There I was, making my way down a gently descending mountain road, trying to get as far as I could from the death and destruction I had escaped mere moments before. Getting a last minute reprieve from my own execution by a dragon attack was not exactly how I planned this day to go, but what’s a Nord to do?
With a new lease on life (for the moment, anyway), it was up to me to warn the people of Skyrim that death from above was on the way, and they’d best start finding some hidey-holes if they wanted to survive. Unfortunately for the people of Skyrim, there was a narrow trail leading off the road that I just couldn’t possibly pass up.
Clambering up the trail, I spotted an old mine tucked into the mountainside. As mines so often do, this one had a bandit standing guard outside of it. Clearly, there were nefarious things afoot within, and it was up to me to snuff them out (I was sure the dragons could wait).
Stepping forward, I met the bandit in heated battle. Her sword clashed against my stout shield, iron rang out against iron as our blades crossed, and blood mingled in the dirt beneath us. Shoving her backwards with a blow from my shield, I stepped forward and brought my axe down in a might strike. That’s when it happened: worn down to the edge of death, the bandit dropped to her knees and cried out for me to spare her.
This was not something I expected.
Here, at last, was a choice – to take the life of my enemy in my hands and snuff it out, or to show mercy. As I have said before, games rarely give us the option to not kill our foes. I thought about my time in Skyrim (which, granted, had only been about ten minutes) and about who I wanted to be. Did I want to be a Nord with a trail of death behind me, feared by friend and foe alike? Or, did I want to be a Nord who could hold his head high and know that he was doing what he could to make life better, not to take it away. I wanted to walk over to that bandit, stand above her, and hold out my hand. I wanted to tell her that she had been given a second chance – just like I had mere minutes before – and that she should run home to whatever village she came from and start anew. I wanted to show her that there could be some small light in this blighted world.
As it turns out, I couldn’t do any of those things.
Approaching the kneeling bandit, it turns out I had no options at all. No talking, no holding out the hand of mercy; nothing. Pondering what to do about that, I had the decision made for me: after a few seconds, the bandit stood back up on her own two feet and resumed attacking me. So close to death’s door, it took only the slightest flick of my axe to dispatch her. Her body strewn before me in the dirt, all I could do was wonder “why?”
For a few glorious seconds, Skyrim teased me with the potential to do something so few games do. Yet, shortly after, it showed me that it was, after all, merely a tease. I suppose Bethesda scripted near-death opponents to act in such a fashion to provide a little extra flavor to the already-rich world, but I feel they missed an opportunity in having it mean nothing. In a game full of so many choices for the player to make, this would be an incredibly powerful one for them to add. “Good” players could take comfort in knowing that they could spare their foes, while less personable characters could take great joy in lopping off the heads of their kneeling foes, ignoring their piteous cries.
As it stands, my first encounter left a bitter taste in my Nord’s mouth – from there forward, my mercy has been dispatched in the form of an axe to the back of the head for any opponent who dares fall before me.
It seems for now, the path of death is still the path game designers wish me to walk.Share