The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim First Look Preview - Through the Fire and the Flames

Exploring temples, helping townspeople, and dueling dragons are all part of a typical day in Skyrim.

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The Elder Scrolls series has come a long way since its humble beginnings on the PC back in the early '90s. Throughout the years, these games have gathered a loyal following enamored with their massive worlds and open-ended gameplay. At Bethesda Softworks BFG 2011 press event, located deep in the mountains of Utah, we got our first peek at what's to come for this venerable role-playing series. The hands-off demonstration, hosted by Bethesda Softworks' executive producer Todd Howard, took us through a short adventure centered on the theft of a golden dragon's claw. From combat to character customization, Skyrim is bringing a lot of tweaks and changes to the Elder Scrolls formula, so let's get right to it.

The demonstration opened on a woodland path that was dense with all of the graphical splendor and attention to detail we've come to expect from an Elder Scrolls game. Unlike in Oblivion, the developers have built the game's graphics engine, dubbed the Creation Engine, from scratch to give themselves more flexibility than they had with the previously used Gamebryo engine. The result was a scene packed with tiny details, from the veins on individual leaves of a fern to the rushing currents of water breaking over rocks. Once we had finished soaking in the scenery, our character--who was dressed in the same apparel as in the debut trailer--ventured through the woods until (like in any good role-playing game) a wild bandit appeared.

Welcome back to the land of Skyrim.

Howard took this opportunity to break down some of the changes the developers are making to the combat in Skyrim. In brief, you character's left and right arms are mapped to two separate buttons; in this case, the left and right triggers on the Xbox 360 controller because the demo was on an Xbox 360. Pressing the left trigger brought up our character's wooden shield to block an incoming attack, while pressing the right trigger swung our character's sword to attack. Compared to previous Elder Scrolls games, combat in Skyrim seemed much more involved. Our Nordic-looking hero was constantly sidestepping around his opponent to better position his shield against oncoming attacks or to find a way around the enemy's own defenses.

Once the first bandit was dispatched, a second appeared to avenge his friend's death. Against the new foe, our character swapped out his shield for a magical spell. Depending on how you wish to play, your character can be outfitted with different combinations of spells and weapons in each hand. The classic sword-and-shield combo is always an option, but you can also use a sword and staff if you want "to do the Gandalf thing." Or you can toss a fireball spell into the mix and become a magical warrior. Equipping the same spell in each hand allows you to perform a more potent version of that spell; however, your options in combat won't be as diverse.

The athletics and acrobatics skills have (thankfully) been removed from the game.

Against the second bandit, our character used a ray of frost spell, which both slowed and damaged the target. In her weakened state, the bandit could do little to defend herself when our character swooped in for the kill with a stylish execution move, which involved a sword through the chest. With the fighting concluded, we took a moment to explore the upgraded menu system. Going to the menu screen pulls up four categories to choose from: skill, inventory, map, and magic. The inventory and magic screens display a list of the various spells and equipment you have collected. Individual spells may be saved for quick access later on, while different pieces of equipment may be compared to one another within a single screen (a feature the developers are still fine-tuning). The map screen pulls back the game's camera to reveal a full-3D view of the world and highlights major points of interest.

However, the most impressive section was the skill screen. Instead of just being a spreadsheet that comprises names and numbers, the skill screen displays your skills as star constellations in the sky above. As you level up, you can help fill in these constellations by purchasing perks (represented as stars) within your skills. On the topic of character advancement, Howard noted that the eight original character attributes from previous Elder Scrolls games have been condensed into three: magica, health, and stamina. He justified this by stating that the original eight all "trickled down" into each other and that this change allowed players more direct control over their characters.

With our business in the menus concluded, our character headed into the nearby village of Riverwood. We then took a brief tour of this small settlement as Howard explained how the new radiant story system works in Skyrim. Basically there are a number of skeleton quests that have been planned out in broad strokes, but have some of their characters or plot points left blank. The system then dynamically populates these blank areas with people or objects you've encountered during your journey. He also noted that the number of voice actors featured in the game has been greatly expanded, so that players won't run into the same handful of voices time and again. After speaking to a few locals, we learned that there had been a robbery at the local supply store. Speaking with the store's owner revealed that the only thing stolen was a golden dragon's claw.

Engaging someone in a conversation won't stop the action; you'll still be able to move and look around.

Our character agreed to help the shopkeeper retrieve his trinket and set off in the footsteps of the thieves. Our journey took us up along a mountain pass where we learned that some creatures--such as a lumbering giant--aren't out to kill and won't attack on sight. Others--such as an angry frost troll--still wanted to rip our head from our shoulders but were easily dispatched with a blast of fire magic. Toward the top of the mountain, we discovered an ancient temple devoted to the worship of dragons. Just as our character passed under a large dragon statue, we thought we saw something move from the corner of our eye. Looking again, we saw that it wasn't a statue--it was an actual dragon.

As the massive beast circled above, no doubt preparing to strike, our character opted to retreat within the temple to avoid the beast. However, we would soon see it again before long. Inside the temple, we encountered two of the thieves who had robbed the Riverwood shopkeeper. We weren't sure what they were discussing, but it mattered little after we blew one of them away with a headshot from our longbow. The second jumped to her feet and began frantically searching for our hiding spot in the shadows. Stealth in Skyrim has been tweaked from previous games so that the transition from the alert state of enemies (where they are looking for you) to their danger state (where they are attacking you) is more gradual depending on what you do. For instance, if our character were to run out in the open and attack, the transition would occur very quickly. However, if we remained hidden, it would be a much slower process. The transition itself was represented by an opening-eye icon in the center of the screen.

Using the radiant story system, that irate farmhand you ticked off earlier in the game can come back in a later quest for revenge.

Pressing onward, we located and dispatched another member in the party of thieves before coming upon a metal door with an elaborate mechanical lock. Had we allowed the thief to get this far, he would have attempted to solve this puzzle himself, failed, and been rewarded with a swift death for his efforts. After lining up all the symbols on the lock in the correct order, we moved on to another area of the temple covered with massive spider webs. Right on cue, a massive spider descended from the ceiling and attacked. Without a big tissue to crumple it up, our character had to settle for bashing its brains with his sword.

A gaunt, sickly looking man named Arvel the Swift was trapped nearby in the deceased spider's webbing. After tempting us with promises of information concerning the stolen dragon's claw, the weasel promptly took off the moment our character cut him free. While he was swift, Arvel's speed couldn't save him from a well-placed arrow in the back of his skull. From his corpse, we collected both the stolen claw, as well as a journal that contained a few nuggets of lore about the temple. However, we had no time to read as our character was soon set upon by a mob of angry Draugr--undead warriors of the temple's past inhabitants.

At this point, our character decided to forgo melee weapons altogether and rely solely on his magical abilities. In one hand, he equipped the circle of protection, which warded off the undead foes; in the other, he equipped chain lighting, which blasted foes to pieces. Between how they looked and operated, the magical abilities in Skyrim reminded us of the plasmids in the BioShock series. One of the ways our character could learn new spells was by collecting magical tomes, one of which just happened to be lying nearby. Once the Draugr were defeated, our character studied the tome and mastered the fireball spell, which he then paired up with a one-handed axe.

Enchanting is one of the new skills coming to Skyrim, and you're going to need it.

Soon our character arrived outside of the Hall of Stories, the innermost chamber of the temple where the priests bury their dead. Once again, we were faced with another locked door that required us to solve a puzzle to gain access. The answer to this riddle rested in the palm of the dragon's claw that we had recovered earlier. Items in your character's inventory can be viewed as 3D models, from the simplest herb to a shining elven glass sword. Certain books, such as the journal we recovered, can even be read page by page in this mode. With the dragon's claw selected, we flipped the object over to reveal the door's combination inscribed upon it.

Inside was what appeared to be an altar cut from some type of gray stone and inscribed with a language we couldn't understand. As our character approached the altar, we were informed that the writing upon it was in the native language of the dragons and that by learning the words and phrases written upon it, we could adapt them into a form of vocal magic, referred to as dragon shouts. From this particular set, our character discerned the draconic word for time, which he adapted into a shout that would slow down everything around him. This came in handy when an undead dragon priest awoke from its slumber in the ornate tomb in the center of the room (how did we miss that?). Using his new shout, our character slowed the fiend down to a crawl and peppered it with fireballs until it crumbled.

With the priest defeated, our character ventured out to the surface through a conveniently placed exit. Lo and behold, the same dragon from earlier was waiting for us right outside, ready to burn our character to cinders. In Skyrim, dragons act as wondering boss fights that occur randomly and require your whole arsenal to defeat. As the beast sprayed the battlefield with a cone of flames, we could hear it whispering in another language beneath the roar of the flames. Howard commented on this, likening draconic combat to a form of debate. We liked to imagine that the creature was just trying to comment on the recent heat wave in the area, which we responded to by hitting it in the face with an axe. Once the creature was killed, our character--being a dragonborn--absorbed its soul. What this does, or what it means to be a dragonborn, the developers wouldn't say.

Dragons are not on the endangered species list, meaning there's not a finite number of them in the game's world.

As the demonstration came to a close, Howard opened the floor up to questions and was presented with a laundry list of topics, but he couldn't really comment. Will there be mounts in the game? Maybe. How will the guilds function? No comment. Will alchemy be a skill in the game? Yes. Well, how will it work? No comment. Howard then concluded the talk with an open invitation to new players, stating that "We assume, every time, that you haven't played our previous games." From what we've seen, it doesn't look like Bethesda Softworks is trying reinvent everything we know about The Elder Scrolls with this game. Instead, it has listened to the comments and complaints from the community and has crafted a sequel to be more of what fans want. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will be released on the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 on November 11.

Discussion

685 comments
adamomars
adamomars

SIX DAYS ! SIX F*CKIN' DAYS! HELL YA LOL

lamitatron
lamitatron

Looks really cool. Definitely getting it as soon as possible.

NoblesseOblige3
NoblesseOblige3

Thank you Skyrim and Uncharted. Without you, this would've been a very disappointing gaming year :-/

nzmx121
nzmx121

Looks AWESOME! Fallout 4 is going to be EPIC if they use this game engine

kexul9
kexul9

So far I agree with just about every change they made, but this "dragon shout" thing might make it too easy fighting basic enemy's

DKtroa
DKtroa

When i saw the title of this preview, i thought i was going to see the trailer but with Dragonforce - Through the fire and flames going in the background... lol ^^

Shadroth888
Shadroth888

ever find yourself wanting more from a game? Do you have an appitite for countless missions and side quests? Ever get the urge to smash a Goblin's face in with a flail? Look no further folks, this is going to be one for the ages. I hear those with some concerns over dumbing down the skill tree, I also aware that some are worried that this will be as buggy as Fallout: New Vegas. Perhaps only time will tell but, nevertheless ES5 is going to be great! you know it, i know it, and Bethesda are certainly confident. Bethesda's overall track record speaks for itself. Bring on 11.11.11. Nuf said

Doomrul
Doomrul

1)Did they actually listen/read/watch/play countless Mods came from relentless fans of Oblivion and Fallout 3? 2)Will it be finally a HUD that won't need modding? 3)Please ,finally a decent Inventory System? 4)Horses (I am not looking forward to any other mount type as long as they are ) on par /better with/than RDR's? 5)Will I still be able to get a conclusion/reward/or just even a "mention" of a quest even if I killed/encountered the related NPC or random world event earlier than "I was supposed to".(as far as I believe Sandbox world made these games legends!) 6)Can I really play a distinctive class rather than trying to MAX OUT every skill/talent? 7)Showed some effort for decent Voice Acting ? 8 )Finally "playable" over the shoulder view ? 9)Are we going to get an ACTUAL FINISHED PRODUCT? or will it be the same story as Oblivion and Fallout 3 and it will take another 2-3 years actually until game "settles down" ? 10) Charisma/Character/Speech ? Finally , will they be functional at all , or just keep holding disk space? ...................................................................... It's all sweet interviews and impressive voice overs mixed with flashy , shiny crisp graphics so far.But I want to see some real "improvement" over fundamentals of Oblivion and Fallout 3,what made those games legends!I want to enjoy that feeling kept me playing of hundreds of hours despite "the flaws" I deliberately ignored!

Taakko
Taakko

Have to freeze myself again...

fourfootthug
fourfootthug

Freshman year at college will be a tough time for me if this game is even half as addictive as Oblivion was for me, and I have a strong feeling it will be way better.

tyrosxps
tyrosxps

not sure I agree with dumbing down attributes from eight to three. It looks like they keep dumbing the Elder Scrolls down which was at its peak at Morrowind. Has anyone seen a screenshot of the inventory, is it the stupid list again like in Oblivion? Please, don't screw up the PC version this time.

rzeznik88
rzeznik88

looks amazing. i'll see you under my christmas tree

kazumashadow
kazumashadow

i cant wait to get it! oblivion was one of my favorite games of all time i still miss the whole nights i spent playing it till the sun rose again and have no doubt this will live up to its predecessor! oh i hope they enhance the 3rd person gameplay too

SPuDl
SPuDl

@zimeron1 The other games that are being released in November are the ones who should be worried!

zimeron1
zimeron1

is it really a good idea to release with the 5-6 other games coming out in november?

wheathin1234
wheathin1234

@MagicMarker44 You're right school is a problem. I bought oblivion during the summer not knowing i would like it but i agree, games should come out in May or June not during the winter when everyone's working and at school.

wheathin1234
wheathin1234

@LinkLuigi Yes you can hold a shield and sword at same times. I am not specifically sure if it will be the left hand though.

wheathin1234
wheathin1234

Since 2006 I've been devoted to role playing games. Oblivion changed how i look at games and i truly hope this game will put the same impact as oblivion had onto it's users. Skyrim will eat away days of my time and i will be prepared for it.

MiasmaRising
MiasmaRising

It pains me to know hibernation isn't possible, cus these next few months of waiting are slowing down to a crawl.

bluedarrk
bluedarrk

I've always loved Elder Scrolls, its an "EPIC" series. Skyrim looks beautiful, and I'm hoping to put 100+ hours into this

LinkLuigi
LinkLuigi

One minor question - is it possible to have a sword in the left hand, shield in the right? Just a small little wonder. Even if you can't, this game is on my must buy list.

MagicMarker44
MagicMarker44

Damn. I wish it was coming out this summer. My school work is going to be taking a back seat for my alternative life in Skyrim.

Xsan3
Xsan3

Been Quite a While since I have been Anticipating a Game ! ! Finally, Something to Look Forward to . . . !

runenakken
runenakken

Been waiting 6 years since Oblivion in 2006! I can wait 5-6 months more! Already pre-ordered it for PC. I'm hoping it'll take a long time to play through! Game of the year?

meleekill989
meleekill989

literally my one and only MUST buy of the year.

bhyesilnil
bhyesilnil

I want this sooo badly. I mean really...

Shketri
Shketri

that stuff with combining 2 fireballs into one big is pretty awesome

wemboo__a17
wemboo__a17

It was a mistake to watch and read the preview... Now I can't wait for Skyrim to come out... :( I'm going to be very very sad if they have to move back the release date so let's hope it was as good as Oblivion was considered in 2006

kickballer
kickballer

I love the Idea of having 3 weapons ready at all times =P can't complain with weapon perks eather.

BravelyRanAway
BravelyRanAway

Looks awesome. This should take up about six months of my life(in a good way)

nosise
nosise

wow...talking with dragons, cool! :D

Neogenic
Neogenic

Looks great! So no demon princes or princesses to defeat this time eh?

chrisser665
chrisser665

Does anybody know if you will be able to shape-shift? I'd love to be engaged in double-bladed combat, only to unleash a barrage of lightning, leap into the air and land on my opponent as a snarling, bloodthirsty wolf or bear or something. That'd be kickass.

slyguy65
slyguy65

hmm talking thing...eh i dont think i like it for an "all the time" deal maybe like when you get ambushed and it just stops time so you can chat first...no i think the action should continue then but well in a shop or one on one conversation it should be kept the way it was.

navyseai
navyseai

that guy from gamespot really should do something about his hair...

navyseai
navyseai

if only they added multiplayer :\

Slim-Jim2011
Slim-Jim2011

This looks really good. But I'm interested in the combat, he said they are improving the combat. I hope these changes and improvements kickass.

TheoleDominion
TheoleDominion

I apologize that I misunderstood you. But I don't know of anyway PC's that come out of the box ready to play, if their is such a product it's being poorly marketed. It has not hit mainstream yet,but fot the most part you're gonna need some extra (like the cable you mentioned) in order to run through your TV. Consoles doesn't have that issue, and you get into further issues for certain games that are not released on PC. Also I have a motion hard-ware that goes with the console, and if there are PC software/hard-ware that allow the same capabilities as Wii or Kinect along with the same games then once again I am ignorant of that PC product. The PC just doesn't lend itself as the "source" of family entertainment from the living-room. And I'm not neutral towards people who "put down" others, I'm against them

radioactive1wiz
radioactive1wiz

@Theoledominion It's not a never-ending cycle. My pc that I built before Xbox360 came out can run anything with no problems on Dx10. Compared to the xbox which is showing it's age, that's a far longer life expectancy. You need to learn how to speak proper English. I didn't say that playing PCs for games was a foreign concept, only using them in a living room with a TV instead of a Console. I am not in the slightest way arrogant, I was merely providing reasons for several issues you raised. I never suggested that PC gamers are superior/inferior or anything of the sort. Merely the reasons why several people act like that. And once more, you fail to comprehend my point. You are putting yourself above pc gaming elitists, as if they are scum for believing they are superior. If you truly believe what you say then you would have a more neutral viewpoint instead of a constant attack and, you will note, I never attacked you. At all. You are using the same cyclical argument and putting words in my mouth in place of what I actually say. I am bored of arguing with an idiot.

TheoleDominion
TheoleDominion

@LuciferAmadeus - lol....I'm glad we entertain you...tune in next week.."same Bat time....same Bat channel"...lol Quote commentary from the old Batman television series.

TheoleDominion
TheoleDominion

@radioactive1wiz - Upgrading PC's to play the next big game is a never-ending cycle I refuse to subject myself to. And for as using my PC for gaming as being a "foreign concept" that's false too. I use to play "Eye of the Beholder", Half Life, Rainbow Six(in which you controlled 4 different squads,unlike todays series on consoles), Diablo, and including other much older RPG games where all you got was a text to let you know if you "hit" or "miss" on attacks with NO VISUAL illustrations on PC. So I'm very familiar with PC gaming, but I never had the arrogant attitude I see out of some of the PC gamers(YOU included) of today. Though as something being "foreign" you could say that for MOST things, at one time consoles were "foreign" to me too. We had to go to the arcades or bowling alleys to play video games. We didn't have a console in my home at the time I developed a love for video games. So if you want to call me an elitist for not allowing PC gamers "put down" console gamers and not called them out on it, then so be it. But I'll say it again since you have a "reading and comprehension" problem. Regardless if you re a PC or CONSOLE gamer it DOES NOT make you SUPERIOR/INFERIOR to the other in intelligence. Class Dismissed! Oh by the way recognizing people having DIFFERENT preferences rather having a superiority complex is a BETTER attitude, maybe you'll learn that when you grow up.

Gocybigt
Gocybigt

@theoledominion & radioactive1wiz- gamers in general are eletists im a pc guy because i like single player games like TES tho it could b argued that we are the biggest when it comes to multiplayer games because it is true we have wow after all lol not sure how wow's numbers stand up to x-live or psn but booyah! but if you like to play donkey kong with your family or u have friends who like to play madden 11 ect.... consoles are right for you but most of us in this forum in sure have a gameing pc or laptop im sure because their so cheap and a console because it just easier to go x-360 wireless controler than to splice a x controler for a pc but then again for some games the keybord and mouse is just the way to go oh yah and THE CHEATS!!!! @luciferamadeus LAWLZ!!!!

LuciferAmadeus
LuciferAmadeus

Wow, this post has become a crusade platform. I'm rooting for the PC crusader... no, I think Console Crusader will win... omg, i don't which side of the crusade i'm going to follow. . LOL! You guys are epic...... I love you guys.

radioactive1wiz
radioactive1wiz

@theoledominion As I said, many of them are just trolls trollin' And you fail to take in my point again; Those pcs are already in the house, correct? You upgrade them to being capable of pc games easily, and they can use emulators for most xbox, ps3 and all wii games Fighting games/ sports games are also available for same screen playing on pcs. And yes, my pc is out of the way and hidden in my living room but it does have controllers, because of the fact it has been used for street fighter before. You are elitist for taking a self-righteous stand against pc elitists, putting yourself above them. In any case, most of what you said I put down to different culture. You may call me "nationalist" or other BS again but different places do things differently. Not every village/town/city/whatever emulates others, especially the people I'm bored of your cyclical arguments now. The only reason it isn't practical in your mind is because it's a foreign concept to you. Nothing else.