Finally beginning to mod my installation of Skyrim after three and a half years feels like I’m really late to some great endeavor everyone else has already undertaken, or perhaps even an entirely different game everyone has played. I think I can say that because after playing roughly 70 hours of vanilla Skyrim, the modded game indeed feels like an entirely new experience. Instead of the modern, cinematic adventure of a big hero, I’ve turned it into something that reminds me more of older, more muted but also more mysterious dungeon crawlers, possibly even the older Elder Scrolls games.
I didn’t even install several gigabytes of mods like a lot of people probably do. So far I haven’t changed any of Skyrim’s visual assets. I just cherry picked a handful of script mods that make some small but very critical changes.
The two most important mods for me have been SkyUI — the one basically everybody installs, and Alternate Start which I mentioned previously. Basically, Alternate Start let’s you ditch the tutorial and opening sequence and instead choose from several possible starting points, including the normal one. It immediately exposes the difference in how Bethesda Game Studios aimed and marketed Skyrim compared to most RPGs of its ilk.
Skyrim’s prologue, when you think about it, is almost a Call of Duty level. You start out with one of those new-style cut scenes where all you can do is turn your head and listen to people talk about the main quest before you can build your character, culminating in you almost getting executed like that president in Modern Warfare. Once you start actually playing the prologue shepherds you through some corridors to teach you the ropes with a lot of things exploding around you. It’s a big contrast to the totally open world that immediately follows.
Alternate Start on the other hand immediately starts with the character creator and then puts you in a classic RPG starting point — a dark prison cell from which to escape. If you choose the “escape from cell” beginning I chose, you have to break out using just your wits and scavenging whatever you can find, also in traditional RPG fashion. Contrast this with the vanilla opening that directly tells you to pick up that armor and that sword. The prison also serves to give you a quiet space to explore at your own pace with only a few enemies and some optional reading material on the story before suddenly opening up the world of Skyrim.
Another major difference Alternate Start brings is the ability to enjoy Skyrim purely for its world and its systems if you don’t want to be bothered by the main quest. From the main quest’s anticlimactic ending I went over last time, I gathered that Skyrim isn’t the kind of game that ever really feels “finished.” It’s more like an ecosystem you just inhabit, and it manages to make the main quest feel really small. To me that feels odd since the main quest is supposed to be about saving the world and constantly reinforces the idea of the player being The Chosen One — a trope I’m tired of in RPGs. Alternate Start let’s me just be another guy which somehow makes the world itself feel bigger. As I carry on my new game I intend to never initiate the main quest and hopefully never encounter a dragon, instead focusing on the rest of Skyrim’s world.
I didn’t want to lead with this part because I thought talking about the actual mods was more interesting, but if you’re like me and are just getting into Skyrim mods you need to read up about how surprisingly labor intensive it can be. It took me an entire afternoon to get started.
On the flip side, a good thing about parachuting into a three and a half year-old modding community is its tools are extremely mature. Steam Workshop is great for people who don’t want to dig too deep into modding, but the community already has its own clients. The one I chose — Mod Organizer, even links up to my Nexus account and checks for new versions of mods, which I can install through the organizer. It streamlines the process of keeping up with mods nearly as much as Workshop does, but also gives you a lot more functionality. I also just started using ENB for the first time, and didn’t realize it’s reached a point where you can access a GUI in-game.
Still, I had to read a pretty big guide before I even began to install mods. I had to spend a few hours learning how to use a whole separate application to organize mods, yet another one to recompile them or something, and acclimate to a completely new way of booting up the game. To be fair, most of it involves keeping the Skyrim install itself clean so if anything goes wrong you won’t have to completely reinstall the game.
I guess there are levels to modding games. Workshop doesn’t let you go completely hardcore, rather offering a happy medium between the casual players who just put up with the vanilla game and the people who dive into ini files and read guides on how Skyrim’s code actually works.
For those few hours of work though I have received a refreshed experience I could probably spend over 100 hours enjoying if nothing goes wrong (I’ve already experienced one crash to desktop).
- Well this looks like a really cool indie survival horror game. https://youtu.be/nhyKS0GxtHQ
- New footage of Odallus. https://youtu.be/tohO1-BCTWo
- This nice site has some new desktops. http://fiftyfootshadows.net/2015/05/08/ghosts-gibberish/
- Broforce adds The Brodator. http://www.freelives.net/18-news/131-broforce-update-brodator-unleashed