Water explodes in streams and waterfalls, clinging and curving around the mountains’ bones like muscle and tendon. As the water carves its story from the landscape, details emerge of a civil war in Skyrim predicated on religious intolerance.

I feel pangs of apprehension when I roam through residences, picking up conversational tidbits of wars and rumors of wars, further picking up food, gold, and weaponry, anything that won't set off the guards. I keep out of reach of the long arm of the law. Even moving about at night, as guards patrol the streets of this town or that, I stop at a blacksmith shop and stare as smoke lifts from fire pits into a pinpricked night sky.

I try my hand at chopping wood, even shoving a log through a saw mill a time or two, but I fail to see the point. Chopping, hauling, and stacking firewood may be one of the few things I do to re-up my man card in real life, but in Skyrim their presence is strangely domestic. If this idea filtered in from video game developer Peter Molyneux and his Fable games, Skyrim should give it back.

You can settle down in Skyrim: buy a home, find a wife, have a kid. But romance is first introduced to me by a standoffish woman saying, unprompted, that she’s taken so I’d better not "get any ideas." I’m also involved in some small-town pass-the-note love triangle that turns into a quadrangle since the woman in question asks me in a demure voice to “keep her in mind.”

One of the men in this romantic comedy I ask to join me as a companion seeking fame and fortune. The first thing I do is order him to kill a chicken. Without question he stabs a passing hen. There would be a five-gold fine accompanying such senseless slaughter of another man’s fowl, but there are no other witnesses to rat me and my new adventuring buddy out to the authorities. I bend down, carve out a chicken breast from the kill, wander into the back of an inn with a kitchen, grill the chicken breast, then eat it. I offer none to my companion.
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