Warning: This story contains minor spoilers.
Outside, sunlight bathes the cave's mouth with a warm radiance.
Inside, the glass broadsword's crystalline surface refracts the flickering flames of my torch with alluring beauty.
"Pick me up," it whispers to me from its stone seat. "Ditch those blunted toothpicks you call daggers. Wrap your fingers around my luxurious dragon-suede grip. You know an upgrade when you see one. Trust me. I'm better."
Instead, I turn away from the tantalizing prize and continue deeper into the cave. The sword's luminosity gutters into darkness. I can almost hear its sobbing cries for my return.
I just passed up a clearly superior weapon in The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim. Why? Because I've restricted my character's arsenal to what I deem lore-appropriate for my chosen set of skills — in this case, a stealthy, backstabbing assassin.
It isn't sadism. Nor is it a ploy for extra challenge. I'm simply obeying one of the genre's key directives — role-playing — garnished with some personal flair. And Skyrim is one of the best games for it.
Skyrim is a game of giving. It asks what you want and then gives it to you. It taps into that unalienable facet of human nature clamoring to know what's beyond the beaten path. Above else, it bows out of the way for self-expression. The treasure chest is Skyrim's clouded peaks and wooded valleys. The key is your imagination.
Sure, hunting for increasingly valuable loot won't go away. The Elder Scrolls series isn't scornful of tradition. Dodging Mudcrabs and cracking open ancient footlockers within the tomb of King What's-His-Name is as routine as clearing out a bandit camp for Ineptly Troubled Village #12. Still, it makes for a heroic tale of legendary caliber — even though the only introduction I got was a patch of singed skin courtesy of a jet-black dragon's 2,000-degree greeting.
Most developers know quests and critical decisions form the backbone of individuality. The Mass Effects and The Witchers of the genre offer choice as the player's tool for customization — albeit with some limiting linearity. Skyrim's unconstrained freedom, however, sets the reins of narration squarely in my hands.
The countryside's sheer scale of randomization trumps the comforts of fast travel. My scabbards only house daggers. Even though I've access to a plethora of protective options, I stick with the shadowy Nightingale armor. My knack for fortune-hunting alters my disposition into a self-centered, mercenary bounty hunter. All of these are possible because of Skyrim's perfect backdrop for shaping a carefully molded character.
Here, at the roof of the world, heroes come and go. But thanks to Skyrim's support of role-play restrictions, I'm fully proud to call one of them my own.
How have you shaped your Skyrim experience? Leave a comment below!