I’m not a wizened grumblepuss who only enjoys the oldest of RPGs, honest I’m not! I’ve even finally managed to play some Skyrim this week and that’s probably the newest RPG in the world. Unlike most people, I haven’t actually done very much yet; instead I’ve been tinkering around to see how far I can push it before my computer starts weeping tears of molten graphics card. Mostly visual tweaks but there’s some lovely stuff here. To round things off, my favourite new Mount and Blade mod, which I mentioned before its release and now urge you all to download. Urge, you hear?
Skyrim then. Jim’s already covered some of the prettification techniques available for the intrepid PC-fellow and there’s a brain-aching amount of non-mod related tweaking detailed over here. The FXAA Post Process Injector is mentioned but skirted around, since those chaps are concentrating on editing files to unlock the capabilities that are inherent in the existing code. However, the FXAA Injector seems to be the first port of call for many people wanting to beautify their world.
I haven’t been delving into my .ini files too much, instead hovering around the Skyrim Nexus and letting other people do all the work for me with what is already an impressive array of mods. I’m still missing something to make night time and dungeons pitch black and terrifying but otherwise, everything is looking better by the day. The only problem is, I'm almost afraid to explore. At the moment, Skyrim's world feels like the memory of my back garden when I was a boy on a day near Christmas when it had just snowed. I just wanted to stand back, hold my breath and wait before ruining the perfection of it with my footprints. Yes, I can be a sentimental dolt.
I've looked around enough to have a play with most of the following though, so here's a quick roundup of what I've liked, or expect to like, from the multitude I've tried.
First of all, if your computer is feeling particularly spry, why not take a look at Nebula’s HD texture pack. Perhaps you think your already playing with HD textures – I thought so too! However, just look how much HDier these beauties are.
Very much HDier is the answer. The workshy blighter hasn’t redrawn all of Skyrim yet but there have been frequent updates and it’s mostly very impressive work indeed.
Now that you’ve got all those ultra-detailed textures, the trees look a bit shabby, don’t they? Skyrim is the land of majestic trunks, reaching to the heavens above and defying any passing dragons to singe their foliage. Best get a gardener in.
I suppose that will do. It's Vurt's Flora Overhaul, perfect for those herb gathering expeditions and strolls through the woods. I’ve hardly done any quests yet but I have enjoyed following foxes through clusters of trees, seeing where they lead me. Quite often they run into a vast body of water and vanish from sight, which is incredibly disconcerting, but they probably think I’m a hunter and are using their submariner abilities to escape. Can’t blame the little fellows.
I’d say we’ve got everything under the sun looking rather splendid right now so let’s turn our attention skywards. Not bad, is it? The shafts of light cutting down though those splendid trees, clouds gathering overhead. Watch, perhaps with a loved one by your side, as the stars begin to break out overhead, the dark sky a velvet pincushion into which unseen gods are pushing these glittering worlds.
There’s nothing like camping out, with the heavens your roof, contemplating the vastness of creation. Except…
Oh yes. That’s much better. Make your midnight strolls even more special with Enhanced Night Skyrim.
Those are my three constant companions at the moment (haven’t seen hide or hair of Lydia yet) but there are many more out there. With Bethesda games, it seems there’s always a large demand for better looking people, but the two best face altering mods I’ve seen concentrate on smoothing off faces and improving textures rather than making everyone look generically handsome. They are the wonderfully titled No More Blocky Faces, which sounds like the terrified plea of an infant trapped in Minecraft, and Detailed Faces, both by Xenius.
The most comprehensive round-up I’ve seen of mods is actually hosted at the Nexus. Going by the name Skyrim Total Enhancement Project (STEP), it’s a thorough list of performance and visual mods released so far, with recommendations and instructions. It’s already enormous and the game has only been out for a few minutes. Take a look and try not to be intimidated into inaction.
I couldn’t leave it just as visuals so even though it’s early days, I’ve tried to dig out a few nuggets that tweak the game itself. I’d like every game to be honoured with a mod that makes ragdolls more realistic so this one is a no-brainer for me. It does nothing more than make people die in a more realistic fashion but that’s enough for me to give it a tip of the hat. It also contains this note in the latest changelog, “may resolve decapitation not working”, which is splendid.
As well as appreciating the crumpling of a corpse to the cold ground, I’m also an advocate of crafting. I’m hoping for mods to allow even more cookery, around campfires preferably, but for now the only major crafting addition I’ve seen is Lost Art of the Blacksmith. It adds “every missing weapon and armor improvement recipe” while being “lore-friendly and balanced”. I honestly haven’t played enough to know how true any of those statements are but I don’t like the idea of not being able to craft anything – I’d like to build houses if I could – so I’ve installed it in preparation for the future.
Messing about with the passage of time can be a tad strange, inevitably leading to the world feeling smaller as the minutes grow longer. But I like having the option of elongating the days and nights, purely to soak up the atmosphere. There are several options, ranging from Skyrim’s default of 20 minutes to every actual minute spent playing, to a minute per minute option, which quite frankly would probably drag a little. Something in between can be quite pleasant though.
Finally, if you’re already finding dragons as easy to slay as popping a clay pigeon, you can make the bastard things harder. Again, I’ve not encountered any apart from the inevitable introductory one, but I’m such an idiot that I like the idea of them being fearsome and almost unstoppable. When I first explore a new world, I’m not interested in being the best; I just want to see how long I can be a tourist without getting killed by something large and unpleasant. The harder it is to survive the toughest encounters, the more satisfaction I feel when I manage to run away and hide.
A boring but helpful interface tweak to finish off. Hard Coded Key Tweaks makes screens easier to navigate by recognising remaps everywhere. It even makes the inventory slightly more tolerable, as does the QD Inventory mod that changes the default layout - perhaps just as you're getting used to its negligible charms.
Now go and play Mount and Blade: The Last Days (of the Third Age of Middle Earth) because it's bloody brilliant. Alternatively, tell me which Skyrim lovelies I've missed and berate me if any of them are particularly worthy of my attention.