[As Read on GIO.]
In Which Heads Almost Roll…
Yours Included, or Rather, Your Character’s…
At this point, I’d be lying if I said each Elder Scrolls game begins very differently. Nope, they all pretty much have to do with escaping prisons or your imminent execution. Thankfully, Skyrim’s rough landing only gets better over time, and despite the pretty generic and forgettable introduction, it does do one thing very, very different than the other games in the series: dragons. Yep, you guessed it- or rather, you knew it since the game has been out for two and a half years or so by now. Skyrim has dragons, and dragons are awesome- when they aren’t trying to kill you that is…which is pretty much all the time unless you have that Dragon Tamer perk from Dragonborn, but…that’s another blog for later on in this year-long series of 80 parts. Now, we’re going to discuss the first and possibly shortest main quest of the game- Unbound. True to its name, you are bound at first but gradually break free and make your daring escape, all with the aid of either an Imperial or Stormcloak soldier of your choice- already planting the seed for conflict still to develop later on…
As your character opens his or her eyes, you find that your wrists have been bound together with rope and you appear to be on a wagon bumping its way along some snowy, mountain road with a whole caravan of prisoner wagons just like it following behind and riding ahead. Little do you know, there is a massive Civil War being fought across Skyrim as the Stormcloak rebellion fights against the Imperial Legions of Tamriel, attempting to free Skyrim from what they deem an unfair and tyrannical empire.
The prisoners around you in your particular cart are Ralof the Stormcloak rebel, a horse thief named Lokir, and the insurrectionist leader Ulfric Stormcloak himself. Your caravan is being led by the Imperial General Tullius, who is also the acting military governor of the province of Skyrim, which the game takes its name from for being located within. Several other rebel prisoners are behind and in front of you, and an Imperial Guard mounted on horseback rides behind them.
Ralof will speak to you upon noticing that you have woken up, commenting that it is a shame you have been mistaken for a Stormcloak when indeed all you were doing was passing over the border into Skyrim. At this point, the game will prompt you to look around in order to grasp the control system. Eventually Ralof will tell you about Ulfric Stormcloak, who sits beside you, and Lokir will start to panic- realizing that you are all most likely as good as dead thanks to your guilt by association.
You arrive at the fortified town of Helgen, which is a settlement in the hold of Falkreath, and not far from one of Skyrim’s borders- the Southern one in fact. Currently, the Jarl of Falkreath is loyal to the Empire, and is allowing the executions of Stormcloak prisoners to be held on his soil, as well as the Imperial Legion to hold Helgen as a military barracks and supply point since there is a heavy Stormcloak presence in the surrounding area. When the town gate swings open, Lokir shudders and whimpers as he hears the guard alerting the headsman that there is work to be done.
General Tullius rides off to take his place by his Imperial Captain, several Thalmor Elves, and other Imperial Legionnaires as the carts proceed around the town circle. The Imperial Captain orders the prisoners to disembark from the carts and to proceed forward to the execution block as your name is read off of a list in his hands. The Imperial Solider, Hadvar, calls forward Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm, then Ralof, and finally Lokir.
When his name is called, Lokir panics and attempts to run away, only to be shot in the back with an arrow and killed instantly. They leave his body to lay in the street as a warning to the other prisoners, and then you are called forward. Hadvar will ask you for your name and then the game prompts you to go through the classic character creation process, as in other Bethesda games and the Elder Scrolls series. Once you have done so, Hadvar will make a race-related comment before prompting you to move to your position.
Hadvar seems to be the only soldier with an actual conscience at this point in the game, so he is a ‘nicer’ character to you created character this early on, especially if you choose to stick with him later on. He hesitates when he notices that your name is not on the list of prisoners to be executed, and is even apologetic when the Captain orders him to have you executed regardless. You are the last prisoner on the list from your group, so you now must walk over to the holding area just in front of the headsman’s station.
General Tullius starts by reading off Ulfric Stormcloak’s charges, including using something called “The Voice” to kill the King of Skyrim, as well as attempting to actually usurp the throne in addition to killing the King. Ulfric is also blamed for instigating the current Civil War, causing general unrest and upheaval, and is going to be executed in order to ‘restore the peace.” As he mentions this, a distant roar of some sort echoes across the sky and Hadvar comments on it, whereas Tullius ignores it and orders the executions to commence as planned.
In order to administer proper last rites to the condemned prisoners, a Priestess of Arkay- the recognized god of burial rites and funerals, comes forward. When she mentions the eight Divines, the first Stormcloak soldier in line for execution interrupts her and invokes the name of Talos (the ninth Divine, outlawed by the Thalmor) before walking to the execution block and requesting that they get things over with. The headsman obliges, and off goes the first head of the day.
The Captain picks you to be next in line, and at the same time another distant roar echoes off of the nearby mountains, causing many to turn their heads and Hadvar to make another comment. The Captain again asks you to step forward and following Hadvar’s careful direction, you walk over and place your head sideways on the execution block. From here you are able to see the headsman and the tower directly behind him. As he raises his axe, a great dragon (later identified as Alduin the World-Eater), flies into view and lands with a terrible crash and roar on the tower. Before the headsman’s axe can descend, the resounding shockwave knocks him to the ground.
As the dedicated man tries to scramble back to his feet and either engage the dragon, run away, or finish you off, Alduin unleashes a shout which knocks him down once again. Though he has no qualms with killing you as well, he wants to do it on his own time it seems, and not have anybody else steal that kill from him…odd, as of now at least.
Alduin will release one final shout, which almost causes you to lose consciousness due to its absurd power, and Ulfric takes the chance to use his own shout in order to free himself from his bonds and gag. As your senses return, Ralof urges you to escape, stating that the gods may not provide another distraction in order to allow you all to do so. When you stand up, you will be able to move of your own free will for the first time in the game, and it will prompt you to move to the Keep for cover. At this point, all screens, skills, abilities, and items are open to you- although you currently have very few of any of those things. The on-screen objective and quest update marker will indicate the direction to the Keep as well.
Depending on how long it takes you to get your bearing- and if you’ve already played through the game before and know how things go, you can either follow Ralof immediately or wait until he calls to you from the tower before doing so. It’s going to get a little chaotic, thanks mainly to Alduin raining fireballs down upon the town and knocking chunks of stone out of its walls and towers. However, as this is a tutorial segment, you won’t take damage unless you purposely stay in one area for too long and get hit.
Once you enter the building, the doors should close behind you and you will be treated to the sight of injured Stormcloaks being tended to by others. If you walk to the middle of the room and turn around, you will witness Ulfric and another Stormcloak- normally Ralof, conversing about the dragons of legend. Ulfric replies that, ‘Legends don’t burn down villages,’ and that’s all the reply that is necessary.
Ralof and Ulfric will urge you to hurry up through the tower, and eventually a Stormcloak soldier will ask for assistance in clearing rubble off of the stairs you are currently following. As you begin to do so, Alduin will burst through the wall to your right and unleash a terrible gout of fire- knocking Ralof off the stairs in the process.You should be unharmed if you move away quickly enough, and Ralof will climb back up to where you are also unhurt.
Ralof will urge you to jump out of the tower and into the partially destroyed inn below as the dragon flies off to terrorize another portion of the town. Once you jump out, Ralof and Ulfric will follow momentarily to meet up later on. Your character may grunt in pain thanks to the height, but you will be relatively unhurt when you land. Next you will have to walk through the inn and drop through the hole in the floor in order to proceed.
You can follow Hadvar, the Imperial solider from the execution block, and watch as he tries to assist some of the nearby citizens. Hadvar will most likely be trying to convince a young boy to come with him and leave his injured father, who is unceremoniously then toasted by Alduin’s fire moments later as Hadvar takes the boy to safety and leaves him with another man. When he sees you, Hadvar addresses you as ‘Prisoner’ and tells you to follow him to safety. Following Hadvar, you proceed through the area where the boy’s father was killed, intent on finding the General and assisting the other men in escaping Helgen before it has been completely destroyed.
Once you reach a specific area along the wall, Hadvar will advise you to stay near it as Alduin lands on the wall and breathes fire up ahead, around the corner. Once the dragon resumes his rampage, follow Hadvar up the stairs and through the hole in the wall- going through a ruined building and entering into a large clearing. Here you will witness many mages, soldiers, and the General himself commanding a counterattack with arrows and spells.
As Hadvar approaches the General, he will order a retreat through the Keep, and Hadvar will then sprint for one of the Keep’s entrances. As he makes his way there, Ralof will appear and dart into a different entrance to the Keep- though both men will urge you to follow them. Here you must choose which one to pursue. Depending on who you choose to follow, the events inside the Keep will occur slightly differently.
What Lies Below
If you follow Ralof into the Keep, the initial events will be slightly different. Upon entering the Keep, you will see the dead body of the Stormcloak Gunjar, and after freeing you from your bonds, Ralof will ask you to take Gunjar’s weapons and clothing for your own use. Once you equip the clothing and other items looted from the corpse, Ralof will inspect both doors and find them to be locked- one from the outside and one with a key on the inside. Thankfully, the Imperial Captain and a soldier will come through one of the doors, and you will be forced to kill them in order to retrieve the key and escape the circular chamber you are currently in. You can also go back and loot the barracks they came from.
If you follow Hadvar into the Keep, the initial events are also different. You will start in the barracks room, where Hadvar will free you from your bonds and have you loot the room in order to find usable equipment and weapons or items. Once you have picked up your gear, you go through a gate and down into the circular room where two hostile Stormcloaks and Gunjar’s body will be. Once you kill the Stormcloaks and loot their corpses, you can continue on through the next door. From here on, the two paths are identical- with the exception of facing different enemies (Imperial vs. Stormcloak).
Now that the path has been opened up by one of your companions or the other, part of the ceiling will fall in thanks to Alduin’s activities above ground, and you will be forced through a door to your left containing two more hostile soldier looting the place. After killing them, loot the entire area and continue onward. Continuing on, you come across an Imperial Torturer, his Assistant, and several Stormcloaks fighting it out in the Interrogation Chamber, and you can join in as befits your companion. If you are allied with Hadvar, he will try unsuccessfully to convince the Torturer to come with you all, but only the Assistant will follow. Ralof will convince both of the Stormcloaks to follow.
You can loot the corpse of a dead mage in one of the holding cells for several level specific special items, as well as pick the locks of other doors to cages and the back room here in order to gather more loot and increase your skills. If you run out of lockpicks or any have higher levels than you can successfully pick (locks) you can always return later as well to gather what you may have missed. You must continue on through several other prison rooms, looting as you go, until you come to a natural cave filled with hostile soldiers who are either guarding the cave (Imperials) or lost (Stormcloaks).
After dispatching them and looting the surrounding area, use the nearby lever to lower the drawbridge into the next area, crossing it before rubble blocks your way. Once you move on, you will come to a larger cavern filled with Frostbite Spiders, who will attack you on sight as well. Once you have killed the spiders, continue deeper into the caverns until you come to an underground stream where a bear is resting. Though Ralof and Hadvar advise trying to sneak past the bear, they will aslo both give you a bow and several arrows in case you want to sneak up and attack it for potentially devastating effects.
However you resolve that situation, whether by sneaking past or attacking the bear in some manner, you can shortly exit the cave system through a crevice in the rock, signalling that you have successfully completed the first dungeon in the game, as well as the first main quest of the game, and introduction to Skyrim’s story. As you walk outside, you will see the dragon Alduin flying off towards some distant location in the North, and be treated to the customary recognition (dependent upon the system of your choosing) of your achievement or trophy making its unlocking noise and popping up on screen as well. Congratulations, you’re Unbound!