Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The mods I can't live without

Sunset in The Pale

I have no other way to describe it, I am completely and utterly addicted to Skyrim. I'm closing in on 500 hours of play time and I'm STILL discovering areas I've never seen before and completely new quests from the original unmodded vanilla game. There are a few mods I'm planning to install after I've beefed up my video card that will add some quests, and I haven't even installed the Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn DLCs yet. All this will be fixed next week. But that said there is a good number of mods that I now simply can't imagine going without. I thought I'd give a list of them with a short description and links to the Skyrim Nexus; I do not use Steam Workshop.

The first series of mods are mainly for the UI and the nuts & bolts:

This is what it says it is. After updating Skyrim to its latest version, this patch fixes a lot of little things that Bethesda left untouched. There are versions for the original game only as well as for the DLC users. The patch also boosts performance quite a bit so it's a must for all players. 

This isn't really a mod but most of the bigger mods, the ones that affect gameplay and aren't purely cosmetic, require SKSE to be installed. If a player only intends to use cosmetic mods it can be skipped but for a heavy mod user like me, can't live without it.

It's no secret that the original Skyrim GUI is simple at best. It was designed more towards the console users and it's very gamepad friendly. When SkyUI came out it was a boon to all PC users because it made manageing the inventory, magic and powers, and also player bonuses and curses much more intuitive. Now in its third iteration, SkyUI is clearer than ever with its colored icons, sortable lists and even a search engine when one is looking for a particular item. Nowadays when I see a video of someone playing without it I simply can't imagine going back. With the third version there is now a mod configurator so mod makers can build little UIs to, well, let players configure their mods without console command hassles. But SkyUI also has a little brother...

Where the original Skyrim GUI was simple, the original favorites menu was downright stupid. A tiny display list showing 6 or 7 favorited items, spells or powers when one can easily have over 30 favorites... yeah, something had to be done. This mod replaces the tiny lower left-hand corner list with a full-screen window displaying all the favorites in well-defined lists like Weapons, Apparel, Potions, Powers, Magic, and also Other to include items or spells coming from mods. And each list is scrollable too.

Ever noticed how hazy and unclear the original map can be? With this mod the problem is fixed. Simple as that! You can also see the roads and paths a lot better for those players emphasizing on avoiding fast travel. I have another mod for those players further down.

Now that Skyrim is a lot more comfortable to play with, let's make it look better:

Adding a lot more detail to Skyrim's days and nights, Climates of Tamriel turns the game from "very beautiful" to "absolutely stunning!". Not only are the skies more beautiful, but the weather events like snow and rain are much less taxing on one's computer than in the unmodded game. The aurorae borealis also move! The mod also changes the way lighting works so building interiors appear much more natural and the dungeons darker, "a tad" to "a lot" depending on what module was installed. Nights are also darker and can lead to a few bad surprises; one must either carry a torch or use the Candlelight spell, or use another mod I'll describe further down this list.

The original Skyrim waterways, lakes, oceans and waterfalls look alright, but when one has the opportunity to make it better "alright" just doesn't cut it. Water in the original game looks more like molten metal than actual H2O. The Pure Water mods adds a lot of transparency to the water and the way it moves in waves and ripples looks a lot more natural. The best examples is when looking at the shallow streams or lake edges. The mountain streams and rapids are also affected and look much better as well.

Out of all the ETaC mods I use only the Villages because I find the ones affecting the major cities to add way too many trees. Some may like this but there should be a medium somewhere between "barren" and "overgrown mess". But that said, the Villages mod steered away from the greenery and concentrated on adding life to the smaller places in the game world like Rorikstead, Ivarstead, Dragon Bridge, Shor's Stone, etc. It also did quite a number on the city of Morthal, which for a hold capital looked too small and unimportant. There is also a module to make the city of Winterhold truly look like it's been hit with a magical nuke, with ghosts eerily walking around the ruined part of the city.

These two very small mods were some of the first to come out and make everybody look a lot better. There are plenty of other mods that affect the characters' looks (nude hot babes anyone?) but these two are very simple and do only what's necessary.

Now that the game plays better and the world looks better, here are more mods I use to increase the enjoyment I get out of the game:

By the time you reach level 30, the dragons in the original game are nothing short of pushovers. One can stand right in front of a dragon's snout, take the entire brunt of its breath and kill it with a few swings of *insert your favorite melee weapon here*. With Deadly Dragons set at its hardest setting you will start saying "oh shit!" repeatedly as soon as you hear wings flapping. I've tested the mod set at Hardcore on the Master game setting with a level 81 max-skilled with all perks character using max-crafted armor and weapons and this flying lizard called "Zealot of Akatosh", which normally appears only after reaching level 65, made mince-meat out of me. Yep, this setting requires multiple followers with long-range support. There are plenty of ways to play with the dragons' amount of armor and health, the frequency of spawns, etc. The mod can also affect the toughness of other NPC's and monsters. The mod also has Armory and Spells modules which add many crafting parts and craftables in the former, and new spells unlockable with dragon souls in the latter.

In reality these are two seperate mods. Both are compilations of many armor and weapon mods made since Skyrim came out, but they do more than simply adding them to the game for the player to craft and wear. You can find them randomly in the game world. You can find them in stores. You can even find them worn/wielded by random NPCs both friendly and hostile. All the armors and weapons are very tastefully made and none are overpowered. Definitely adds a little something to the game.

The original Dark Brotherhood armor looks OK. On Astrid. On a male character it looks much too weird for my tastes, and on the Khajiit and Argonian characters it looks ridiculous. The TS armor looks a lot better overall and it also modifies the Ancient Shrouded Armor which can be found during a quest or by stumbling upon it. The mod also changes the looks of vampire child Babette; she's more like a vampire teenager with this mod but she does look a lot better.

Are you one of those hardcore types that avoid using the fast travel to get from Point A to Point B, but don't mind spending a few Septims to use carriages? Then this mod is for you. The original game allowed for travel between the hold capitals, but Better Fast Travel adds all of the smaller settlements, and also shipping services between the port cities of Solitude, Dawnstar and Windhelm.

OK this is where one can easily cross the line into overpowered territory; I don't like using the word "cheat" in a single-player game because you have no one to cheat but yourself. And sometimes you can do some extremely fun experimentation using overpowered stuff. But I digress. As soon as a game of Skyrim is started, it's pretty clear that the character will pick up stuff. LOTS of stuff. And will use a bed to get a "well rested" bonus. While it's very easy to obtain the first house, some variety is always welcome, especially when replaying the game. Now the choice for dwelling mods is simply astonishing so go by taste and what you want for the type of character you play. I have a few house mods currently installed but the one I still use the most is the Dovahkiin Hideout, which links all in-game player houses plus the Ragged Flagon, the Archmage's Quarters and Jorrvaskr. I also use Reaper's Dark Tower and Bathing Beauties Luxury Suite. What can I say, I'm a guy that loves female eye candy :))

Speaking of replaying the game, this mod gives a lot of alternative ways to start the game with a new character, including the original "prisoner caught crossing the border heading to his execution" start. The options vary; I'll try to enumerate them but I may forget a few: a home owner in a hold capital (except Windhelm because of the quest), a farmer near Dragon Bridge, a new member of a guild (mage, thief, companion or assassin), guard for a merchant caravan (Khajiit only), member of an Orc tribe (Orc only), Morrowind refugee (Dunmer only), shipwrecked somewhere on the northern shore, member of a bandit gang, member of the Forsworn, a hunter in the woods, left for dead out in the middle of nowhere... easy to see that the choices baffle the mind! Some choice make the start easier than others though. Starting as the owner of Proudspire means you have tons of gold and access to all the stuff the huge house has to offer. In the Orc tribe the new character is penniless but has very good heavy armor and weapons. The Left for dead start can be quite grueling as you have nothing but some ragged clothes on your back. The character must get to civilization ASAP! All starts have one thing in common though. Upon starting you are given a quest to investigate Helgen. And for the sake of not spoiling the mod I will stop writing :)


There are other mods I play with and I admit some are a little on the overpowered/cheat side. For example I have the option to start the game with all crafting skills and perks maxed so the new character can work on only the skills he's interested in. But even then, the best armor does NOT make you invicible, not by a long shot. Another one I have is Lock Overhaul; I absolutely hate the lockpicking mini-game. This mod changes the mechanic quite a bit. Earlier I was talking about the dark nights of Climates of Tamriel, so I installed a mod called Predator Vision, made with the werewolves/vampires in mind. There is a night vision that makes everything brighter (the brightness is fully adjustable) and the predator vision makes heat sources glow, including humanoids, monsters and animals. The Undead are quite cold! And there you have it. I have more mods than this but to me the ones I listed are absolute must-haves and have kept me interested in Skyrim for over a year now. And I'm only getting the DLC's next week !!!

May your road lead you to warm sands!


My office in Reaper's Dark Tower

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