few moments of button mashing and pausing and resuming, the money finally collected itself and continued on. Other animations such as weapons being drawn had their record skips, but eventually moved on with the show.
For not being particularly in-love with the genre, I did however find it easy to become involved and immersed into the world of Skyrim. The combat felt very fluid, especially defensive moves like the shield parry and two-handed block. It makes sense not to particularly include various HUD items, being that the game is set in a more simplistic time. The activation of immediate quests was a simple feature and was only complicated by how much exploration you wanted to consume between each route.
While the technology of the game is based in an era of hand-to-hand combat, other skills layer the game with substance. The time spent with the game was a little different than Cam’s experience being that he has played prior titles in the series. He had by far done more to progress the story, but at the same time, I did quite a few things to level up just as much as he did with making only lateral moves.
Simply saying that the depth of the game was impressive would be an understatement. Making long treks in the wildlife and standing in amazement at the environment left me just wanting to pick the brains of the developers as to what inspired them most about the artistic outcome. Although the game did have a few bugs here and there, it is no worry to me that they will not be fixed by launch day. For anyone who has avoided such titles in the series because the scale or time consumption may be a bit daunting, take my advice, go play it.
The curiosity of the surrounding world can provide for some meaningful exploration and discovery. Playing the straight forward approach and completing each mission will almost do the same, but with less examination of the special things that give the title such substance. There is enough action to occupy those FPS junkies, but also enough mystic exploration to easily leave you to waste away those ticks on the clock.