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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim preview

The selection is literally dizzying. I have a sort of buzz in my brain as I scamper around the menu reading up on all the options I'll never unlock in the time I have left. I have two perks saved up – you're not forced to spend them as soon as you level – so I put them both into Destruction magic. The first halves the cost of all low level destruction spells, including my fire and lightning ones. The next enables dual-casting: when you equip the same spell in both hands, you can fire both at once for a single, disproportionately more powerful beam.

I blunder into a few dwellings before I find the ratways. They turn out to be a string of incredibly tight tunnels, dank and filthy. Almost immediately, I come out into a larger chamber and find a gaggle of thieves. Excellent!

They demand all of my money. Dammit, I forgot that was the problem with thieves. Renegotiating, I suggest that I keep all of my money, and they instead take all of the fire I'm now shooting from my hands. It's a tough sell: some of them feel I should take one or two of their arrows in return, and one thinks his fists should be part of the deal. There's only one thief left when I run out of magicka, so I bring out my warhammer and crumple him

Dead, he's more generous: I'm suddenly the excited new owner of the Gloves of the Pugilist.

+15 damage on your unarmed attacks wouldn't be much in another RPG, but Elder Scrolls games are stingy with stats. These gloves are a big deal.

It's not long before I get to try them out. My first punch smacks a huge chunk off of my attacker's hitpoint bar, so I try a power attack. I grab him, he disappears off screen, there's a sickening crunch and I drop his limp body to the dirty ground.

Until now I haven't seen many finishing moves, but with the gloves I'm doing them almost every fight. I stride through the ratways taking on all-comers, letting them close on me and then breaking them. I even discover you can mix spells with hand-to-hand combat: the funniest setup is to use a lightning spell in my left hand and keep my right as a fist. I shock people from a distance, then simply knock them out.

I'm coming to the end of my time with Skyrim, and increasingly anxious that I'm not going to find the Thieves Guild before Bethesda haul me away. The ratways are long and intricate, and all I'm finding are big chambers dominated by tree roots and rampant undergrowth. Eventually I find an even bigger area with a lake of fetid water in the centre, a jetty with tables and chairs on the other side, and a fire glowing behind it.

I creep around the edge of the chamber and see people sitting in some of the chairs. I realise it's an underground tavern. And the people here all seem rather... thievey. Since the first rule of the Thieves Guild is that you don't tell everyone who wanders into the Thieves Guild that this is the Thieves Guild, I check with Bethesda – yep, this is the Thieves Guild. I've found it at last.

Unfortunately, no one in the entire establishment wants anything to do with me. It suddenly occurs to me that the guy I failed the quest for earlier – you know, the thief – might have been a Thieves Guild member trying to recruit me. Whether because I messed that up, or simply because I don't have an 'in', the Thieves all treat me like dirt.

I have about five minutes left. I put my gloves back on.

Before playing it, I wasn't totally convinced Skyrim would be a huge leap forward from Oblivion. It is. For all the similarities, it feels like a new world, rendered at a new level of fidelity. More importantly, the new systems completely blow open the possibilities for evolving your character. I can't stop thinking about all the possible combinations of weapons and spells I want to try together when the game comes out – pouring out lightning and fire at the same time was a feeling of power I never had in Oblivion.

And even more tantalising, the perks you can unlock open the way for ridiculous high-level characters. An archer who can slow time while he aims, knock people off their feet with his arrows, and run like the wind between shots. A conjurer who can bring his defeated opponents back to life, two at a time, to fight for him as zombies. Or a thief who can steal the armour off your back, pick a lock right in front of the guards, and even slip a poison into your bloodstream unnoticed.

I can't shake the obsession Skyrim has left me with. I'm pulling screenshots up on my monitor just to feel like I'm playing again. I'm scribbling character builds on napkins. I'm replaying only the snowiest bits of Oblivion. And I'm wondering what the hell November is doing way over there.