I recently did a full upgrade of my system for two reasons: Guild Wars 2 (during one of the betas, my system performed very poorly), and Skyrim. Just like Ravanel, I recently picked up Skyrim from Steam’s Summer Sale and have found it very hard to put it down. Bethesda has once more outdone themselves in creating a masterpiece. Just like Oblivion or Morrowind before it, they have created a world filled with cities, villages, monsters, and quests and just said: Go nuts. There is a main story, and out of the 79 hours I’ve so far put into Skyrim, I’ve put about… maybe 3 or 4 of them into the main storyline. The Elder Scrolls is most famous for creating more than just a story, they create a world to explore, and exploring is one of my favorite gaming pastimes.
With such a huge world to populate, they look to their players to help. Game modifications aren’t new to the gaming scene, but where they are you’ll find huge communities set up around it. Bug squashing, fixes, new areas, graphics, the limits of game modders is hard to stop, and the community will always surprise with how ingenious they are in using the tools given to them. Just look at some of Star Trek Online‘s player created missions for genius created with a very limited toolset, for example. But since I’m currently stuck on Skyrim, here is a list of my top ten favorite mods I’m currently rolling with.
Let me first state that I am not into cheating or breaking lore. The lore is so comprehensive in the Elder Scrolls that the books in Skyrim encompass more pages than are in most novels. So many that a fan out there has created a file for your digital reader, which I highly suggest as reading that much while you play can feel like a waste of a play session. And cheating… is well… cheating. I find it awesome that they allow you to do so, but it really only takes away from your play experience. One mod I will mention is borderline cheating, but it saves time more than anything, so I’m giving it a pass.
Here is the Top 10. All links are to their Steam locations, as, well… I use Steam to play it.
10 – Pure Waters
Pure Waters gives an overhaul of the water found throughout Skyrim. The vanilla water is a little… off. This mod turns the water to more natural colors to match the pure glacier water of Skyrim, more realistic transparency, better reflectivity, and an improved underwater scene. And since water is, well, everywhere in Skyrim, this is a great mod to have.
This mod doesn’t do anything more but add lanterns to the land of Skyrim. Villages will put out lanterns in front of homes, and the roads will have lanterns placed periodically to help guide the way. It just adds a bit of light, and makes the land feel a little more full.
The vanilla plants are a little… bland. This mod makes the flowers look a little more like real flowers. It adds some depth and color to a lot of the plants you see throughout the land.
Although, as I mentioned, despite the books being the best source of lore and awesome, they are largely a timesink. However, your home won’t look complete without a few full bookshelves filled with the rarest of tomes. This mod lines up the books so that they aren’t haphazardly placed on your bookshelf and look similar to how you would place them yourself.
6 – Horse Armors
Horse. Armors. It adds just that. The horses in Skyrim are very pretty, but this adds a little more realism to the Dovahkiin’s warhorse. If you are armed to the teeth, your horse should be, too. Now, this doesn’t suddenly make your horse invincible or anything different, it just adds a skin, so no worries about cheating.
Edit: I lied. Your horse is actually invincible. But… as far as cheating goes, this isn’t so bad… usually the stupid horse would charge into a fight with anything and just end up dead. With this mod, at least you’ll be actually riding the horse more often than using them as a source of horse meat.
5 – Whistle
A horse whistle! I don’t know how I would play without this. The horses in the game, if you can’t tell by now, leave a lot to be desired. They are slow, they run away, they die easily, etc. This mod solves the “runaway horse” problem. Every once in a while, you’ll get into a nice big fight. After you emerge victorious, you look around, and your horse is nowhere to be seen. With this mod, it’s simple. Just equip the whistle power, activate it, and your horse will appear behind you and trot right on up.
The stock guards in Skyrim are creepy. They’re everywhere, and they cover their faces so much that they appear to be serial killers. This mod makes the guards a little more human. It opens up their helms so you can see their mouth and eyes. Since sometimes it feels like they can’t shut up (An arrow, you say? To the knee?! That’s so rare!), at least seeing their mouths move makes them a little more human.
Going with the theme of horse improvements comes another good one, making them faster. The vanilla horses in the game don’t seem to move that fast. In fact they move at about the same run speed as the character! This mod pumps up their speed by about 30%. Not significant, far from being a cheat, but enough to make horses feel a lot more useful and well worth the price.
Here is the mod I’m suggesting that is borderline cheating. What it does is renames items to help sort them and then takes books, miscellaneous, and crafting items and removes their weight. That means those 20 iron ingots you have to make some armor with don’t weight 20 lbs, they weigh nothing. All those potions you lug around waiting for the right time to use them? Them, too. They weigh nothing. It’s cheating because suddenly you have the space to carry a few more potions or pieces of armor, you can carry more loot back home to sell. However, in the grand scheme of Skyrim, this isn’t so bad. Your weight limit is still topped out, so you can’t carry everything. The shops still only have a limit of the gold they have to offer, so you’re capped by gold. The real draw is that all of those crafting areas throughout the game that you find in camps? You can use them! You don’t have to have a central dropping off point to unload all crafting mats to come back later and craft. It makes crafting fun instead of tedious, and that’s why it isn’t a cheat. Also, the item sorting is super handy. All healing potions are together, all your arrows are together, and it’s easy to see the strength of them without constantly hovering over them.
For my favorite Skyrim mod, Dovahkiin Relaxes Too takes the gold. Your character in Skyrim is always so serious. He doesn’t move around much, he doesn’t shuffle his weight, he just stands there. He’s a god amongst people, but he can’t just relax sometimes? This mod fixes that! The Dragonborn becomes like everyone else, sitting down in a bar and having a drink, helping to hoe the land, sweep the floor of the inn, feed the chickens, read a book, warm your hands by the fire, lie down on beds, taunt the enemy by bashing your shield! After destroying and pillaging the ecosystem, Dovahkiin deserves a break.
That’s far from all the ones I use. Here is a quick and dirty list of all the other mods I use that I still highly suggest:
Lore-Based Loading Screens, Unread Books Glow, Complete Skyforge, More Rain, House Markers, Alternate Sun Glare, Gender and Race Height, Enhanced Distant Terrain, Lush Trees (but not Lush Grass which taxes your system like crazy), Realistic Ragdolls and Force, Detailed Mine Map Markers, Lightning During Thunderstorms, Better Quest Objectives, Blessing of Talos Description Fix, Realistic Map and Roads, and Remove 3D Map Camera Restriction.
Take a note, all you game makers out there: if you make mods possible for your game, people will enjoy it more. What MMO out there has the most prolific modding community? The declining, but still king, World of Warcraft. Another long time mod winner is Lord of the Rings Online. Neverwinter Nights would never have been as popular as it has been without a huge mod scene. Player created content and mods is the present and future of gaming. Letting the community modify, create, and share only strengthens your game.
Exploration is one of the biggest draws to gaming, but if you want it to be really successful let your players explore their creativity.
P.S. – Ravanel, if you’re reading this, the only mod I found that could remove helmets is Invisible Crafted Helmets. It doesn’t work perfect, though. You have to craft the helmet yourself, but it will give you some helmetless functionality. Hope this helps!