Previews

Elder Scrolls V Skyrim: 3-hour hands-on leaves us wanting more

Does Bethesda's GoTY contender play as good as it looks?

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GOOD SAMARITANS

Kill enough enemies and beasties and you get to level up, and it's here that Skyrim's next trump card comes into play. The player's talent tree is geared towards favouring your individual playing style. To that end it bestows skill levels on certain talent trees based on what weapons, armour and magical attacks the player uses, and also what crafting and social abilities they employ the most.

If you fancy ploughing through the game with a two-handed battle hammer, battering enemies on their noggins, the game raises your character's heavy weapons ability, enabling you to raise the overall damage of your attacks.

If hurling fireballs is more your speed, you can raise the burn-damage or unlock the ability to wield magic with both hands.

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The talent trees themselves are represented by gorgeous, swirling constellations in the heavens above Skyrim. Proficiencies are unlocked by lighting different stars within them, and they're shaded according to ability - red for physical combat, blue for magic and green for social and crafting skills.

They're also structured in such a way that cunningly prompts the player to explore their character's potential by offering the chance to specialise in different weapons in a certain class. If you're fond of your two-handed hammer, for example, the corresponding constellation will offer you the chance to expand your two-handed repertoire to include edged weapons, such as swords and battle-axes.

If that sounds like a lot to take in, don't worry; the control system makes navigating around it all incredibly easy. Switching up attacks, levelling a character and navigating Skyrim's woodland landscape and snow-covered mountain ranges soon becomes second-nature. This allows players the space to concentrate quest-based activities or encounters with the game's multitude of NPCs.

One of the first settlements we came across in our hands-on time was a picturesque town called Riverwood and in the short time we spent there we managed to get into enough trouble to significantly level up our character.

One of the first characters we met in the town was a spiteful little snob called Sven. He wanted us to help him win over his love interest Camilla, by handing her a rather venomous letter he'd forged in his rival suitor's hand-writing. Being the noble the folk we are, we told Camilla of the plot, who then told us to look in on the wronged party - a wood elf archer called Faendael.

Not only did our good deed for the day give us a warm fuzzy feeling, it enabled us to recruit Faendael as an ally, which came in very handy when we ventured into the hills around Riverwood to retrieve a Golden Claw artefact, stolen from Camilla's brother Lucen by bandits.

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Between embarking on the quest and returning to Riverwood victorious, we had to make our way through the subterranean caverns of the nearby Bleak Falls Sanctum. As things progressed we found that the Golden Claw was in fact a key which unlocked a tomb deep with the mountain, and that the bandits who hoped to capitalise on this were the least of our worries.

In short order, we were set upon by a giant Frostbite Spider and a small horde of Draugr - that's sword and spell wielding skeletons to you. By the end of our quest, we'd pocketed a fair few gold pieces, weapons, armour and even some mystic runes relating to the Dovahkiin - the race of Dragon-born humans of which the player's character is a member.

We'd also covered a tiny amount of Skyrim's absolutely huge in-game map. Once again, players can fast-travel to any location they've visited, and only the main areas of interest are highlighted to begin with - smaller locations need to be uncovered first hand.

Still, the presentation of Skyrim doesn't make this a chore in any way. The pinewood forests, glittering rivers and towering snow-capped peaks of the environment look utterly gorgeous, and the heart-tugging score which breezes in and out of the soundtrack as the player makes their way through Skyrim is beautiful.

Such is the spell Bethesda's new game weaves that we were highly reluctant to put down the control pad by the end. And even though three hours proved enough to provide the information you're reading here, it still felt mercilessly brief. Come November, it may be worth booking some time off work if you plan to explore the northern lands of Tamriel properly.

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