A great thing about sandbox nature of Elder Scrolls games is that they let you create your own story. Your own narrative you build through your actions, and accumulation of random events often overwhelms scripted story events and set pieces. Here is one of such stories. I don’t really have screenshots like for my huntress story, because it was a spur of the moment thing. So instead showing you pictures, I will paint them with words.
When you reach the Markarth you immediately know something is rotten in that city. People get shived in the middle of a busy street, and the city guards just stand around and let it happen. And it’s not just buggy Bethesda scripting either, because one of them walks up to you and tells you to mind your own business and forget you have seen anything or else. Soon enough you meet a concerned citizen who hires you to do some detective work for him and uncover the corruption in the upper echelons of the city’s aristocratic elite. It is basically a chain of rather interesting quests with some solid writing behind them – I will let you explore these on your own. The interesting thing happens when you go back to hand in the quest to the guy who hired you.
Note that this is a minor spoiler, so if you haven’t visited Markarth yet, and you don’t want to know anything about the quest line there you may want to stop reading. Otherwise continue.
Once you finish running all around the town, collecting evidence of corruption, your quest giver asks you to meet him in the local temple. When you get there you see a disconcerting scene. Your friend is sprawled on the floor below the altar, with three city guards standing above his body. As you enter, they notice you and quickly ensnare you with a scripted dialog sequence.
Now if you have ever played any video game RPG’s you immediately know where this is heading. You are about to experience a scripted prison sequence during which you will be stripped and disarmed and locked behind plot driven doors that won’t open until you finish a contrived chain of quests. Once you are done, your possessions will be waiting for you in a chest near the exit.
As you can imagine, I wasn’t particularly happy about this turn of events. I had other quests to hand in, places to be, things to steal, people to assassinate. In fact, getting captured this stupidly was completely out of character for me – a high ranging thieves guild member, a rising star of the dark brotherhood and a goddamned dragonborn hero of Skyrim. But because this was a scripted event I thought I was done for…
Until of course the game gave me an option – to go quietly, or to fight my way out of the temple. Guess which option did I choose? I instantly pulled out my bow, and started shooting. The guards wore heavy armor, and I did not have my usual sneak-attack advantage (most of my victims never even know what hit them) so to bring even one of them down, I essentially had to implement the “human porcupine” strategy in which an enemy usually ends up with more than 20 arrows sticking out of his face by the time he goes down. I was making a headway, humping over the altar, and abusing the shoddy AI path finding scripts to rain a sustained hail of arrows on my assailants when I noticed two more guards entering the temple.
I dropped another one, and two more came in. At that point I realized that I might be dealing with a “hydra railroading situation”. This usually happens in pen an paper RPG games when the GM really wants your party to get defeated and captured, so he keeps bringing more and more reinforcements every time you start winning. Eventually you run out of healing potions, and the hordes of enemies overwhelm you. The only way out of this situation is not to play.
So I decided on an experiment. I ran past newly arriving guards, grabbed the temple door and tried to open them. I was almost entirely certain that there would be a scripted plot-lock on them, but no. I was allowed to exit the building, and found myself in the middle of the city. A city filled with high level guards with heavy armor – all of whom somehow magically knew that I just triggered some scripted event. So mere seconds after I left the temple arrows started zipping next to my head, and I saw at least two guards fall off the high ledges, attempting to get to where I was. The entire city of angry guards was converging on me. To make matters worse, the bunch of dudes I have left in the temple started failing out of the building and glitch-bumping into each other in the limited amount of space available in the doorway.
So I jumped down from my high ledge into a temporary safety of the overhang, and decided that the only way out of this alive was to use speed. Luckily, somewhere along my travels I got turned into a Werewolf – and one of the nice benefits of the beast form is that it allows you to run faster than any horse in the game. I rarely use it, because shifting into a wolf in public instantly makes the entire city hostile to you and puts a bounty on your head. But seeing how I already was chased by the entire city, and already had a high bounty on my head due to my reluctance to be railroaded revealing my dark secret probably wouldn’t make my situation any worse.
So I quickly turned into a beast, and started running. Even though guards in Markarth are high level, and immune to my fear inducing roar I could still swipe them out of the way with my regular attacks for long enough to run past them. I did get hit by a few arrows but being a protagonist of an RPG game, this was just a minor inconvenience. I had enough hit points to spare.
I sprinted out of the city, passed the guard outposts outside it, hopped over a bridge and took the long cobbled road that would eventually lead me into the neighborhood of Whiterun where my house was. I did not fast travel, because I was still in beast form and the only way to shift back is to wait it out. So my plan was to keep running until I shifted, and then fast travel back home and figure out what to do next.
Then I heard a bloody roar from the clouds up above. A fucking dragon. When fighting dragons in your beast form, you are at a quite a disadvantage. You can’t gulp health potions, and you can’t shoot a bow and use the “become a spirit” shout to avoid their breath weapon. So all of my usual dragon hunting strategies were useless.
So I decided to ignore the flying monster. After all, every time I actually want to kill one of them to unlock a new shout, I have to chase them around, wildly spraying arrows into the air because they never seem to want to land anywhere. It’s like they have learned that I devour their souls to steal their powers, and learned to keep their distance and only do flyby breath attacks. Unfortunately this particular dragon either did not get the memo, or did not recognize me in my wolf form. So he swooped in, and landed directly in front of me. I ran directly into his open maw and got a face full of frost damage from his breath attack. So I did what any werewolf would do – I started swinging.
So we stood there exchanging blows. I would mash both mouse buttons averaging several claw hits per second. The dragon was less efficient. It would switch between bite attacks and breath attacks and sometimes just roaring at me. He dealt more damage per blow than me, but he wasn’t hitting me all the time. My DPS output was higher. And then I realized that I don’t just have to stand there taking his breath attacks. I can circle strafe and force him to move that bulky serpentine body around on it’s axis, forcing him to waste even more time on evocative, expressive movement animation.
Soon enough the monster was down. It was close though – my hit points were down to almost nothing and I couldn’t use any health potions while in beast form. Fortunately as I started to absorb his soul, my screen got fuzzy and my character started to shift back into her natural elf form. So there I was – standing in the middle of a meadow in my underpants, dragon soul energy still swirling around my body creating impressive lighting effects in the middle of the night. I have escaped Markarth, and ripped apart a dragon with my bare claws. It was a good night.
Then an arrow pierced my eye and I died. Who shot me? I couldn’t tell. Perhaps my circle strafing madness stirred up a bandit camp conveniently positioned near the road. Or maybe one of the guards outside of Markarth managed to catch up with me just as I was finishing my battle with a dragon. It’s hard to tell.
Unfortunately my last save was right in front of the damn temple where I got jumped by the guards giving me another shot at this quest. My epic escape got erased by my untimely death. On the upside, I now had the option to wrap up my other local quests, unload inessential gear in my house and come back to Markarth temple to see what that prison sequence was going to be about. And that’s exactly what I did, because I knew that there was no way I could top my crazy escape from the city, and the dragon fight that ensued afterwards.
What’s the craziest thing that happened to you in Skyrim?