The Wonderful Distractions, Sentient Glitches Of Skyrim's Massive World

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim is such an expansive game that even after spending three hours playing in its fantasy world last week I hadn't learned enough to even worry over the laundry list of items Bethesda warned me not to tell gamers about.

The fact that my play session in a New York hotel room started nearly an hour into the game, may contribute to my lack of plot-harming details. But the real reason I don't have to worry about that embargoed information is that Skyrim is so immersive and deep an experience that a person could play for a third of a work day and never even brush by the main storyline.

In fact, that's exactly what I did.

My dip into the world started in a cave high on a mountain top. I don't know how I got there or what I was supposed to do. I did have a chance to quickly create a character. I decided on an Argonian, a sort of lizardman that can breath underwater, and even if unarmed can attack with his claws.

After a brief look around in the cave I walked my character outside, a bloom of light giving way to an amazing wooded scene.

Where the pale blue, cloud-dotted skies of Rage as a fixed beauty, more painting that animation, Skyrim's sky is filled with slowly drifting clouds.

The idea, I decided as I picked my way down the mountain side, is to find a nearby town and maybe someone who can send me off to collect something for them, hopefully getting into a fight in the process. A roadside near the foot of the mountain pointed me to three options. After deciding I'd head to Riverwood, I noticed the nearby river and decide to check out my character's underwater breathing. The current pulls me along the bed, past Salmon. On a whim I target one and press a button, grabbing the fish as I drift by and adding it to my inventory.

Preoccupied with the underwater fishing, I don't notice the rapids until I'm in them, getting pushed up above the waterline and then over an edge and down a short fall. I push my character out of the water and back to land.

Alright, I think, now to the village. Only then I notice another path going up into the mountains and figure, why not follow it. It leads me to a mine. A mine guarded by a mo-hawked woman with an ax in her hand. We fight, I win. I like how Skyrim lets you use the triggers to control your hands separately. I can dual-wield weapons, using the trigger pulls to attack left, right, left, right. Or I can place a shield in one hand, using that trigger to block. After some tinkering, I settle on a system that allows me to spew flames from my left hand and swing an ax with my right. It's very effective.

After clearing out the mine of bandits, I finally make my way to Riverwood. Once there I wander around for a bit, chatting with the locals and getting my bearings. Eventually I head to the Sleeping Giant Inn where I catch the tail end of an argument between the couple who own the place. It's a weird awkward moment that does nothing to propel the still absent over-arching story along, but adds a lot to the depth of the characters and this world.

I rent a room for the day, but then I can't find it. I decide to wander around a bit more and discover the town's merchant. He hands me my first quest, the hunt for a necklace. It's dusk when I finally get out of town, heading for my first, story-driven mission. The sun is nearly down, little lights blink on and off, floating in the air around me. I hunt around for one, until I get close enough to identify. It's a tiny "torchbug", this world's version of a firefly, I suppose.

I break free of the distraction of hunting around for more bugs and take after my quest on earnest this time. Making my way up into the mountains the night darkens as clouds roll in, obscuring the moon and stars. Snow begins to drift in the wind, then begins to churn as the wind howls, soon I'm picking my way through a blizzard. The weather breaks as I approach a tower.

"This is the place," I think.

There are a couple of guards standing near the base, by a fire. I kill one by hot-swapping to a bow using my D-pad. And then switch spells to reanimate her corpse. She rises, shivering and stiff, her body floating for a second at an angle too sharp for her to be standing. Then she flops to the ground on her feet and begins to attack her once-allies. She fights until she is rekilled, her body turning suddenly to ash and drifting to the ground.

I clear the tower of bandits but discover that this had nothing to do with my quest. Distracted again.

I run back through the storm, chasing the swirling snow that seems to almost take shape just ahead of me. A momentary break in the clouds casts pale light on the ground in front of me, through it a shadow drifts. I stop and look around.

Was that a dragon? Something is up there in the sky, but then the snow fills the cap and it's impossible to see again.

Finally, I find the temple entrance to my quest. I've been playing for nearly an hour now without real purpose. That hasn't stopped me from enjoying myself immensely.

The quest is no less exciting, but not much more either.

I have a pack of grave robbers to deal with first. Once dispatching them and dealing with the one who left them in the lurch, I find myself facing the temple's denizens. I die, a lot. I remember to save often. I tweak my character with new abilities and level upgrades. I swap out weapons to find the best combination both for my playstyle and the enemies I happen to be facing at the moment.

Eventually I succeed and am able to quick travel back to town.

I appear in the middle of Riverwood it's not quiet here. I hear someone shout something. An arrow flies by, not particularly close, but I can't see who shot it, nor its intended target.

Then four of the townspeople round a corner. There's three men and a woman. They're dressed not for adventuring or dungeon crawling, but for their daily tasks. Maybe one's a butcher, another could be a tavern owner. I'm not sure, but they're running right at me and they seem angry.

They are angry. I'm not sure why, but suddenly this angry mob is out to kill me. I run from them, trying to lose them in the town's few roads. Eventually, I get enough distance to make my way to the merchant, to turn in my quest.

Seconds after starting my conversation with him, the room fills with the angry townspeople. They start attacking me, I can't run or defend myself because I'm in the middle of a conversation.

I manage to break free and run away. They keep chasing me. I ask one of the real PR people sitting in a real nearby chair, of our real hotel room, to come have a look. Is this normal, I ask?

He seems surprised. Try running away, he suggests.

I run. They follow. We run up the mountain side, the angry mob chasing me. Eventually I turn around and use a bit of magic to get them to attack one another. Then I run away.

Solved, I say.

Only it isn't. The survivors appear back in town a minute or two later, they're still after me.

Did you kill someone, or attack someone? Maybe you stole something, the PR guy asks?

No. They just attacked me. Is it because I'm a lizard man, I ask half seriously? Maybe the game just doesn't like me, I suggest?

I ditch the posse this time by jumping in the river. I can breath underwater, it seems they can't even swim.

I travel to another town. But when I arrive a guard attacks me. Word has gotten round it seems.

I manage to pay off the guard and clear my surprise, apparently unwarranted warrant just in time for the play session to end.

It's pre-alpha code, I'm reminded by the attending PR folks.

It doesn't bother me. Even if it was a bug, it was an exhilarating one; one that created the illusion that no one knows what to expect from this game, not even the people who made it.


    This article is not making the wait any easier!

      This times a million. And it is so close now you can nearly taste it!

    Great article but as the dudes above said; not making the wait easier. Plus I have so much Uni work I'll only be able to play it in early December :(

    Every screenshot is like some kind of new appealing torture... Or something like that.

      sorry but this just doesn't make sense to me man :P i'm at uni as well and even with exams soon and assignments piling up, how wont you be able to find an hour at least every day to play this game. It's gonna be AMAZZZZINNNG


      Nothing worse than using the Gray Fox hood to complete some quest, then fast travelling back to a town and forgetting to take it off. They told even bother to shout stop, the guards just try and kill you.

    After failing to get more than 4 hours into Oblivion, despite several attempts over the years, this excites me greatly.

    'Hey there, Mr Orc-type dude - does my hand feel warm?'

      I know exactly what you mean.. even with all the 'recommended' mods added, Oblivion just can't capture my imagination.. but this is looking like a much better candidate.

        oblivion was technically marvellous i think, at least at the time. Certainly though it had a stale feel to it, particularly in the shockingly awful conversation system (not the talking, the ZOOM IN to a horrible ape woman with shadows half glitching out of her face AHHH!!), but if you try to lose yourself in it, basically forget about the main quest (i youtubed it, nothing interesting, wandering around is better IMO lol) and do a bit of RP you will get there. Just don't try to play it when your in an impatient mood you really have to get settled in to it, then it's so good. Skyrim is gonna improve in pretty much every way (literally, the snow areas were my favorite in oblivion, particularly with a mod that spawns a huge mage tower for you to inhabit on top of a snowy mountain), i simply CAN NOT WAIT. Although i am disappointed that i havent found the money to upgrade my computer enough for it, so i may have to play it on ps3 as a placeholder until i can do the PC modding thing. It will take a bit for the good mods to come out anyway..

    What is it with games this few years. What is it with the water in thew intro's. Its almost like some symbolic meaning that we are being reborn in a new world.

      for me this game is going to be about immersing myself in a world other than our own, but close enough that i forget it's a game. Natural environments are perhaps the most key part of that immersion. Flowing water, trees that rustle in the wind, critters, thunder and lightning and rain, these are the things that make a game for me. Fill it with cardboard cutouts of people with dialogue boxes for all i care.

    I don't think it was a bug, the group of "bandits" in the tower were probably friendly NPCs that he decided to slaughter.

      That was exactly what I thought. He seemed a bit trigger-happy in his excitement.

        Yes maybe.. but it has been alluded to that criminal activity, as long as no witnesses remain, can be done without further repercussions.. still, it was pre-release code.

      Thought the same thing myself... can't wait for this game. Must HAVE.

    Hah. Awesome. I love that fact that the company responsible for the game can still be surprised by it.

    I actually love non-game-breaking bugs! I dont like when a game takes itself too seriously, as I find that the more serious parts of a game have more impact when there's something to balance it against. Its like their previous Gamebryo engine - though it got old and crusty, funny/stupid shit was always happening that made me laugh.

    I cant read anymore of these skyim articles, they are raising my expectations too high.
    Im gonna avoid it all til release now, lest I be disapointed from the hype.

    Yay! The more I read about this game, the less I regret my pre-order of this game. I have only recently played Oblivion for the first time and I really didn't like it all that much.. I enjoy a good romp through the woods, played plenty of MMOs and other games where you don't really do a lot more than walking around.. but something about Oblivion felt stale and lacking of "life".. so I began to regret my decision to pre-order Skyrim.. but this game sounds like it is a lot more "fleshed out" than Oblivion. I remember playing Arcania (Gothic, or not Gothic, 4) and really enjoying the environmental stuff more than the actual game but it was really let down by the dependance on linear quests and a lack of true exploration..

    Skyrim, gladly, seems to be the best of both.

    Really really not understanding all these people who didn't enjoy Oblivion.

      I never understood my lack of enjoyment either - I had friends that invested hundreds of hours in Oblivion. I purchased the game preplayed probably three times over the years. I'd play it for a couple of hours, rememeber I couldn't get into it, put it down, sell it, rinse and repeat. I mean I'm no stranger the MMO's, RPG's, hell I even put more time into Morrowind.

      Something about Oblivion escaped me, and still does to this day - and it's always frustrated the hell out of me because I know it's there. I just can't seem to find it.

      It's a unique anomaly in my gaming life - probably the one title I knew was great, but could never play it.

        I'm much the same but I didn't really like Morrowind either. Like, I enjoy myself for a while but as soon as I start doing things proper - ie start some quests or do the main storyline - I just start to lose interest in it.

        Nothing against the games though - they seem pretty great. Just not my thing I guess.

        Will give Skyrim a go though.

      Easy. Shallow combat. Bad levelling mechanics. Laughable main plot. Bugs out the backside.

      For my part I can't understand why people are so gaga about Oblivion (modding aside).

      Me either. I haven't played an Elder Scrolls game yet that I couldn't get lost inside of to some degree. Plus, I think if someone complains about the plot in an Elder Scrolls game then they haven't got an accurate mental model for 'how to play the game' when they're going into it.

      I had a friend who thought Mass Effect was like Halo, so he hated it and said it was a terrible game. After I laughed and told him to think of it like KoToR instead, suddenly he had a much better time with the game.

      Though, to be fair, even amongst the most die-hard Elder Scrolls fans, Oblivion's Main Quest line isn't very popular at all :-P So I suppose it's a legitimate standpoint. Though I don't think Skyrim will be having Oblivion gates popping up at random... so lots of people will like it better for that reason alone.

        ^ this, how you go into a game makes SUCH a difference. Take Deus ex (i know, i know), i missed it back when it first came out, but had read reviews and heard of its credibility as this epic cult game, so i downloaded it but couldn't get into it, i didn't know how to play it. Then i played human revolution, powered through it in 2 days, it blew my mind (few bugs and bit clunky but you could see what they were going for, and it was awesome). Right after finishing it i started Deus ex again. 7 hours later im in the third level, have explored EVERYTHING, havent killed one person, and i love it. It just makes such a difference knowing how the game is meant to be played.

    Great article, Brian, and proof that with good writing you don't need imagery to paint a picture.

    My anticipation is building for this title, not long to wait now, thankfully.

    Great article and very well written. Finally something that makes me feel justified in having shelled out $200 for the collectors edition.

    I'm pretty sure a chicken reported your crime, and thats why the villagers are attacking you.

      hahaha, I totally forgot about the chicken snitches!

    i really agree with the first comment

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