This is just a small introduction to the game's new radiant storytelling. This new system keeps track of everything that happens to you, essentially creating content based on your character's current context. Todd could help out here, or he could sabotage a town's main industry, inflating prices and reducing the availability of goods. Todd and the design team still haven't decided just how much a player will be able to mess with the economies but there's a potential to have a lasting impact on the prosperity of the towns, and radiant storytelling is an important part of putting those consequences front and center.
It works at various levels. You might, for instance, intentionally drop a sword while sorting through your inventory. The game tracks that item and, if an NPC comes along, he may decide to pick up that sword. If he knows it's yours, he's got a few options. If he likes you, he may track you down and try to return the sword. If he doesn't like you, he may still try to track you down and return it, but he's likely to be returning it to your face. The game might also notice that you haven't seen a dragon in a while and are in a place where that might make sense. Next thing you know, there's a dragon, appropriate for your level, circling overhead.
In our particular case, the radiant storytelling system kicks in and drops a few hints about a recent robbery at a Riverwood shop. Throughout the conversations with the residents of the town and the shopkeeper, the player is still free to move and act. I hadn't noticed how annoying it was to jump in and out of static conversation scenes until I saw Todd carry on a conversation with the shopkeeper while also wandering around and looking at the items for sale in the store. It gets even better as the shopkeeper's sister offers to guide Todd to the path the robbers might have taken. As Todd walks alongside her, she pours out most of the "tell me more" information that keeps the action from progressing in games like Mass Effect.
I won't spoil the particular elements of this mission but the shopkeeper wants you to retrieve the item from the robbers who have fled up to the region's largest mountain, the Throat of the World. The mountain is home to an ancient Nordic temple and carries some secrets of the Way of the Voice. This unique ability allows Dragonborne to use their voice to convert words into physical effects. It's essentially what the game's dragons are doing when they use their fiery breath on players; it's basically their way of saying "Hello. I hate you." Todd gets just such a greeting as he reaches an elaborate barrow near the top of the mountain. The dragon itself is a fantastic looking creature, but rather than stay and chat, Todd runs into the barrow where the dragon can't follow.
The old Nords used to worship dragons. I say, "used to" because the dragons in Skyrim are returning after being gone for thousands of years. No one knows where they've been or why they're returning now, but it's a sure bet that the game's larger story will address some of those mysteries.
Inside the barrow, Todd overhears two guards talking about the man who stole the shopkeeper's item and they mention that he's gone deeper into the barrow. Todd fights his way past the guards, solves a few interesting puzzles, and uses Frost Rune spells like landmines to defeat a giant Ice Spider before finally confronting the thief. Again, I'm not going to try to give away any of the story here, but let's just say that things go bad and the player is left alone to face a handful of undead warriors skilled in the Way of the Voice, a swinging pendulum trap, a troll, more undead warriors and another challenging mental puzzle. At the end of it all, Todd learns some of the secrets of the Way of the Voice and finally has it out with that dragon waiting outside.