On the Level: Skyrim

As part of a series of articles made to celebrate great maps, levels and locations in videogames, PC Gamer's Andy Kelly sings the praises of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim's vast world. I have mixed feelings about Skyrim's game world as, while there's no doubt in my mind that Bethesda's ability to craft a memorable, inviting open world is nearly unmatched, there wasn't much to sink my teeth in level design-wise. That said, I can understand its inclusion in this kind of series:

West now to Winterhold, which sits on the banks of the freezing Sea of Ghosts. This was once the capital of Skyrim, but fell on hard times after the Great Collapse a geological catastrophe that washed much of the city away, leaving only the College of Winterhold mysteriously intact. As a result, a lot of residents of Winterhold blame the college, a school for mages, for the event. The coast of the Sea of Ghosts is home to horkers and other animals, making it a perfect place to hunt for meat, tusks, and fur.

Travel south and the snow gives way to a harsh tundra dotted with scrub and gnarled trees. This is The Pale, an unforgiving expanse of land where farmers struggle to make a living from the frozen earth. The capital is Whiterun, a beautiful city dominated by the imposing palace of Dragonsreach. This once served as a prison for the dragon Numinex, whose skull now hangs above the Jarl Balgruuf's throne. This is where most new Skyrim players find themselves wandering after escaping Helgen. It's also home to Riverwood, a small village sitting at the foot of the Throat of the World.

Further south lies Falkreath, which is warmer than The Pale, but constantly veiled in fog and rain. As a result of this wet climate, it's covered in thick, verdant pine forests and nestled in the middle of one is the town of Falkreath, which shares its name with its hold. The most notable landmark in the hold is Lake Ilinalta, in which you can find the crumbling remains of a supposedly haunted Imperial outpost. Falkreath sits on the border of Hammerfell, the desert home of the redguards, and you can even find a gate that leads there but, for obvious reasons, you can't actually go through it.