I've started playing Skyrim again, in the hopes that I could get sucked into the game as much as I did when it was first released. This has happened, for the most part, but I was also able to remember why I abandoned the game in the first place; the story was boring. This shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone and the fact that it was boring does not necessarily result in it being bad, it just wasn't enough to capture me for the long haul. When I started a new character, the experience was just how I remembered it, right up until I was told to go to Ustengrav.
The fun began when I was ambushed by a group of necromancers and their bandit playthings just outside of the entrance to the tomb. I dispatched them quickly and bunny hopped down towards the door when I spotted something I've never seen before; a bandit.
There was nothing particularly remarkable about the bandit of course, he was as dead as the fetishists I sent over to the other side a mere minute ago and he even wore the usual bandit attire. What really struck me were the finer details around the bandit. These were: A pool of blood, a dagger and two bottles of skooma. The bandit himself was sat with his back against some barrels.
Something immediately clicked in my head, a story. The bandit, high off his rockers, killed himself with the dagger. Perhaps his skooma addiction led him to make deals with some shady people who were about to collect on his debt when a fire-breathing warrior charged into their faces.
This is a simple story, but what makes it special is that it's unlikely that Bethesda intended for it to exist. The corpse of the bandit was probably just there to make the entrance stand out from some of the other ones and the skooma was just there for the player to remember that every location in Skyrim needs some kind of potion. Even the necromancer ambush was just one of the few 'scripted unscripted' events that the Radiant Engine 'creates'.
Picture this: What if the bandit had a name? What if you found a hastily written letter on his person addressed to his family? What if, upon delivering the letter, the game forced you to hear the pleas of a distraught woman begging you to find whoever got her husband addicted to the horrible drug?
As players, we have accepted and are aware of the fact that we need to create a story for our characters in almost every Elder Scrolls game. Bethesda have supported this by adding 'random' events to help us create these stories, which has worked fine for the most part.
The key thing that Bethesda has missed however, are details. Nothing overly complicated, just some fine details which could affect a self-made story in drastic ways. How different would the bandit situation be if the person in his place was one of the city guards? Then, instead of skooma, the player would find a health potion right next to the dagger. As if whoever stabbed the guard had the audacity to tease him with it.
Players can easily let their imaginations run wild, with no input from the developer. But if they have to fight the same bandits without a reason other than the fact that they're bandits then their well will soon run dry.