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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim preview

by Xav de Matos, Oct 17, 2011 11:00am PDT

Last week, I spent three hours slaying vampires, traversing the blistering cold wilderness of a mountain-side trail, and putting my morals aside to join a guild of thieves. Yes, I played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and I cannot stop thinking about it.

Weekend Confirmed co-host Jeff Cannata and I were handed controllers, and we made a pact to go off in completely different directions in our respective games. After the event, we discussed our progress and only had original stories to tell each other.

For my latest hands-on, I decided to venture as far Northeast as possible. A small, lonesome town, was plodded a great distance away on the map, and I made the decision to seek its shelter within my three hour gameplay session window.

I had decided to play as an Argonian, the lizard-like race that can breathe underwater. I thought that he would be able to easily swim between the little islands scattered atop the watered areas. Little did I know almost the entirety of the North is covered in thick snow and ice.

I stumbled upon a caravan of Khajiit farmers, slayed and pillaged from an unknown attack. Soon, the attackers made themselves known. Confronted by a handful of bandits, I reached into my inventory and extracted a weak sword and shield. The battle would be a difficult one against the heavily armored horde, but I managed to thin their lines by running deep into the nearby forest. As they spread out across the land to hunt me down, I systematically cut them down--one by one.

An hour and a half into the session, I realized that I had yet to speak to a single soul. The world, at this point, seemed as silent as my own creation. Soon, I make it into a snow-covered canyon between two large rock walls and spot a lone horse. Its saddle tells me it is not wild, but I see no living people in the area. Rather than steal the horse and continue to the town set on my map, I explore. "Where did your owner go?" I think to myself, staring at the horse.

A large hole etched into the side of one rock wall houses a mine. Haemar's Cavern is its name. I ready my favorite spells and weapons, hot-linking them to my quick-launch menu and step inside. Sadly, I didn't have the only weapon that could have made the journey much easier: garlic.

The caverns are winding, vampires recount tales of conquests inside. Some discuss what sounds like a rebellion. Inside I find all of the amenities of a regular town: blacksmith and alchemy stations, a cookery to combine ingredients and make food, tan hide to combine bits to create leather strips. Inside I come face-to-face with hordes of vampires, some with the ability to summon minions into battle. I best them all, with the exception on one. A master vampire destroys me, again and again. I try for a dozen minutes to get the upper hand but he sucks away my energy quickly and without remorse. Inside his lair I notice a large, fancy chest, undoubtedly filled with goods that will help my quest. Using a potion of swiftness, I run into the lair and free the master vampire of his belongs and rush out. Eventually I make it back to the horse and ride off to the town knowing that one day I'll be back to finish the bloodsucker off for good.

The city to the northeast is a lakeside property called Riften. The town is controlled by the iron fist of the Black-Briars and their harsh leader, Maven. At the gate I'm told I'm required to pay a "visitor's tax" to enter. I refuse and wonder aloud whether or not the guards of the city know people are being shaken down for spare gold at the entrance, the "tax man" reconsiders his stance and lets me enter. Inside, Maven's right-hand man Maul tells me not to stir trouble in Maven's town. She doesn't take kindly to conflict, he implies, but seems more than willing to have a battle of his own.

Eventually I meet Brynjolf, the leader of what is essentially the Thieves Guild. It isn't as blatant as it was in Oblivion. There is no flags outside of a clubhouse signifying their association, it's something and someone you must seek out for yourself. In the market, I'm given a task to steal a ring from one merchant and plant it on another. Unfortunately, I'm unable to keep to the shadows and am caught.

Approaching my final fifteen minutes of the play session, Brynjolf tells me that he is still interested in my recruitment despite my failed mission. A hidden bar within the sewers of Riften houses the guild and Brynjolf assures me that if I make my way through the trap and enemy infested area, more opportunity awaits.

That's what Skyrim has done to draw me in each time I play it. It's the opportunities that exist at every turn. I've played the game for nearly six hours over the last few months and have yet to see a dragon, one of the game's biggest additions. I'm constantly impressed with what Bethesda is able to do in terms of storytelling and gameplay and Skyrim is no exception. It looks outstanding and has so much attention to detail and respect for its world, such as the stacks of books that are included in the game available for people to read.

I will gladly replay every one of the quests I've completed and failed throughout my preview time with the game. Very few games get such a charge of excitement out of me, but Skyrim is probably my most anticipated game of the year.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim launches on the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 on November 11.





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