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Skyrim Preview: Gameplay, Locations and Quests Revealed

Simon Miller

Skyrim


Three hours with the biggest game of 2011.

Published on Oct 17, 2011

As hardened Elder Scrolls fans, we’re well aware of the power it possesses. As you play an Elder Scrolls game, hours turn into days, which then turn into months; it’s a mystery how Bethesda manages to pack so much content into the framework of a simple videogame. Even one with such an open world design. 

Even when armed with such knowledge, it is still a shock to sit down with Skyrim for a few hours and told to ‘do what you like’. Everyone is well aware of the sheer beauty of Skyrim, but the few screenshots and gameplay videos doing the rounds don’t really show how much of a jump from Oblivion it is. 

What happens if you touch this? Dare we tempt fate?

You begin Skyrim on the wrong side of a prison cell door – as is now custom in an Elder Scrolls game. From behind the bars you gaze out onto a world that seems almost unreal. 

Despite the increasing, and often restless talk of the need for a new generation of consoles, Skyrim is a perfect example of why this generation should allowed to continue for a few more years. It would seem developers have finally found their stride with the hardware available.

Ultimately, in spite of how awe-inspiring it looks, its Bethesda’s knack for surprise and intrigue that makes its most famous franchise so addictive. Moving into the wilderness, we come across Embarshard Mine; a simple cave made more interesting by a pack of wolves guarding it. 

Playing as a Nord, complete with the standard sword/shield setup, we’re a little saddened to develop ‘Rockjoint’ after one of the pack bites us from behind. The infliction results in our melee attacks doing 20 per cent less damage, and can only be removed by finding a cure. Already, Skyrim has crafted the start of our own personal journey. 

We decide to ignore the dungeon in favour of making our way to the nearest town, Riverwood. It’s here where more numerous routes open up. Be it the smaller things – like sorting out a local love triangle, or taking on a quest to retrieve Lucan Valerius’ golden claw – the atmosphere and tone that exists in this tiniest of residences is endearing.

Before IKEA, there was cobblestone interiors.

Moments like these are all you need to accept your real-life is coming to an end in favour of a digital one, as addiction and immersion take hold. Curious to the end of both problems, we decide to look into them both, even if one is the fantasy equivalent of Jerry Springer. 

Ladies man Sven has his eyes set on local eye-candy Camilla, his pursuits are in vain thanks to a rival who goes by the name Faendal. Seeing an opportunity for sabotage, Sven passes us a letter bordering on insulting and asks us to pass it to the apple of his eye pretending its from his new adversary. 

In true Elder Scrolls fashion, though, the choice is well and truly in your hands. Yes, this may not be on the same level as Fallout’s karma system but that was never Bethesda’s intent to begin with. While it’ll still affect how your character is shaped and the way others react to you, Skyrim leaves the wider picture in your hands. 

If you want to be a pleb then so be it. Unfortunately for us, we soon realise we don’t have it in us to cause such rivets, breaking down in front of Camilla and confessing all. Thanking us for our honesty, she insists that we also inform Faendal who gracefully gives us a handful of cash and the use of his combat services should we ever need the help.

Ice to see you.

Abusing his offer almost instantly we inform him of Valerius’ stolen claw, thieved from his shop during the night before. Heading to Bleakfalls Barrow, Bethesda once again shows its skill for the gargantuan and epic. After fighting through a wave of enemies – including testing out some well-deserved dual-wielding magic – we discover a colossal set of doors. 

Once inside, and following the usual kill and loot structure we’ve all come to know and love, we stumble upon Aarvel the Swift, a man who reeks with the stench of trouble. Asking us to rescue him in return for his help discovering the claw, the dubious scoundrel quickly hightails it, screaming how he would never share the treasure with anyone. 

Miffed that he would deceive us in such a way, and that we had been so moronic as to fall from it, we attack Aarvel from behind, and he dies neatly with one of Skyrim’s many new death animations. With the claw in hand we head back to complete the quest, but not before stopping off to learn a ‘shout’ – a new power in the Elder Scrolls universe – as well grabbing hold of an ancient Nordic sword. 

Up to this point both our single-handed weapon and shield ability had been leveling up, living up to the developer’s promise that gaining experience with specific items would tie in to how you improve with them. What they didn’t fill us in on was how powerful two-handed arms would be. 

Clearly trying to find a better balance between all-out power or reducing your attacking force in favour of a more defensive one, charging your swipes and landing a clean shot decimates foes, making you feel like a superhero among men.

Seems like a nice guy.

With the clock running against us we decide to wrap up the quest, but, as ever, get drawn elsewhere thanks to a simple discovery. Leaving Bleakfalls Barrow and navigating back towards Riverwood is South Brittleshin Pass, a small passageway that leads us to a hidden cavern.

Hoping, if nothing else, to discover yet more weaponry, we are instead treated to one of those moments that we imagine only a small portion of players will ever come across. 

Scattered with skeletons and other unspeakable creatures, the dungeon soon reveals itself to be home of a Necromancer. Unimpressed that you’ve merely walked into his abode, a fight breaks out, ending with yet another power blow from our new favourite killing device. 

What happens once the smoke has settled and the questions Bethesda deliberately doesn’t answer is where Skyrim becomes a master of conspiracy and fascination. Exploring the rogue magician’s tomb, it seems highly likely the man was performing unspeakable experiments on the Nordic race, dismembered bodies and blood littering the room. 

In the corner are two prison cells, along with a pile of ash on the floor, and an enchanting table in the corner, which is where you can start to power your inventory. It’s a chilling but yet mesmerising snippet of the world created.

Returning to Lucan and returning the claw, we receive a ton of equipment as a thank you. Now however, it’s clearly time to throw the beaten path out the window and see what exactly Skyrim has in-store.

A million points if you get it right in the bear's mouth.

Looking at the map, which remains a daunting task due to its scope, we pinpoint Markarth as our new destination, purely because the icon that represents it has an eerily familiar look to that of one who is Dragonborn. 

The problem is, with no horse in sight and a mind-boggling distance to cover, it’s not going to be an easy journey. Still we walk on. We’re not ashamed to tell you we never reached our chosen target but this is to Skyrim’s ultimate credit, thanks to the volume of enjoyable moments it continues to throw your way. 

The first revolved around a group of bandits and the dead body they were huddled around. Seeing us closing down upon them, the band of thieves jumped up to halt us where we stood, naturally meeting their demise and allowing us to figure out what the hell was going on. 

As it transpires, the corpse was a woman named Breton, armed with nothing more than a note. The paper explains that she left her nearby village after an assembly of thugs stole her family’s pendant, and that she would rather die than see it in their hands. It’s a small, yet no less impactful, story that, again, many may never see. 

Who said we need a new generation of consoles?

As we continue onwards, there’s also a chance encounter with a farmer who although has nothing of great length to say. He convinces us to visit the Imperial Legion and potentially join its ranks. Naturally, plenty of the game’s narrative has been hidden, so exactly what this means is anybody’s guess. But the relatively low-key nature of the task could see it go either way. 

Soon realising that getting to Markarth is a near impossible task, we stop at a nearby inn to get a room and restore our energy and health. As we should’ve expected, it’s not just your run-of-the-mill hotel, according to its owner, Eydis. She explains that the great Tiber Septim used to lodge in the inn as he raged war across the land, and you’re offered his room, being the fine warrior that you are. 

Taking rest in the grand lodgings, you’re awoken by the landlady’s scream. Rushing to her aid Eydis tells you she has seen a ghost and, low and behold, sat behind in a chair near the back of the inn is the spirit in question. Calm to the end, a quick conversation reveals it’s one of Septim’s soldier’s spirits wanting to become blood brothers with Hjalti, the man he believes you to be. 

Septim needs his sword so he can finally be at peace, which means another voyage into the unknown, complete with a conflict between yourself and a mini-faction who seem intent on keeping the brutal artefact hidden. With the sword eventually returned, the man vanishes, leaving you with a healthy increase for your sword and shield ability. 

Looks way cooler than Ezio.

It seems astonishing to witness, first-hand, so many stories not associated with the overarching narrative, but this has always been the Elder Scrolls’ forte and it has almost been perfected with Skyrim. 

Even better are the dozens of other pathways opened up just by wandering through the environment, be it a meeting with Aventus Aretino, who has an interesting meeting with the Dark Brotherhood, or visiting Old Hroldan to learn about the college of Winterhold. 

One mission in particular had us gripped to the very end, despite us not being able to finish it. It involved the secret behind the Red Eagles Tomb and Rebel’s Cairn, and it’s well worth checking out. 

With only a few weeks till this behemoth of a game hits store shelves the world over, we strongly suggest wiping your calendars free now. You won’t have time for anything else.

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