Hands On With Skyrim’s Falskaar

By Craig Pearson on July 22nd, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

You say that phrase just once and they'll be pulling an arrow from a far more uncomfortable part of your body.
Falskaar is a folly. It really shouldn’t exist. It’s a ploy by a 19 year-old modder to prove to Bethesda that he can make something that rivals their DLC, but with a fraction of their resources. That’s a bold claim for an amateur to make. Can it be done? Skyrim‘s built for adventurers and sightseers, not just quest hunters. It’s a place as much as it is a game. Is Falskaar a place? I spent the morning playing it to find out.

It is a place. A new land separated from Skyrim. It’s had peace for a while, but the main land’s strife is slowly being mirrored here. It’s about a third of the size of the main game, which was enough for me to play it the way I usually play Skyrim: like a buffoon, skipping through the meadows. I’m on holiday in these games. There’s no point in taking on the main quest if I can’t simply walk off into the woods looking for adventure. If all it had were Jarls shouting at other Jarls, it wouldn’t interest me.

It begins not far from Riften. You enter a cave that could be any dungeon in Skyrim, which is the first statement of Falskaar: this isn’t a campy theatrical reworking of the main game. There are no vampires, here, just more Skyrim. I carefully plundered my way through a linear, bandit-protected corridor sliced into the earth, the deeper it goes the more Dwemer influenced design seeps in, like it’s somehow leaking in from the groundwater. A boss fight with a giant mechanical Dwemer confirms this is their territory. He was protecting a portal.

Falskaar is on the other side of the portal. In the tradition of all portals everywhere, this one breaks the moment it sends you to Falskaar. You’re met at the gate and led through another dungeon, then roped into a rescue mission in another dungeon before finally being allowed to explore. Before getting drawn into the local politics, I went for a wild wander. It’s immediately apparent that Falskaar doesn’t quite have the noise of Skyrim. Where Skyrim would have dungeon openings or angry wizards, there is mostly forest. But it’s not empty: I found the remains of a battle between bandits and guards; I angered a giant and his mammoths by skipping through their camp; I was rewarded for a taking a dip in the icy sea with an island of wolves and a dungeon. But you can tell the difference between a world created by the the many skilled hands of Bethesda’s game masters and an excitable if incredibly talented amateur. I just knew where to look.

It’s also damned pretty, in a functional kind of way. That’s enough of a reward for me 50% of the time, and I took some postcard shots when I should have been on the main quest, because there’s nowhere quite like Skyrim for screenshots.

If the exploration is a little bit lacking, it’s only because the quests have been obsessed over. It’s a remarkably well-crafted soap opera of men fretting over what they have and trying to defend it. It begins with a few bandit raids, but soon I was escaping from burning cities through secret passageways. Or I was raiding armouries for secrets, fighting my way though a multi-level bandit-hovel that took a few tries to get right. I don’t know if the AI has been tweaked, or if it was the fact that my character was brand new, but that dungeon was a tough fight, with multiple opponents crowding around me, and it wasn’t the only time I had to redo a dungeon. That said, they’re well designed, and most will allow you to leave without backtracking.

Even if it is just a Nordic head-butting contest, those heads are wearing crowns. A lot is at stake, and it manages that odd Skyrim trick of presenting interesting challenges through interminable speeches. But the fact that those are happening at all is proof of the ridiculous steps that have been taken to make Falskaar what it is: hours of dialogue have been recorded for the mod. Vast speeches spill out of mouths that should be silent. The writing even manages to capture Skyrim’s weary Nordic pretty acutely. Even NPC barks have been recorded, with one commenting on my Elvish appearance. This is ridiculous: a fully committed cast of hopeful amateurs very nearly catches up to Bethesda’s efforts. They should be proud, and Bethesda should be a little bit ashamed.

Leaving the main story path and investigating the lives of the townspeople is a good way to get out of the headspace of angry Nordic politics. There are interesting diversions to be had: the story of a missing cow that leads to a cave full of necromancers. I helped a farm hand discover his parental lineage, and hunted down a missing family heirloom. Space for smaller, family dramas while the rest of the world is at war shows an understanding of the main game’s structure, and there’s been a lot of care lavished on the dungeons they’ll often lead to.

That it doesn’t quite scale the heights of a professional effort isn’t damning in anyway. Falskaar’s existence is remarkable, and Bethesda really should be talking to modder Alexander J. Velicky. He’s a design lead in the making, and the proof is right here. I’m a few hours in, not as far as I should be thanks to my desktop crashing a few times (not the mod’s fault) and my inability to leave mountains unclimbed, but I get the feeling that there’s still much more to uncover. At this stage, I’ve left the story with a lot at stake, but I’m not going to tell you why. The story and how it’s presented is Falskaar’s biggest boon, and you should experience that for yourself.

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Top comments

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    tikey says:

    The thought of not finding a pun thread this far down the comments is dragon me down.
  1. Davie says:

    Lovely. This sounds like just the thing to get me back into Skyrim.

    I love the articles like this, too, that just give a little sampling of something and let the readers decide if it interests them. These and the diaries are probably my favorite things on this site.

    • rawrty says:

      And they even cover IF from time to time! What’s not to love?

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    RedViv says:

    Bethesda have more reason to be ashamed, from far earlier in their history. But apparently that can all be washed away with people fixing the games themselves on one platform, and the games still making 3.4 craptons of money each month they are out. Why change what’s broken if so many do not care? Put a rock over the cracks and be done.

    • Tei says:

      No. Bethesda has many things to be proud, and making a game this modable is one of them. Very few mods have the intention to fix anything. Most mods are just “What if…” with the imagination flyiing crazy. You are wrong.

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        RedViv says:

        Obviously they have things to be proud of. Environmental storytelling. Bringing their series back to a definitive atmospheric and art style, after the awful Oblivion.
        But all the bugs, the lack of consequences to really anything (in an RPG, no less), the soulless automatons that make up most of their game population and combine with the former to make it less game and more grind, all those are still there.
        I do hope they can return to greater things with bigger main platforms, but so far their increased skill has mostly given us more uninteresting and unskippable scripted material, that clashes with the absolutely delightful ways the non-scripted stuff plays out.

        • vasek45 says:

          Errm, no. I’ve poured hundreds of hours into Oblivion and it was incredible. And and in my opinion it was incredible in terms of everything _including_ visual and art design.
          Skyrim? Not so much. Dropped it after measly 30 hours.
          P.S. To be honest I even laughed when reading your line about definitive design in Skyrim. That’s just really incredible how hugely opinions can vary :)

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            RedViv says:

            Generic fantasy is not a style. Same issue with Dragon Age: Origins. More jarring in case of Oblivion, as the series earlier was very pulp art/fantasy metal cover.

          • Samwise Gamgee says:

            I loved everything about Oblivion, especially the tranquil art design and atmosphere.

      • Liudeius says:

        The only thing Bethesda has to be proud of is that they are REALLY good at quantity.

        Other developers do every other aspect of video games better, but since only Bethesda has 500 hours of quantity, they get special recognition.

        Now whether most mods fix things is a matter of opinion. And it’s really hard to rightly fix things. There are plenty of mods trying to make it better, but you can’t change the base, only add to it.
        Is “Improve from console design” fixing?
        Because then we have.
        ini editing – tons of game options not available in game, including massive rendering improvements and making arrows shoot straight.

        The Unofficial Patch – Fixing thousands of bugs/errors Bethesda is too lazy to fix in every ES game.

        SkyUI – better menus

        2k Textures – Even more HD texturing

        Static Mesh Improvement – makes some annoyingly 2D objects 3D, also the author fixed some terrible texture mapping.

        Waterfall LOD’s (default distance texture for waterfalls is so ugly that this gets its own mention).

        A multitude of combat mods (SkyRe combat pack, Requiem, some I forget the name of)

        A multitude of Perk revamps. Most have the stated intention of making perks better, whether that be making no perk useless (improving the lockpicking and speech trees) or making perks have greater variety for more RPG like customization.

        A multitude of other graphical mods (WATER, light mapping, ENB’s). Admittedly not required, but they do make it look MUCH better.

        Open Cities – cities with no load screen. Taking advantage of PC’s power and helping immersion.

        Quest Text (I forget the actual name) – Making quests actually function as quests rather than a HUD arrow following simulator (most quests don’t tell you where to go, this fixes that).

        WARZONES – Making the civil war look like it actually matters. And adding more enemies to major dungeons (Fighting 6 dragons simultaneously before Alduin was pretty cool. Fighting the 1 is it that is meant to spawn would have been extremely boring. Hell, the fight verses Alduin is really boring too.)

        Map improvements – getting rid of all those clouds, giving the player an actual zoom and tilt ability, and adding roads so you can actually tell what is and isn’t a road.

        Sure, not all of these are “fixes,” but there is only so much modding can fix, most of these are content with making Skyrim better, since there is no way to fix Skyrim’s awful combat, unresponsive world, generic and samey settings, and poorly designed core gameplay (fast traveling from one side of the map to the other to talk to an NPC, then fast traveling to and going through a linear dungeon, leaving and fast traveling back. This describes the majority of gameplay, though the dungeon improvements over Oblivion are massive, I hardly even entered dungeons in Oblivion because of how identical they were.)

        • MellowKrogoth says:

          Most of the mods you mentioned are performance hogs, buggy, or both.

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            jrodman says:

            So you’re saying they fit right in, then?

            *ba dum tsh*

          • Liudeius says:

            Almost none are actually.
            Open Cities can have some problems simply because the game is not designed for open cities, and I have had crashing that may have been related to WARZONES (and it definitely does take a lot of resources), but that’s not relevant.

            Most of the “performance hogging” is optional (all the graphics and rendering mods), things which should be available to those with high-end computers. WARZONES is the only performance heavy mod I mention which wouldn’t be optional if built into the main game. (Maybe Open Cities too, I haven’t actually used it.)

            As for bugs. Firstly, they are non-professional mods, they SHOULD be inferior to the main game, but many of them (ex: the graphics mods) are superior to the game.
            And they don’t really have bugs anyway. Open Cities has a few issues because, as I said, you can only build upon the core of Skyrim, not fix it entirely, the game is not designed for them.
            The rest may have some conflicts when used together, but if they weren’t mods, and they wouldn’t have that problem because all their features would be in that main Skyrim.esm file.
            And you seem to have forgotten the massive bug-fix that is the Unofficial Patch.

            But I’m not trying to argue that the mods are perfect, as I said, they can not be perfect because they are built upon a fundamentally flawed base which was designed for casual, not quality, gaming.

            All that is important is that these mods disprove the claim
            “Most mods are just ‘What if…’ with the imagination flyiing crazy”
            That is not in fact the case. Most of the more popular mods are trying to improve the broken systems of Skyrim. Certainly there are plenty of crazy mods, but you would find almost every mod I named above (if not every one) in the top 100 of the Nexus.
            And out of the top 10 mods of all time on the Nexus, I name 6 in my list specifically, and two more (blood splatters and well modeled hair) under the “other graphics mods”.

            The other two of the top ten (UFO and Immersive Armors) I only left out because they directly add to the game rather than improving features already in it (Well UFO improves, but I don’t like its immersion and balance breaking execution so I ignored it). Certainly Immersive Armors would provide a better experience by giving more armor variety (as would Jaysus Swords and either of the cloak mods).

        • bleeters says:

          I’d be cautious about using Warzones, myself. It has a tendancy to break games.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      I think ashamed might be putting a bit strongly. It sure would be great if they spent a bit more time on bug stomping, but there’s every reason to be pleased they’re even attempting this stuff. It’s not like many studios are shipping all-encompassing open world RPGs.

      Sure, CDP might shame them, but I’m betting that it will be a very different proposition to a Bethesda game.

      • sPOONz says:

        Yes, there is no competition in the RPG genre to make Bethesda produce better games. As someone above said, they are good at providing quantity but the gaming experience by itself is mediocre.

        • zdeno84 says:

          but what’s the point of quantity if the execution lacks then? I do want to be impressed by skyrim, I really do (or any other bethesda game, you name it), but it somehow doesn’t make me feel attached. The idea of spending hundreds of hours with one rpg and being entertained all the way is so intriguing I always give their games a try, however end up kind of empty every time after few dozens of hours in game.
          I’m sure there is a way to make this massive games entertaining enough (unfortunately don’t know how myself) – like with books, there are great books with 200 pages to read (aka witcher 2 for example), but there are also many where you have to make your way through 600, 1000, etc pages and still you feel it was worth the time.

          • sPOONz says:

            I agree. A smaller, deeper and richer world would be my choice over large and dull.

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          drewski says:

          Sorry, but that’s just nonsense. People wouldn’t put 100, 300, 500 hours into Bethesda games if the experience was mediocre.

          You might not enjoy them, but that means they’re not to your taste, not that they’re “mediocre”.

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            RedViv says:

            If the only Asian food on the planet is cup ramen, it’s still going to be mediocre. So if you crave Asian food, you will eat tons of noodles with a varying spice mixture from the same company, one that has nothing to compare itself to because nobody else makes any similar stuff.
            Meanwhile AAA burger companies have a wide variety of meats and buns and veggies, while pizza bakers experiment with lots of toppings, individual food stores start combining the good and the bad ideas, while that one Asian food company only has itself to compete with and now I’m hungry.

          • dethtoll says:

            I just logged into tell RedViv I screamed at his post. I have a bad reaction to dumb analogies borne from elitist fuckery.

          • sPOONz says:

            @Drewski, the nonsense is you assuming a minority who put 500+ hours into the game represents its overall quality. Skyrim is mediocre. Its not bad nor is it exceptional. Limited dialogue brings no depth to the characters, save the world narrative is generic, click fest combat is shallow, static world becomes uninteresting and so on. Sure its pretty, sure it offers a unique expeirence but that expeirence is still mediocre.

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            jrodman says:

            I put thousands of hours into World of Warcraft.

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            drewski says:

            Hehe. OK.

        • esse192 says:

          you cant really say that skyrim has no competition is the rpg genra, first off, runescape(dont laugh), world of warcraft and guild wars are open world rgps that aims at the same kinda of people as skyrim is aimed at. even though they in noway has the same quantity as skyrim, all of these game has other accpectss of the game that makes people want ot play them more than skyrim. exampels are; pvp combat, actual hard boss fights, other multy-player ascpets and less bugs. all these games offer a better hd quality game than skyrim,( yes even runescape does after they upgrade to hdmi 5 and runescape 3)

          • Reaver72 says:

            Runescape, World of Warcraft, and Guild Wars are what you call open world competition to Skyrim? Those are all MMORPG’s, a different genre entirely. What are some single player RPG’s that compete with Skyrim in the scale of the game?

      • SanguineAngel says:

        I put a lot of time into Vanilla Skyrim and I would agree they have plenty to be proud of.

        But I /was/ disappointed when a lot of the features Howard touted for months prior to release, such as the living economy, were simply left out.

        I think where they really let themselves down consistently is in the quest design. They have some nice plot ideas but most of the meaty quest chains felt ill thought out and rushed – such as, well any of the guilds. Other places seemed to have been left simply unfinished like the Bard’s College.

        Edit: Oh and their puzzle design is atrocious.

        I am replaying the game now with many of the Skyrim GEMS mods and it is a vastly improved experience. I wish I could reach in and jig a few of the story elements around myself

        • Ringwraith says:

          All I remember about the economy things was they mentioned you could do things like manual labour for gold and they were thinking about doing other stuff on the economy side, but hadn’t decided yet.
          I could be misremembering it, but I know I was never looking for a dynamic economy anywhere, as it was only a maybe even though I do like that kind of thing.

          • Barthol Van Voytz says:

            You are right. Tod Howard only said one thing about the in-game economy and that was you could mine ore at mines for gold or chop wood to sell to miles for gold or harvest crops for farmers and get payed. He might have said there would passably be other jobs (if i recall this right, he said something about the flower mills being only for show but later on they may be used for turning wheat into flower witch did happen with hearthfire DLC. But nothing about an economy like what most would think, such as prices of items changing based on regions or events with in the game like the battles at Whiterun and Windhelm or Solitude.

    • Jimbo says:

      “Put a rock over the cracks and be done.”

      Love it.

      I think they probably deserve a little slack because of how complex and ambitious these games are. For now it’s just part and parcel with making games of this scope and complexity. Nobody else is out there making games like this, which -coupled with how incredibly successful the Fallout and Elder Scrolls franchises have become- tells you everything about how difficult they are to make, even to this standard. That said, some genuine competition to Fallout/TES would sharpen the quality up right quick.

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        RedViv says:

        Heh, I might possibly be a bit hyperbolic purely because they are the only people who make this kind of game, which means I am stuck with hate-loving their games, and the single one we did get from another company (read: the actual sequel to Fallout 2) was far better in most aspects I mentioned above.
        A bit of competition would be preferred. Here’s to CDPR!

        (And yes, that they actually do that rock thing literally in the creation kit instead of fixing bugs that then haunt their engines since Morrowind… Well.)

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        ffordesoon says:

        Oh, I would loooooooove to see someone get in a genuine knife fight with Bethesda. It’d be great for everyone. Here’s hoping CDP or Bioware (a dubious proposition, I know, but it would be nice) can give Bethsoft the clout on the head they need.

    • Lemming says:

      I’d rather we were left with a few bugs and a modding community, than a much less ambitious game that’s tight as a drum and locked down from outside influence.

      • sPOONz says:

        You can have a well finished, ambitions game AND a good modding community together.

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          drewski says:

          So why aren’t there any? If it was as easy as everyone seems to think, why aren’t there any games with the scope and depth of a Bethesda game, the polish of a Bioware game and the storytelling and character of, I dunno, Obsidian?

        • MarcP says:

          This is the point where you’re supposed to list examples.

          • sPOONz says:

            Fair point. Some examples…

            Half-Life 2
            Shogun/Medieval Total War 2
            Crusader Kings 2

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            Bastimoo says:

            Reply to Spoonz: None of these is an open world RPG and besides halflife2, which is linear as far as I know (haven’t played it for long); none of these shipped without bugs. So please ship some accurate examples :)

          • sPOONz says:

            @Bastimoo

            Your missing the point. They are examples of major titles which were released well and managed to support a good modding community. Whether a game is in this genre or not is not important, they still would have been large complex games that had their own production difficulties but managed to get released in good condition and support a good modding community. No game will ship without bugs, we all know that but there are different degrees to their released state, these examples being of games in a good, acceptable condition.

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            drewski says:

            You’re lucky you made that reference to MTW2 being released in an acceptable state in a thread about RPGs because if you pulled that in a comment on a strategy game, you’d break the internet with THE FIRE OF RAGE.

            CA might even match Bethesda for the nerdrage induced by their broken release states.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      “Fixing the game themselves”, ahahahahahahaha. Funny. Having installed pretty much every mod out there for Oblivion and Fallout 3 and dug into each one with modding tools before installing, I can say they’re always lacking in something. They’re usually advertised in an overblown way compared to their quality level, and it’s easy to get enthusiastic by reading the description if you’re new to the scene. They rely on users to find the bugs, often messing up their saves. Even the best modders can’t resist the temptation to put their favorite stupid joke or reference in there. Others are drama queens which are a hundred times more virulent and agressive than the worst Bethesda lawyers. And let’s not talk about the performance, for some modders as long as it’s pretty 1 FPS is ok.

      Even the unofficial patches are usually full of questionable and arbitrary decisions.

      Don’t get me wrong there are a few exceptional mods, but you can always count those on one hand and they always stick pretty close to the original experience.

      • sPOONz says:

        ““Fixing the game themselves”, ahahahahahahaha. Funny” – Imature

        “Having installed pretty much every mod out there for Oblivion and Fallout 3 and dug into each one with modding tools before installing, I can say they’re always lacking in something” – ‘something’ is not very informative

        “They’re usually advertised in an overblown way compared to their quality level” – only true for the minority,

        “They rely on users to find the bugs, often messing up their saves” – obviously! these people are hobbyists not employed professionals and we all know to make back-ups

        “Even the best modders can’t resist the temptation to put their favorite stupid joke or reference in there” – bah humbug

        “Others are drama queens which are a hundred times more virulent and agressive than the worst Bethesda lawyers.” – consider ‘two sides of the coin’ perhaps

        “And let’s not talk about the performance, for some modders as long as it’s pretty 1 FPS is ok.” Oh come on. If your PC cant run it then tough luck

        “Even the unofficial patches are usually full of questionable and arbitrary decisions” Overall those patches greatly improve the game

        “Don’t get me wrong there are a few exceptional mods” Oh thank heavens!

        “but you can always count those on one hand and they always stick pretty close to the original experience.” Its terrible, there is just not enough free content out there, is there?

        Conclusion. Spoilt child.

      • Stevostin says:

        I agree with this overall. Some mod, especially the simple, focused one (like add a sleeping bag, deal with frost) were deeply satisfying and the steam workshop thing really was a blessing. Content mod, you generally have to wait a pair of year to have something worth playing. Typically the “video tweaks” mods are god damn awful, making fps plunge for minor enhancement that may enchant the geek but burn my retina with poor visual understanding (Skyrim vanilla is very good at this, chance to improve from it if you’re not a visual artist are tiny IMHO). Mods are, like you’d expect, a mixed bag:
        – 90% of mods break the game, either by adding bugs, crappy game mechanics, or inconsistent design.
        – some do fix stuff depending on games. Not sure for Skyrim but some bug fixes I have seen by modders
        – some add game mechanics for niche player. I love to have to deal with food but frankly it’s irrelevant in a Skyrim context where finding none is difficult. I love to have to deal with frost, I really do, but my cousin who also played the game was deeply disgusted when he saw me chopping trees. So it fixes it for me but it breaks it for him

        All in all I don’t get this idea to oppose modders and Bethesda. Bethesda show wonderful support to modders (compared to others) and modders love to do their stuff. And all in all it’s an essential features for the simple gamers. And that’s really all there is to say. good + good = sehr gut.

    • PopeBob says:

      If Bethesda has anything to be ashamed of, it’s their horrible third party publishing practices rather than their flagship titles being a bit buggy.

  3. Moraven says:

    http://gamasutra.com/view/news/196520/The_Skyrim_mod_thats_also_a_job_application.php

    “The mod comes with a completely new soundtrack, with 40 minutes of composed music from Adamm Khuevrr, and is fully voiced, featured nearly 30 professional and semi-professional voice actors.”

    That is a lot of sound work to basically get done for free and at the very least be decent.

  4. rapier17 says:

    This is why I love gaming on my PC, the effort and love people put into their creations and then they let us enjoy them for free.

    As I’ve recently reinstalled Skyrim I might have to give this a looksie.

    • Paul B says:

      Just made me think of how many extra, free, hours of gameplay I’ve enjoyed just because someone’s poured their hard work into making a mod for a game.

      And I hope this particular one lives up to the review – as someone who liked Skyrim (it was the first TES game I’ve enjoyed) this seems like well worth a go.

      • Benny says:

        I’m shocked this didn’t get a mention in the full article but you should check out Nehrim: At Fate’s Edge . It’s a stellar total conversion for Oblivion, fully voiced in German, with localised subtitles and a complete new world with lore, huge areas and tons of interesting diversions as well as a ton of improvements and optimisations for engine (it looked as good as Skyrim at times)

        The great news is they’re also working on a sequel mod for Skyrim, Enderal.

        [edit: I hate http]

        • DXN says:

          I didn’t like Oblivion at all, but Nehrim was pretty damned great.

        • sassy says:

          RPS has wrote about Nehrim multiple times, including a hands on type article ala this article. It’s not like it needs to be mentioned every time a big tes mod comes out.

        • MellowKrogoth says:

          Yay for hyperbole. They can’t optimize the engine, they don’t have the source code. Also, Nehrim isn’t without its faults.

          • Berzee says:

            One of the main ones being that it too (like lots of mods and, for that matter, most open-world games) gets really wrapped up in its own lore to the point where it occasionally stops feeling open-worldy. Which kinda sounds like this mod does with its focus on the main quest, too. I will still have to try Falskaar, though!

            (And Nehrim was still excellent, full of weird surprises. :)

  5. Sunny Boy says:

    Well, most of Bethesda’s games feel to me like they’re the work of a bunch of teenage modders that got the hands on a heap of resources and an engine but are too lazy to fix bugs. So, this should seem like a regular DLC to me, or even better… :D

  6. Vivi says:

    I quite enjoyed it, up to the climax at least.

    I get to the final room of the final dungeon, and then… nothing. Everyone just stands there.

    I get that a couple scripts won’t fire properly in any game/mod this complex. I really do. But it just seems like the resolution to the whole mod would have been the most tested aspect, and instead it ended up being the only time I ran into a bug. And one not even the console could fix. I just kept hitting setstage xxxxxxxx xx until Boom! There goes the ending cinematic.

    Still worth a go though. Most of the voice acting is well above average, and there were a few dungeons that were better than those in the vanilla game.

  7. MultiVaC says:

    I’m glad you decided to write something about this. I’m usually very hesitant to take a look at mods “are like DLC” since in my experience they usually end up sending a bunch of badly acted new characters running around the original game world, load me up with a bunch goofy, badly-designed items and spells, cause the the game’s stability to completely fall apart, and are impossible to uninstall without wrecking your save file (So just like Bethesda’s DLC! har har har). So I was hoping for some critical discussion of this mod before I gave it a shot. Ultimately I decided a day or so ago that it was worth it, and I had a pretty similar experience. I’m a few hours in, and it’s really impressive. Sometimes hard to believe that it’s just a mod. Plus, it has the decency to stay almost completely separate from vanilla Skyrim, so the there’s no real fear of being stuck with sketchy amateur stuff all over the place. The only disappointing thing is that it seems like the other two towns on the map besides the first one aren’t actually towns, they are just used for main quest scenes. Which is totally understandable, since if they were real towns this would be more like a Shivering Isles-type expansion in terms of content, but I couldn’t help but feel a little let down after seeing and hearing about those towns from afar.

  8. Frodosbane says:

    After about 20 hours with the mod, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good: there are some splendidly designed dungeons, especially “The Hall of the Dead,” part of a sequence of underground locations that start out as a bandit hideout, transition into a huge Nord crypt, and then finally a Dwemer ruin. No Falmer, alas. The Nord crypt is a maze with some tricky secrets and lots of draugr (sometimes too many, see below). So that’s good. The map is large, as the article says, but it’s sparsely occupied, so one does a lot of walking. That’s not good, but I like to explore, too, and parts of the scenery are lovely.

    The bad: the AI is tough, with crowds of 6-10 powerful opponents not uncommon. This makes combat quite difficult. My companion NPC was killed early on. Frontal assaults with melee weapons are out of the question, since you can easily be surrounded and overwhelmed. As I progressed with the main quest, these battles became more and more frequent, and more difficult. Finally I’m faced with 10 men-at-arms armed with ebony battle-axes and glass warhammers and I’m getting killed with two hits, not to mention there more than 5 archers. Sometimes I die from three simultaneous arrow hits. When I make a fatal hit on one of the soldiers, all of them come after me.

    Suddenly I’m not playing Skyrim any more, I realize. I’m playing an FPS with mob battles patterned after Bioshock: Infinite. Even the climactic battles during the Civil War in the Skyrim main questline were nothing approaching this level of tough. The Skyrim combat system does not measure up to the demands of an FPS–the combat system doesn’t support this level of interaction. This is a level 52 character I’m talking about, maxed out in several combat skills. So I think the conception of the combat comes from a very non-Skyrim place. I think that the author did this without even realizing it. It kills the mod for me. It’s just not Skyrim any more. In Skyrim, I don’t think more difficult combat == better game.

    And finally, the ugly. I found the heavy Scandinavian accents on the NPC dialog ludicrously over-done, not to mention over-acted. The pace of the dialog is too slow. The music was often oddly meandering and showed a lack of familiarity with basic principles of musical theory. Once in awhile it would evoke the atmosphere of Esther, which would have been nice if it weren’t so jarring, and for the fact that the harmonies went off into the weeds and lost themselves. I found myself cringing when the mod’s music would come in. It doesn’t play well next to the heroic style of the Skyrim score.

    But the worst of all is the bugs. I’ve never had so much CTD in my 350 hours of Skyrim. I’ve never seen so many questlines fail, stall, or just not work, and require arcane console command intervention. Take a look at the forums on the Skyrim Nexus, and you’ll see. A lot of problems are cropping up; and, really, for a modder to claim, on day one, that the mod is “free of bugs” is just the kind of hubris that the Daedra love to punish.

    I’d wait until a patch is announced, because, despite the promise, this ambitious project, as strong as it is in some ways, is not yet ready for prime time.

    • Vivi says:

      It’s hardly the focal point of your comment, but there is one Falmer dungeon in the mod. It’s nestled within a quest though. I don’t think you can just wander into it.

    • darkmorgado says:

      Most of the bugs are due to conflicts with other mods…

    • rei says:

      But there are no bugs:

      “‘I’m going to wait until the bugs have been patched.’

      With all due respect, prospective downloader, you are crazy! Falskaar was rigorously tested nonstop by a very dedicated quality assurance team for the entire duration of its development. This means that there are very few bugs, if any, that you will encounter. (This does not include mod compatibility issues, for which I can only test so much) Every quest was tested and ensured to function, every script should go off without a hitch, and your experience should not be marred by broken or buggy content. Granted this engine isn’t exactly perfect, but this mod should provide a very polished experience, and expecting there to be bugs and waiting for them to be patched, in the case, is foolish!”

      Reading through some of the comments, the guy states several times how flawless the mod is and if there are problems it’s not the mod’s fault. To me he comes off as somewhat arrogant and cocky to be honest. As special as he may be, he shouldn’t hold his breath on that job offer if he’s insufferable to deal with.

      • tnzk says:

        Insufferable? That attitude is far from insufferable. Confident? Yes. Naive? Possibly. Insufferable. Get out of here!

        It probably takes his cojones to be a design lead or something anyway. Far out, at 19 years old, this guy has done something incredible.

        • rei says:

          Perhaps; I can be randomly judgmental. One of my more insufferable qualities :\ I do find people who think very highly of themselves insufferable, but YMMV of course.

        • Frodosbane says:

          I think of this as the arrogance of inexperience. The truth is that nothing is ever bug free; anyone who has done software for long enough knows this and avoids making embarrasing statements like “there are no bugs” which are easily shown to be optimistic at best. And also no testing program is bullet-proof, just ask the people who released Sim City…

      • malkav11 says:

        That sounds a lot like Bethesda’s attitude, honestly.

      • MellowKrogoth says:

        I’ve got burned so many times by this kind of advertising for mods, it’s not even funny.

      • MarcP says:

        Anyone who manages to get this much talent working with him as an untrained 19 years old with no budget must have leet people skills.

  9. OddsAgainst says:

    Hey, this guy lives in my city. Now I need to find him and give him a big ol’ pat on the back, the American way, of course.

  10. Frenetic Pony says:

    In a way, this sounds better than Skyrim to be honest, at least for exploration.

    I … HATED the claustrophobic density of Skyrim. Everywhere you turned, every five god damned feet, there was a mountain lion or a pack of wolves or a dark wizard or a quest or a dungeon or something trying to kill me or etc. It felt less like a world to inhabit and more like an overwhelming assault on the senses, a day at a fantasy themed Disneyland.

    In comparison I loved Red Dead Redemption (despite not being on the pc). The wide open spaces, the gorgeous vistas, being able to just steer my horse around to the next town several miles away and relax, occasionally watching a rattlesnake or wagon pass by. And when I found something it felt exciting, “Oh, it’s something interesting, cool!” Rather than being overwhelmed to the point of numbness by “something” popping up every minute on the minute. Maybe I’ll give this a shot, maybe I can finally just take a stroll through Skyrim without having to fight something every step of the way.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      There were indeed so many underground dungeons, caves, and subterranean crypts in Skyrim that I worried about the geological stability of the region. I felt that at any time the land beneath me might give way and plunge me into a subterranean lair filled with treasure and angry dudes.

      • DXN says:

        That would be really cool, to be fair.

      • Dominic White says:

        That’s actually the plot of Dragon’s Dogma. No joke.

        • Premium User Badge

          RedViv says:

          Oh my, I only now noticed. It indeed is a plot point. And one that arrives when you think the game might be over, even!

    • SanguineAngel says:

      I feel exactly the same way!

      I suspect part of this is due to the restrictions placed on the game due to console release and their dedication to a single open world. I think the scale of Skyrim is supposedly something like 1:20. Villages are pretty normal scale but I think the cities are supposed to be larger too.

      So, imagine the distance between everything to be 20 x as far and it doesn’t seem quite so bad. It requires some imagination though which kinda defeats the point a little.

  11. Upper Class Twit says:

    Open world density’s a bitch, ain’t it?

    Bizarrely enough, I had the opposite reaction to those two games. RDR, while having absolutely gorgeous open environments, felt too packed for me; everywhere you went, there was bandits, or bears, or something. I found Skyrim, on the other hand, to have a nice walking around/doing stuff balance. Don’t know why, maybe I just really liked climbing the mountains or something.

    Regardless, both aren’t even close to realistic. That would be something more along the lines of Arma, and while I like Arma, I don’t find running around the woods for 30 minutes looking for terrorists to fight an entertaining experience. I doubt that many people would.

    Edit: Dammit, that was supposed to be a reply to frenetic pony

    • drinniol says:

      There’s plenty of folks who find running around for 30 minutes looking for terrorists entertaining :)

      • Premium User Badge

        particlese says:

        I found the comment entertaining, at least. Of course, it helps that my mental image of that “running” was infected by remnants of Craig’s earlier “skipping”, and that I prefer to run around the woods with my magnetic zombie train.

        In Skyrim, I avoid caves, got a mod that makes small wolf packs fear humans (amongst other things), and eventually learned Kyne’s Peace or whatever that shout is that makes bears go back to eating berries. Makes the exploration quite enjoyable! I’ll have to give this mod a try one of these days.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      Yes, I feel true 1:1 scale would be quite dull really but I do think Skyrim still hasn’t struck the right balance. It’s better than oblivion certainly – I think that’s down to the mountains giving the illusion of greater distance as well as smarter placement. In oblivion, it was ridiculous the number of unexplored dungeons perched right next to busy towns and cities.

      Hopefully, the next generation of games consoles will mean bigger ES games – rather than just more graphic cubes or what have you

      • Moraven says:

        People complained about that early on for WoW. But if you wanted 1:1 scale the game would never be finished.

    • Moraven says:

      I usually find going outside my house and exploring the woods a lot more enjoyable than wanting empty virtual explorable woods.

      • Upper Class Twit says:

        Aye to that.

        Unfortunately, I have to go a bit further than “outside my house” to explore some woods and enjoy nature. Living close to a freeway in a populated suburb has that effect.

        Also, Skyrim’s cool cause I can sprint up a mountain with a 350 lb backpack. In real life, that 250 lb is more like 30 or 40, and that sprint’s more like a crawl.

  12. Radiant says:

    If this kid gets hired he’d be the BIGGEST pain in the arse.

  13. Mark says:

    The Skyrim team was pretty small considering the size of the game. This article says they had 8 LDs and 2 artists working on “kits” for the world. The open world game i’m working on right now has 20 world artists, and 30+ LDs easily.

    http://blog.joelburgess.com/2013/04/skyrims-modular-level-design-gdc-2013.html

    I think it’s a bit cheap of them to keep the team so small considering how much money the games make. There is a lot to be said for working with smaller teams (the smaller game i’ve worked on have been my favourite) – but at the end of the day quality is going to suffer if you have a small number of people trying to make a gigantic world, even if they’re all amazing at their jobs. As an environment artist – Skyrim looks great, but it hurts a bit to see the same stuff over and over and over.

    Hopefully they’ll expand the art team a lot for the inevitable next installment.

    • tnzk says:

      Wouldn’t know heads or tails about AAA game design, but surely the old adage “too many cooks spoil the broth” is applicable even to this industry? I’d presume so: Assassin’s Creed 3 is a shining example of it.

      Skyrim felt large in content, but narrow by design. I liked that aspect, except what they chose to design was a bit lame. If they made the fundamental gameplay less action-adventure, more RPG, it would’ve made the modular aspect to their design more tolerable to the most hardened cynic. I understand I’m talking about gameplay, but even art design benefits from singular visions: Dishonored, for example, was Viktor Antonov and one other as leads.

      • Mark says:

        In terms of management and design, yes too many cooks can definitely become a problem.

        But in terms of content producers (artists, LD’s, audio etc) then you need more of them if you want to produce more (high quality) content. Even extremely experienced amazing artists are limited in how much content they can produce. If you ask them to do too much then quality will be watered down, like it is in Skyrim. If they doubled the size of their world team and kept the map the same size everyone could spend twice as long working on each bit of the world and there’d be more art diversity (although maybe not in the same place because of memory constraints).

  14. Anarkopsykotik says:

    “the many skilled hands of Bethesda’s game masters ”
    Hope you’re joking, I’ve rarely seen games designers so bad both at writing and telling a story.
    (Skyrim’s mages guild quest line will forever burn in my memory as the most shameful thing I experienced in a RPG).

    • Premium User Badge

      drewski says:

      I wouldn’t say it was even the worst storyline in Skyrim.

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      distantlurker says:

      I know it’s purely subjective but I’m shocked you think that, genuinely. The college of winterhold quests were possibly my favourite, they were soaked in atmosphere and felt very more grown up (ironically, given the ‘The Elder Scrolls: Hogwarts’ undertones).

      Who didn’t love saying “Were they supposed to explode? Because they exploded” to a thoroughly embarrassed J’Zargo ^^

  15. hideinlight says:

    Why even complain about difficulty, Skyrim is a horribly designed game in terms of it’s artificially difficulty that scales like crap. I couldn’t even properly play Skyrim because of what I’ve seen in the creation kit, it’s just plain awful. Master difficulty for instance just makes you deal less damage 0.5 and lets the enemies do 2x damage. Now if you look at the editor you’ll notice multiple instances where enemies can also have invisible perks that gives them 4x damage.

    Now the difference between vanilla Adept and Master is x16, you can’t design a decent consistent challenge with that.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      If you hadn’t looked in the creation kit, you’d probably be enjoying the game.

      • hideinlight says:

        @MellowKrogoth

        The sad truth, luckily I had ignored the editor until I finished the main quest, but by time the mechanical flaws had become to apparent, and with all the mods releasing promising a better game it was GG.
        Spend more time modding and changing values for that game then I actually spend playing it.

        Thinks like enemies having a 190 degree detection radius etc.

  16. cjlr says:

    Wasn’t Lost Spires for Oblivion very much the same thing?

  17. Upper Class Twit says:

    So then…who else actually liked Skyrim? Cause me, my sister, and my dad all thought it was pretty cool when we played it. And so did RPS, judging by the fact that it was their GOTY. C’mon, there’s gotta be at least a few others out there, right?

    • Acorino says:

      I did. Got some of my best experiences in gaming out of it. Being chased by bandits, travelling to the Mage’s College through a snowy landscape with Lydia by my side and horses in tow. Unforgettable, really. The emergent stories the game enables through its mechanics are the best. Yeah, the scripted, explicit narrative isn’t all that strong, but why focus on the negative when so much good is on offer?

      And I don’t get all that whining about bugs. For one, I had little problems with bugs, they seemed to amount only when I installed one too many mod. Also, considering that Skyrim is one of the most ambitious single-player games out there, it would be kinda foolish not to expect the occassional bug. Honestly, I played many RPGs that were much more buggy, like Planescape: Torment.
      I didn’t play Skyrim directly at release though, but rather a year later. But then, I played P:T a decade later…

    • Premium User Badge

      RedViv says:

      *raises hand*

      It’s not like criticising something means that one has to absolutely loathe it. But I guess that’s a lesson most people have to learn.

      • Premium User Badge

        Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        THE HELL YOU SAY

        I will fight you with my dying breath.

        • Premium User Badge

          RedViv says:

          Well then! Fencer-type landwalkers at dawn in a fortnight! And no occult tech, pure and honest steam shall power our duelling machines!

      • Upper Class Twit says:

        So what then? You’re saying that opinions can exist *between* two opposite extremes?

        Dude, that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

    • Arancil says:

      Liked it? Bah, only for the first 200-300 hours. After that it got bland and boring.

  18. Lawful Evil says:

    So, story aside, it is pretty much more of Skyrim?

    How well are characters portrayed? Are they still shallow as Skyrim’s rivers? Are they still
    imbeciles and fools for the most part?

    What about the quality of quests when it comes to choices and consequences? Is the main choice one can make to do or not to do a quest, most of the time? Are most of the quests (and from what I read it would seem so) fetch/kill ones?

    How about You do tell us a little more about the story? Is it still some sort of epic fairytale? If the answers to these questions are mostly “yes” than I have no intention of bothering with starting Skyrim again just so I could play more of the… (terrible) Skyrim.

    I know this post is full of snark. I have nothing personal against this mod or its creator per se. I am just sickened by the mere idea of playing Skyrim again.

    • RodHope says:

      Well don’t.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      “Sickened by the mere idea of playing Skyrim again.” I’d say that this mod is probably not for you, because in order to run it you need to play Skyrim. I’m sorry to be the one to bring you such bad news. Commiserations.

  19. crinkles esq. says:

    It does look impressive for a mod, and at the very least he should be applauded for his dedication to its creation. But I don’t think Bethesda should be shaking in their boots quite yet – it’s a lot easier to mimic than it is to create from whole cloth.

    Personally, I think the guy should take some time and live life a bit; that will be a much better education in game design. To tell a really good story you need to have made some yourself.

  20. frightlever says:

    ” Falskaar’s existence is remarkable, and Bethesda really should be talking to modder Alexander J. Velicky. ”

    Arguably they definitely shouldn’t, or at least not as a project manager. Bethesda will have their own, ingrained way of doing things and he will have developed HIS own way of doing things. It would be like calling a really good rounders player up to play baseball in the big leagues.

  21. Metalhead9806 says:

    We see it with every game… once a series gets popular the hipsters come out in force to nitpick that game/series to death… You don’t see them come out for Gothic or Stalker or Amalur or any other under the radar game or franchise… Oh but god forbid a bethesda game releases that offers a experience ten times the size of anything on the market.

    Its easy to pick out flaws in a game if you are actively looking for them to use as ammunition to support your hipster arguments.

    Fact is very few Developers have the balls to release a game as massive and as detailed as Skyrim… Most would cut Skyrim up into quarters reduce the content by half and hand you each piece at 60 bucks a pop without the option to mod…

    Yet lets go right ahead and say college kids can make a better game than Behtesda… Lets completely glaze over the fact that if it wasn’t for Bethesda the entire Rpg sub-genre would be in a very different more linear place right now and none of those modders would have a template to work from.

    • XhomeB says:

      There seems to be dissonance between the raving reviews of Bethesda’s games and their actual quality. It feels like journalists played them for two hours, took the bribes offered to them and proceeded to give Oblivions, Failouts 3 and Skyrims perfect scores.

      That’s an overexaggeration of course, but it seems Bethesda, like Bioware, can get away with things other developers would be panned for.

      • Premium User Badge

        drewski says:

        Isn’t it vastly more likely that a lot of people, including a lot of people who review videogames, just like different things to you?

  22. XhomeB says:

    Bethesda is a medicore developer making TERRIBLE RPGs, but enjoyable hiking simulators, which is enough for journalists to give their games 10/10s. Screw horrible writing, screw lack of choices and consequences of your actions, screw broken mechanics allowing you to be the master of all trades, screw copy-paste nature of in-game worlds, screw the fact there’s nothing interesting in there to do apart from walking around like an idiot and whacking random monsters in their heads, screw boring and broken combat systems, screw static worlds which feel like they’re being inhabited by mannequins.

    What matters is the fact the world is BIG. And the landscapes are pretty. Fuck yeah. GOTY.

  23. Premium User Badge

    tikey says:

    The thought of not finding a pun thread this far down the comments is dragon me down.

  24. Jexiah8bit says:

    To people saying Bethesda shouldn’t be ashamed, yes they should – because it costs them millions of dollars to release DLC that is only very slightly better than this mod that was made by a couple people…

  25. Quency says:

    Borbély, borbély bORBÉLy. és társai! ejnye-bejnye. Először is: nyílvánvaló, h magyar az író és semmivel sem tanult angolul jobban mint én, csak épp elment nyelvvizsgázni (nem úgy mint én, bár nekem felesleges lett volna, mert egyelőre úgyse készülök diplomára semmiből). Ennyit 1-2 kiszótározott (és nem túl korrektül belerakható) szóval még én is kinyögtem volna angolul. Igazán nem erőltette meg magát (egy átlagos hackerre jellemző lenne). Rosszabb cikk, mint az előzőek – csökkenő harci kedv és színvonal: a képek nem hd-sek (úgy értem a játékban a textúrák, az élsimítás,a fénykezelés), egy nyamvadt enb nem futna a feltöltő gépén, pedig ma már mod promo-nál alapkövetelmény. Ráadásul a szöveg kifejezései úgy vannak összemixelve, és olyan, mintha csak a játék darabkáit kombinálná (rosszul).
    Továbbá tudd meg, hogy minden apró dolgot felvéstem magamnak amit az utóbbi 2 évben tettél ellenem, és ha rá kerül a sor előveszem. Sok mindenre emlékszek ám amit nem teljesen tudok ugyan visszaidézni, mert olyan sok, de ha magam előtt látom évek után újra a szövegedet, ne hidd hogy nem ugrik be a teljes sztori.

  26. Xott says:

    Jeesh…

    It’s amazing that such a terrible game like Skyrim has stalkers who complain in every thread that comes up anywhere on the internet. And of course Bethesda is alone in releasing games that require patching after release amirite?

    I enjoy Bethesda’s games on their own terms and no one does what they do as well as they do. I play games like Oblivion and Skyrim because they allow me to live in another world.

    I do agree that the TES NPC’s could be further developed and have more dialogue. I do agree that they feel pretty flat compared to more scripted games – but isn’t that the trade off in games where it takes literally half a day to walk from one end of the map to another?

    I have plenty of gripes about Skyrim but I have had at least as many moments in the game where I have gasped because of the beauty or the magnitude of something. Kind of an aside- I really like the melee combat.

    Are any Beth games in my “best ever” list? No. Hell, I consider Dark Souls a better game overall(with all it’s problems). But Dark Souls doesn’t let me wander for days on end doing whatever the hell I want. I don’t wander Dark Souls looking for the best backdrop for a screen shot.

    That brings me to a particular point. How dare any of you say that what someone else enjoys in a game is wrong. These are games we are talking about, not your religion. There is no wrong if it makes someone happy. Wandering around a beautifully rendered world in awe is as valid a gaming experience as killing some uber boss or griefing some noob in your tedious MMO.

    But I really have to question the motives of someone who writes multiple paragraphs about a game or a company they claim to despise so much. Why are you even reading about player created content for something you so despise?

  27. Xott says:

    “Arguably they definitely shouldn’t, or at least not as a project manager. Bethesda will have their own, ingrained way of doing things and he will have developed HIS own way of doing things. It would be like calling a really good rounders player up to play baseball in the big leagues.”

    Actually it’s nothing like that, I’m honestly not trying to pick a fight but your analogy is terrible.

    This kid is 19 and successfully created and implemented more content than exists in most professionally released DLC. His skills, ambition, and drive are remarkable and would be an asset to any company.

    Just his sheer tenacity in gathering so much voice work, and all the coordination that goes along with that, probably blows away the resumes of most people entering the game design world.

  28. Xott says:

    “The music was often oddly meandering and showed a lack of familiarity with basic principles of musical theory. Once in awhile it would evoke the atmosphere of Esther, which would have been nice if it weren’t so jarring, and for the fact that the harmonies went off into the weeds and lost themselves.”

    This is a free mod which is largely the work of one guy and your going to complain about his harmonies going off into the weeds? Seriously? Who are you trying to impress? Maybe in your country everyone is a musician or something and are forced to learn “the basic principles of music theory”.

    As soon as I saw those lines nothing else you had to say mattered.