The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, released in November, is one of the most lauded role-playing games (RPGs) in recent history. It’s the first game not made in Japan to score a 40/40 in the famous Famitsu magazine, and it’s also a game that will last at least 100 hours, if you’re not interested in simply exploring the world the way the developers intended you to. Set in what appears at first to be the standard J.R.R. Tolkien-derived fantasy world, Skyrim has a rich history to draw on, and not just from the events of the four games before it—the developers have seeded their world with richly detailed histories and economic treatises, along with works of fiction that players can choose to read or ignore. In the game, the world is under grave threat from dragons, and the player—who can set a lot of characteristics of the protagonist before the game begins—is the “chosen one” to save the world. Or, like me, you can take your fantasy hero and explore a painstakingly detailed and beautifully realized world.
A few hours into the game, I discovered something that made me set out on a quest to read all the books I could find. Outside the town of Windhelm, in the cheerfully named Brandy-Mug Farm, I was stealing everything I found. Part of my loot was a book called The Daughter of the Niben, and my skill in Alteration—a field of magic— increased simply by reading it. I knew I would be reading many more books after that.
Book smart: In Skyrim you can even be a barbarian librarian.
Rising Threat, Volume II, by Lathenil of Sunhold
The book was lying in a store in the capital city of Whiterun. It was an interesting account of the destruction brought about by the “Oblivion Crisis”. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what that was. I needed to find the first volume, and decided to keep the book with me. The shopkeeper didn’t like that, and called the town guards. I escaped, but I had to kill one guard. Now they try to kill me on sight. I decided to spend some time in the wilderness.
Rising Threat, Volume I, by Lathenil of Sunhold
I’d paid fines and returned the second volume by the time I found the first part, in the city of Riften. It’s a small town, rife with poverty, controlled by a mafia-like organization. They wanted to charge a toll for entering Riften, but I bribed a guard. Inside, I killed a homeless elf when no one was looking and stole the book. Now I know everything about the Oblivion Crisis. The book is an interesting account of how an army led by someone called Dagon destroyed the capital of the high elves. But I also feel guilty about killing the poor elf. I left the city and headed east towards a mountain pass.
Dance in the Fire: Book II, by Waughin Jarth
I chanced upon the Haafingar Stormcloak camp, deep in Imperial territory. I’d chosen to side against these rebels, but I was now trying to end the civil war. They weren’t too pleased to see me though—I’d killed enough of their comrades. In their camp, I found this book, and it improved my blocking. It’s also the most enjoyable book in Skyrim so far. Caught between two warring states, your party of merchants is ambushed first by one side and then the other, and it’s written with a wry sense of humour. No spoilers, but it’s the ultimate shaggy dog story. I followed a river south.
The True Nature of Orcs
I was adventuring in the Bilegulch Mine when I came across a group of orc bandits. Since I play as an orc well, I thought we could sit around a fire and share some mead. Instead, they tried to kill. It was a pointless and brutal encounter. Then, in the back of the cave, I found a human body with the book on it. The book talked about the myth of the origin of the orcish race, and how we were once the best and brightest of elves before the corruption of our patron god. Explains why everyone hates me I suppose. I’d read about an orc invasion in another book—time to learn more about it. I headed to the ruins of the Nightcaller Temple.
An Explorer’s Guide to Skyrim, by Marcius Carvain
I found the perfect book for me in the temple. It had been the site of a terrible battle between the followers of Mara and an invading army of orcs. The priests poisoned the invaders, but they themselves were also affected, and both turned into monsters. When I opened the door, priests and orcs both attacked me. Much later, I found this book on a shelf. It’s a guide to the tourist sights of Skyrim. Perhaps it was a sign, to try something new.