Build Your Own Skyrim, Part 2: Remake The World

By Craig Pearson on March 17th, 2012 at 10:56 am.

Soon all this will be modded.
Okay, that’s a little bit dramatic, but “making cities a bit more accessible to thieves” is missing the flair that the Dovakhiin deserves, and while I won’t be moving mountains in this second Skyrim mod round-up, I will be shifting cities about a bit. This second shout of mods isn’t really about fixing things or adding to the world: it’s about building on what’s there, making the world nicer. I wouldn’t suggest you use all the mods listed here at the same time, as there’s bound to be come major incompatibilities when you start shifting major urban areas around, but it’s a useful, catch-all guide to bettering the existing game. If the grass isn’t greener on the other side, it soon will be.

The first thing you’ll change is the global lighting. The most famous lighting messer-upper in the ENB series, but it’s shader heavy tweakery comes at a price, paid in framerates. A much more stable solution is this Realistic Lighting mod. A caveat: it’s not exactly more realistic, but it does come with a plug-in that enables you to to tweak the basic scheme however you so wish. I think that’s a far bigger benefit, making Skyrim a lot more pleasant to your palate, than simply accepting someone else’s. That said, there is a lovely colour mod called Realistic Colors and Nights on the Workshop that gives the world lovely lighting if you don’t appreciate Realistic Lighting’s settings. I think it’s quite nice, personally.

When you start looking around the world with your new lighting the urge to fiddle with the rest will strike. Like those snow-capped peaks towering slightly more prettily over the landscape, it’s a slippery slope. There’s plenty you can do to make the pastures prettier, though: Realistic Water Textures and Terrain bumps up the background quality mightily, with particular attention being paid to Skyrim’s water works: rivers, waterfalls, even rain drops and foam, are all redesigned, giving the flow a much more organic gloop. Given my propensity for following waterways, a quirk I attribute to my love of fluid dynamics and my interest in being wet, it’s made my Skyrim wanders a lovelier experience.

As has the Skyrim Flora Overhaul. Sorry Vurt’s Skyrim Flora Overhaul. An old hand in the competitive world of Bethesda vegetation remodelling, he’s done the same for New Vegas, Vurt’s Flora floors you with a bigger variety of trees, shrubs, plants and groundcover. I’ve played it with and without the mod, and going back to the old trees isn’t an option: the texture of the world feels different, slightly off, without it installed to me: it adds a depth that makes the original feel flatter.

With the Flora sorted, Fauna needs a few tweaks to bring them up to scratch. I don’t know about you, but I have an extreme dislike of the fur on Skyrim’s default Highland cattle. It’s not as detailed or as varied as Bellyache’s Animal and Creature Pack. He’s done a fair job of taking the menagerie of Skyrim’s beasts and smoothing out a few weak spots, while adding variety and colour to the them. If you’re fine with the creature behaviour just go with that, but Skyrim Creatures Alive uses those skins in an overhaul that tweaks the AI of the animals, including how they react to each other. It’s meant to encourage inter-species rumbles that’ll make it easier for the Dovakhiin to slip away if being fought over by different species.

And just for the hell of it, a night sky that’s overbearingly beautiful. Inside the Nebula is the sort of visual overhaul that you can tell the devs would want to make, a night sky dominated by a high-contrast nebula.

I was about to link to the Open Cities mod, but it appears to have been wiped. I expect it’ll return after the bugs are removed. In the meantime there’s Detailed Cities, a mod that’s dedicate to eliminating the slightly too clean look of many of Bethesda’s vanilla urban centres and gives them a more lived in feel. Trees and bushes crowd the streets, people chill on benches. Detailed Cityies’ Skyrim feels like a place that, if the population fled the dragon menace to Tamriel, a week later it would be reclaimed by the shrubbery. An additional counter-point to this mod is Detailed Outskirts, by the same author: it pulls the same trick of using foliage to add to the background. Both of these were built to work with Open Cities, so if it returns you can add it to the install without too much trouble.

Which is also what Crowded Cities does. It’s a very simple: it increases the number of citizens. It’s curated, with 30 dropping into Solitude each with their own hourly routines, so they’re not there every day, and when they are they each know different routes among the buildings. They blend well into the backdrop of Skyrim’s life, although you can guess what happens when things glitch: too many people all around at the same time. It’s another mod you should try and see how you get on with, but if it’s updated things should eventually thin out.

There’s another trick you can pull to make the populace a bit more interesting: Dynamic Guards deals with the homogeny of Skyrim’s meatheads. Initially it just randomised helmets, but now it’s a more encompassing changes, reskinning the guards to be region specific while at the same time appearing much more varied. They’ll be climate AND lore appropriate. Further updates will deal a little with guard behaviours, as well as adding a few more to the wilderness.

Finally, my favourite mod. I’m not sure it’s really one that changes the world in the way the others have, but Thievery Overhaul’s goal is to make the cities a much more robust place to get your sneak on. My default position is to find routes in and around the world, and this mod builds them in all five major cities. Extra ladders, entrances, additional vaults and loot have been folded into the cities. New arrows let you light your way, cause distracting noise and flashbang aggressors. No rope arrow, yet! I wouldn’t use this with any of the other city changing mods, as this has its merry with the cities’ very bones, but if you’re focused on thievery it’s the first thing I’d install.

Next week: the fun stuff.

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29 Comments »

  1. Juan Carlo says:

    Someone should port the “Oblivion” mod “Nehrim” to “Skyrim.” It would give me an excuse to go back and finish it.

    • deadly.by.design says:

      Well, there’s still Andoran: Prologue to look forward to. They switched from the Gamebryo engine to Skyrim’s Creation.
      http://andoran.com/en/

      • Premium User Badge

        lurkalisk says:

        Very good news indeed. I was wondering about that, but couldn’t be bothered to investigate.

    • Latterman says:

      last time I checked the Nehrim guys were working on a new mod (sequel to Nehrim?) for Skyrim

  2. Waldkoenig says:

    Hey, if you like to sit comfortable on your couch while playing games look into this mod. It majorly enhances the Controller support for Skyrim. Thinks like quicksaving, -loading and more hotykeys:

    Better Xbox360 Controller: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=246

  3. MuscleHorse says:

    Obscure to no one but still worth a mention is the Sounds of Skyrim project. Only two modules are out so far but the aim of the mod is to comprehensively add unique atmospheric sounds all over the play area and it’s remarkably professional.

    http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=9106
    http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=13231

    • Blackcompany says:

      Sounds of Skyrim is really good. I use the Dungeon portion now. The Wilderness portion is also very immersion-oriented and I loved it. But it tended to increase loading times when moving into outdoor environments to a noticeable degree.
      .
      Might give it another try with the newest patch, though, since it is a good mod.

    • Shooop says:

      I highly recommend the dungeon sound pack, but I don’t like the outdoor one. It’s too distracting because your first clue to an animal charging at you is sound.

  4. Blackcompany says:

    Thanks for this series of articles. Skyrim mods are great…but finding the ones intended to enhance immersion, improve the world and the things in it…sometimes, this is as much a “Main Quest” as playing the game. Nice to have people whose opinions we trust putting together groups of mods that really bring something to the game.

    • Shooop says:

      Tell me about it. I spent well over 4 or so hours collecting all the mods I wanted to use. And then when some of them clashed and nearly broke my game…

      • Blackcompany says:

        Sites like the Nexus are a grand idea, in theory. They do the community a wonderful service. Unfortunately, they also make finding quality mods meant to enhance the game a chore and a half.
        .
        What I would not give for a Skyrim modding site dedicated solely to immersion-oriented mods. Those that enhance the game, or add new quests and things find, do and see.
        .
        Now don’t take me wrong: I’m not judging. Not really. If you like all the hentai and anime stuff, that’s great. Use it. But frankly, I wish we have a “Hentai Nexus” that gathered all the best Hentai/Anime mods for these games under one roof. This would give those folks who use such mods a convenient, one stop shop. It would also provide a skyrim nexus full of mods about Skyrim, as opposed to being full of mods trying to make Skyrim into something else.

        • Fierce says:

          My personal experience with the Nexus was with Fallout3 modding, and it seemed fairly easy to go from completely clueless to downloading the FOMM, FOSE and a few choice mods. For simplified searching, I believe what you guys are looking for is two things.

          First, I’m almost positive you have to check a checkbox in your profile or upon clicking a related mod in order to see Adult Mods. Maybe that was changed somehow for Skyrim, I don’t know as I don’t own it yet, but there is definitely filtering options available. The more tittilating stuff is not required to be in your face during every search, guaranteed.

          The second thing you might want to try, and which I found particularly useful during my Fallout3 modding, are the Top 100 lists. I seem to recall both a Top 100 and a Top 100 Non-Adult list, and they were both able to be organized by endorsements, votes, downloads or what have you.

          Typically, the community is right there with you on desiring the best environment changing mods, whether they’re HD reskins or immersive sounds and night skies. It doesn’t take one much further than Mod #35~45 to find the ones worth downloading, or the Creators with a portfolio worth browsing. From there, keywords like “cities”, “animals”, “wilderness”, “night”, “mountain” and so forth will take you the rest of the way.

          Happy modding!

  5. InternetBatman says:

    The plant mod reminds me of the stalker environment mods.

  6. speedwaystar says:

    i use and recommend the following (in no particular order):

    got wood? got feathers? make arrows: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=1178
    bumpmapped roads: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=4304
    enjoy a favourites menu that does not make you want to die: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=4862
    prevent your horse from barging in front of you to charge up spiral staircases the better to get at your enemy and be chopped into horsemeat: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=1522
    Cryostasis demonstrated once and for all that one cannot simply walk around in sub-arctic conditions wearing only your smalls and expect to live. these mods uphold that principal: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=1522 and http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=6745 you probably shouldn’t enable both at once. or should you?
    Gopher is well known from the Fallout modding scene. he’s ported his immersionerating HUD invisiblerator (iHUD) to Skyrim. hurrah! http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=3222
    another Fallout regular, Imp of the Perverse has ported his More Complex Needs mod to Skyrim, so that you can die of hunger and thirst. http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=10639
    smith all manner of stuff, without breaking game balance (more that it already is, cough, cough): http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=1020
    you’ll also want this non-game-breaking smithings perks fixer: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=6047
    and this weapon/armour subtype fixer: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=4719
    pack? sorted: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=4873
    if you are a Khajit, you need this mod. trust me. http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=2565
    you’ll also need this: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=951
    hit people with rocks, papers and shotguns in a MythBusters-approved, toned down knockback physics kind of way: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=601
    walk at a sensible, non-gelatinous pace. run at slightly less insensate speed: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=1931
    enough with your “i saw a mudcrab the other day” banter already: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=746
    speaking of which, i saw a mudcrab the other day. disgusting creature: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=1709
    skyUI, natch: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=3863
    guards are watching you. with their eyes. except they have none. oops: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=4120
    an alternative (and for mine, very pretty indeed) sky remap. because as everyone who has played a recent space sim knows, the entire universe is simply chockers with nebulas: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=1704

    enjoy.

  7. battles_atlas says:

    How do the mods here differ from the Skyrim HD textures mod? I installed a load of graphics mods a while back only to find that the textures mod did all the same things in one file.

    • speedwaystar says:

      they were written before the official HD texture patch was released, so understandably they are mostly superceded by it. however some addons, like HD water, for instance, significantly improves not just water texture but issues like flow, different textures for different types of water, etc, which are *not* addressed by the official patch.

  8. Shooop says:

    This here’s a little one that makes the loading screens something you almost look forward to.
    http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=15626

    This here’s a favorite of mine that makes the Dark Brotherhood’s gimp suit into something much more fashionable. I’m sure some of you will recognize where it originated from.
    http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=14342

    I really enjoy the kill cams in Skyrim, brings some welcome flair into otherwise boring as hell combat. But I hate the blur effects they slapped on them. So there’s this mod.
    http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=11757

    One of the most frustrating quests are the Thieves’ Guild stone hunt. It’s bad enough the game is terribly unhelpful in pointing you in their general directions, but worse, they practically blend in with all the other clutter. This put map markers up for all 24 of the damn things so you might actually complete the quest.
    http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=10916

  9. dsi1 says:

    You guys should make Collections of what you think works well together, for easier consumption of course.

  10. Roshin says:

    Hmm, an RPS Skyrim Mod Collection would be interesting. :D

    Anyway, I’ve used the Nexus and other sites for modding Beth games for a long time now, but I greatly prefer the Steam Workshop. Not only is it easier to try out new mods, but I find that modders (so far) put together better descriptions and presentations of their mods, than they do on the Nexus. I appreciate the extra effort.

    However, I realized today that the Steam Workshop doesn’t clean up after itself. If you unsubscribe to a mod, the files will still be in the data folder and if you try out lots of mods (like me), it will result in an awful mess. :(

  11. PodX140 says:

    I find that with the steam workshop, I rarely have a problem with finding mods, and I’ve got over 40 installed, and that number just keeps going up. I really love the one click install and auto-update system.

  12. Quinnbeast says:

    I’d like to give the Thievery mod a shot, but the most recent comments point at some consistent CTD issues, so I’m a little wary of it. I’ve mostly started with graphical tweaks as listed above, stuff that doesn’t mess too much with cells, spawn points and the like. As with previous games, I’ve been introducing mods one at a time and giving myself chance to play for a couple of hours before adding something new.

    I’m using most of the recommendations in this post… +1 vote for RCRN 2.1, the balance of lighting/saturation/FXAA etc gave me great results straight off the bat, whereas Realistic Lighting took a ton of experimenting without landing on results I was happy with. Different strokes! I use RCRN 2.1 combined with Superl3 ENB (“low” preset) without destroying my FPS too much, and they work well together in proxy mode. I’m running a 9400 Quad with ATI 6870, which is odd because I’ve seen similar combos bring an i7 w/ Nvidia 580 to its knees. It’s the luck of the draw.

    Of course, I’d love to try Wars In Skyrim, but I’m not brave enough. Might wait for the new patch and see what issues it throws up.

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  14. Svant says:

    Problem with all the shader thingies to change the brightness and whatnot of the game is that the game doesn’t know its darker so sneaking etc is not affected. The “realstic lightning” actually changes the brightness of the game so it affects sneaking and whatnot. But i don’t really get the complaints that its not “realistic” well sure it might not be 100% but its way more realistic than the default settings which has no darkness whatsoever. If i go outside in the middle of the night its bloody dark no matter if my eyes adjust or not.

    Another mod i recomend is Deadly Combat which makes wepons more deadly, blocking more effective and armor somewhat less effective, adds stagger if you are hit when not blocking. As well as “timed” blocks where you stagger the enemy if you have blocked for less than 0,5-1 second before being hit. Makes melee that much more interesting.

  15. olpolpolpolp says:

    http://lnk.co/ILTHN
    this stuff is very cool