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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim preview: Dovahkiind of wonderful

Justin McElroy

"Oh that? That's old man McElroy's house. People say he hasn't left since Nov. 11, 2011. I guess a video game came out that day -- it was on a disc, if you remember those -- called The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and he just never, ever left after he started playing it. It's very sad.

But they say he warned everyone in a preview he wrote at PAX Prime 2011. They say he played an hour and knew right then that his time as part of human society was limited."

Gallery: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Gamescom 2011) | 16 Photos

I have just played an hour of Skyrim, which is the sequel to my favorite game on the whole planet, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. In pretty much every way I could conceive of, Skyrim appeared to be bigger, prettier and just all around better than Oblivion.

I am, if you'll pardon the salty language, fucked.

I created a character from the crazy extensive list of choices, which let me tweak everything from dirt level and color to war paint. For reasons I don't myself comprehend I created a thin old man who bore a striking resemblance to 70s rock icon Edgar Winter.

And then, after entering the nearby door labeled "To Skyrim", I was off, without even a quest to guide me. The landscape is gorgeous, leaps and bounds ahead of Oblivion. The nearby creek looked so lovely that I couldn't help but jump in, so I did ... and I caught a salmon. Just there in the creek. I just pressed "A" and I caught a salmon mid-swim, which I think we can all agree is pretty darn impressive.

My only real guide was the compass at the top of my HUD that indicated nearby landmarks. Only, I didn't understand the symbols so well, so I just pointed myself towards the nearest one and hoped for the best. (Remember this part, it'll be important later.)

How good does Skyrim look? I made the journey towards the mystery landmark in third person, and continued almost exclusively that way for the whole of the demo. The animations of the main character in Oblivion were always so distractingly weird that I stuck to first person perspective. But I loved watching Edgar Winter navigate the expansive meadow, rocky hillsides and occasional salmon depositories.

I loved watching Edgar Winter navigate the expansive meadow, rocky hillsides and occasional salmon depositories.

Along the way, I equipped a sword in my right hand and a fire spell in my left. I won't bore you by detailing the UI, but trust that navigating it is a breeze. Even the character advancement screen (in which constellations represent skill sets and individual stars represent perks in those sets) is delightful.

Though my sword and fire combo was neat, later on I turned up an electrical staff, and the feeling of pulling both triggers and unloading a combination of fire and lighting on an unsuspecting helpless deer is unparalleled. ... Did I say deer? I meant troll. Yeah, that's the ticket.

On my trip to the mystery symbol I ran across a logging town populated by folks that are far more handsome than you're used to in an Elder Scrolls game, and don't constantly hurl the same filler dialog at you. They feel real enough that you actually want to explore their village and may even hesitate before stealing all their stuff.

Finally, I approached the mystery symbol as the sun set. I made out what appeared to be a campfire and realized that the men standing around it seemed ... big. Like, really big. In fact ... they looked giant. I had walked for miles to end up at a giant camp.

I made a good effort at least, unloading with my flame hand and Ol' Sparky, but I scarcely output enough heat to tan my massive opponent before he thwomped me over the head with a single hit.

I was hooked. I am hooked. If you need anything from me, anything pressing, I'd suggest you try for it before Nov. 11, because after that, I'm going to exclusively be using my giant killing skills, and I won't rest until Edgar Winter is avenged.

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