I've turned Skyrim into a walking simulator. Simply walking everywhere has refreshed my view of The Elder Scrolls. Sure, Skyrim is still a dangerous place and I've got to deal with random and scripted encounters just like everyone else. When a dragon shows up, nobody’s walking. Everybody’s running, whether it’s towards the dragon or away from it. But walking—at a voluntarily over encumbered speed—changes everything for me. I look for that steady midpoint on my gamepad's analog sticks. I pan the camera around with the care of a movie director. I stop and study the edges of the map from the tallest mountains.
When walking, it's no longer about me growing into a more powerful character. It's about watching the map grow into a more convincing world. Before I walked everywhere, were I to take a reductive view, I'd say, "Skyrim is a cold and snowy place. Brrrr." Which is true when you get up to certain elevations in certain biomes, of course. But from end to end, Skyrim has just about every climate you can imagine. The city of Solitude resides over a swampy river delta on one side, and stares off into a sea of floating icebergs on the other. The northeast has perfectly preserved animals frozen in ice, while the forests in the southwest can hide an entire city only a few yards off the beaten path. Eastmarch has hot springs but feels like a Khajiit desert, and if you haven’t been to the Underdark then, whoa buddy, you better be ready for Drizzt Do’Urden to walk right out of the Forgotten Realms and into Skyrim’s cavernous, glowing mushroom land. Skyrim is anything but just a cold and snowy place. Between man-sized sacks of mammoth cheese and the Honningbrew Meadery, it’s a land literally flowing with milk and honey.
Walking also puts a poignant spotlight on the NPCs' differing objectives. I've walked with a farmer bringing a sacrificial oxen to a giant’s camp. I've tailed Imperials "on Imperial business" for miles with prisoners shackled between them. I've trekked with Khajiit merchants from one hold's outskirts to the next hold's outskirts. One exception to my new walking rule was when the captain of the guard, Irileth, orders soldiers off to protect another village from the dragons. Four of those guards make the entire run, at full speed, from Whiterun to Riverwood, then have bedrolls and a campfire made up on the west side of town. It's wonderful learning that Skyrim exists beyond my cone of vision.
Walking has turned every random encounter into a far-less-random encounter. The non-player characters aren't just dice rolls and spawn points anymore. They're part of the lore, part of the land, and they exist for longer than however far my field of view extends. Skyrim: Walking Sim Edition is showing me a depth of world building and scenario creation that hundreds of hours of running and fast travel didn’t show me before. Skyrim is one of the best maps ever crafted for a role-playing game, ever. So now, after innumerable hours' worth of previous playthroughs, I'm slowing down. I'm walking everywhere. There’s still a lot to see.