Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
“Skyrim is not a reactive game.” That’s a common criticism of Bethesda’s open world RPG about saving Viking Disneyland from dragons while also secretly being leader of the world’s foremost assassin gang and the literal thieves’ guild, as well as having your soul in hock to multiple Daedric Princes who are going to get a real surprise when you drop dead and they all show up at once to collect.
It’s true that NPCs don’t always know you’re head of the mage’s guild. But in Oblivion every shopkeeper knew you were “The Hero of Kvatch!” and that shit got old real quick. Meanwhile, did you know that if you buy a dwemer artifact from a shop, then Calcelmo—the archaeologist digging up Markarth in search of dwarven pottery—will send you a letter asking to buy it? This one old man out there in the Reach is apparently using medieval mail order to gather dwarven oil and crossbow bolts from shops across the land, and if you eBay-snipe something on his wishlist he will send a courier to find you.
My point is that Skyrim can be a bit odd about which of your actions it chooses to respond to. Every single guard knows your highest skills and will comment on them, but when you’re about to save the world from Alduin, a dragon who eats souls? Not so much. The way to solve this is with modded super-followers like Inigo, a friendly blue khajiit who has commentary on a huge amount of things that can happen in Skyrim. Thanks to his creator’s skill with re-splicing existing voice lines, and the number of actors responsible for multiple characters in Skyrim, Inigo even has entire conversations with Lydia if you happen to have both in your party.
I don’t stop at just Inigo and Lydia. My squad rolls deep. I’ve also got Vilja, an alchemist who dreams of being a bard, and Lucien, a scholar who dreams of being a scholar. Both are fully voiced by modders who collaborated with the creator of Inigo, which means they also have conversations with him and will happily natter away together while I’m in the middle of my Serious Business, like stealing every honey nut treat in the Winking Skeever.
I’ve also got Serana with me. She’s a vanilla follower, but I’m trying a popular mod called Serana Dialogue Add-On that replaces Laura Bailey’s performance with another voice actor’s and hugely expands Serana’s dialogue, as well as making her romanceable. She’s not really much like the canon version of Serana, but wouldn’t you know it? She also has interactions with Inigo. And like the others, she has quest commentary.
When I bump into Hermaeus Mora, the Daedric Prince of knowledge and tentacles, Lucien’s there to suggest maybe I shouldn’t accept a quest from a godlike being made of eyeballs and goop. When I absorb my first dragon soul, Inigo is there to check if I’m OK, “because if that happened to me I would no doubt soil myself.” And when I prepare to mount Odahviing and ride to the dragon temple where I’ll have to fight my way to the afterlife and save the world alone, they’ve all got things to say about that as well.
The drama of the moment is enhanced not just because everyone wants to say goodbye and good luck like I’m marching toward the climax of Mass Effect 3, but because I’m so used to having a small army with me. While it renders a lot of fights trivial if you don’t crank the difficulty up, I’ve got used to having four or five followers in a game balanced for one. I’m about to have to take on multiple dragons and draugr deathlords by myself, and only when I face Alduin at the end will I have allies again—the heroes of Sovngarde first glimpsed when you read an Elder Scroll at the Throat of the World returning to fight by my side.
When that happens, of course, we absolutely thrash Alduin because Skyrim is a game balanced for one follower at most. And when I return to the land of the living, Lucien is waiting to ask whether I succeeded, and the rest of my band have new things to say as well. If it’s more reactivity you want from Skyrim, this is how you get it.