It’s that time of year again, the pre-E3 games drought is upon us and there’s barely a game release to keep us going in this time of dire need. Okay, perhaps that’s something of a stretch, there are titles coming and no doubt most of us have one game from the past three months peering over our shoulder.
Indie lovers and Early Access fiends – a category I fall into – are well catered for in this time of crisis but for a large number of gamers, this is the time of year where taking on that pile of shame is necessary to purge the urge. In years gone by this was what defined January to gamers around the world but since Bayonetta and Burnout Paradise took advantage of the first month’s window the drought has shifted. However we shouldn’t be look at this next two months as an empty hole. Instead it shines as a chance to go back and see old friends gone by. So let us go meet one of those dearest of friends by returning to Skyrim.
Skyrim right now is like that friend everyone has. He takes over your life with crazy adventures and madcap antics for a month solid then disappears off on some ‘work-trip’ only to come back three months later with more amazing experiences twinned with looking a little better than you remember. If you don’t know that guy, you’re probably that guy. This doesn’t apply so much to the console versions of Skyrim because they don’t have the PC version’s greatest assets, The Steam Workshop and Nexus Mod database.
Much like the oft-repeated phrase “There’s an app for that”, when it comes to Skyrim on PC “There’s a mod for that” perfectly describes just how vast and varied the community creations have become. The only serious barrier to getting into this creative world though is actually getting the mods. When it comes to using the Steam Workshop gathering the mods is painfully simple. Open up the Steam Worksop, find a mod you want to try out, and press subscribe. That’s it, not tricks or jokes. The click of a little grey icon and maybe two minutes of download time are all that stand between you and a fresh addition to your favourite RPG experience.
Doing this is kind of like starting a drug habit. You’re taking a few choice samples until one grabs your attention and bang. Addiction takes hold. Before you know it that small selection of subscribed mods grows to fifty and you’re glued to the monitor, pupils dilated and giggling like a mad scientist (the crazy hair and white coat are optional). Steam Workshop mods are the easiest way to get into this sub-section of the gaming world but they are lacking a little something. Due to limitations in file size the really ambitious mods live out in the wilderness – deep in the castle Nexus… mods. Nexus Mods has a long and fruitful history of being the go-to destination for both modders and mod lovers with members of the family including Fallout: New Vegas, Dark Souls and The Witcher 2.
Where its recent fame lies however is in the tender embrace of the Dovahkin. Thousands upon thousands of mods have been built by the community since Skyrim’s release and if you missed out at first then now is the perfect chance to start it off. You might have to move your Skyrim files out of the default location in order to allow the Nexus Mod Manager (NMM) program access to make mod installation smoother but for the wealth of gameplay which this new source can bring, it’s a very small speed bump. There’s also the process of installing the Skyrim Script Extender to allow access to a portion of the mods – including the incredible SkyUI – which again, is a small price to pay.
Alright so by now you probably want to know why I’m raving on about mods so much. How about a small selection of fine examples taken from both Nexus Mods and the Steam Workshop? If you love adding in a little more flavour to the armory then both have you well and truly covered. Taking a quick glance brings up Dark Souls inspired weapons alongside player-designed armours, all the better for writing those crazy cross over fanfics we all say we don’t read but secretly do. Other smaller additions include extra animations, quality of life upgrades for crafting and even companions like the utterly random Chicken or the hilarious Dovahbit. When it comes to companions though you can’t do better than the custom-voiced Inigo.
Surface scratched, now to make Skyrim look a little better. Starting with the most complex we have ENBs. These change the basic graphical features of Skyrim and can turn your game from passable joy to awe-inspiring treasure in the matter of a few installs over on Nexus Mods. A curse of these gems though is how much fettling they require. Simply installing an ENB isn’t enough. Getting the most out of one can require hours of gentle tweaks to balance it between your tastes and the power of your rig. A little down the scale of complexity but no less awesome there are the HD texture replacers and effects addons. When it comes to HD texture addons they need no real introduction. Effects addons though is a fundamentally poor description for what I’m trying to describe. They come in all shapes and sizes from Dynavision grants a simple yet excellent depth-of-field modification to Tamriel to Dance of Death which ups the ante of kill moves, allowing them to be more frequent to give a cinematic edge to the frozen land of the Nords.
Still not convinced? Time for the big guns. Skyrim’s mod community has created some astounding additions for the game. Be it the popular Falskaar which added a whole expansion pack’s worth of content to the world or the hundreds of player-created quests which have been built there’s always something new to do. Maybe you want to change the core experience instead? How about Skyrim Redone which broadly changes the game’s fundamental systems to make an even more immersive experience. Skyrim Redone didn’t stop there though, the community has built mods on top of mods with mods inside to go with this ambitious rework of the world. Mod it correctly, and your personal Dovahkin will have to deal with hunger, thirst, heat and even realistic diseases. This wholly more immersive experience isn’t for everyone I grant you, but for some it can suck up hundreds of hours.
After all, don’t we all just want t o escape into another world once in a while, even the most menial of tasks done correctly in a game like Skyrim are a joy instead of a chore. Adventure has defined the human race and for everyone with Skyrim there’s always another adventure to undertake.
For one if you’ve never given any time to the official expansion packs this is now the time. Each version is as stable as it’s ever going to get and every expansion adds something to the game for less than a whole new purchase. Not that you even need these though. Remember when you came out of the Greybeard’s residence up on the Throat of the World and went left? Reload your game up and go right. Silly as it may sound going on random meanders is the most enjoyable experience of Skyrim no matter what platform you own it on. You never know where a dragon could be hiding, or whether you’ll get whipped up into a bandit killing frenzy. Maybe you just want to go steal horses or complete that faction you never took the time to investigate. Well what’s stopping you? For the next six to eight weeks the release calendars will run dry so returning to the vast world of Skyrim if only for a wander around attacking chickens and stealing plates isn’t only an option, it’s a good one.