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While most everybody seems to have shifted from Bethesda’s open world to The Old Republic‘s – at least in The Escapist offices – I still have a lot left to do in Skyrim. Not the least of the quests I’ve undertaken is to craft a perfect user experience cobbled together from the plethora of mods available at sites like SkyrimNexus.com.

Note: As before, I still haven’t dabbled in mods that significantly alter the game assets or rules of the game. I don’t like god items or added quests or tricked out houses; the game world as Bethesda’s staff designed is what I want to play through. I don’t have a problem improving the graphics or the abysmal interface to make the game more enjoyable. So while I get a snicker out of Macho Man Randy Savage and Dr. Zoidberg as a mudcrab, they are not going to end up in my Skyrim.

On to the mods!

SkyUI

I gave this mod a brief look before, but now the sleekly designed interface has enough features for me to endorse it fully. Seriously, go get it. Right now. I’ll wait …

Gone are the uninformative lists of alphabetical items and in their place are beautifully simple icons separating each category. SkyUI 1.0 let you sort these columns before, but only when you opened the inventory window, leaving the default interface there when you looted bodies or talked to a merchant. SkyUI Version 2.0 now governs all of your inventory, allowing you to sort by stat, value, weight, and the elusive sabermetric value/weight.

In addition, the new version alters the troubling default magic menu to offer a lot of the same functionality. The different schools of magic each have an icon at the top so you can quickly skip around, and SkyUI’s magic menu even lets you sort dragon shouts by recovery time or level.

SkyUI needs an up-to-date version of the SKSE script extender to work perfectly, so you basically have to maintain two mods to keep it working. But honestly, a user interface designed for use with the mouse and keyboard is worth the extra hassle, especially now that version 2.0 is basically feature complete.

Download SkyUI here

I tip my hat to the SkyUI team (snakster, T3T, Kratos) for improving my Skyrim so completely. The team plans on tackling the favorites list next but they can take their time because of a little mod called …

Categorized Favorites Menu

The single column favorites menu that came default in Skyrim is a necessity when playing with a controller, but the mouse offers so much more control than a silly gamepad. As I progressed through the plot and acquired more spells and potions, I ended up scrolling my favorites list incessantly looking for Fireball or my Dwarven Bow. The funny thing is, I didn’t even realize how much of a pain the favorites menu was until I saw Categorized Favorites Menu from the aptly nicknamed author “favmenumodder”.

CFM offers a pane of configurable panels when you press Q (or whatever you have hotkeyed to bring up favorites). These panels have default positions for magic spells, potions or powers you have favorited and it’s a great help to have them all available at a glance instead of being forced to scroll. But even if you have more spells in the magic pane than can be displayed, you can scroll that list independently of the list. It’s really just icing on the sweetroll that it’s further categorized by school of magic.

I haven’t delved into configuring my favorites panel, but “favmenumodder” has provided instructions on how to do so by altering the accompanying favoritesmenu.cfg file. One interesting, but experimental, feature is the ability to swap out more than one piece of equipment with one click through creating item sets. Once I have some time – and a need to swap into fire resist gear – I’ll fiddle with this feature to see if it works as advertised.

Even better, as of the latest version of both mods, Categorized Favorites Menu is compatible with Better Sorting by Gaëtan Landry. At first, the conflict was kind of a dealbreaker for me, but now CFM will display correctly with the new item names in Better Sorting. Score!

Download Categorized Favorites Menu here.

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A Quality World Map – With Roads

The map in Skyrim is pretty amazing. At first glance, it seems like I’m on the back of a luck dragon, skimming around the entire game world, and taking in the peaks and valleys of frozen north. But when you actually spend time trying to complete tasks for random dudes in Rorikstead, you realize the default Skyrim map is a duller tool than Donald Trump. It’s easy to get lost, and even with tweaking your Skyrim.ini file (or installing Improve Maps) to remove the clouds and the blur, there’s just not enough detail.

That’s where Quality World Map comes in. Mod author IcePenguin has completely replaced the default textures of the world map with his own cartography, and it makes the map much easier to use without losing any of its 3D glory. The best part is the accurate demarkation of every road in Skyrim; having each path marked on the map give you a great frame of reference when you’re adventuring. You can opt for a more basic view with only main roads on the map, but I prefer the complete Rand McNally’s atlas of Skyrim.

IcePenguin also offers a “classic” map that replaces the realistic textures with a parchment style drawn map, while still being in 3d. I’d probably prefer it – gives you the immersive feeling that you’re glancing at a map your character has with you wrather than looking at Skyrim in a snowglobe – but that version is a little buggy right now. Install at your own risk.

Quick Protip: I had a bitch of a time figuring out Quality World Map doesn’t work if you have the “uLockedTerrainLOD” value in your Skyrim.ini file. Remove that line from your .ini and Quality Road Map works like a charm.

Download A Quality World Map – With Roads here.

Real Ice – Dull Edition

This mod fixes a minor pet peeve of mine. I haven’t spent much time on the northern coast of Skyrim, but while I was checking out the smuggler grottoes up there the ice just looked horrible. I understand that textures need to be compressed into a deliverable package by Bethesda, but so many of the textures in Skyrim just don’t hold up to scrutiny. While I have mods like Skyrim HD – 2K Textures installed, it doesn’t replace everything in the game so I was left to either hating the way ice looked or grabbing Real Ice.

From the maker of Lush Grass, Real Ice works as the title suggests – the icebergs and floating ice just look more real. Light glints off them in a way that appears normal – which is why I chose the “dull” edition over other ice mods. There are a couple of different options, such as a darker version or one with a parallax effect that adds a bit more crystallization to the ice. The parallax one is tasty, that’s all I’m saying.

Download Real Ice here.

TESV Acceleration Layer

If you already have SKSE installed for SkyUI to work, you might as well pick up this mod. The Acceleration Layer basically uses scripts to shortcut some of the CPU-intensive tasks the game code has to do, effectively improving framerate in areas with a lot of moving parts like population centers and waterfalls.Don’t ask me how it works, ask one of the developers of SKSE – ianpatt:

[TESV Acceleration Layer] replaces many calls to functions that would have been inlined if the compiler optimizer settings were set to something higher than ‘off’ with actual inline code that nicely fits in the five bytes the jump instruction was previously taking up. It also overwrites several functions, replacing them with SSE implementations instead of the very painfully slow original x87 implementations.

If you’re like me, then most of that was technical mumbo-jumbo, but it doesn’t really matter. All I know is that after installing this plugin, the game just runs faster. Users – including the guys at Skyrim Mod Sanctuary in the video below – report their framerate going up at least 2 FPS while still others say their Skyrim is 20 FPS faster after installing this mod.

What more endorsement do you need?

Download TESV Acceleration Layer

That’s all the mods I’ve kept in my collection the last two weeks. As long as The Old Republic doesn’t suck up too much of my time, I’ll continue reporting on all the developments in the Skyrim mod scene. If something cool comes up, or if you’re a mod author yourself and want to pimp your mod, feel free to send me private message in the forums.

If it’s good, and doesn’t turn all ebony swords into huge black dildos, I might showcase it here.

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