Tales from Skyrim: The Unexpected Horse

Sometimes there’s a horse where there shouldn’t be a horse, and it’s great.

The launch of Fallout 76 this week had me pining for some single player Bethesda Creation Engine-powered goodness, so I fired up Skyrim on my Switch again and started a new game.

I think The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one of the best games ever made, and I don’t even mean that ironically. It’s an excellent blending of technology, game design, writing, storytelling, and wacky systems-driven nonsense that all came together in just the right way to be extremely fun.

It’s not as complex as earlier Bethesda titles, but it still captures that same vibe in the way that only 2011’s engineering and game hardware could muster.

Playing the enhanced Legendary Edition on a portable machine has been a joyous experience over the last year. Skyrim is a game I’ve played on many other platforms in the past, and I’ve seen its opening sequence about 100 different times as I re-immersed myself into new characters.

What I’d never seen before until last night…was this horse.

This horse is not supposed to be here.

I have only a vague notion of where he came from. Several characters ride horses throughout Skyrim’s short cutscene intro, and I have to guess that some kind of glitch deleted his rider and gave him free reign to do as he pleased.

He decided that the best thing to do was wander straight into the end of the scene and stare at the camera.

My game actually crashed between these two screenshots, and I feared that any hope I’d had of learning what happened to the horse was lost…but fortunately it auto-saved and the horse was still intact when I reloaded.

He stood there, gently turning to face the camera whenever I moved it as if he were in love with me, or worshipping me as his new rider. The animations and digital actors carried on their lines and motions unabated, though the man next to him seemed slightly put out. They’d gently bump and nudge each other throughout the opening dialogue, neither one giving an inch in their quest to occupy the same space.

I was worried that one of them would fall through the world thanks to this unexpected bit of collision.

Fortunately, Random Horse continued his journey with me into the character creation screen, which let me take fun pictures like this one.

You might notice how Horse’s texture assets aren’t terribly high-resolution. His snout is a bit blurry-looking even here on the Switch where asset quality isn’t always up to par with the other versions. He’s a clear enigma but he doesn’t care, standing his ever-present vigil looking into the camera position.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.

As you may know, shortly after the player finishes creating a character, a dragon attacks the village that Skyrim starts in. Chaos and fire shoot down from the heavens, and soldiers, debris, and rocks fly everywhere.

The game gives you control during the melee, and it blurs your vision to simulate the experience of a real dragon attack.

I guess that facing down a dragon is a lot like forgetting to wear your glasses.

In the ensuing panic, rather than immediately following the quest marker into the relative safety of a nearby stone tower that it turns out the dragon can easily crush…I searched the field for any sign of my new friend Random Horse.

He didn’t make it.

I searched my memories in vain trying to remember if there had always been a dead horse in this spot in my many other playthroughs. Perhaps this was always his destiny. Or perhaps he was meant to escape and run off into the ether somewhere.

Either way, I loved every moment of this.

A lot of folks online enjoy pointing to glitches like this and saying “Bethesda’s games are garbage! Their engine is broken and stupid! They always make crap and then people eat it up!” A quick look around will show you this same phenomenon occurring around the new Fallout game.

I disagree with all of it. I get that people want their games to be “perfect,” but it’s really hard to make software work right all the time, especially when it has as many moving parts as a Bethesda game.

Plus, while a game with perfect scripting and design might give me the same enjoyable thrills as a movie…it’s going to lose a little something in the process. It’s going to sacrifice a little of the magic that helps make games more compelling than a movie.

Bethesda’s games have personality. And I think they do their absolute best to try and make everything work, in spite of what naysayers yell about online.

There’s only so much you can do when your game takes place in a vast world where a pile of systems govern the behavior of everything. Sometimes glitches will happen.

Sometimes a horse will wander into a cutscene and then die. And I’ll cackle with delight while hammering the screenshot button.

I get a tremendous amount of fun out of stuff like this, and it’s what keeps me coming back to systems-driven games over and over. I’m not blind to Bethesda’s faults, and I also enjoy tighter “AAA” experiences as much as the next guy.

But sometimes, it’s fun to see what games can do to surprise you. I’ve never had this cutscene play out differently or weirdly, in 7 years of playing this game. The horse showing up and staring me down provided me an amount of pure fun that no deliberate design ever could.

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