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.