Welcome to Part 3 of Tamriel Times: The Skyrim Diaries, our ongoing look at life in Tamriel (click here for Part 1 and Part 2). In this installment, we explore the complex relationship between the Dragonborn and his companions.
The life of Dovahkiin is one which is fraught with peril. Dragons, trolls, Draugr, sabrecats, and all manner of nasty beast want me dead, and that’s to say nothing of the numerous traps and other hazards awaiting me in Skyrim. But there are some who have it even harder – whoever happens to be travelling at my side.
Companions are the unsung heroes of Skyrim. They will bravely, gladly even, take an ice spike in the face to spare me the 25 points of damage. They will deftly stand right in the doorway I’m currently trying to pass through, blocking access unless I move them manually. They will die. Horribly. At the hands of the one they trusted most – me.
You see, unlike the companions you acquire in Oblivion, Fallout 3 or New Vegas, Skyrim’s companions don’t die so easily during combat. Instead, they will enter a weakened, submissive state which causes enemies to leave them be and focus their attack on the Dragonborn. More often than not, they will, instead, die as a result of friendly fire. What follows is an account of my first hundred hours in Skyrim, and the people unlucky enough to join up with me.
Most people I’ve spoken with told me their first companion in Skyrim is Lydia, who you acquire early on by completing the Dragon Rising quest in Whiterun. But not me. I got my first companion in Riverwood – Faendal, the wood elf. My time with Faendal began with a simple lover’s triangle. He was the first NPC I decided to randomly speak with, and it turns out he had been competing with Sven, a local Nord, for the affections of a woman named Camilla.
Resolving to help the poor elf instead of that racist-ass Nord, I sabotaged Sven’s efforts by forging a nasty letter and giving it to Camilla. Faendal thanked me by agreeing to accompany me in my travels, and I spent the next 15 hours or so with him at my side, happily firing arrows into the faces of anything that dared to attack me.
Then, one fateful afternoon, I spotted a Word Wall (marked by a dragon head icon on my compass) and greedily made my way towards it, heedless of potential dangers and forgetting to save my progress. The presence of a dragon guarding the wall was no surprise. However, the crypt that exploded open, revealing Krosis – one of the 8 dragon priests – was quite surprising indeed.
Fighting a dragon can be tricky enough on its own, but facing a dragon priest alongside it is another matter entirely. Faendal went down quickly, unable to withstand the combined might of the two attackers. In my haste, I blasted Krosis and the dragon with the Unrelenting Force shout, sending Faendal, who was caught in the blast, falling to his death upon the jagged rocks below.
I met J’zargo when I began my bid to join the College of Winterhold. A snowy colored Khajiit with black markings on his face, J’zargo was an ambitious young mage with aspirations of someday becoming the Arch Mage (Spoiler alert: he doesn’t). But first, he had a mission for me – help him test out some flame cloak scrolls on undead test subjects.
His scrolls didn’t exactly work as intended – or did they? The flame cloak dealt a lot of damage, both to undead enemies and to myself. I returned to J’zargo with the results of my field test, even insinuating that he may have been trying to kill me. Grateful for my help nonetheless, he agreed to accompany me in my travels. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, right?
Now, you know how they say cats have nine lives? Well, J’zargo was truly the embodiment of that saying. We fought many difficult battles together, him and I – his abilities as a mage making him an incredibly useful companion. On numerous occasions, I ended up accidentally killing J’zargo in one way or another, but every time following him to the grave before I could save my progress. Each time, I would reload my previous save, and J’zargo would be there at my side again, ready to retry the battle. And we would win, allowing J’zargo to fight another day.
But fate, it seems, had other plans for J’zargo. His luck ran out during a trek through the wilderness near the town of Dragonsbridge when we were ambushed by not one, but two dragons – frost and blood. Having never faced two at once before, I panicked and fled for cover behind some rocks, leaving J’zargo to handle the dragons on his own. I managed to ground the blood dragon first, and when the frost dragon landed beside him, I took the opportunity to hit them both with – you guessed it – Unrelenting Force, catching J’zargo in the blast in much the same manner as Faendal.
I ultimately won the battle, but lost a dear friend in the process. The battle had been long and arduous, and I was not anxious to repeat it. So passed J’zargo – for the final time.
Jenassa was a Dark Elf who I met at the Drunken Huntsman in Whiterun. Just another sword for hire without a lot of personality or backstory, I cut right to the chase and promptly hired her for a nominal fee. I figured it best to not let myself get attached this time, as J’zargo’s death left me feeling empty inside. It’s a good thing, too, as Jenassa didn’t manage to stick around for very long.
Barely two hours had passed with Jenassa at my side, when my insatiable thirst for more Shout words led us to Shriekwind Bastion, some Nord ruins near the city of Falkreath. Like most other Nord ruins the place was full of treasures and traps, but this one happened to be full of skeletons and vampires as well.
As we fought our way through the ruins, we inevitably came across the final chamber, only to find it occupied by a Master Vampire and his thralls, firing ice spikes and sapping our life energies. I had underestimated those filthy bloodsuckers, and Jenassa went down after taking several volleys of ice to the chest. Being an Argonian, I don’t have to worry so much about catching diseases, but in an effort to keep them at bay, I unleashed my Fire Breath on them…and Jenassa.
At least I found my new shout word.
I picked up Vorstag in Markarth at the Inn of the Winking Skeever. Still bitter about the untimely death of Jenassa, I decided I’d hire a big Nord to be my companion instead. Overconfident, our first adventure together was a disaster. I had been attempting to enter a mine and acquire myself some ore for smithing, but as with so much else in Skyrim, it was not just a simple matter of walking up to the door of the place. Instead, a contingent of Forsworn had set up camp outside and booby trapped the area.
Vorstag managed to spring one of the traps, causing a bunch of boulders to come raining down upon him and calling the attention of the enemies nearby. As four Forsworn enemies converged upon me, I again let loose the Fire Breath shout and incinerated poor Vorstag in the process. Before I’d had the chance to make any progress and save my game, I took an ice spike to the face and was dead in an instant. Upon reloading, Vorstag was granted a second chance at life, and we managed to best the Forsworn without incident.
He met his end some time later, during a quest to, once again, locate some more shout words. Since they typically appear in Nordic ruins, I chose one at random and dove right in. After spending quite some time making our way through the ruins’ twisting tunnels, the end was finally in sight. Of course, the word wall was guarded by a handful of Draugr Scourge and their summoned Frost Atronachs. They were tough customers, and after 10 minutes of constant battle, the Draugrs and their pesky familiars were dead – along with Vorstag.
During the confusion, it turns out Vorstag had taken one of my glass arrows right through his throat. It was a real shame – Vorstag and I had a decent run together, but it was not meant to be.
After the death of Vorstag, I headed back to the town of Whiterun where I’d made my home, and stopped into the Bannered Mare, one of the local inns, looking to hire a new companion. Sitting in a corner by herself was an armored, aging Nord woman named Uthgerd the Unbroken, and at a glance I mistook her for a mercenary. She was immediately hostile toward me, as is the norm for most Nords when faced with a scaly Argonian like myself, and challenged me to a fist fight. Fortunately, my Skyrim character doesn’t share my real world morals and proceeded to punch the crap out of her – in self defense, of course.
Apparently, this is how you make a Nord woman respect you, as she was perfectly willing to follow me, free of charge, after I bloodied her nose a bit. If only she’d chosen to stay in Whiterun, she might still be alive today.
Uthgerd was almost the most short-lived of all my companions. Barely half an hour had gone by before she met her end up on a hill, fighting off Forsworn Ravagers. Of course, like all the others, it was ultimately my own doing that brought Uthgerd down. I had intended to use the Unrelenting Force shout on a nearby Forsworn, but ended up using Storm Call instead. For the unaware, Storm Call creates a powerful lightning storm, and it does not distinguish between friend and foe as far as NPCs are concerned. Uthgerd took a few too many bolts during the fight, and thus, she died.
Realizing I hadn’t saved my progress pretty much since I picked her up, I resolved to press on and leave Uthgerd to her fate. She was old and angry anyway.
Uthgerd’s death (or more accurately, the shortness of her life) left me a little jaded. My companions were dying more and more quickly, so I spent some time wandering on my own, figuring that perhaps I was simply an unfit leader. But eventually I decided I could use another partner – maybe I’d even try for a wife this time. After acquiring an Amulet of Mara (necessary to show others that you’re available), I went searching for a female Argonian – a rarity in Skyrim.
After visiting most of the major cities, I gave up my search for a female of my species and decided just to hire another mercenary. I found one in Riften by the name of Marcurio, an eager young mage. Turns out Marcurio, having noticed my Amulet of Mara, was interested in more than just mercenary work. “Why not? He seems pretty effeminate and I didn’t even know the game allowed interspecies love” I thought, and so we ventured out into the world.
It wasn’t long before I happened across the Shrine of Boethiah, the Daedric Prince of deceit, conspiracy, and secret plots of murder. Unfortunately for Marcurio, the only way to gain Boethiah’s favor is to sacrifice a thrall at his alter. Without even a second thought, I slew my faithful companion for the sake of the quest. I have been alone ever since.
The moral of the story? Skyrim’s artificial intelligence has got a death wish, and if you intend to make any of your companions truly last, you’ll need to exercise a fair bit of caution and restraint, particularly in combat. Or you could just travel alone, as I have resigned myself to doing. Sure, it’s nice to have some back up in a tough fight, but fortunately, I just found myself a Conjure Dremora Lord spell.
I can live with that.
Click for PART 4