This article was originally published in PC Gamer UK 236.
Skyrim's alchemy system asks players to combine ingredients based on their statistic-altering properties. Once you've found out what ingredients do, you can make them into potions. The best way to find these properties is by jamming them into your gob, masticating for a while, and scribbling the results down in your poisoning journal.
My Skyrim character - a beardy Breton - was stood on an ice floe to the north of Winterhold when I decided to taste a few of the more exotic ingredients I'd picked on my travels. Imagine 90s semi-celebrity wine-taster Jilly Goolden, except six and a half foot tall, covered in hair and blood, and backed up by a monstrous ice-beast.
I chewed on some garlic to start. Not bad, but a bit pungent. I moved onto honeycomb. This was better, I was getting sweet notes of summer, sugar, and FORTIFY BLOCK. A handful of snowberries were slightly tart, but bursting with both flavour and a general feeling of FIRE RESIST. Histcarp gave a lovely fresh fish taste and the ability to breathe underwater, sashimi-ed with a side of aim-enhancing juniper. I munched on River Betties and Cyrodiilic Spadetails, wheat and whitecap mushrooms, each one delicious and stat-nourishing. I started to get careless, cramming anything and everything alchemical into my gullet.
Daedra heart. Bit chewy, but it's got to be full of iron. Iron's good for you, right? The statistics bore me out: daedra hearts 'RESTORE HEALTH'. Sure, they also cause 'FEAR', but what's a few minutes of panic compared to OH GOD WAS THAT A BEAR?
I kept clicking. Hawk beak. Always goes down smooth. Sabre cat tooth. Swallowed with only minor blood loss. A handful of pearls. Just call me Johnny Oysters. Spider egg. Wait, I don't want them hatching inside me. Vampire dust. I should stop now. A set of fully grown elk antlers. I'm going to need a running start.
I clicked once, and immediately froze. My character did the same, staring silently out to the frozen sea. Somewhere in my imagination, a gob of man-muscle was worming its way down my character's oesophagus. Bits of person were caught between his teeth. I had stood in front of him, guiding foodstuffs into his mouth like a demented parent. Open wide for the bee thorax! Here comes the ectoplasm aeroplane! Eat this human flesh! My careless clicking had made my man a cannibal.
I continued to stand stock still, expecting to be overcome by a wave of revulsion. Instead, I got minuscule decreases in my red health bar, increases in my blue magicka bar, and a heightened desire to creep around in peoples' houses. I checked the forbidden meat's effects. Damage health, restore magicka, fortify sneak, and - wait a second - paralysis. Paralysis is one of Skyrim's most useful abilities. Once applied, you can smash away at enemies as they roll around on the floor like toppled statues. Few of the game's alchemical items bestow this property, and this meat was only the second guaranteed source I'd found.
I'd had my first taste of human flesh. Up at the top of the world, I resolved to get more. I needed it, after all, for my experiments.