PC Gamer
Skyrim Diary 11 - Cover

This is the diary of me attempting to play Skyrim using only Illusion magic: I'm not allowed any weapons, armour, or magical items, and I can't attack anyone directly. The first entry is here, or you can see all entries to date here.

I deliver the hard-won Jagged Crown to General Tullius back at Imperial Legion headquarters in Solitude, and receive my next assignment. It's to deliver a message to the Jarl (mayor/king) of Whiterun, telling him he's about to be attacked by the rebel Stormcloaks, and urging him to side with us Imperials.

I'm not letting myself use fast travel, but this is pretty much going back the way I came, so I wouldn't mind cutting down my journey time. I wonder how much horses cost.

A thousand gold? Forget it, annoyingly happy stablemaster. I wouldn't spend that even if I- oh wait, I do have it. OK, sold!

She's a stout, mottled little number the game insist on calling "Sarah the Implausible's horse". Since I can't see a way to change that, I decide to name her Sarah the Implausible Horse. I clamber on and ride out, Belrand jogging stoicly behind us.

Sarah the Implausible Horse isn't actually much faster than me, as evidenced by the fact that Belrand can pretty much keep up with us, but somehow the journey seems to race by. We only stop when I spot a spider chasing a fox, and dismount to cast Calm on him. Less of that, nature.

It's my first time in Whiterun - I was told to race here to warn them of the dragon attack right at the start of the game, but I decided to have a long and weird military career first. After a brief argument the guards let me in to see the Jarl.

"I have a message from General Tullius!"

"Whatever it is, it'll have to wait until I've finished dealing with this dragon situation."

Oh yeah, that reminds me: "A dragon destroyed Helgen and Whiterun is next!"

"A dragon?! You're sure?"

When he eventually accepts the existence of the dragon he told me about three seconds ago, he doesn't care what Tullius has to say. This is awkward, because I don't care about the dragon or Whiterun or the world.

He tells me to give the message to his bodyguard - his 'housecarl'. I refuse - my orders are to give it to the Jarl, not the carl. The Jarl says he'll only take it if he can immediately give it to the carl without reading it. Since this technically fulfills my mission without actually achieving anything worthwhile, I agree, and give it to the Jarl who gives it to the carl and my objective is complete. Bureaucracy in action!

Unfortunately, I also need his response. And he won't read the note until I help him save his stupid city from that flying whatever. Alright, Jarl, what have I got to do?

I have to go to Bleak Falls Barrow.

Next Thursday: that
PC Gamer
Skyrim Diary 10 - Cover

This is the diary of me attempting to play Skyrim using only Illusion magic: I'm not allowed any weapons, armour, or magical items, and I can't attack anyone directly. The first entry is here, or you can see all entries to date here.

The others catch up and praise me as a genius for figuring out that the fox, moth and dragon symbols on the claw correlated to the fox, moth and dragon symbols above the claw-shaped hole. Please, friends, this is what I do.

Through the door, a side corridor lined with swinging blades leads to a temptingly large chest. I'll take those odds. It's actually an easy sprint, and the chest is full of magical armour I can't use but can sell. It's all going excellently until I turn around.

Belrand, with his puppydog enthusiasm and John Malkovich face, has followed me into the corridor. Belrand is not adept at avoiding swinging blades. And swinging blades, importantly, are not adept at recognising when an enemy has surrendered.

In combat, Belrand can only be knocked down: enemies will leave an incapacitated foe alone to focus on upright people like me. So physical traps are one of the few ways he can completely and permanently die. This is about 0.3 seconds away from being very, very bad.

There's a lever next to the chest. I don't know what it does. I pull it. The blades stop.

Belrand trots cheerfully through and stares at me with his fixed, thin smile, as if to say "What?"

Recognising my talent for doing obvious things, Rikke sends me to find a way to open a gate. There's a switch. I pull the switch. I am the brains of the operation.

There are no Stormcloaks this deep into the ruin - the symbols-door stumped them completely, it seems. But in this room, there are Draugr. Nordic zombies. They climb out of their stone beds and come at our party from all sides, and like all undead, they're completely immune to my Illusions.

All I can do is Courage my friends, but just as I buff the last one, he drops down dead. Um, that wasn't me. Another is killed before the fight's over, but Belrand, as usual, is fine. On to the final chamber.

The Jagged Crown is in the middle of this room. The only trouble is, it's on someone's head. A Draugr Scourge sits slouched on the throne, and I have a feeling he's going to- yep, he gets up. So do about five lesser zombies.

The fight gets nasty. I can avoid being attacked directly, but the Scourge can hit almost all of us with a shout attack. By the time the lesser Draugr are dead, so is every Imperial soldier except Rikke, and I'm low on health. Rikke goes down, but not out - I Courage her back on her feet, and she goes at the Scourge with renewed vigor.

Her assault knocks him down to his hands and knees, and Belrand brings his huge axe down on him. It's over.

Rikke asks me to take the crown back to Solitude, so I dutifully loot it off the Scourge's wrinkled head, and Belrand and I head back up the surface, feeling guilty about all her brave, dead comrades.

Next Thursday: first horse to Whiterun
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

Saddle up, cuddles

Look at you, hackers. Rummaging through Skyrim’s files and turning up references to what might – but only might – be the game’s next and perhaps most ambitious DLC. If the details revealed and shared hold weight, the next pack could be called Dragonborn, and could include FLYING ON THE BACK OF DRAGONS plus new locations that fall tantalisingly close to the hallowed province of Morrowind on the atlas of Tamriel. (more…)

PC Gamer
The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim

Skyrim fans have been data-mining patch 1.8 for hints at future updates and posted some very interesting tidbits on the Bethesda forums. The files contains quest markers for the island of Solstheim, the setting for the Bloodmoon Morrowind expansion pack. Bloodmoon locations like Castle Karstaag and Raven are listed alongside new animation entries that hint at mounted dragons.

Animations listed include entries like "DragonMountedDualStaff," which suggests we might find ourselves fighting warriors dual-wielding magical staffs from dragonback. There's also mention of new weapon crafting recipes for Bonemold, Chitin, Nordic and Stalhrim armour. The data is linked to the name DRAGONBORN in the file structure, which Bethesda trademarked earlier this year.

This hasn't been officially confirmed by Bethesda yet, but early details on the Skyrim Dawnguard DLC were obtained in the same way when fans discovered mention of crossbows and vampire lords tucked away inside an official patch. The Solstheim setting would be a sensible way to expand Skyrim given that it's snowy, mountainous, and populated by Nords. Thanks to OXM for the heads up.

New Skyrim Patch Suggests That DLC Will Bring The Game Back To Morrowind Skyrim's next DLC could be taking us back to the world of Morrowind, the third game in Bethesda's popular RPG series.

Eagle-eyed Elder Scrolls fans have dug through the files for patch 1.8, which Bethesda released yesterday for PC, and found all sorts of clues that could hint at future content for the game.

One line hints at a return to Solstheim, the Nord colony last seen in the second expansion to Morrowind, Bloodmoon. Other patch files hint at dragon riding (!) and a bunch of other locations in and around Solstheim.

The patch also suggests that the DLC will be named Dragonborn, which was trademarked by Bethesda back in May.

If Dragonborn is really a thing, it would be Skyrim's third piece of downloadable content. Dawnguard and Hearthfire were both released earlier this year.

I've reached out to Bethesda for comment and will update should they respond.

Update: Bethesda says no comment.

1.8 Beta Update and Dragonborn DLC hints discussion [Bethsoft Forums]

PC Gamer
Skyrim Diary 9 - Cover

This is the diary of me attempting to play Skyrim using only Illusion magic: I'm not allowed any weapons, armour, or magical items, and I can't attack anyone directly. The first entry is here, or you can see all entries to date here.

Back on the road, we're still a long walk from *clears throat* Korvanjund. But the coast is clear, and we arrive in one piece by nightfall. There's a group of Imperial soldiers gathered outside the ruin, so I run up to them. Legate Rikke is addressing the men, and Hadvar, the man who saved me from Helgen while I hid behind furniture, is among them.

"I'm glad you're here," he says. "I'll feel a lot better going into that place with your at my side." I've done absolutely nothing to earn his bizarre confidence in me, but actually he's right: he will feel better, because I now have Courage, a spell that brainwashes people into feeling good about risking their lives for me.

We're here for the Jagged Crown, but the Stormcloak rebels got here first. They're halfway through the ruin, so we've got to storm it to stop them before they get to it.

"Let's show them what real warriors look like!" Rikke yells. I straighten my dress and stroll forth.

The troops rush ahead and clash with the Stormcloaks on the steps leading down to the ruins. I can't do much to help except Courage them - I'm basically a cheerleader.

As soon as we get inside, a group of Stormcloaks come at us. Before we clash, I hit one with Calm spell. He stops, annoyed, and says "Hey!" - then wanders off while his friends are slaughtered.

I see Belrand smash one in the face with the hand of his axe, then choke him with it, then leap into the air bury it in another, killing him with one blow. If the Stormcloaks had thought to hire some dude from a bar, they'd be winning this war.

Belrand's still nice enough to leave Calmed Stormcloaks alone, but the Imperials have no such scruples - the one I pacified is slaughtered before the spell wears off.

I've levelled up enough on the journey here that my Calm spell works on everyone, so I feel safe to scout ahead a bit. I dash past several groups of Stormcloaks, Calming anyone who gets close but mostly slipping by without a fight.

I only stop when I hit a door with an ancient combination lock. The solution's engraved on a claw right in front of it, but before I can start rotating the dials, a Stormcloak catches up with me. I hit him with Calm, but now I've got to unlock this thing before it wears off.

In my haste, I accidentally jam the claw-key in before I've aligned the dials correctly. There's a rush of air, and poison darts shoot from both walls behind me in rapid volleys. None of them hit me. Several hundred of them hit the Calmed Stormcloak who was ambling cluelessly around behind me. He collapses. Problem solved!

Next Thursday: a close shave
PC Gamer
Windows 8 storefront

An analysis of the Windows 8 app certification requirements by programmer and tech blogger Casey Muratori suggests that games with a rating over PEGI 16 or ESRB Mature will not be allowed on the Windows 8 storefront.

This means we won't be seeing many of the current crop of games on the store, or, given the proliferation of rating-baiting neck-stabbing seen at E3, many of next year's either - not unless publisher's are willing to heavily sanitise their content.

The guidelines are pretty explicit about creating a walled-garden within Microsoft's hitherto anything-goes OS. As section 6.2 of the certificaiton requirements state: "Your app must not contain adult content, and metadata must be appropriate for everyone. Apps with a rating over PEGI 16, ESRB MATURE, or that contain content that would warrant such a rating, are not allowed."

As Kotaku pointed out, this might not be such a problem in the US, where relatively few games receive a mature rating, but it will be very significant in Europe, where games such as Dishonored, Skyrim, Sleeping Dogs, Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty all fall foul of the restriction.

Of course, you'll still be able to buy and install these games on the OS - you just won't be able to get them from the official Windows storefront. So is this a problem? Perhaps - games that don't make the cut won't be able to make use of Windows 8's bespoke features, and by bifurcating the platform Microsoft risks fragmenting the PC gaming marketplace. If games are rated as mature in one location and not in another, will that create stark regional differences? And what's more, from a creative perspective, it may force developers to censor themselves in an attempt to reach that wider audience.

It's a curious direction to take for a platform which prides itself on being open, and the reaction among devs is sure to echo the fears already annunciated by the likes of Gabe Newell, Blizzard's Rob Pardo, Notch and others.

PC Gamer

The air fills with the screams of the dying and the streets run crimson with the blood of the dead. As arrows whistle past me, I brutally hack through the neck of a Stormcloak soldier, and his head tumbles away like a dropped melon. My wife and companion, her sword coated with gore, sprints off to plunge her blade into the belly of a distant archer. High above, my summoned dragon wheels about in the sky, lands beside me with a crash, and spits a tremendous gout of fire onto several more city guards, setting a wooden walkway ablaze in the process. Amid the carnage, as I decapitate my next victim, a single thought rises in my head:

It didn't have to be this way. I just wanted to build a house.

Meet Braul, my level 31 Orc, Dragonborn, leader of the Companions, savior of Skyrim, destroyer of The Dark Brotherhood, hero, and all-around swell guy. He's powerful, wealthy, and owns several houses, but today he and his wife, Mjoll, are looking for something new, something much more than a house. They're looking for a home.

With the new Hearthfire add-on installed, I fire up The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and begin playing in the fashion of anyone who has installed a Bethesda add-on: by sort of standing around in the world and wondering exactly how this new DLC will present itself in the game. I know I now have the ability to purchase land and build a home, and I know that when you buy stuff, it's usually in a city or town, so I fast-travel to Whiterun to see if the DLC will pop in and greet me. Sure enough, a half-naked courier jogs up and hands me a note from Tekla, the Steward to the Jarl of Falkreath, inviting me to buy some land. I fast-travel to Falkreath, and while absentmindedly devouring the soul of the dragon I just I killed outside, I chat with her about the plot of land, and buy it for 5,000 gold.  She helpfully starts giving me directions, but I just run out of the room. Relax, lady, I just consumed a dragon's soul in front of you, do I look like the kind of Orc who needs a lot of hand-holding?

A few dead bandits and one dead cave bear later, Mjoll and I reach our small plot of land northeast of Falkreath. Nearby, there's a chest, a couple tables, an anvil, and a book called The Beginner's Guide to Homesteading, which I don't actually bother to read. Look, I'm the Dragonborn: I saved the world without ever reading a book or even letting anyone complete an entire sentence. I think I can handle building a small house without doing my homework. I use the drafting table to select the small house layout, scoop out the contents of the chest, which contains, somehow, enough stone to build the foundation, then hit my hammer a couple times on the carpenter's bench. Just like that, I've got the foundation built.

While admiring the shiny new base of my future home, I notice a nearby lumber pile, and beside it, a wood chopping block. Okay, I think I have this whole process figured out. You get iron, you whack it on the anvil. You get lumber, you whack it on the chopping block. Then you whack everything together on the carpenter's bench. It's a whack-based home building system. I start trying to whack my lumber.

Thing is, I realize I have I have no woodcutter's axe with which to whack the lumber on the chopping block. How is that even possible? Oh, right, because I'm a wealthy, accomplished adventurer, not some poverty-stricken townie who needs to split wood for pennies. Even if I picked up a woodcutter's axe at some point, it would have been sold by now, or dropped in some dungeon to make room in my inventory, or possibly thrown into the ever-growing piles of worthless junk that live on the floors of my many houses.

Well, how hard can it be to find a woodcutter's axe? There are chopping blocks and lumber mills and stores all over the place. I fast-travel back to Falkreath, pop into the local shop, and find they are fresh out of woodcutter's axes. Next, I try the nearest lumbermill, where I find a chopping block, but no axe. I visit Dawnstar next, where I talk to both the blacksmith and his wife, neither of whom carry the item.

Okay, this is taking a bit longer than I expected.

I zip over to Solitude, where I know the blacksmith stocks everything under the sun, but he doesn't have an axe for sale, either. I scour my memory, trying to recall every place any character of mine ever chopped wood. I teleport over to Windhelm, searching the stores and the streets, and still, no axe. Irritated now, I back travel to Whiterun, arriving in the middle of the night, and stand stock still in the middle of town, letting the hours slither by until the stores open. Ulfberth, in Warmaiden's, has one of every bladed weapon in the world but, again, no axe. Outside, Adrianne doesn't have one either. I sprint over to Belethor's General Goods. He has goods, general ones, but no axe to sell me.

I step outside, fairly angry now. It's been almost an hour of gaming and I can't find this most basic of items anywhere. Then, I hear a thunk, and my eyes narrow. Was that the sound of the door closing behind me? It almost sounded like... I hear it again. Thunk. Ah-ha! That's the sound of someone chopping wood! That is the very thing I myself would like to be thinging!

I sprint around the entire building, finally finding someone using a woodsman's axe on some logs. His name is Sigurd, and he's got the woodcutter's axe I need. I try to engage him in conversation, but he does not stop chopping wood to talk to me. I try interrupting him by poking the chopping block repeatedly, but, without my own axe, the stump does not deem me worthy of halting him. I'm ticked off. This simple non-Dragonborn citizen is chopping all the wood he wants, while I, the hero of the land, stand there helplessly, unable to disrupt him. My patience is at an end. My fast-travel gland is exhausted. I decide I'm not leaving Whiterun without Sigurd's axe.

I see two options. I can wait patiently for a few seconds for him to finish, and see if he leaves the axe behind when he walks away. Or, I can use the ancient skill of magic shouting to encase him in a block of ice, and see if he drops the axe. After carefully not thinking about it for even a millisecond, I bellow cold angry dragon words into Sigurd's face and he flops to the ground, trapped in a prison of my ice yelling. Now, I just need to search the ground to see if he dropped the axe when he froze.

No problem, except: problem. Mjoll, loyal wife that she is, interprets the sight of me screeching ancient dragon curses all over Sigurd as a sign that I felt Sigurd was some sort of threat, draws her sword, and starts trying to slash his inert, helpless body into ice cubes. This in turn convinces a bunch of nearby Stormcloak soldiers that Moll and I are some sort of psychopaths bent on freezing and chopping up the innocent civilians of Whiterun.

Sigurd breaks out of ice jail long enough to stand up and helpfully die, so I take a break to examine his fresh, cold corpse. No axe in his inventory. I start scanning the ground for it, which is a little hard to do carefully when one solder is stabbing you and another is shooting arrows into your face. Exasperated, I start swinging my axe. My two-handed, hand-crafted, flame-enchanted Ebony battleaxe. Yes, the irony is as thick as Sigurd's dead, frozen torso, as this entire search for an axe has been conducted with an enormous axe strapped to my back, an axe the game deems capable of cleaving dragons to death with a single blow yet somehow not appropriate for the splitting of logs.

Happy to have an outlet for my annoyance, I wade in and start cutting soldiers into flaming chunks. Four or five dead Stormcloaks later, I've managed to carefully look around Dead Sigurd, but there's no sign of where he stashed his axe while he was dying horribly of ice magic and sword lacerations. Citizens are running around in alarm, and more soldiers are arriving. Filled with rage, I batter and hack at them. I! Just! Need! An! Axe! I screech, in time with every blow of my axe, which must briefly confuse the soldiers before they die from axe wounds. We make our way to the gates, step outside the city, and are greeted with arrows from archers in the battlements and walkways. I'm far too annoyed to run up and kill them all in person, or even to ready and aim my bow. Instead, I use magic to summon my pet dragon, and a few moments later he appears and begins cooking soldiers alive with his flame breath, setting wooden structures on fire in the process.

So, yeeeeeah. Things may have gotten a little out of hand. I'm now using magic to summon an ancient dragon to kill soldiers simply because I can't find a common lumber-related tool. It'd be easy just to restart everything from an older saved game, before all the death happened, but I'm in a black mood now. I will find an axe, Skyrim, if I have to turn this world, and its inhabitants, inside out. Once all the soldiers are dead, I consult my map again. Farmhouses. They're all over the landscape near Whiterun, and I begin stalking them, one-by-one, like some kind of horror movie boogeyman, letting myself in, rifling through the inhabitant's personal belongings, then killing the farmers and rooting around in their body cavities. I come across one poor dope foolishly chopping wood as if it's not a crime punishable by death, and get enraged all over again. Like Sigurd, he manages to use his last moments of existence to somehow hide his axe somewhere it cannot be found. Then, in another farmhouse, I find a woodpile with an axe laying across it!

Wrong kind of axe. The game is mocking me. Is this how you want it, video game? Fine. I can do this all day.

I do this all day. I become even more vicious: instead of searching their homes first, I immediately kill anyone I see, loot their bodies, then look through their foyers and bedrooms almost as an afterthought. I search my map feverishly, picking out farms and homesteads, visiting them, and hunting for axes among the blood-splattered remains of citizens whose only mistake was not devoting their lives to stockpiling standard woodcutting tools. How many have to die, Skyrim? How many have to die so I can build my house?

Finally, finally, I visit Solitude Sawmill and break into the owner's home. At last, on a shelf in the back of the house, I find my prize: a woodcutter's axe. Unfortunately, an enormous armor-plated Orc breaking in, rifling though cabinets and drawers, and stealing an axe while not making any attempt at stealth is somehow noticed by the home's keen-eyed inhabitants, and they start running around and freaking out and Mjoll has to calm them down to death.

Back at our homestead at last, the screams of my victims still echoing in my ears, I chop some logs before returning to the workbench and noticing the instructions don't actually say anything about chopped logs. The house needs only sawn logs. Which I already had a bunch of on my log pile.

I didn't need a woodcutter's axe after all.

Ah ha ha! Ah ha. Ah, hum. Um. Sorry? My bad? Guess I should have read that book or maybe briefy glanced at the on-screen instructions or something, instead of not doing that and spree-killing a couple dozen people with my wife and pet dragon. Turns out, the true irony wasn't that I was axe-murdering people for want of an axe, but that I didn't need an axe in the first place. Home ownership, right? The perils, the pitfalls, the trail of dismembered bodies.

I quickly and sheepishly build my house. Mjoll, to her credit, says nothing about the mass murders we just committed for no reason. The finished house is small, too small to hold my possessions, my spare weapons, or my deep shame over dozens of pointless murders, so I immediately start working on an expansion, though I find I need some more iron to complete it. Luckily, there's a vein of iron right next to the house. I walk over to mine it.

Pickaxe, huh? Well. How hard can it be to find one of those?
PC Gamer

I've lost count of the number of times I've looked down at my Skyrim Shetland pony and wondered, with a long sigh, "Why are you not on fire." The obvious answer is that my clothes would disintegrate and the horse would eventually die, but perhaps the sheer spectacle would be worth it. Skyrim mod Blaze of Eventide fulfills that dearest wish, replacing boring horse hair and fetlocks with a coat of everlasting flame.

Specifically, Blaze the horse features "true flame effects", "fiery footprints", immunity from fire damage, plus it can "explode for massive damage" on cue. Of course, something as awesome as Blaze doesn't just appear out of thin air - you have to yell the magic words first. Once memorised, from a book in a small cabin to the northwest of Whiterun, you'll learn two shouts: Blaze Summoning and Blaze Deployment, the latter causing Blaze to detonate all over enemies of your choosing.

To add this wonderful self-immolating horse to your game, all you need do is follow this link to the mod's Steam Workshop page. Once installed, you'll never feel cold in Skyrim's snowy climes again.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Jim Rossignol)

Bethesda send word that the latest Skyrim DLC, Hearthfire, arrives on PC today, after its pointless period of exclusivity on whichever console it was. It costs $5. The DLC will enable Skyrimfolk to build their own home – rather than simply buying an existing one – and then furnish it with “an armory, alchemy laboratory, stable, garden” and, as I understand it, adopted children. There’s some more craft stuff in there, too, with workbenches for the fashioning of things from wood and clay. Despite this healthy-sounding shopping list I understand that’s not particularly in-depth, so don’t expect The Sims with cat people.

The trailer lurks below. (more…)