The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Hands On

Developer: Bethesda Game Studios / Publisher: Bethesda Softworks / Price: $59.99 / Rating: Mature [Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language] / Played on: Xbox 360

When speaking with fans of Oblivion, it’s not uncommon to hear that their hours-played number is somewhere in the triple digits range. This is with good reason. The Elder Scrolls series (and the current generation Fallout games, for that matter) has consistently succeeded, more so than many other franchises, in offering an actual role-playing experience. Each aspect of these games feels deliberately designed to provide players with the tools and freedom required to craft a wholly unique and, in some cases, almost unhealthily immersive experience.


We recently spent three hours doing what we pleased with the soon-to-be-released fifth installment in the series, Skyrim. Everything you’ve come to expect from the franchise is here in spades: a huge open environment littered with settlements and dungeons filled with friendly and not-so-friendly NPCs, a robust character creation system, and a near limitless amount of side quests to complete. But in other areas, the game may exceed expectations. A greater attention to story-specific set pieces (an aspect of previous Bethesda RPGs that has been criticized as seeming like an afterthought) and UI design will catch the eye of Elder Scrolls veterans. Additionally, Bethesda has totally reworked the character progression and upgrade systems in a way that’s been wonderfully streamlined without sacrificing any depth.


There are no character classes in Skyrim. Rather, each race has specific passive traits and skill point biases that can help direct your play style. For example, my female Dark Elf started off with extra points in the Destruction (offensive magic) and Stealth skills along with a permanent bonus to fire damage resistance. However, I wouldn’t have been locked into being a stealthy magic user if I didn’t want to be. Your individual skills level up the more often they are used. On top of that, each time you reach a new player level, you are given the option to increase your health, magicka, or stamina AND unlock new abilities in the trees that are associated with each skill. If this sounds confusing let me put it like this: the more often I use the fire blast spell, the more powerful my Destruction skill becomes. Additionally, when I earn enough experience to reach a new level, I can unlock perks in the Destruction skill tree (every single skill has a perk tree) like causing all Destruction spells to cost less magicka or increasing the power of the dual-wielded fire blast. This progression allows players to develop their characters naturally, rather than being locked into a particular specialization at the onset of the game.


While your character will no doubt be at the center of your Skyrim experience, it’s the game worlds of The Elder Scrolls series that are always the stars of the show. It’s tough to say just how big Skyrim’s world is compared to the other games, but even in our short play session it’s obvious this is quite an expansive slab of land. The small area I was able to explore was packed with plenty of small towns, bandit fortresses, and wandering merchants. Exploration is always satisfying because there’s always something to find no matter which direction you head.


But at some point you have to latch on to the main quest line. A civil war has broken out between two clans and big-ass dragons have returned for the first time in years and are wreaking havoc on the citizens and towns of Skyrim. I’ll avoid getting bogged down with story specifics (for the sake of spoilers) and just say that our time down this quest path culminated in a long, epic battle with a significantly-sized dragon. It’s the kind of moment you’re not used to seeing in the early stages of an Elder Scrolls quest line. Big open worlds with player freedom are integral to the experience, yes, but more impactful, meatier storyline moments are a welcome and needed addition. Here’s hoping Bethesda can continue that pacing through the entire game.


It may sound strange to say it but the overhauled UI design in Skyrim ends up being the largest improvement to the game’s combat. You have the ability to go into your inventory and set favorites. Using the d-pad at anytime allows you to flip through and quickly switch to (or in the case of potions, use) any of the items or spells you’ve set. Switching from your frost-powered axe to your bow and arrow, to your Restoration spell, all on the fly, not only lets you circumvent clunky inventory management, but also encourages a faster-paced, and more importantly, strategic combat.


There’s so much we saw in our short time with Skyrim that we haven’t gone into:  the new enchantment and blacksmithing mechanics, the companions and side quests, and Jeremy Soule’s (once again) stunning soundtrack. It all feels built in favor of letting players create their own adventures. And I’m sure this only begins to scratch the surface of what Skyrim will offer. Fortunately, 11/11/11 is fast approaching.

  1. This looks like a whole new franchise from all these advancements.

  2. I’m happy to see a revamped progression system. I like that they retained the mantra, “the more you use it the better you get,” but having more freedom with the perk system sounds like a fantastic improvement.
    The D-Pad was in Oblivion as well, but it was often hard to press accurately. I hope this problem is taken care of in Skyrim.
    Still though, can’t wait for this one!

    • The way the Favorites system works in Skyrim is much different (and better) than the quick select in Oblivion. You have no limit to the amount of things you can set as favorites. And, yeah, I love the new progression system. Can’t wait to dive into it more. Three hours with a game like Skyrim is such little time.

  3. We’ve all been waiting more than five years for this, and it looks like it will be well worth it. 11/11/11 can’t come soon enough.

  4. I’m really interested to pick this up. I’ve never played the Elder Scrolls, but I fell in love with Fallout. I can only hope this is that much better, and by extension, that Fallout 4 will be incredible.

  5. i only picked up oblivion for the first time this year, and it still amazes me. I loved it and i loved fallout. can’t wait for 11/11/11, but hopefully bethesda don’t keep me waiting as long for another fallout game. What do you think you will give this game out of 10 when you review it based on what you’ve seen billy?

  6. Can’t wait to lose myself in the world of Skyrim, just think so many secrets and mysterys we dont know and wont know til we play the game, reminds me of the feeling i got with morrowind so much!

  7. The fact that they’re not saying much about the PC version is worring me a bit.

  8. Some of Morrowind quests where so hard and took you in such terrifying place I feared my heart would break and of oblivion I closed all the gates but one, so much so I feared at some stage my last vision in death would be a red sky and a metallic sound.
    Lately I learnt Einsten had asked a strange question to one of his fellow genius: “Do you really think the moon lights up because you look at it?”. A question that would make a software developer familiar with object orientation jump.
    The evolution of games such as Might and Magic and the Elder Scrolls could almost lead you to beleive in the creationist theory. We may well all be part of a gigantic computer game that took seven days to load.

  9. stand and be proud, if you to read this article in TEH Shibley Voice!
    *Dragon shouts*

  10. It’s great the the UI seems improved for console users but if PC players are saddled with that ‘pretty’ UI seen in various videos, like the one included here, it will be a huge step back from previous Bethesda titles that were lacking in the UI department to begin with. I know no one has seen PC code so it’s not like reviewers could report on it even if they wanted to but it would be nice if someone that has seen it already *coughBethesdaPeoplecoughcough would let the rest of us know what it’s like. I have a deepening fear that it’s just a carbon copy of the console version that really needs abating.

  11. Well I have never played a elder scroll game this will be my first I’m pretty excited but idk if the no class or race thing will be good

  12. After seeing the demo walkthrough 3 times, I am FUCKING excited for this. Normaly, I play the Fallout series, but i’ll certainly begin The Elder Scrolls till Fallout 4.

  13. Pingback: New hands-on impressions for Skyrim! | Bethesda Blog

Tell Us How Wrong We Are

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *