Previews

Elder Scrolls V Skyrim: Epic demo makes our brains melt

Is it too early to call game of the year?

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Thankfully, not everything in the game attacks on sight. Out in the grassy tundra we approach a lolloping giant who's wandering about with some woolly mammoths. And, uh, then we attack them with a fireball. The mammoth takes badly to being lit on fire, and cuts up rough with its tusks. With the giant also piling in using his tree trunk club, things started to look properly risky until, from nowhere, a dragon flew down and gobbled up the big lad like an oversized Pepperami.

It's got massive dragons

The return of these scaly mentalists to the world of Tamriel forms a key part of the main story in Skyrim, and also provides your most lethal opponents. "Dragons are like our big boss fights," explains Howard, as the guy controlling the demo desperately tries to use lightning to bring down the oversized blowtorch circling that's overhead.

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"They are not scripted, so often when I'm playing it I don't know what they're going to do. We spent a lot of time on them in the last three years. Dragons are something we always wanted to see in the game, and we let them go wherever they want in the world like any other creature. Usually you're going to spend a lot of resources [taking one down]." And so it proves. Having defeated one of them, another, even bigger, beast arrives. It's a Frost Dragon, apparently, and it seems even more pissed off, toasting some nearby idiots who are firing arrows at it and swooping down to earth-shaking effect.

As brilliant as the dragons look, the only slightly bum note struck in the whole demo is that after the initial excitement the actual fight seemed pretty repetitive. Hopefully that's just a balance thing though, because killing dragons is a key gameplay element. As their bodies burn, the hero sucks up their souls - using the power to unlock higher level dragon shouts.

These are essentially super moves with varying effects. So for instance the Storm Call shout blackens the skies and unleashes lightning on all enemies in the vicinity, while the Whirlwind Spirit shout is essentially a beardy version of Bullet Time. You'll be able to learn new shouts by discovering a Word Of Power written on a dungeon wall. Which at least makes a change from finding 'Tracy is a slag.'

It's absolutely bloody massive (and it's got horses)

Lead producer Craig Lafferty told us after the demo that you can expect to sink about 30 hours of gameplay into completing the main quest, but beyond that there's somewhere between 200 and 300 hours of additional content to experience, including 150 dungeons. REPEAT: 150 DUNGEONS. That sound you hear? Every other publisher crying because a lot of folk won't need to buy another game for a long time once they're balls deep into Skyrim.

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Here's a comparison for you: Whereas Oblivion only used 14 actors, Skyrim features 70 rent-a-gobs, and they've spouted more than 47,000 lines of dialogue. Howard also describes the five major cities in the game as "hand-crafted", in the sense that they're packed with incidental detail and citizens going about their business in a more believable way. The only one we glimpsed was Whiterun, which was in the distance during the big dragon ruck.

"It's the home of the Companions," says Howard, "which is our fighters guild for warriors. We have three major factions - the Companions, the College of Winterhold for mages, and the Thieves Guild, for, uh, shoemakers... No, thieves." Luckily, you'll be able to saddle up a nag to get around, because just in case anyone is still in any doubt over how blasphemously big Skyrim is, the camera pulls out to reveal the vast world below. The Americans we're sitting with all go batshit mental whooping and hollering. It's hard to disagree.

It's even got menus which aren't a ball ache to use

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