Skyrim mods (and modders) come in many flavors. There are the ones that add content to the game, whether it be new dungeons, NPCs or items. and there are mods that change the rules or restrictions to make it easier or harder to accomplish stuff in Skyrim. Then there are the graphics and user interface tweaks that just make everything look better. Most mods fall into those three categories, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few outliers that are just plain weird. I’m looking at you, My Little Pony sleeping bag mod.
I generally prefer to play with mods that don’t alter the rules or world as it was designed, at least until I spend about a hundred hours or three. I need to be grounded before I feel comfortable messing with the underlying assumptions of the world. Last week, I showed off the best mods I used early on in my adventures that tweaked the graphics and user interface. Here are a few more mods that let me concentrate on slaying dragons and stealing lady clothes in Skyrim instead of wanting to find the guy who designed the UI at Bethesda and throw a mug of hot Nord mead in his face.
Nothing telegraphs that you are near the sea more than the cawing of seagulls. Those white and gray rats with wings – if you live near the coast you know seagulls will eat your sandwich from your hands if you’re not careful – have one of the most recognizable bird calls in the world. I didn’t notice how much I missed their incessant cries when I was by the docks in Solitude, or adventuring near the frozen shores to the north, but once I installed Ambient Seagulls I couldn’t imagine playing without it.
Sound design is more important to immersion than most gamers realize. The addition of a subtle sound effect to the right areas in Skiyrim has a dramatic effect, and I’m going to be watching for more sound mods to make my experience richer.
This mod is hit or miss for me. From the description, changing the names of some of the items in your inventory to assist with sorting sounds like a great idea. And when I read that this mod was compatible with QD Inventory, I jumped all over it. Better Sorting generally works as advertised, changing the names of, say, health potions you find in the world from annoyingly imprecise text like “Potion of Minor Healing” to “Restore Health – 25.” No more selling the wrong potion or frantically searching your inventory for the right potion during a fight.
Even more useful is the reordering of words to make efficient sorting possible. Arrows all have that word first in their title is now “arrow” with the descriptor word after it: “Dwarven Arrow” becomes “Arrow – Dwarven.” That way, all your different piles of arrows aren’t spaced out all over your inventory list. Simple, right?
The problem with Better Sorting is that not every item can be altered without access to the Creation Kit from Bethesda. For now, the mod works fine and I will be keeping it installed on my machine, but I will be watching for when the CK drops for a more complete alteration of the item names.
Immersive Skyrim Thunder
Being caught in a rainstorm in Skyrim is almost as crappy as it is in real life. I will sometimes just sleep away the day in Breezehome to let the storm pass. But once I installed Immersive Skyrim Thunder, I’ve kind of liked jumping around in the rain – just to hear the thunderclap. Insert AC/DC song here.
Not only does this mod make the thunder and rain sounds better by adding various clashes instead of the single effect the game shipped with, but it also alters the sound effects for the dragon shout Unrelenting Force. There are now four different thunder sounds that will trigger when you say, “Fus Ro Dah!”
Have you been running around the open meadows of Skyrim wondering why there isn’t more grass? (That’s not a drug reference, nooch.) Mod author OpticShooter has got you covered. Lush Grass isn’t a major alteration to the game, but it definitely increases the ambience of the landscape of Skyrim. One could say that the reason the grass is sparse is because the climate doesn’t support that much plant life, but to those people, I say, pshaw! This mod doesn’t all of sudden make Skyrim a rain forest or anything, just makes the random sprouts of grass appear more deliberate. More grass is always better. (And that was a drug reference.)
Makers Mark Ingots
Author Mikeomni gets major props from me for not only improving the look of Skyrim, but doing so in a way that fits within the lore of Tamriel. If you’ve spent any time looting dungeons or mines, you’ve probably seen an ingot of iron or silver laying around. Those blocks of metal never looked very convincing, especially when the image was blown up in the art in your inventory. Mikeomni wanted to fix that, so he decided to put an embossed mark on every ingot. The question was what should that mark look like?
Mikeomni researched the different towns, and the mines or dungeons that held the most veins of a particular metal or resource. The imprint on those ingots represented the towns or organization in Tamriel that was either the major source for that resource, or where it was likely to be imported to Skyrim from – at least to the author. Moonstone, for example, is mostly used in Elvish gear so Mikeomni put an Elvish knot and some runes on the mark. The result is subtle, but awesome addition to the immersive feel of Skyrim.
The world map in Skyrim isn’t that useful. Sure you can scroll over most of the landscape with ease, but those dang clouds get in the way more often than not and the textures just feel muddy. Map Improved by Athfkarl gives you the options tweak the map display exactly to your liking. Frustrated with the top-down view and want to zoom around Skyrim in a first person perspective? You can do that. Want to get rid of clouds and the blurred textures? Gone! Replaced with a clear view.
Map Improved isn’t technically a mod, but a published series of tweaks you can make to the Skyrim.ini file which will alter how the game runs. Many of us PC gamers have already heavily edited our Skyrim.ini to improve our experience (more on those tweaks next week), so just overwriting the whole file would erase all of those changes. Knowing his audience, Athfkarl has provided a bunch of values you can manually add to the file in your Skyrim directory without screwing up the finely crafted document you’ve been working on since November 11th. Which is nice.
This one is a biggie – weighing in at a hefty 1 gig of texture files. NebuLa1’s ambitious project is to replace nearly all of the textures in the game with higher resolution versions. So far, Skyrim HD offers a noticeable improvement to how nearly every surface in the game appears. The wood grain of the planks in Dragonsreach look crisper, the waterfalls look more fluid, and even the cobblestones of the roads appear more realistic than the large, bland flagstones of the original texture.
Be warned, Skyrim HD will tax your system’s RAM something fierce. NebuLa1 recommends 8 gigs of RAM with at least 2gb of free memory and a graphics card with some onboard memory is a must. That said, I can run the game plus Skyrim HD with a middling system (nVidia 285, 4 gigs RAM, Core Duo 2 CPU) but even then the load times are extended by a second or two. The boost in visuals is enough of a tradeoff for me, but your mileage may vary especially if you have a lot of other mods installed and you like to watch Netflix or listen to The Escapist Podcast while playing. (If you’re experiencing FPS hit, you might want to check out the Skyrim 4 GB .exe file – see below.)
It’s not technically a mod, but 4GB Skyrim is important to us PC gamers nonetheless. Bethesda hard-coded a limit in the Skyrim executable file which limited the RAM it could use to only 2 gb, essentially making any extra memory your system has useless. 4GB Skyrim fixes that by altering the way Skyrim boots up. When you click on the new .exe file, you’re playing the game from the same files but now all of that memory is ready to be chewed up by all the fancy new texture you’ve installed.
Now, some of you may balk at downloading and running an .exe file on your machine, for worry of viruses or trojan horses or worms or whatever new word for nasty thing that poops in your computer case people are using these days. And you are right to be vigilant, but I trust Skyrim Nexus and the moderators there have thoroughly checked the skyrim4GB.exe for any malicious intent and found nothing. I’ve been using it for the last week or so, and I haven’t found any viruses on my machine.
Only pretty flowers with a kickass FPS rate playing Skyrim. Do it. Join us.
That’s all I’ve got this time around. I’ll be playing Skyrim a lot over the next few weeks, and continuing to download and test mods. For now, I’m still going to concentrate on mods that don’t alter the rules too much, but when the Creation Kit comes out (Bethesda has promised it for January) then I may spread my wings a bit. That is, if I can resist the awesome new cooking recipes in Cooking Recipes Pack by Wolferoo. I’m a sucker for crafting …