Skyrim: The Guerilla Blacksmith

Yes I know that's actually alchemy, thanks

Last week, I played three hours of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, at my leisure and free to go and do whatever I could. I’m telling a series of anecdotes based on what I saw and did; here’s the first, here is the second and below is the cowardly third.

Despite the outer limit of my creative achievements in real life being hammering a bit of rotting wood I found in the street over a drafty gap at the top of my bedroom window, for some reason I simply cannot resist going heavy on the crafting option in most any RPG I play. The idea that there is some item or items I could have (and for free!) but don’t is intolerable to me. So, while others invited to this play session dedicated their levelling-up to becoming as buff as possible then racing off in search of a dragon or two to stab, I was sticking my hand up and saying “excuse me, how do I make leather?”

My first dungeon: a couple of rooms and a watery basement, monitored by three or four bandits. I didn’t entirely know what I was doing there – really, I was just after somewhere dark to hide and chew over the distressing poacher… misunderstanding – so encountering other humans was a shock. I didn’t want to start any knee-jerk fights this time, so I sauntered over to say hello.

Bandits don’t say hello. But they do have swords and bows and a bad attitude. I made it out alive somehow, fleeing out of the cave into frosty daylight, and startling a passing rabbit. I should move on, but trouble is I’d seen something in that cavern. A glittering prize of prizes, or at least so I suspected. It looked an awful lot like an anvil.


But… bandits. And I really didn’t feel like a fight after that nasty business with the dog. But… crafting. So… sneaking.

It took a long, long time. Hardly an experienced sneaker at this point, even my crouched, glacially slow footsteps raised some noise, causing one of the bandits to mutter, stare and sometimes wander over. I hid behind rock pillars, I hid behind upturned carts, I hid in darkness, I hid in what I hoped was darkness but actually was a huge burst of sunlight from a hole in the roof, so I had to run all the way back to the entrance and hide there. I tried to shortcut by jumping into the pool on the lower level, but missed, landed on a rock and nearly died. At the noise, two bandits ran over, which actually afforded me the opportunity to peg it to where they’d come from, hide behind a table, and wait for their panic to die down.

It took a while, but I was prepared to wait. For I knew where I was. I knew what was just behind me. I didn’t yet know how to use it, but I knew I was going to. A strange game of cat and mouse ensued, with me waiting for the bandits’ patrols to steer them clear of this promised land of anvils and firepits and workbenches, darting over, hiding anew, heart-pounding as I waited for the moment of moments. Yessir, I was going to make something, right under the nose of the enemy.

Given my ignorance of how this worked, I was lucky. As well as an assortment of crating stations, there were a few ingots of iron lying around – crucial to crafting first-tier weapons and armour. With these and a simple but appropriate interface that efficiently listed what I could make and what I needed to do it, I achieved something beyond my wildest dreams. I upgraded my hat. I’d hoped to make some new shoes too, but at that point I didn’t know how to turn my growing collection of soggy animal skins into leather. Still, the hat was what mattered.

I stood up. I sauntered proudly towards the bandits – no doubt they couldn’t help but stare in awe at my newly-reinforced helmet. There was a pause. One ran towards me, the other raised his bow. I ran. Ran and ran and ran and ran and… daylight. And a better hat. I had made it, and no-one had had to die.

“You know there are also crafting stations in the towns, right?” said the nice man from Bethesda.


  1. AndrewC says:

    Fuck off, nice man from Bethesda, important work is happening here.

    • Urthman says:

      Nice Man From Bethesda is the Greek Chorus of this drama who pops his head in just after Alec does something crazy fun to say, “AND! You don’t HAVE to do it that way! OR AT ALL!”

      Which is an important reminder of why what Alec’s doing is so great.

    • Smashbox says:

      You nearly made me spit-take on my cubicle neighbor. Who is my boss.

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    yandexx says:

    The last paragraphs made me smile :)

  3. Harlander says:

    I hid in what I hoped was darkness but actually was a huge burst of sunlight from a hole in the roof

    Is that an easy mistake to make? Something’s gotta be up with the lighting if so.

    • Alec Meer says:

      No, I’m just quite stupid. Was crouching behind a rock, but with light beaming right onto me.

    • sinister agent says:

      That conjure a great image of the bandits knowing full well where you are, but humouring you anyway. “What was that? Oh, must have been the wind. Bloody rats. I sure am glad we’re safe in here, eh, Bandit #2?”

      “Ohh, yes. Me too. I’d hate to think there was someone else hiding in here. But no, there’s nobody, as we can plainly see.”

    • Ian says:

      @ sinister agent: Such is the life of the NPC. Apprentice NPCs must be a bastard to train.

      “But I can see him RIGHT THERE!”

    • Ian Moriarty says:

      These situations totally remind me of Kronk in Emperor’s New Groove:

  4. Eggy says:

    Skills. Working a mortar and pestle so hard you see motion blur.

  5. Drake Sigar says:

    I’ve been waiting for something comparable to Fire & Sword’s delightful Captain Smith articles. Hope there’s plenty more of these to come!

  6. Ross Angus says:

    At last: someone who plays computer games like the rest of us.

    • jellydonut says:

      sssh don’t let the normal games journalists know. someone might start reading their articles.

  7. Morlock says:

    So how dark is the darkness in Skyrim? Is it like unmodded Oblivion, or do you actually need torches and spells to see things this time?

    • SanguineAngel says:

      Good question! For me, darker dungeons/nights was the best mod I have ever installed in Oblivion. Coupled with the mod the made you drop your torch (still lit) when you got your weapon out.

      So Alec, how dark WAS it?

    • Gary W says:

      It’s not as dark as the darkness in Dark Souls. Now go and borrow/steal a tardbox to play it and forget this whole Skyrim deal ever existed.

    • Screamer says:

      @Greg W

      It doesn’t really seem the same type of game though :/

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      Yes, that’s the problem. No matter how many people go on about how awesome Demon’s / Dark Souls is, it isn’t a first person game, and that makes for a vast, vast difference.

      I’m wondering if Bethesda have bothered to make sneaking a truly viable option now, because it was almost completely useless in Oblivion. Save for getting off the odd sneaky crit arrow shot.

    • BeamSplashX says:

      Find a way to play PS2 games and grab King’s Field: The Ancient City. Same company, similar design philosophy, first-person perspective, the works. Not really open-world, either.

      But you should totally play it. To the max, even.

    • Dominic White says:

      Yeah, Dark Souls is basically King’s Field 6. It even shares some characters/weapons with the KF games, so they’re pretty clearly related.

      Honestly, third-person is a huge improvement, though. It gives you a much better sense of physicality.

  8. frenz0rz says:

    But can you make a leather sword?

  9. TomSmizzle says:

    I almost spat coffee all over my laptop at the line “I achieved something beyond my wildest dreams. I upgraded my hat.”
    I’m loving these preview articles! I played Skyrim a bit at Eurogamer, but not for long enough to get a feel for how it is to be actually immersed.

  10. DrStrange says:

    I’m one of those people that just cant take the wait. Every day I’m reading new articles trying to find some out something new with that being said these three articles so far has been the most enjoyably by far.
    Nice jobby :)

    can we expect more of them?

    • Alec Meer says:

      I’m pretty much out of decent anecdotes now, so not until/unless I get more time with the game – but I don’t think that’s likely before release, sadly.

    • Wizlah says:

      We can all look forward to a decent Skyrim diary, though.


      RIGHT !?!?!!


    • mike2R says:

      Just make them up or something… I need my fix…

    • Furius says:

      Thanks for these Alec. In light of this being the last anectode, can you tell us a bit of how the game feels to play? Animations, combat, voice acting, sound/music etc? Or are these embargoed topics for now?

    • Syra says:

      I also want more anecdotes! However I did kind of realise that like every games journalist ever was at that thing and there are aplenty such stories to be discovered ;>

      If it’s any consolation, I kind of liked yours best…

    • Magnetude says:

      I’ve been wanting to dislike Skyrim because of all the hype, but these stories have piqued my interest and made me remember the fun I had with Oblivion. RPS’s style of preview is so much better than any other site out there for the AAA titles like this, I can’t stand the obsequious nature of the press around big ticket releases like this and the Call of Duties – “I asked a press liaison about the game and he said you can do anything and the graphics will shit your pants, so this will be the best game ever” – so RPS has pretty much become my sole source of gaming info. Thanks chaps.

    • SMiD says:


    • Burning Man says:

      link to
      link to

      My favorite game journals. Highly recommended.

      And Alec, I would love more Skyrim randomness. Actually, why don’t each of the Hivemind members pick an open-world game and do a short article every week?

    • Cael says:

      A fool in skyrim perhaps?

  11. Belua says:

    Dammit, RPS! I don’t have the time for a game like this! Stop wetting my appetite! Don’t you continue showing me how awesome it is!

  12. Wizlah says:

    RPS currently sending this to the top of my list of games to play in 2014.

    Seriously though, it sounds like it’s more fun and flexible than Oblivion. And the stealth sounds a bit sharper too. Which is nice.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      The stealth sounds like it could almost compare to thief, which would be nice!

    • Chirez says:

      Sneaking in Oblivion worked ok, but the vast majority of the game simply wasn’t built to facilitate it.
      The one thing that really needed fixing was that you could get sneak attacks at range, so long as you were out of sight when the arrow landed. Which meant that dodging behind a tree after firing at something gave you a 3x damage bonus. Continuously.

  13. formivore says:

    Huh, I keep hearing about new ways that Oblivion was unbalanced. I mean it’s OK for a sandboxy game to have ways to game the system, that’s kinda of the point. But Oblivion had basic mechanics like poison or running away while shooting people that were unbalanced. If they don’t fix those you never get the opportunity to find the more clever things.

  14. Aardvarkk says:

    That bearded orc looks to be getting a shave, he’s so calm.

  15. Richard Beer says:

    I do hope to see a Simon Evil-type take on Skyrim at some point in the near future. I know Simon is John’s evil twin, Alec, but I’m sure you can bring your own unique take on it to the RPS masses!

  16. Stupoider says:

    why is bethesda’s motion blur/slow mo thing so infuriatingly bad

  17. Khann says:

    That’s a pretty fancy lookin’ bong!

  18. SanguineAngel says:

    Ah I am saddened to see that humanoid bandits all still attack on sight for no apparent reason. That always pulls me out. I’m not asking for the world but a few “get out of here”‘s ala DX:HR would be less jarring in my opinion. However, still looks to be a great game

    • Wisq says:

      To be fair, “get out of here” leaves wide open the possibility that the intruder will run straight back to town and inform the authorities of your hideout’s location. And we’re talking about a world where you could kill the intruder and undoubtedly get away with it, rather than DX:HR where killing someone merely for trespassing would just get your operation in more trouble, faster.

      Preferences aside, the “kill first, ask questions later” approach really does make some sense when you’re in a world where life is cheap, and evading the authorities is easier than staying on their good side (for a bandit).

    • Rhin says:

      And if the AI is anything like oblivion, if the patrolling guards see a bandit or mudcrab, they don’t bother asking any questions before drawing their swords.

      It’s a tough life for a bandit. Ditto for mudcrabs.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      Yes I suppose immediate attack upon stumbling innocently onto a hideout is kind of understandable, kind of.

      But walk past someone on the road? “Hey you, random stranger who has no idea who I am, why I am out here, where I am going, where I have come from and who would probably struggle to remember ever even seeing me at all let alone recognise me in a line up. YOU KNOW TOO MUCH! DIE!”

      I mean from what I can tell the wildlife in this game is more sophisticated – attacking only when you pose a threat etc. So why are the bandits still crazy aggressive?

    • Berzee says:

      I would like to see them implement Far Cry 2 -esque AI for the bandits.

      I.E. From the top of a mile-high mountain, a bandit spots you trudging along the road. He hops onto the nearest shaggy pony and LEAPS from the cliff-edge, tumbling, banging, careening down the slopes, bouncing off rocks and trees, screaming and hurling arrows. Eventually he catches up with you…barrels toward you, curling back his foam-flecked lips in a snarl…fails to stop in time, fishtails past, and tips over into the ditch behind you.

      The pony explodes.

    • PeopleLikeFrank says:


      I think at that point it’s less about concern that you might talk, and more about the basic bandit business of ‘killing you and taking your stuff’. The fact that it’s almost inevitably going to happen the other way around rarely occurs, but nobody said bandits had to be smart.

      Yes, please. :)

    • SanguineAngel says:

      Well, PeopleLikeFrank, I suppose you do have a point there but I am fairly sure that even bandits don’t kill absolutely everyone they come across. That would be exhausting. and lonely. I guess I would just like to see a bit of character in the people I am killing.

    • Srethron says:

      Apparently I should get around to playing Far Cry 2.

      This *has* to be the pony. link to

    • PeopleLikeFrank says:

      @ SanguineAngel

      Oh yeah, I agree. Just wanted to point out they’re not acting entirely out of character, but a little variety would sure be great. Hell, it’s even nice to have the highwaymen actually try to intimidate you out of some money before starting the fight. Be great if you had the opportunity to do the same to bandits & such.

  19. Davee says:

    You’ve done it again, Mr. Meer! Three very fun and interesting stories. Thanks. :)

    • Srethron says:

      Agreed. I don’t have anything witty to add, but I’ve loved all three writeups. And this as someone who has tried and failed to get into every Elder Scrolls game. I’m actually interested in Skyrim now.

  20. Crainey says:

    That Bethesda guy must have been standing over your shoulder in pain trying not to laugh out loud (lol?) at you. bless.
    Sound brilliant I can’t wait to play it, typically these days I try not to look at too many game play videos and read too much about the game prior to release as I feel it has spoiled my experience previously.

  21. mwoody says:

    I don’t understand – when do be buy cards? And will the graphics look like their other project, Minecraft?

  22. RabidOyster says:

    Damn, I can’t read these without getting giddy and peeing my pants.

  23. nootron says:

    Alec, can you just keep writing these as fan fiction? Who needs Skyrim when we have Tales of a Vegan Cat Man to entertain us!

  24. reticulate says:

    I will give you cash money for a decent “Mine The Gap” style of literary experience.

    Cash. Money.

  25. Saldek says:

    “I achieved something beyond my wildest dreams. I upgraded my hat.

    ^^ That reminded me of my mage in Two Worlds II. Taking off my hat was almost as debilitating as a lobotomy. Lose my shoes? Half my spells would suddenly be beyond my grasp. I was so dependent on my upgraded outfit I felt like Adam Jensen cosplaying Gandalf.

    Great, ah … wibbling, by the way. The wait until release will feel so much longer now ;)

  26. FunkyBadger3 says:

    A picture of this so-called hat would be nice, hmmmm?

  27. DigitalSignalX says:

    I’m interested in that knife to the neck image. What’s the story there?

  28. HistoryTeller says:

    Great read!

  29. dellphukof says:

    Pretty words and pompous titles won’t change reality – as every other organization in Skyrim, Dark Brotherhood is a joke, shadow of itself, riding on the mighty steed of half true legends and former glory. It was only fear, incompetency and corruption of law that allowed them to remain pretenders to title of night masters giay bup be.
    In the end, they all are dead lying in the pools of their blood no different than blood of your typical Joe the Plumber, ahem, Sven the Disposer of True Nordic Excrements. ;)