First Person

First Person
Skyrim is Soulless

Dennis C. Scimeca | 8 Dec 2011 09:00
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I could not be trusted to play "just a little" of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim when it was first released. A pattern quickly revealed itself: find a dungeon, kill everything within it, make multiple trips back and forth from said dungeon to my house in the city of Whiterun to stow all the loot, and then sort through and sell everything I looted and decided not to keep.

I could do this for eight hours at a stretch if I lost track of time on a weekend, and the fact that I was completely disinterested in the story and only cared about killing things and taking their stuff was my first clue that something was off about Skyrim, but I couldn't lay my finger on the problem. Then I met Agnis the Fort Frau.

One of the lovely things about Skyrim is there is no doubt whatsoever if a human being is an enemy or not. They will warn you to stay away, and if you get too close they attack. This was the reaction of the bandits in the courtyard of Fort Greymoor when my companion Lydia and I strolled through the arch over the front gate. We efficiently slaughtered the bandits outside before we kicked down the front door and, like hot knives through butter, sliced through their friends in the Fort's interior.

Two of the last bandits to fall were in what looked like a kitchen. Just as I finished stripping the loot from their dead bodies, which included all their clothing and therefore left them lying on the ground in nothing but underwear, I noticed an old woman standing next to me.

Her name was Agnis. She wasn't attacking me, so wasn't an enemy. I clicked on her to try and begin a conversation. "I just cook and clean and do whatever they ask of me," she said. I thought, "Why isn't she reacting to the two dead bandits at her feet?" If she was being held prisoner, which I took as her meaning, then why wasn't she glad to see two of her captors dead? I clicked on her again.

"I can't even keep track of all the people who have been in and out of this fort," she told me. "They come, they go, I barely notice!" I sighed at the lost opportunity for some proper roleplaying. Why didn't the game developers recognize the emotional potential in this encounter? I could have told Agnis she was free, and she could have fled to the nearby city of Whiterun where I would have found her later and basked in the good deed I'd done.

Maybe serving those bandits was the only life Agnis had ever known, and she could have been angry at me for killing them all, forcing me to decide whether wandering the wilderness looking for Forts to empty of their inhabitants and loot to sell was something I could do without considering the consequences. Agnis muttered something about having cleaning to do, instead, and a broom magically appeared in her hands whereupon she began sweeping the floor around the pair of half-naked dead bodies.

I returned to my looting. The next room was a storeroom, and when I saw all the food and wine on the shelves I thought, "What is Agnis going to eat and drink if I take all this?" Understand that I normally looted a dungeon blind of every single item that wasn't nailed down and might have had value to a merchant. I had left countless hideouts and dungeons filled with nothing other than empty metal tankards and wooden plates and bowls.

The word "Steal," written in red letters, did not appear when I passed my crosshair over the items on those shelves in Fort Greymoor, meaning the items didn't belong to anyone, much less Agnis. All of that food and wine was therefore fair game but I left it alone, and as I continued my looting spree left anything that might have been of value to Agnis where I found it.

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