Here be dragons.
Every autumn since 2008, Eurogamer Expo, held in London, opens its doors to the public. It provides a unique opportunity to see and play all of the major titles coming out in the fourth quarter, the most important sales period of the year. Organized by Eurogamer, one of the biggest European game-related media websites, it consists of more than fifty booths of geek happiness.
And of course, Kit Guru was there, playing everything we could get our hands on, for as long as we could. Eurogamer Expo will run until Sunday, and if you can get to Earl’s Court, GO. It’s totally worth it. Be warned, though – there’s a lot of queuing.
One of the most interesting experiences of the Expo has to be The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. This was the first time the playable demo was seen in Europe. It was presented on dozens of impressive 40-inch screens accompanied by Turtle Beach headsets. Nice effort, Bethesda Softworks.
It starts off with the traditional character creation screen. No surprises here, familiar races and tools we have seen in Oblivion make sure you are comfortable. And then, as is the custom with The Elder Scrolls, I woke up in a prison. The cell door was locked, but some kind of supercharged mutant mole had dug a tunnel which led out to the snow covered mountains. The demo doesn’t feature a coherent narrative. Instead, I was free to explore the province of Skyrim the way I saw fit. And then I fell down the mountain to my death.
The Creation Engine, developed specifically for the game, looks stunning. Snow and ice glitters in the sun, the drawing distances stretch as far as the eye can see, and the water looks like you could drink it. Sound design is on par with visuals: the howling of the northern wind will chill you to the bone. Music by living legend Jeremy Soule makes travelling relaxing, and every fight – cinematic and memorable.
Bethesda Softworks have added slow motion and finishing moves to the established combat formula, making encounters with enemies more varied. The enemies themselves will include several types of dragons, and dragon hunting will be an important part of the game. Loot collectors will find that Skyrim offers more items you can interact with than ever before. Pretty much every object in the game can be picked up and used or sold. This means that your inventory space becomes a precious commodity.
Fighting is precise and physical. If you play first-person, you will feel every blow you receive, every arrow sent your way. The choice of how to fight is up to you. You can use any kind of weapon combination you can imagine, and switch weapons on the run. There will be 85 spells available in Skyrim, and how often you use them will influence your character progression. You gain skills by using the corresponding ability, and not in any other way. This means your character will grow naturally, always suited to your style of play. Get enough skillpoints, and you gain a level, which will allow you to select useful perks.
There are no classes, but a raging melee berserker, a cautious wizard and an invisible ninja are all still possible. The strength of the Elder Scrolls games has been in the way you could spit on RPG tradition and create your own class, no matter how exotic. In TES III: Morrowind I used to play a stealthy mage who used to fight with spell-infused weapons. Good times.
My most memorable moment in Skyrim happened as I was travelling to a stone tower on the top of a nearby hill. In order to get there, I had to cross a river. And while doing that, I spooked a deer. It came to the river to drink, heard me splashing around, froze for a couple of seconds and then ran away. The whole scene looked incredibly lifelike, like something you could see on the Discovery channel.
This is the beauty of Skyrim: a simulation of life in the harsh environments of Northern Tamriel. It is a completely immersive experience. Radiant Story system makes sure every action you take, no matter how trivial, will have a consequence. Could it be the perfect single-player RPG? We’ll have to wait until November to find out. But I bet it’s pretty close.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is developed for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
It will be released on 11/11/11.