Skyrim: Saving the Best for Bad – Does Skyrim Reward Players for Being Evil?

Good to be bad?

I spent a good 34 levels of my Skyrim adventure as the spitting image of all things just and right.  By the time I had completed the main campaign, I had yet to take the life of an innocent civilian or steal a single shilling from a hobo’s pocket.  Being heroic is great fun, and in games with moral decisions I typically do the “right” thing.  In the world of Skyrim my Orc brawler was already quite the hero; the Arch-mage of the College, the Legate of the Imperial Legion, the Harbinger of the Companions, and the friend to many of Skyrim’s most prestigious Jarls.  When my avatar returned to the Throat of the World after the main events of the story had been completed, one of the mysterious Greybeards approached and said something that actually got me thinking.  The robed monk posed a question regarding my character’s future, would I be remembered as a hero, or something far far worse…. great question.

Does Skyrim save the best for bad?

Absolute Power

So there I was with a big moral decision on my hands.  What I soon realized is there is little to no punishment for completing some of Skyrim’s more nefarious quests.  For instance, the Companions will have no idea that you’ve joined the Thieves Guild and will not even shake a disapproving finger in your direction no matter how much you steal.  It should also be noted that there are numerous achievements/trophies for completing Skyrim’s “evil” faction quests, so unless you have a incredibly personal moral objection to virtual murder… well… kill away.  After toiling with the decision to “go bad” for quite some time I sucked it up and dove right in, and boy am I happy that I did so.  The Thieves Guild, Daedric, and Dark Brotherhood quest chains are not only the most well written quests in the game, they also reward the player with some of the most incredible items in the world of Skyrim.  Insane perks like Spectral Assassins, Dark Brotherhood followers, and the near-indestructible mount Shadowmere are only available to players that don’t mind getting a little innocent blood on their tunics.  With your spouse, companions, and most other NPC’s utterly oblivious to the crimes you commit there is no reason NOT to embark on these dark quest chains.  While there are dozens of quests that reward you for doing the right thing, there is no penalty for doing BOTH…  Just as long as you don’t get caught.

Want the best mount in the game? Become a murderer...

Did you stray from your moral path in order to achieve more power in the world of Skyrim?  Please let us know!


This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. Scott

    Interesting. I have a hard time being evil in games, but sometimes it is because being “bad” requires you to burn bridges. You know, you complete a quest for an NPC but refuse payment… the expectation is that something will happen with that character in the future… kill them, or steal their loot and you’re pretty much done with them.

    I’ve heard a few stories like this from friends about Skyrim dangling powerful items in front of players as a reward for being bad, maybe that’s what it takes.

    1. Ash

      Scott – In Skyrim if you kill all of the witnesses of a crime nobody will ever know. While I respect this level of realism, it’s too easy for the player to get away with “murder.”

      1. Darren

        Well, you gotta remember what time period you’re at. If you killed someone, and disposed of their body during the medieval ages, nobody would be none the wiser.

  2. Sterk

    I’m with you, the game definitely rewards the player for being evil.

    Just finished Skyrim. I hate Skyrim’s plot. Is it too much to ask for a good story or likeable characters? Why couldn’t they make something like Persona4 or Atelier Totori? Very disappointed.

    1. Ash

      Sterk – I agree with you on a number of levels. As a matter of fact, I wrote an article about it a few weeks ago. Skyrim has so much going for it, but I would have loved to have seen a core group of 10 or so followers as opposed to the multitude of strangers that I’m supposed to have feelings for.

  3. Joe

    I am right at the end of the game, and decided I wanted to max my character out before I beat it (hopefully putting it down at that point, but who am I kidding). I joined the thieves guild and worked on becoming archmage at the same time. Both of those quests lead into some shady dealings with Daedra, so I guess I’m on the path of evil at this point. I usually don’t play games as an “evil” character, but considering the quests involved, I’m all for it in Skyrim…

    1. Ash

      Joe – I did the same thing! After beating the main story at around lvl 34 I decided that I wanted to see what else the game had to offer without starting a whole new toon. What I soon discovered is that the Thieves Guild, and Dark Brotherhood quests are some of the best in the game… not because they’re “evil”, simply because they’re very well designed. Let us know how your evil adventures go!

  4. AlmaStaris

    Unfortunately Skyrim has indeed gone to evil gives you rewards as many choice games give you nowadays, In oblivion there was much less of those except for the darkbrotherhood and some side quests in the shivering isles also the theives guild wasn’t all bad unlike in skyrim also a lot more quests of just killing people for money or legendery weapons, I find those a bit annoying cause so many of them apear i kinda wish i could take the quests off and not have them in my quests cause i’m never going to do them.

    So in a way i like oblivion better in a way also in oblivion more characters had bigger roles in it then skyrim still with the characters that do come in are interesting but there’s a lot more of stale characters in it, but even for all of these i think it’s still a great game i hope the expansion has more interesting quests in the future sorry if this sounded like a rant.

  5. Seth

    My character is the definition of evil. Call me crazy, but nothing feels better than sneaking around a clan’s house, stealing all of their possessions, and then hunting down and killing each and every member (except for pickpocketing the Jarls, that’s always fun).
    I also make “friends” in the game, build up their trust, and then when I’m done with them, kill em and steal their stuff. Being sneaky and evil in Skyrim is just way more fun than being the “good guy.”

    1. Ash

      Haha, Seth! That is damn evil.

    2. Darren

      Why just kill them and steal their stuff when you can absorb their soul in the Ebony Blade, too?

  6. Lucas

    I’ve played the Dark Brotherhood quests and loved them immensely, but I find it extremely difficult to play as an evil character for more than a few hours. I don’t know what it is because the evil quests are some of the best but I can’t bring myself to play an evil character for longer than a day. There is many reasons for this but the main reason is I don’t see why an assassin would have a wife, live in a house (when he has a sanctuary as a home), be Jarl of many holds and save the world from dragons. It angers me because I really want to play an evil character but I just can’t make myself do so.

    1. Ash

      My main complaint is that you can’t 100% the game without engaging in some seriously shady activities. I fully understand that this is only a game, but I would have liked to have seen some “good” options tied to achievements as well.

  7. Ryan

    The most recognition a player gets is from doing evil things. Becoming a Stormcloak officer doesn’t make any of the soldiers acknowledge that you even exist. Becoming Harbinger of the Companions hardly changes anything.
    Did you save the world from dragons recently? Well, keep your nose clean, outsider.
    Honestly, my character is more of a neutral-neutral character: I try to do good when its beneficial to me, but do evil when its more profitable to do so. That said, the number of crimes I have committed are sparse and the number of good deeds I’ve done are many; yet when I visit a town the majority of the people only recognize that I’ve done evil. It bothers me when I’ve done good for a town but only get comments like: “The gods know what you’ve done.” and “Hands to yourself, sneak thief.”
    If you’re expecting to be rewarded socially for being a ‘good’ character, well, don’t hold your breath. Sure, being a Thane is cool and all…except you can only use your authority once…and only when you’ve committed a crime…
    Bethesda gave too much to the evil side of the game. In Oblivion, you did get powerful items from the ‘evil’ quests and were recognized as being evil. On the flip side, you were recognized (often, I might add) as being good based on the good things you did. The people knew that you saved the world from the Oblivion Crisis. Guards would sometimes look the other way when the player got caught doing a crime, voluntarily! Nope, not in Skyrim.
    There are hardly any reasons to be good in Skyrim. When compared to being evil, there are NO good reasons to be good. I guess its cool to all those who like to play as evil-doers, but for those who like to play a neutral stance like myself it really takes away from our style of play…

    1. Ash

      Ryan, I couldn’t agree with you more. There is an odd disconnect in Skyrim that I can’t really put my finger on. It’s almost as if the player exists in a different reality than the NPCs on occasion.

  8. Shadowstalker

    Good vs Evil:
    What I don’t understand about the game is this: If I’m running all over Skyrim trying to kill dragons and preparing ultimately to kill the main dragon, why would I choose to do evil (Daedric, Dark Brotherhood) quests in the first place. Isn’t there an inherent contradiction in this game design? Is not the main tenet of the game to do good, and eradicate the evil that ominously looms over the Skyrim horizon?
    I’m playing through for the second time and even this time I do not feel compelled to murder innocents. For what purpose? (Although I have thought about taking that annoying screaming guy up in the Whiterun circle to the sacrificial altar.) That said, I feel it’s unfair to the player who doesn’t want to deceive those who trust you, murder innocent people, and eat human flesh, to pay for a game that they feel uncomfortable playing parts of. Yes, I do kill humans in the game, but it’s supposed to be for a just cause, to help someone else out of some critical difficulty, or to get to the main quest in order to kill the main bad dragon.
    I know, I know, it’s just a game. However, it is an immersive game, and as such, it does spoil it for me to chomp on someone’s brains. Also, there is a kind of rating system in the game, if you’re trying to play as a good character and get as many achievements as possible, then there is a huge flaw in the game because you can’t attain as many achievements if you’re trying to avoid evil. Just my thoughts on the way the game was designed.

    1. Ash

      Shadowstalker – I loved the heck out of Skyrim, but had a lot of the same problem that you did. I rarely take the “evil” route in games and felt as though, due to Skyrim’s design, evil was the only way to maximize your character and unlock a large number of the game’s well designed quests. Granted, I still had a blast in the end being an evil creep, but I can’t seem to bring myself back to the world. Thanks for reading!

    2. Darren

      I guess it wants to show people that being good has many sacrifices, and that it is better to be feared than loved.

      1. Adam McRoberts

        Very Machiavellian of you.

    3. nacoran

      Or, you can play it as a story about redemption. Start off evil (or go evil) and come back from the brink. Become a vampire and watch your morality slip away, then kill someone important to you and come back to your senses.

      1. Jon1014

        I always go for vampire when I start, so I might try that

  9. Darren

    Yep, I can definitely relate. I was originally a great and noble hero, until I found out about the daedric quests. I did a couple of innocent quest and got some fantastic gear, but that was until I finished the other daedric quests. Turns out my guy is now arrayed in Ebony Mail with the Masque of Clavius and some other ebony armor pieces, murders people that try to help him in order to gain more power, and to top it off LOVES to eat people. I guess it’s like that one saying, you either die good and young or live long enough to see yourself become the villain

  10. x

    “the Legate of the Imperial Legion” you already were the bad guy

  11. CapriciousLife

    I liked the dark brotherhood quest…a…lot…lol so its a prize for winning a prize!!!

  12. Amy

    I feel like Skyrim does reward players for being evil… but then again, I think that’s a pretty accurate description of what happens when you do bad things in real life and get away with it. Doing good is its own reward…in reality you often don’t get recognized for doing good and gain anything valuable. You get money and items from doing evil things, and it’s up to the player whether to feel remorse/guilt or nothing for doing evil things. Yes, I know it’s a game not real life but I personally think the realism is amazing.

  13. Gavin

    I hate how when i’m going to do a mission a city and I have like a 10000 septum bounty on my head and as soon as i get there a guard comes out of nowhere and i hear you have committed crimes against skyrim and its people what have you say in your defense and i will be like aw come on cant u just let me do my mission. Sometimes i will be lucky and the thieves guild is in control and cost will be less. though i usually just kill them or run off so i dont have to pay.

  14. james

    I sure did I got to level 20 did the whispering door quest and killed 10 of my friends to make it powerful my player is like a God now and will rule skyrim 🙂

  15. Shannon

    I have always tried to be close to the good path. Sure my characters steal at times when I need them to, I will coldly murder bandits so they don’t get a chance to kill me first and I will aid the factions I have see used are for doing their best to bring about good.

    But today, I have changed that. Today I have made my first archer who will be an honest to goodness terror. That will make the Brotherhood’s assassins’ blood run chill. I was 17 minutes into the game and I had already silently disposed of the resident(s) at Half-Moon Mill. I went so far as to drag the corpse of one victim to the nearest water mill. When I arrived at Falkreath I made it a point to pincushion every animal as silently as I could. I then unwaveringly lobbed an arrow into a poor dog whose owner was nearby. The bastard didn’t even flench, so I put a few arrows into him and dragged his corpse to the feet of his son as a lesson. On my way out I saw a guard kneeling near a previously slain goat. It was the perfect opportunity. I walked as far out as I could until he was barely visible, then I launched my first arrow. It missed. My second one however pissed him off when I struck him somewhere in the chest. He came running at me and so I ran to the nearest rock pile. I climbed on top and lobbed another 12 arrows into him from relative safety. I then climbed down, took off his bloody uniform and donned it myself. I left his corpse in the open with an arrow in his crotch. Another lesson for another random person. Finally, I was running away when I saw another person with her bow out. I thought she was drawing on me when I realized that she was hunting a deer. I put two arrows right into the left side of her ribcage. I dragged her corpse to a nearby cliff and watched it roll down. Tomorrow my terror will grow more.

  16. Callisto88

    Among my favorite characters, my Orc-turned vampire lord greatly enjoys defeating her foes and causing general mischief. I wanted her character to be chaotic neutral – she will do good things, and bad things, as long as they serve her purposes, and she loves causing havoc. I’ve played characters as lawful good before, but they’re never nearly as fun as chaotic neutral or strictly chaotic evil. Skyrim leaves a lot of grey where morality and choices are concerned, and often that’s the way life is. The game’s civil war feud between the Empire and Stormcloaks is a prime example. Who’s to say who is in the right, who is more moral? It’s apparent when you’re playing that they’re both capable of nasty things.

  17. Unknown

    You totally lost me when u said that the Thieves G. is one of the best writing. It’s THE WORST piece of “writing” in whole game so disconnected & incosistient.

  18. RobertH

    Go for the Cannibal, Vampire, Assissan and leader of the Thieves Guild.

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