You never forget the first time you lock eyes with a dragon in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Mostly because it's part of the very beginning of the game and you're just about to have your head removed from your body by some less-than-attentive Imperials, sure, but also because it's such an epic moment.
The roar that seems to shake the mountains in the distance announces the arrival of the beast, which you later is known as Alduin. The way in which he tears through the sky to interrupt your execution in a frenzy of fire and carnage and death. Barely making it out alive as it lays waste to the village of Helgen, ripping through stone like it's made of paper. All the while knowing, as you scuttle to safety with your hands tied and your defenses lowered, that eventually you're gonna get to gear up and fight one of those scaly bastards.
It's a hell of an introduction for a video game, and gives you a great reason to keep playing. To be fair, the vast open world and endless quests of Bethesda's RPG masterpiece should be reason enough... let's say the promise of slaying a dragon is enough to keep you focused in a world full of distractions, without ever making you feel like you're being told what to do. I don't know about you guys, but I followed the story path from the beginning precisely because I wanted the quickest route to fight a dragon.
And when it comes, boy does it deliver. Whether you fight your first dragon just outside Whiterun with the help of a small army (the encounter Bethesda clearly wants you to have first) or you finally manage to take one down solo in the wintry mountains, conquering that very first dragon is still one of gaming's greatest moments - even ten years on.
It feels like a properly epic battle for the ages, doesn't it? The beast circles overhead raining down death, as the inimitable Song Of The Dragonborn starts to play, pumping adrenaline through your veins and getting you ready for a real fight. Whether you're a sorcerer, archer, warrior, or some kind of blend, it'll take every resource you have to bring the dragon to the ground until finally, you strike that final blow and absorb its very essence. As you collect their bones and scales you remember with a mix of thrill and fear that there are plenty more dragons out there to find, and off you go, back on your quest.
Sure, by the end of Skyrim you're a high-level warrior decked out in Ebony Armour powerful enough to swat away most dragons as if they're nothing more than oversized flies. During the earlier part of your adventure though, when every distant roar is enough to reduce you to an anxious puddle and every fiery breath is enough to kill you dead on the spot? That's adventure, man. Conquering the world of Skyrim might be satisfying as hell, but my favoruite part of the game was always knowing that at any time, something could shoot down out of the sky and murder me in seconds flat.
I go back to Skyrim often and start new playthroughs, but even as a lowly Khajiit running naked through the woods with nothing but a dagger and a prayer, nothing can ever quite match that very first dragon encounter from my very first playthrough. That's something so pure about that initial mix of nerves, wonderment, and genuine challenge that can never really be replicated. But hey, Skyrim is a game of first-time discoveries and experiences just like that - that's kind of why I love it so damn much.
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