How the bad-ass bow quest made me love Skyrim

By Brenna Hillier
13 December 2011 08:28 GMT

What’s your RPG style – role-playing or number-crunching? Brenna Hillier is surprised to find Skyrim permits both to equal satisfaction, but it was a search for a bow that made the whole game click.

I’m on my third character now, and yet I’ve barely touched the main quest of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. By all accounts, having rolled only three is quite modest. With this latest one, I think I’m finally in for the long haul, but, unlike many others, I didn’t restart because I hit a wall or broke a major quest.

My first character was a Nord named Draqul – a sneaky arrow sort with a liking for flowers – with whom I met and overcame a nasty difficulty spike. A free-form creation, she inexplicably turned out to be an utter powerhouse, which was somewhat unsatisfying, and after pouring a good 30 hours into her I had such a glut of equally-simple quests in my journal I felt no motivation to pursue any of them.

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That is genius. I’m going to do that.

My second character, Fletch, was another Nord; I like to play the “canonical” race. This time I approached the game with a role-play scenario in mind. I would refuse to do anything, I decided, setting up shop in Riverwood and living the life of a hunter. If you couldn’t shoot it with arrows, skin it, and sell things made from it, I did not want to know. She lasted about six hours before I got so tired of living the life of a typical Middle Ages peasant I went back to Draqul. “All is forgiven, über build,” I cried.

Still, I felt there was something missing, and that was when I discovered this (see boxout). A long-haul effort to create the greatest bow in the game. Amazing.

I had actually promised myself I would do none of this. No deliberate builds, no forced leveling. But then I heard about killing a dragon in one hit and I was sold. Draqul was content to chip away at dragons while enjoying her tank-like health bar, and Fletch’s archery was second-to-none, but neither of them had ever lifted a hammer at a forge in pursuit of a weapon of power.

Thus Esther – named on a whim for the Half-life mod – was born.

Esther is an Imperial because I’ve always liked them (more money, more speechcraft: natural rappers) and she has bad-ass face paint because I like that too. I spent less than ten seconds on her face – as opposed to the half hour or so on each of my earlier characters. Her goal, as soon as she reached Riverwood, was to make money, buy iron, and become the world’s best smith, enchanter, alchemist and, finally, archer. Everything else fell by the wayside while I pursued my super-bow.

This single-minded pursuit – as yet incomplete – has brought me the most enjoyment of any Elder Scrolls game I have played, despite all my expectations of the opposite. Perhaps this is because for once, I’m actually role-playing.

“Oh come now,” you scoff, adjusting your cravat. “Exploiting a powerful build with forced levelling is the opposite of role-playing.”

But breaking out my AD&D source books, I see you are incorrect, because the best role-playing occurs when you have a truly realised character. Where Draqul had no character whatsoever and Fletch was some sort of one-dimensional ranger fantasy, Esther is brimming with personality traits.

I’m putting her through forced levelling: She’s single-minded and focused. I want a 10% bonus on skill increases: she sleeps eight hours a night in a proper bed at an inn. I hate waiting for merchants to restock the gold and items I need to pursue my bow: she travels between towns, collecting and trading items.

The totally arbitrary set of structures I’ve applied to my game – pursuing something I really, really want – have resulted in a more lifelike, realistic character than any of my other builds. Building in a specific direction has inspired me, just as restrictions often fuel creativity. Ever had to rush to meet a deadline on a creative piece? That’s what I mean.

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Not family friendly. At all. In any way.

Anecdotally, I know I’m not alone in this, and YouTube is full of examples of people explaining how to reach their own thoroughly artificial builds. For every video about how to quickly reach level gazillion for the sake of progress alone, there’s something like this example of how to become an “Unarmed Badass Viking” (warning: strong language and mature themes. Also: hilarity).

My build isn’t finished yet. I’m still maxing my enchanting skills so as to get the most out of it – but my Daedric bow is complete at level 25. Esther, Thane of Whiterun, has enough dragons under her belt to have crafted an actual belt out of them, and now wanders the land with a housecarl at her side, seeking soul gem-filled dungeons through which to power her booming enchanted weapon business.

For the first time, I feel I’m really getting the point of an Elder Scrolls game – the ability to do whatever you want, up to and including min-max like a mofo – and have a great time with it. Putting aside my pre-conceived notions of how an RPG should be played, I’ve found myself having way more fun, and finding it increasingly difficult to tear myself away.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is out now on PC PLayStation 3 and Xbox 360, as everyone and their dog should know by now. Got a great build? Let us know.

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