"This is when Skyrim will reward you most richly. Not when you're trying to win, or beat it, or get to the end, or level up, or earn the achievements. Not when you're playing it like a stat-based RPG, or a single-player MMO, or a challenge. Skyrim is putatively a game. More accurately, it's a narrative loom."
There's a point during the main quest in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim when one of the characters wants to show you something a fair distance away. She says that you can either follow her and travel together, or she can meet you there later. This means that even though it's supposedly a time critical plot point -- "We must hurry," she'll say -- the plot point will wait until you're ready. Play it now, or play it later. Whenever you're ready, walk there, or teleport there instantly. No matter what anyone here tells you, time and space mean nothing in Skyrim.
Normally, I'd just fast travel and meet her there. But I’m at the end of a long night of Skyrim, ready to wind down, but not quite ready to stop playing. So I follow her because it's arguably easier than actually saving and powering down my 360. She changes into armor and tells another NPC to mind the inn that she tends. I'm tempted to get my horse, but I don't want to spoil the illusion by riding down the road while she shuffles along on foot. It's nighttime, which adds a touch of intrigue Bethesda can't have guaranteed, since this could just as easily have happened at midday. As she hurries along the road in her awkwardly animated shuffle, she pulls out a torch to light the way. If time mattered, this could be one of those hurried nighttime journeys to get someplace in the nick of time, maybe to warn a king of an invasion, intercede at an ill-fated princess' wedding ceremony, or call off a doomed dawn attack.
As we travel, the NPC has occasional bits of scripted dialogue along the way. She warns me about a notorious bandit hideout up ahead (not to worry, as I cleared it out long ago). She references a river and a city we'll pass. She gives me a few more pieces of information that I would have missed if I'd just fast traveled later. We come across the member of a holy order of warriors fighting a vampire. We join the fray. My sidekick, a cat person mage who's been tagging along for several quests, gets killed here. I consider reloading the game, but decide that to really appreciate Skyrim, I should just let it happen. He should remain dead and become one of the game's many emergent stories, like this hurried nighttime journey to get there just in the nick of time. As dawn breaks, we reach our destination and a scripted scene unfolds, insinuated neatly into the open world like so many of the game's other scripted scenes.
Freelance review by Tom Chick (November 27, 2011)
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