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Eurogamer Expo 2011: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim hands-on

Elder ScrollsEurogamer Expo 2011

I’ve always been an advocate for Western RPGs. As the UK wet its pants in excitement as Final Fantasy VII landed on these shores, I shrugged my shoulders and carried on. Games such as Dungeon Master, Pool of Radiance and Eye of the Beholder will always have a place in my heart, more so than any JRPG. I also have some memory of The Elder Scrolls: Arena, and how hard it was, which is quite a compliment considering difficulty was expected of all RPGs at the time.

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This weekend I had the chance to see if Bethesda’s latest contribution would be another example of the West’s excellent RPG heritage. Starting the demo from the beginning, and to avert the trap of spending my time in character customisation, which has been overhauled, I promptly selected a male Argonian (lizard-man) thanks to their underwater breathing; a trait that’d assist me in exploring as much as possible. One of the presets was reminiscent of a Hell Knight from Doom and was an easy choice to make. With my prisoner created, I embarked into the world of Skyrim.

The presentation values have increased greatly since Oblivion. Mist seeps across the bottom of the deep black loading screens, with characters and quotes on display. Entering the in-game menu showed a dial with four options. Pressing ‘up’ shot the camera up into the sky and showed the stars and constellations, your traits and skills now visible.

Inventory and spells were selectable with left and right, creating sub-menus that are easy to navigate and search. It’s much smoother than in previous titles in the series and uses the current player view as the background, ensuring the landscape is always visible, thus creating a constant sense of immersion in this beautiful world.

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Combat and spell casting has been improved too, demonstrating Bethesda’s testament to meliorate every aspect of this series. Throwing a punch has weight, similar to the combat in Condemned. Arrows travel and dip, you can sprint and casting spells is smoother than before. The heal spell, for example, doesn’t need to be constantly recast. Instead, holding the button down will drain mana as your health increases, allowing more precision and a greater feeling of control.

Most importantly, the game world is breathtaking. As I left the first cave Jeremy Soule’s score sang out and the hairs on my arms stood up on end. This is the most stunning escapist world I’ve witnessed in a video game. Fans of the series need to be booking some time off work during the game’s launch – you will lose your social life when this comes out.

The graphics were stunning, with a huge line of sight. Playing on the Xbox 360 version, there was some occasional pop-up of textures but this is to be expected within a world this big. Giant, snow covered mountains in the distance reached up into the clouds, while a rabbit, disturbed by my presence, leapt out from behind a tree and hopped off. Hearing water nearby I headed to the cliff edge, the river below reflecting the sun beautifully. It was too tempting to not leap in for a swim.

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Diving in, I swam to the riverbed and was able to grab a passing salmon. Carrying on through the water, I came across a sunken ship. Resurfacing nearby, I discovered an old ruin and a hunter fishing. The game world is denser this time round and, with the addition of NPCs outside of towns, feels alive.

Walking down a beaten trail I saw a man running towards me with his bow drawn. As he was looking past me I gave him the benefit of the doubt, keeping my weapon sheathed and standing my ground. His arrow shot off at a passing dear as he roared ‘I love some competition’. His friend was mining a nearby rock, and after an exchange of gold pieces, he sang the song I had requested and his bellowing voice could be heard throughout the forest.

There’s more that I found and discovered, but it’s best that this is all left for you to fall upon when the game is released in November. There’s not one element of the game that hasn’t been improved upon – Bethesda have once again made another giant leap with its latest entry in the Elder Scrolls saga.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was Shane’s game of Eurogamer Expo 2011

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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