My first real adventure in Oblivion involved clearing out a nest of necromancers (possibly that’s even the correct collective noun!). I was wandering through a forest toward a destination on the main-line question when I ran into some nice ruins. For the record, I walk around with my bow drawn at all times, since outside of towns it can feel pretty hostile. A necromancer happened to be practicing some ritual in the ruins. They saw me and some unpleasantries ensued, ending with the end of the necromancer (and two of her summoned skeleton friends).
After that, I decided to head into the dungeon area in the ruins. Unsurprisingly, there were bunch of necromancers in there, this being their home, or at least fraternity/sorority house. I snuck up on them and killed them one by one with an iron arrow to the neck. Occasionally they saw me ahead of time and we battled it out, but in the end they went down. After sneaking all the way around their digs I emerged back into the open air and stood gazing at the corpse of the first necromancer for a few seconds. Then I went on my way.
It’s only now, later the same evening, that I pause to reflect on the experience, that I wonder about myself. First of all, that original necromancer saw me, bow drawn, creeping toward her. Now, sure, she attacked me and I defended myself, but still, I can understand why she might have felt threatened. Further, operating as I am on almost no guidance from the game on who’s good, who’s bad, who will attack on sight, who won’t, I’ve comfortably set into the assumption that if I see someone in town, it’s all good, but anyone outside of town is spoiling for a fight. I don’t actually know this to be true, but it’s the assumption I operate under without questioning it.
Further, I wonder about my decision to go down into necromancer territory and wipe them out. I figure I killed at least a dozen of them, say, most without any warning. They’d just be pacing along a corridor one moment, thinking necromantic thoughts, and the next they’d feel a sting swiftly followed by the sweet embrace of death. Not much of a chance given, as these things go. See, once I’d killed the first one for attacking me, all bets were off – I was officially hostile to the lot of them, as if I was some kind of robot with a very primitive switch. “City folk good, country folk bad.”
Because the game is ambiguous about what you’re “supposed to do” outside of the mainline quest, there’s no really good way of establishing relationships with random strangers you meet. For all I know they only attack because I come at them with weapons drawn and it’s a dog-eat-dog world generally. Maybe if I was less of an aggressive jerk myself they’d be all calm and invite me in for barbecue. Instead, I’ve murdered at least a score of people and animals now, more or less in cold blood.
Most troubling is the fact that I haven’t even felt the satisfying sense that I’m doing the right thing, or even that I’m particularly “doing what I want”. I’m just going around killing people because… that’s what’s happening. Even better, it’s not that you can’t talk to people instead, because you can – this isn’t a “I am a gun and I must destroy” situation as it is in a first-person shooter, say. No, I’m killing out of some strange, flat affect drive – it’s almost out of curiosity, perhaps. Creeping down hallways, squinting into the dark before launching an arrow into an unsuspecting woman’s neck, then peering at her body for a little time before moving on.
Looked at this way, I do feel quite monstrous, a genuine psychopath with not only no remorse, but no motivation to begin with. It’s just me and the blood on my hands.