I suppose before I begin this story I should say that it doesn’t involve creepy old men giving out free video games. It doesn’t involve haunted E-Bay auctions, evil plush toys, or possessed download files. This story is just…well, I don’t really know what it was I experienced. I’ll just describe events as best I can.
The story began a few months ago when my Uncle Jerry passed away. No, he wasn’t killed by a demon or anything like that, he was just a guy who liked his cigarettes a little too much and died from it. After the funeral, we worked on cleaning out his old house. It was while I was checking the belongings in Uncle Jerry’s attic that I found it.
My uncle had worked as a PR guy for Bethesda for the last 8 years of his life, mainly dealt with any potential controversies that could have come from their products. He wasn’t all that into games, but hell a job was a job. While searching through one cardboard box labeled ‘Bethesda’ I came across a blank CD case with an unmarked disc inside. Tucked inside the case was a crude, folded note. My curiosity was piqued, and I quickly opened the case and unfolded the note. It read thusly:</p></p>‘Jerry, this thing has got to be destroyed. Make sure nobody finds out about this Skyrim Beta, the controversy could ruin us.</p></p>
When I read all that, my mind was just flooded with questions. A Skyrim Beta disc? Those even existed? And Todd, as in Todd Howard? The guy behind the Elder Scrolls games and Fallout 3? Just why was he sending this to my uncle, what could be so horrible about this disc? I didn’t even know a Skyrim beta had even existed, and if it did how could it cause so much controversy?
I had always been a fan of the Elder Scrolls games. I must have clocked in almost 200 hours playing Oblivion, and I own Skyrim for both consoles and PC. I figured there would be no harm in playing this supposed beta, seeing what the big deal was, and then I could destroy the disc.
I stashed the CD case into my coat, finished cleaning the house out with my family, and then when we headed home I booted up my PC. It was a pretty decent set-up, and if it could handle the regular version of Skyrim then the beta would be no trouble. I decided I’d write a journal just so I could record the differences between this and the actual release. The following is a record of my experiences in the Skyrim Beta.
-Day 1: Loading screen was more or less the same, with the same animation of the Bethesda logo and all. The main menu was pretty similar too, though I did notice that the dragon logo was more rusted and was missing the tips of one wing. The options menu was pretty small and only had rather basic options for changing the volume of music and sound effects, and for toggling the difficulty. There was nothing that needed changing right now, so I decided to just jump into the game.
A pleasant surprise, no overly long intro in this version of the game. You’re just dropped into the character creation screen at the same brick wall in Helgen. The character models look detailed enough, fairly similar to those in Skyrim already…But there’s something off about all the characters, regardless of the race I pick. Something is wrong about their eyes, I just can’t put my finger on it. I decided to ignore it and just created a red-scaled male Argonian to play as, since they’re my favourite race in the game.
The first thing I notice is that it looks like there’s already been a dragon attack. Helgen just looks utterly devastated with all the buildings either smashed or burning. There are bodies littered everywhere, but they seemed far more mutilated than the corpses in the vanilla game. Several textures seem stretched out absurdly and all the sounds seem rather rough and fuzzy. I suppose that sort of thing is typical for a beta.
As I move through the ruins of Helgen, two corpses stick out to me. The first is that of Ulfric Stormcloak, the rebel leader in Skyrim. His body seems to be impaled on some sort of bone, which on closer inspection appears to be the tip of a dragon wing. The next is General Tullius, the Imperial leader in the normal version of Skyrim. Half of his body has been crushed to a red paste under the weight of a fallen tower. I had heard rumours that this game was initially going to have a very different plot, but I didn’t think that meant removing the rebellion storyline from the game entirely. Very interesting.
-Day 2: Explored all the ruins of Helgen today, looted whatever useful items I could find. I made sure to deck my character out with some sturdy light armour, and I armed him with a steel sword I recovered from Tullius’ remains. One rather interesting thing I noted is that in this version of the game, the inventory screen is similar to Oblivion’s in that it allows the player to see a 3d representation of their character whenever they use the inventory. I set off from Helgen into the game-world with no indicators telling me what my mission is, or even what happened to this town.
I notice that the sky is pretty dull, despite the in-game clock telling me that it’s supposed to be noon. The hills in the distance seem a little blocky, and brown rather than a lush green or snow-capped white. All the wildlife is hostile, even normally passive creatures like deer. They die easily enough, but it’s bizarre and unnerving to see normally peaceful creatures acting like this.
I explore a little more, raid some mines, but to my surprised there aren’t even any bandits inside. Not even corpses. What is going on here?
-Day 4: I decided to head into the neighbouring town of Riverwood today, but even at a distance I could tell something was very wrong with that town. I swear to god, when I walked into that town I heard laughter, very faint titters being carried on the wind.
It was like looking at Helgen all over again, all the buildings had been smashed into rubble, with flaming pyres standing in several streets. Had the dragons done this too? Come to think of it, I didn’t see any dragons at all so far.
A few bodies lined the streets, but they were all in such a maimed condition that I can’t even recognise them. At first I was about to just press on to Whiterun, but then I caught sight of something, a cellar door that hadn’t been destroyed. I made my character draw his sword, and then I entered the cellar. It was dark inside, only a dim candle in the corner providing any light. Saw a figure hunched on the floor, so still that I almost mistook it for a corpse. And then it, he, stood up with a woodsman’s axe in his hand.
“Took it all away from me…Killed my wife and my boy…but you won’t get me too…NEVER SHOULD HAVE COME HERE!” when he spun and lunged at my character I recognised the figure immediately. Hod, the lumberjack. He looked deranged, his face caked with dirt and blood. His eyes were manic, and much like I noticed with my own character they seemed very wrong to look at.
Hod swung wildly at my character, and my attempts to yield did nothing to slow him down. He only had half of his health, so with some regret I chopped him down. What had done this to him, to his whole town? Dragons could attack towns in the normal version of the game, but they could never do damage like this…
In one corner of the cellar, next a pile of what I hope is mud, I found several rolled up bits of parchment. I could interact and read them, but most only had blurred nonsense on them. Once did stick out though, a note that had the following on it:
‘Mad hunt, Deadroth, Dremora….Bloodmoon, collapsed kingdoms, Nirn forsaken and fallen…BLACKREACH
DAEDRA DAEDRA DAEDRA’
Nonsense again. Was he trying to say that the Daedra had done all of this? Why did he bring up Blackreach? It was a massive and mysterious underground labyrinth in the vanilla game, but it didn’t have anything to do with the Daedra.
My head hurts. I’ll save the game and resume playing later.
-Day 7: I did a few days of exploration, trying to find the entrance into Blackreach. If something is going on down there, I want to know. Maybe I’ll find out what’s doing all this.
I passed by Whiterun. I decided not to go in when I saw it was shattered and burnt too. I hear more laughter on the wind, and it grows louder the close to Blackreach I get. At night the sky is utterly cloudless, and the moon is a bloody red shade. I swear to god it’s tracking my motions when I’m in view of it, like a giant red eye in the heavens.
Saw dead giants on the roads, entire trees have been fashioned into giant stakes to impale them. The sight fills me with dread, if giants could be put down like that then I need to level my character.
-Day 11: Not much to talk about. I’ve spent the last few days trying to level up my Argonian in any way I can. I must be getting paranoid because I think the wild animals are growing bigger and stronger with each passing day. They might be growing more numerous too.
-Day 13: I reached Blackreach today. It’s very different than what I had expected to say the least. The falmer are far larger in number here than they were in the vanilla game, and what’s even stranger is that they don’t even seem to notice me. I’m aware they’re blind, but usually they attack whenever something gets close to them.
They seem to be reconstructing Blackreach, fixing the broken bridges and adding in lighting along the paths. It’s fascinating to watch a city being rebuilt in-game in real time, but I can’t help but wonder why they’re doing this.
The cavern is full of echoes. I’m hearing that damn laughter everywhere I go now.
-Day 15: I’ve noticed something very odd, after two days spent watching the Falmer working on rebuilding the city. I spotted Dremora patrolling the inner-city. Then I spotted Golden Saints and Dark Seducers for a brief while in the centre of the underground city. I think I even saw a Knight of Order or two.
It’s a whole city full of Daedra. And they have all the Falmer under their control.
Day 18: The Falmer are damn fast workers. By now Blackreach seems to have been fully restored, and the Falmer have all headed to the centre of town to pray and worship…something, I can’t understand the alien words coming from their mouths. And as the gates are totally locked, I can’t get close enough to examine the city.
Went to sleep on a bedroll I found, and then shit hit the fan.
When my Argonian awoke, I found that I was somewhere completely different. I was unable to move him, and I couldn’t even turn the camera. The room was pitch black, only a small segment of brick floor visible. Trying to use the mouse button brought up the message that my hands were bound.
I heard the laugh again, it was so close and clear that it was unmistakeable. A figure walked into view, and I almost couldn’t believe who it was I was seeing. Sheogorath, the Daedric prince of madness. He looked similar enough to how he appeared in Oblivion, with updated textures and a better model of course. When he got closer I realised what it was about characters eyes that I found to be off.
They all had eyes like his, with an odd yellow tint and cat-like slits for pupils. How could I have not seen it sooner?
“Well well, what do we have here? A nosy Parker?” Sheogorath asked, his mouth twisting and contorting into an unnatural smile. Like a Cheshire Cat. For the first time since I put this beta disc on, I had a dialogue choice. I picked the first option: ‘What’s going on here?’
“What’s going on? Well my boy, don’t you know? The Aedra have gotten sick and tired of your little dimension and went off to try make a better one. We Daedric princes are using it as our own little playground now.” Sheogorath remarked. It was then I noticed that his skin was chalky white, and I saw how dishevelled his hair was. He just looked sick, ill.
Very confusing to say the least. Was this game supposed to be set in a world where the Daedra won in Oblivion? I picked another dialogue option: ‘Why are you, of all people, doing this?’
“Why?” Sheogorath asked, his teeth gleaming slightly “My dear lamb, did you think that just because I’m a prince of madness that I’m only silly? I constantly change how I act, just to keep things fresh. I might spend 200 years utterly stationary. I might spend 50 years acting like a nymphomaniac. The last 300 years I acted like a random loony. Now though…well I want to be evil. Pure, unhinged, unquestionably evil. Allow me to make a demonstration to you.”
The camera started to shake as Sheogorath reached forward. There was a sickening crunch as my whole screen turned red…Then I was in a loading screen.
My character awoke in a clearing in the woods, in the dead of night. I only had a quarter of my health so I went into my inventory to get a healing potion…I almost vomited at what I saw. My character's right arm had been ripped off from the elbow down, tatters of bloodied skin and a broken stump of bone visible at the end of the stump. Sheogorath had maimed him.
I exited the inventory and heard the laugh again. I looked up to see the blood moon hanging directly above me in the sky, casting an eerie red glow over everything. There was a rustling in the woods, and then all around me shambling beasts began to emerge from the woods. Creatures that had at one point been humanoid, now crudely merged with parts from bears, wolves and trolls. They seemed to be weeping, in an indescribable agony…Their eyes all had that golden tinge to them. Teeth, so many teeth glinting red in the light of the blood moon. They closed in, and with a loud shriek I opened the pause menu and quit to the desktop.
Never again, I am not touching this fucked up game ever again.
And that was the last journal entry I made. After that I uninstalled the game and broke the disc, my final gift in memory of my uncle. I’ve recovered from the fucked up things I saw, and I haven’t found it haunting me in the vanilla version of Skyrim. It seems like it’s all over.
For me it is, anyway. I wish I knew what had caused all this…or maybe it’s better not to know. I never bothered to ask Bethesda about this. They’d deny this disc even existed, and my video recording software never worked when I played this thing so I have no proof on any of this happening. I just wanted to get this story off my chest, believe it or not.
I have to wonder though…were there any other copies of this beta disc released into the world?