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.