Each day this week our writer Vaughn will be putting up an article about one particular level, place, moment, in a game that’s really captures the titles essence but because of this there could be spoilers ahead.. It’s called Levelling Out, and for day four he’s looking at The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Bethesda are well versed in creating games with epic tales behind them, after all they sit on Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, Dishonored and many other big IPs. But building epic worlds was a new venture when they first began building the tale of the mythical parchment known as The Elder Scrolls back in 1994 in The Elder Scrolls: Arena. Fast forward seven years and you’ll find the most expansive entry into the series so far, Skyrim, is also one of the most cohesive and powerful releases Bethesda have ever made.
It’s packed full of incredible moments, huge set-pieces, rather amusing occurrences - and we aren’t just talking about the copious bugs about the place. There are a huge amount of locales across the Nordic realm of Skyrim that we could have chosen – be it the first city you ever visit, Whiterun, or the impressive Dwemer city of Markarth - Skyrim‘s world is a rich tapestry to explore. Quite honestly, I was close to choosing the impressive climb to the top of The Throat of the World, however, there’s one other moment that sums up Skyrim better than any map location could: taking down a dragon.
‘That’s obvious!’ you cry. After all, Skyrim‘s story revolves around dragons and their invasion of the bitterly cold region. However, taking down a dragon is so much more than just swinging a blade, casting a spell and slicing through scales. It’s a tactical endeavour, an emotional journey, and a moment you’ll regale to others down the pub over a flagon of mead – or wherever you go to meet up on social occasions.
You see, unlike every other enemy in Skyrim, the various dragons that populate the land aren’t scripted. They don’t have fixed routes or attack patterns, they do as they please, attack what they like, when they like. Occasionally you’ll find yourself ambushed by a single dragon; other times it can be a bowel-movement enduing four or five, in which case you want to run as fast as you can – FYI: I died very quickly in said situation. Their unscripted nature makes coming into battle with one so much more rewarding than any other creature you’ll find in Bethesda’s epic, or indeed in any other game.
As anyone who’s played Skyrim before will attest to, when you’re walking through the fjords or open grasslands of Skyrim, hearing he roar of a nearby dragon causes your heart to skip a beat. You look upwards, frantically spinning around – and no doubt looking hilarious to a passing NPC – hoping to catch a glimpse of the scaly beast so you aren’t struck off-guard. A sense of panic mixed with childish glee washes over you as you contemplate hunting down the beast. Finally, relief settles in when the beast can’t be seen. You feel safe in the knowledge that the roar clearly came from a nearby Dragon Roost.
It’s in this split second moment, after your not-so-close encounter, that you decide to find its roost and take the scaly fiend down – despite the fact it hasn’t come to bother you at all. Chest swollen with pride you embark upon your self-made quest. How you get there is – like pretty much everything in Skyrim – up to you. Some may venture though the loot-filled tombs, cutting down Dragur as they go; others may just find a way to scale the mountain from the outside. Whatever your preferred method, reaching the top is where the action really starts.
For the most part, you have no idea what you’re about to face. You could arrive to find yourself face to face with an Elder or Ancient Dragon that completely outmatches you in every way. Perhaps you’ll get lucky and just bag a Blood Dragon, a nice easy kill for a Dragon Soul. Do you keep your distance? Or do you just wade in, paralyse it, and hack away? Depending on what you face, really dictates how you act, but – unsurprisingly – the tougher dragons require fair bit more talent to fell.
However you manage to surmount the beast, nothing beats the adrenaline found from fighting it. The near death experiences, and the clever use of all your resources empower you. The harder, the better – nobody want’s to take a dragon down in a hit or two. The joy is in the battle, dodging one hit kill bites from the mouth. Standing fast against the flames. Ducking beneath wing swipes and jumping over tail flicks as the dragon fights you off.
As the dragon’s lifeless body falls towards the earth and its body dissolves into a skeletal carcass, you can’t help but feel proud of your efforts. You’ve overcome the obstacle in your way and come out of the other side. At the same time though, a sadness washes over you. After all, anyone who has a heart knows that they’ve just killed a rather impressive beast. Granted it was burning towns and probably came after you first, but it can’t be denied that the dragons of Skyrim are majestic beasts. Many times after defeating a dragon I found myself standing there observing its skeletal frame on a plinth of rock high above sea level.
For a world wrapped in lore, Bethesda has managed to perfectly boil down and bottle the essence of what makes a fun adventure game. They fling emotions at you that you probably don’t even register. They create engaging experiences that become near addictive. Skyrim has given you the power that so many fantasy tales have told for years. You’ve crafted you own minature Beowulf tale; you’ve stepped into the shoes of Bard killing Smaug in The Hobbit; you’ve become the hero – especially when you take down Alduin.