A screenshot from the Skyrim Dragonborn expansion showing a boat at Raven Rock

The Crow hasn’t left the nest much over the last 12 months. 2020 was a tough year and the plans I had in place were inevitably cancelled as Coronavirus swept across the planet, killed millions, and prompted a series of legal restrictions on movements and activities within the UK.

I was supposed to be hiking across Scotland in April (a year ago now). I was looking forward to taking my caravan and meeting up with friends at small, five van sites across the British Isles and Europe. All of that was cancelled and it sucked.

Instead, I spent most of 2021 and the first months of 2021, indoors with my entire family, working, helping with schoolwork, and of course, playing games.

The appeal of the open world

Given that I wasn’t able to explore the physical world, I found solace in open world games where I could get out and do whatever the hell I wanted - visiting new locations, admiring the countryside, talking to strangers, and visiting the taverns, bars, shops, and pubs which remain closed in the real world.

Due to an unfortunate incident which saw a heavy metal object smashing through the screen of my excellent and much loved Dell laptop, I took a chance on the GPD P2 Max - a teeny tiny laptop with a very usable keyboard and a diminutive 8.9 inch screen. It’s great, and I wrote about it here. But it’s not a powerhouse, and it was never going to be able to handle the latest AAA titles. The lack of raw horsepower is compounded by the fact that it’s running Linux - which means that I’m further limited to Linux games or ones which can be run using WINE - further degrading performance and graphical fidelity.

In my chosen genre, Bioshock Infinite runs perfectly, but it’s not really open world - it’s not far from being an on-rails shooter. Fallout 4 ran fine under Windows, but was jerky and ‘orrible when using Steam’s Proton.

Fallout 3 and New Vegas - some of my all-time favourites due to their bleak, brutal, post-apocalyptic aesthetic were out of the question due to those exact same same qualities. When you’re living on a disease stricken planet watching mass graves being dug in New York, the escapist apocalyptic vibe provided by the Fallout series just isn’t what you need.

Skyrim though - there’s a vaguely threatened apocalypse, but it’s to do with dragons and the player character has the power to prevent it. In fact, you can spend months in game ignoring while completely ignoring the Big Bad, and that’s exactly how I played it.

The Winking Skeever in Solitude

This is the nearest I've been to an actual pub in the last year.

There’s the added bonus that Skyrim was released in 2011 - and will run on practically anything. I have previously had it running on a 2013 Chromebook. Getting it running on my 2018 mini laptop would be no problem at all - despite it being a Windows only game.

I’ve previously played Skyrim a number of ways. The first playthrough, I cleaved closely to the main questline; other times I’ve pursued the various factions, becoming leader of the thieves’ guild, Archmage, leader of the companions, listener to the Night Mother and so on. I’ve done speed runs - completing the main quest in a couple of hours; I’ve specialised in conjuration, destruction magic, archery, and melee: I’ve spent days crafting armour and weapons.

For my 2020 plays, I spent most of my time walking.

Vicarious living in the first Person

There’s very little that’s new to me in Skyrim, but this year I didn’t have an agenda, I wasn’t trying to finish a civil war, and I wasn’t trying to craft the perfect set of double enchanted ebony weapons and armour. Hell, I made sure that I never even visited Dragonsreach so I would never be given the quest which would, from that point, bring dragons into the world to disrupt my wandering the map.

With difficulty dialled all the way down, encounters with bandits and the local wildlife are an entertaining diversion in a trek to see the most gorgeous sites of the most northern kingdom in Tamriel. I didn’t need to spend hours grinding away at the blacksmith’s forge to craft extra-lethal bows and bulletproof armour. I could survive perfectly well on what I found lying around and on the corpses of easily vanquished foes.

I picked up quests from whoever offered them simply as a means of having a new destination to walk to, with new vistas to view along the way.

Even a decade after its initial release, Skyrim is still beautiful to look at. Almost every frame could be used as a desktop wallpaper from the ruins of Helgen Keep to the entire snowy panorama as seen from the throat of the world.

I made a point of walking and avoiding the fast travel mechanism, plodding from place to place - sitting on chairs and benches where they were available and looking around.

I sat above Dawnstar and watched a gloriously sunny day give way to a blizzards, and clear around dusk to reveal a perfectly clear night sky adorned with alien moons which slowly drifted across the sky. I stood watching mudcrabs going about their business on the banks of a river near the Karthspire. I followed butterflies and foxes.

I never played for more than an hour at a time. It was a form of escapism during the worst days when we were all confined to the house, while we should have been exploring the real world mountains of Scotland and North Wales, when we should have been watching storms from the cosy interior of some pub in Derbyshire, or from the windows of the caravan, parked up by a canal somewhere in Cheshire or Lancashire or Norfolk.

2020 was a bit of a wasted year as far as outdoor adventures were concerned. Skyrim made it a little better.

Summer’s nearly here again, and I’m desperately hoping that I’ll be able to move around the actual, physical world as myself rather than as an Imperial avatar.

Anyway, here are some of my holiday snaps…

A snowy rural scene from within Skyrim

The weather wasn't always perfect

A bright crisp morning in Skyrim

But the scenery was beautiful

A typical Skyrim village

A typical Skyrim village

A clear night in Skyrim

Stargazing and amateur astronomy was a joy in Skyrim