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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was unleashed in 2011, and nearly from the moment it arrived on desktops players have been enthusiastically modding it. Skyrim modders have addressed minor problems and fixed major bugs, added custom quests and entirely new locations, and overhauled combat, magic, and leveling systems. Along the way hundreds of hours of new content has come, free, from the community. Just about any change you can imagine has been made by someone, and there's no sign the modding well has dried up yet.
Below, we've completely overhauled our selection of the best mods and gathered them together into categories to help you find whatever you're looking for. There are visual improvements, new magic spells, survival elements and roleplaying enhancements, and yes, even guns. If we're missing a few of your favorites—there are over 40,000 mods out there, so that's practically a given—feel free make a case for them in the comments. We'll be revisiting and revising this article in the future.
One final word: some mods on our list require other mods to work, some require special steps to install and use, and some mods conflict with one another. Be sure to read the mod page for each carefully for instructions on how to install and use them.
Contributors: Tom Hatfield, Christopher Livingston
It's no secret Bethesda's RPGs can be more than a bit buggy. There are glitches, optimization problems, and in Skyrim's case, a UI designed for consoles. Thankfully, long after the official patches stopped rolling out modders remain devoted to making the game more stable and usable. Here are some mods that will improve your overall experience.
Skyrim's original UI is, well, terrible. SkyUI makes it easier to use, more pleasant to read, and much more useful for sorting through your loot and menus. Most importantly, SkyUI adds a mod configuration menu to the pause screen, letting you tweak and adjust compatible mods (including many on this list). A lot of mods don't require SkyUI and will run just fine without it, but you'll get much more out of your mods if you have it.
In other words, it's highly recommended.
Bethesda stopped patching Skyrim themselves ages ago, so the fan-made Unofficial Patch series has become more important than ever. The patches were built by a group of modders who update them as new problems are found. There's one for every piece of official DLC, including the official High Resolution textures and Legendary Edition. Pretty much a must-have.
Project Optimization improves Skyrim performance by occlusion culling, which means not rendering effects you can't see. If you use a lot of serious lighting mods, like ENB and Realistic Lighting, then this mod can save you several frames per second.
This mod rezises and enhances the textures for armor, clothes, and weapons, making them both better looking while simultaneously making the file sizes smaller for improved performance. This is useful for users with low-end machines who still want to improve their graphics. The modder has done the same for animals and creatures.
Falling leaves and snow are pretty, but can sometimes cause FPS drops on older GPUs due to the size of the textures. Performance Plus decreases the fidelity of particles, which provides an FPS boost. In most cases, such as snow, it's barely noticeable, and the slight degrading of particle textures is more than made up for by an increase in performance.
Using a keyboard and mouse for Skyrim means sometimes the game gets confused when you're selecting a dialogue option. You've noticed, surely, that sometimes when you choose a response the game thinks you've chosen a different one. Skyrim's dialogue controls are weird and clunky, and this mod completely and thankfully fixes that. The same modder also created one for message boxes.
You don't need your HUD onscreen all the time. This mod hides the crosshairs and status bars when you're not actively using them, such as outside combat. You can also toggle the compass and quest markers on and off with a keypress, and adjust their opacity.
On the other hand, sometimes you want a little more info on-screen. This widget adds a clock to your screen—with several different elegant and unobtrusive faces you can choose through SkyUI's mod configuration menu—so you can keep track of the time and date. The Dovahkiin's got a smartwatch.
Skyrim, frankly, wasn't really that fantastic looking to begin with, so there have naturally been a lot—a lot—of visual improvement mods over the years. Here's how to squeeze improved visuals out of the aging RPG.
Does what it says: replaces Skyrim's textures: sky, water, architecture, clothing, clutter, reflections, and so on, of the cities, towns, dungeons, and landscapes. There's a full version if your PC can handle it, but there's also a lite version that should make things look nicer without killing your performance.
This comprehensive mod adds hundreds of new weather systems, a huge library of new cloud systems, a new sun, improved lighting for both fans of a fantasy look and realistic visuals, and even audio improvements. With all of these systems combining, each day in Skyrim will feel different from the last.
A pretty hefty collection of high-quality replacements for Skyrim textures, covering everything from equipment, landscapes, dungeons, and architecture. While they look much nicer, the textures are the same resolution as Bethesda's high-res DLC pack so it shouldn't slow you down.
Make sure you read the notes on the mod's page. There are hotfixes required to get everything working.
This mod edits a number of 3D models in the game, and with over 700 meshes placed in over 15,000 locations in the world, it's a welcome difference. You'll notice better looking architectural elements, furniture, objects in the landscape, and all sorts of other models that didn't get much attention from Bethesda.
Enhances your graphics with FXAA and other post effects, such as sharpen and bloom, creating crisper visuals and more vibrant colors. Conveniently, you can adjust these settings while you play by alt-tabbing out and moving the sliders on the mod's desktop utility.
This mod comes in three different versions, depending on how drastically you want to change your game. All versions promise more luxurious trees and bark, taller grass, and prettier plant life. The heavier versions completely replace the trees altogether and give you lusher greens for a summery feel.
Realistic Water Two, drawing and expanding on the work of some earlier water mods, adds better ripples, larger splashes, re-textured foam and faster water flow in streams, bobbing chunks of ice, and even murky, stagnant-looking water in dungeons. It's the next best thing to getting wet.
There are hundreds of Skyrim mods to improve the appearance of NPCs. The trouble is that most of them are rubbish. There's a huge saturation of glamour models, anime hairstyles and nude mods, but it's a chore finding something that actually fits the tone of Skyrim. Xenius Character Enhancement is a collection of small tweaks, improvements, and high resolution textures that will make your Skyfolk look better without clashing with the original art style.
If you're looking to get closer to reality with crisp visuals, this ENB configuration is one to try. With hyper-realistic color corrections, realistic specular highlights and reflections, improved spell effects, and tons of other adjustments, it makes Skyrim look like a real-world place.
A complete overhaul of Skyrim's lighting system, made without the use of screen shader injections or post-processing, which means it doesn't result in a hit on your performance. In fact, you may find your performance actually increasing due to the removal of bloom. Keep in mind, this is an attempt at creating realistic-looking lighting. If you want to maintain the fantasy veneer, try the mod below.
This collection of visual tweaks improves the lighting vastly without losing the eye-candy fantasy feel of Skyrim. It is, however, very hard on your GPU and may not play nicely with other visual or weather mods.
It may not seem like that big of a deal, but these little high-res book covers do make for an extremely pleasant upgrade over the standard, muddily-textured ones. When you're relaxing at home or perusing (or robbing) a bookstore or library, make sure you've installed this lovely cover mod.
Gotten your fill of Skyrim's official quests? Tired of repeating adventures you've done before? Looking for some new locations to explore and conquer? Start right here.
This extensive mod not only gives you a new city to explore, but a murder mystery to solve, NPCs to interrogate, secrets to uncover, and, oh yeah, a chance to do some time travel. Voiced by over a dozen actors, this mod took years of development time and is recommended for characters over level five.
Ahoy, matey! Fancy yourself a ship captain? This mod lets you acquire a ship, hire a crew, and set sail for a number of quests on the Sea of Ghosts. There are seven quests scattered over a number of new islands, and the mod features professional voice acting to boot.
This mod adds ten new cities to Skyrim, all drawn from The Elder Scrolls: Arena, like Amol, Black Moor, Granite Hall, and others. Respectful of game lore, the cities have been added as close to their original locations as possible, and fit in with Skyrim's aesthetic nicely. They've even been populated with NPCs. We explored it here.
As the saying goes: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Alternately, you can beat 'em and join 'em. I'm talking about necromancers, in this case. Undeath is a custom quest in which you're tasked with wiping out an evil cabal of necromancers, with the twist that you can choose to continue their dark unholy work. You can even perform a ritual that will allow you to become a powerful Lich and command an army of the undead. It's meant for players over level 30. We covered it here.
For those who are sick of snowy mountains, Moonpath to Elsweyr offers two brand new environments: lush jungle and barren desert. This quest mod takes you to the Khajit homeland of Elsweyr, which you can travel across in your airship. Did I mention you get an airship? You get an airship.
Falksaar is a massive 'DLC sized' continent created by a young modder as an audition piece for Bethesda. The island itself is impressive, comparable in size and scope to Dragonborn's Solstheim, though a bit more linear. Still, the continent itself is well-worth exploring.
A dangerous criminal from Morrowind has arrived in Skyrim, and your quest to track him down will take you to a new town and an inventive, puzzle-filled dungeon, introduce you to several new NPCs including merchants and traders, and outfit you with new weapons and spells.
This mod starts at level 10, when the Dragonborn is commissioned to slay a dragon on the island of Wyrmstooth, and the plot unravels from there. It ties itself neatly into the Skyrim lore of dragons and the Dovakhiin.
A huge and fantastic quest mod that centres around rebuilding and ruling the town of Helgen, also known as that place that got burnt down at the start of the game." Following the quest will lead you to creating a ragtag bunch of misfits to act as the town guard, while the city itself slowly expands around you.
You also wind up with the coolest player home ever designed: read our article about it.
Descent into Madness was one of the highlights of Richard Cobbett's Week of Madness diary. Take a nap in your bed in Breezehome and you'll be transported into the realm of Sheogorath, where two nations called Madness and Dementia are engaged in an eternal clash of the crazies. Each side offers a different, hour-long questline full of puzzles and riddles, all set within a bizarre, dreamlike landscape.
Taking a page from The Witcher, this mod adds a notice board outside inns in every city in Skyrim. There you can collect radiant missions, some to gather materials or ingredients, some to fetch a specific item, others to hunt down bandits for a bounty or rescue a citizen. It's a good way to keep yourself busy when you're not saving the world.
So you've done your part as the Dragonborn, but now you're looking for a new twist on the game? These mods will help you start over as someone else entirely and add survival needs like thirst and hunger for more realism and challenge.
It's cold in Skyrim, and Frostfall lets you really feel it. An immersive survival system tracks weather, climate, time of day, and even the type of clothing you're wearing to determine how cold you are. It also allows you to gain experience in terms of camping and endurance skill, and a new ability helps you find the creatures and items you'll need to survive.
If you want to begin a new game of Skyrim as someone other than the Dragonborn, this is one of several mods that give you a fresh start. Skip the opening sequence and begin life as someone arriving by boat, locked in a jail cell, a visitor at an inn, and outlaw in the wilderness, and many more.
Remaining in first-person mode helps a game feel immersive, and this mod does that in spades. Not only can you look down and see your entire body while playing, but other activities such as crafting, cooking, riding horses and even riding dragons won't break you out of first-person mode.
Another great mod that lets you begin a new game as a random, no-name adventurer. You can quickly choose your starting gear and pick your arrival spot from dozens of different camps, inns. You can toggle dragons off completely and participate in the civil war despite not being the Dragonborn. You can even choose to begin as a vampire or werewolf. Our coverage is here.
In Skyrim you may contract a disease or two from time to time, but they're typically unchanging and you can deal with them at your leisure. This mod makes diseases progressive, meaning they get worse and worse until they're cured, though there's also a chance your might fight off the infection with bed rest. Hunger and thirst also have stages of severity, food can spoil, and getting enough sleep is important. It's entirely customizable as well.
Get immersed in new audio: tons of it. Hundreds of new sounds effects are included to make dungeons and sewers spookier, enhance the wilderness and wildlife, and make cities and villages more lively and real. This mod is a treat for your ears, and has customizable modules for each type of area.
You're not the only one dealing with the harsh elements in Skyrim. Using this mod, NPCs will bundle up in the cold, move inside if its raining, and do their best to avoid blizzards. The mod also adds effects like wet-sounding footsteps, visible vapor from your breath when it's chilly, and reduced movement speed in heavy snow and strong wind.
This mod provides a more immersive experience for hunters. No longer do you simply yank loot or food out an animal's inventory, you can now dress the carcass, skin it, and butcher it. You can even carry the entire animal back to your camp or a to a vendor. The mod comes with hunting knives, dozens of new ingredients that can be harvested, and new recipes.
Wandering into a tavern or inn on a cold and blustery night isn't the experience it really should be, and this mod makes inns a bit more realistic. Room rates widely vary, you can arrange for an extended say, and you can even arrange lodging for your followers so they're not just standing next to your bed all night while you sleep.
Intending to make outdoor living a robust experience, this mod lets you build several different kinds of fires, from a weak and flickering fire to a roaring blaze suitable for cooking. You can also buy or craft camping gear like tents and tanning racks, and backpacks that display your various cooking pots and waterskins. If you're married, your spouse can camp with you. Here's our piece about it.
With great power comes great responsibility. But what about great rewards? With all of your accomplishments and deadly abilities, it would make sense for you to become King of Skyrim, don't you think? Move into a huge castle, have your own army follow you everywhere, and throw citizens in prison or have them beheaded. It's good to be the king.
Looking for some more variety in Skyrim's bestiary, more realistic behavior from animals, and some upgrades for the countless dragons you'll have to fight? Here are some mods that make your enemies more interesting.
You spend a lot of time in Skyrim fighting draugr, so any mod that adds more undead is bound to have a big impact. This one adds several new draugr and skeleton types wearing bits and pieces of tattered armour. Each enemy type has a different fighting style and level of toughness based on what they were in life, whether they're skeletal knights, undead Thalmor, or even a high level Lich. It's a simple, lore-friendly way to add a lot more variety to your enemies.
Guess what? You're not the only one who can shout, Dragonborn. This mod gives dragons a whole new toolbox of spells and shouts, new abilities like disarming attacks and the power to summon animals or other monsters. One can raise the dead, another can't fly—it's a skeleton—but uses deadly physical attacks. It's completely customizable as well, in terms of difficulty, frequency, and loot. We tried out these new dragons here.
There are a lot of excellent retexture mods available for Skyrim, but the sad thing is that you can only ever use one at a time. Automatic Variants exists to correct that problem. It allows Skyrim to randomly choose different skins from a pool of variants. Pick a bunch you like, and the mod will distribute those textures for you in the game.
While it doesn't add new species, this mod does add around 100 recolored or touched-up textures for Skyrim's animals, everything from goats to bears to werewolves to the oft-discussed mudcrabs. You can choose from high or medium resolutions.
Basically, it makes horses a million times better. Your followers can ride them, and fight while riding. You can conduct conversations and loot while on horseback. There are a variety of new saddles and armor types. Dismounting is quicker and automatically draws your weapon. You can auto-mount horses when they're called, and even dictate their AI in combat.
If you're tired of fighting vanilla creatures and don't mind digressing from the lore, check out Immersive Creatures. A huge collection of modders contributed to assemble an astonishing 2,500+ new creatures to populate Skyrim. From goblins to crocodile demons to dragon-people—and even a mechanical dragon.
You don't just have to slaughter every creature in Skyrim: you can also tame them, keep them on a farm, and have them accompany you on quests. Whether you want a pet mammoth or a pet chicken, this mod will allow you to assemble an impressive bestiary of loyal creatures. You can even breed them to create more powerful animals. Here's our write-up.
Play Skyrim long enough and you'll notice that the difficulty drops off sharply at later levels. The problem is that a lot of standard enemy types don't have high level variants. The toughest Bandit, for example, is level 25, not much of a challenge when your Dovakhin gets past level 30. High Level Enemies contains hundreds of new enemy types, ensuring that basic enemies remain a challenge well into the endgame.
Animals have been revamped with better AI and more realistic behavior. Bears will hibernate in winter, animals will travel to water to drink each day, and predators not only hunt but whatever they consume will remain in their inventory (belly) for a while. Instead of always attacking, they may flee, or simply just watch you. Plus, you won't just see full-grown animals but also their young following them around.
Looking for some new gear and armor? Not happy with how your character moves? Want some new weapons to carry and new ways to swing them? Here's the place to start.
Immersive Animations adds dozens of little touch-ups to Skyrim's existing animations, plus a few nifty new ones. It's also compatible with Dual Sheath Redux, allowing for all sorts of nice animations for having your shield on your back, or sheathing two weapons at once.
Bethesda left several unassigned kill moves lurking in Skyrim's code when the game was released, including some very cool shield bash kills. The Dance of Death re-enables them and re-organises all kill moves so that they're gradually unlocked as you earn perks. It also includes a full menu that lets you control the rate of kill moves.
This mod provides a hefty selection of new weapons that fit in nicely with the existing look and feel of Skyrim. You'll find axes, daggers, maces, and any number of new swords, all beautifully designed and textured and suitable for veteran characters and those just starting out.
This mod retools how you swing your weapons, with new animations for single and two-handed attacks, power attacks, bows and crossbows, sneaking and swimming, and even running—complete with a cloak that waves in the wind.
Zweihander is a set of new animations for two handed weapons in Skyrim. The big selling point is the idle animation, which sees you resting your sword/axe/hammer on your shoulder. There's lots more than that though, with animations for running, turning and even a leaping overhead strike included. It's all customizable too, so you can mix and match new and old animations.
Belt Fastened Quivers moves all arrow quivers from the back, where they often clip through things like backpacks or cloaks, down to the waist, adding new animations for the new position. It was originally made as part of Frostfall, so if you're using that, you don't need the standalone mod. If you aren't, however, it's still well worth getting just to stop your arrows from clipping through the items from Immersive Amours and Wet and Cold.
This mod brings you a huge collection of great-looking lore-friendly armor. And it's not just for you, either: the armors are assigned to various NPCs and randomized loot lists throughout the game. You can even turn individual armors on and off through SkyUI's configuration menu, giving you full control over what items actually appear in your game.
Fancy installing some extra storage on your plate mail? This mod adds a whole range of pouches, belts, potion holders and water bottles that can be stuck on top of whatever clothes you're wearing in several configurations, giving you the look of a serious adventurer equipped for a long journey.
Warmonger Armory is another compilation mod. It adds a ton of great looking new armor, clothing and weapons to the game, including some using DLC equipment. Once again these items are carefully distributed around the world, given to specific NPCs, and added to randomized equipment lists.
If you're using some of the lighting mods you'll notice that nighttime in Skyrim has gotten much darker. Spells and torches can help, but warriors who want to use their off-hand are out of luck. Chesko's Wearable Lantern mod sorts out this problem, letting you clip a light source to your belt, front or rear. Companions can also carry the lanterns, and will automatically douse them when you enter sneak mode.
Skyrim is full of unique items with fascinating lore behind them, but unfortunately very few of them have the looks to go with their backstory. InsanitySorrow's Unique Uniques adds new textures and meshes for several of the game's unique weapons, giving you a great excuse to bust out Dragonbane again.
A lot of games have been called "Skyrim with guns" but now Skyrim fits that description too, thanks to this mod that lets you carry a blunderbuss, a flintlock rifle, and a grenade launcher. With custom sounds and bayonets, it's time to introduce those primitive Skyrim screwheads to your boomstick. We tried it out here.
There are more than just monsters in Skyrim: there are also everyday citizens. Like just about everything else in Skyrim, you can change them to suit your wishes.
Guards in Skyrim are total arseholes. They constantly belittle you, even when you've saved the world several times over. This mod helps fix that. As you climb the ladder of respectability, more common phrases (arrow to the knee, etc.) will become less common and they'll start being more respectful.
If you'd like your companions to be a bit more fun to have around, this mod adds a ton of new followers with custom voices and tons of location-based commentary, their own quest lines, and some interesting and unique appearances. If you find one you particularly like, great news—you can marry them.
Ever noticed that Skyrim's Imperial army is a no-girls-allowed club? Oh sure, there are female named characters like Legate Rikke, but the actual rank and file soldiers, with the exception of Windhelm and Riften, are always male. This mod edits the list of models that town guards and Imperial soldiers are randomly drawn from, adding some women into the mix, and also adds in several different faces for the male guards.
Immersive Patrols creates a series of patrols for Skyrim's different factions: Stormcloak, Imperial, Thalmor, Dawnguard, Bandits, and so on. Occasionally these routes intersect, resulting in two opposed factions fighting to the death. Imperials and Stormcloaks regularly clash at designated warzones, with the survivors either reinforcing or taking control of the nearest fort. It adds a tremendous amount of life to Skyrim's conflict, and generates far more of those emergent clashes we all love to watch.
Skyrim's citizens have always had something of a deathwish, frequently responding to dragon attacks by running outside and trying to punch the scaly monster to death. This usually ends in them getting eaten. This simple mod instructs vulnerable NPCs to run the hell indoors when a dragon arrives. Tougher customers, like town guards, potential followers, or college mages are unaffected.
Want multiple followers? Want to micromanage them, pick their outfits, tell them which spells to use, how to fight, where to live, and how to level up? This mod allows that, and more, including making them smart enough to avoid traps, ignore friendly fire, and ride horses.
The roads of Skyrim are typically pretty empty, except for you and the occasional bandit who is forced to make his living trying to rob you since you're the only person on the roads of Skyrim. This mod adds dozens of fellow travelers who move between the cities and towns. Now you'll encounter traveling merchants, alchemists, mercenaries, and mages when you hit the road.
Here you'll find tweaks, changes, and complete overhauls of Skyrim's systems. Grab some new spells, enjoy added perks and skills, and change the way you fight.
Some of Skyrim's perks and skills are a wee bit drab. Enchantment, for example, is a useful skill but isn't much fun to put points into simply because most of its perks are simple increases in enhancement strength. Perkus Maximus overhauls a number of systems, keeping passive effects but adding powerful and interesting active effects as well. We covered this mod here.
So long, hack and slash combat: you're going to need to be far more careful tackling foes to-to-toe. This functions due to some changes to AI and especially damage: getting hit with a sword or an axe is something you can't just shrug off anymore. As a result, combat is more tense, takes more patience, and is considerably more challenging.
Apocalypse adds 140 new spells to Skyrim, most of them pretty well balanced. These aren't just 'spray lightning/fire/cold until someone dies' spells either. There's a whole variety of cool summons, disabling effects, and unusual attacks available.
You probably don't spend much time fighting unarmed: it's just not that much fun. Way of the Monk fixes this by giving you more combat options when taking on the world fist-first. There are new skills, perks, spiked gloves, and ways to enchant your fists to do different types of magic damage.
There should be more to stealth than just being invisible and gaining surprise damage bonuses. Now you can be a genuine slippery, filthy, sneaky type. Slit the throats of the unaware. Knock people unconscious from behind. Wear masks that hide your identity. Douse torches and lanterns to move through the shadows. Add an arsenal of trick arrows, including one that launches ropes that allows you to climb walls.
Skyrim's Dragon shouts are cool. Much cooler than regular magic. The best fighter/mage in Skyrim is frequently just an ordinary fighter who yells a lot. Thunderchild expands the Dovakhin's magic vocals with a bunch of cool new shouts. Yell until you teleport, shout ghosts into existence, holler until the earth quakes or just scream so hard you open up a black hole.
Spice up cooking and alchemy with this expansive mod that adds dozens of new ingredients, recipes, and effects. Portable alchemy stations mean you can craft on the go, potions can be sorted from weakest to strongest, and you'll even be able to cook up alchemical bombs to hurl at your enemies—even while on horseback.
Bring a little Dishonored into Skyrim. Some of the powers like Blink, Possession, Devouring Swarm, Wind Blast, and Void Gaze are at your disposal once your read a mysterious book, meet the mysterious Outsider, and visit a series of shrines.
How many spare dragon souls have you got? If you've been playing a while, probably tons. Now you can put your spare souls to use. This mod adds a Dragon Stone (look for it near the Guardian Stones) where you can exchange souls (the amount is configurable) for perks.
Now that you've found some mods you'd like to try, here are the tools you can use to get them working. Again, make sure you read the pages for each of your mods: many of them require specific steps and instructions.
If you've clicked any of the links on this list, you've most likely been taken to Nexus Mods, the biggest Skyrim Mod hub there is. It comes with a great tool, the Nexus Mod Manager. It's easy to use and makes downloading, activating, and deactivating mods a breeze. It's also useful in that it supports tons of other games, like The Witcher 3, Fallout 4, and many more.
Skyrim Script Extender is a utility that is required for some of the more complex mods to work. Not every mod on this list requires it, but many do, including the essential SkyUI, so you're best off just installing it up front. Drop it into your Skyrim folder, and be sure to launch the game from the SKSE launcher instead of the usual Skyrim Launcher. SKSE gets updated fairly regularly, so check back from time to time to make sure you've got the most updated version.
Another option is the Mod Organiser. It gives you more control over your mods than Nexus Mod Manager and makes organizing mods easier if you regularly use more than a handful.
Load order is often very important when using multiple mods, and sometimes if mods aren't loaded in the correct order they won't work properly. LOOT is a great tool for automating and customizing your load order, and will detect problems and attempt to repair them.
You can also browse and use Skyrim mods via the Steam Workshop. It's easy to navigate and adding them to your roster is accomplish by simply clicking the subscribe button. Keep in mind, more complex mods usually require a few more steps to install, and even if they appear in the Workshop they may require more steps to get running.
After a dramatic debut at last last year's E3, which brought us news of a certain post-apocalyptic roleplay game, Bethesda has found it in its heart (or more likely pockets) to host a follow-up at E3 2016. And this after Pete Hines suggested it wasn't a sure thing.
— Bethesda Softworks (@bethesda) February 1, 2016
All we have is an announcement, the date and time—June 12, 7pm PT—and a line-up of stylised characters from the Bethesda portfolio. There's some power armour in there, a nord, demon and yep, there's ol' Corvo too. I have my fingers crossed to hear more on Dishonored 2 before June, but if not it's pretty unthinkable it wouldn't take centre stage.
Elder Scrolls 6? They're devs, not machines, and I'm a pessimist.
When I think 'lore', my mind goes to dusty tomes in long-forgotten libraries, or scrolls of prophecy that blind the reader. Facebook isn't typically the vehicle by which arcane knowledge is conveyed, but that hasn't stopped Redditor TheTitanova from retelling the entirety of Morrowind's backstory in status updates.
Posted to the Morrowind subreddit and created using a Facebook Wall generator (having friends whose names coincide exactly with the cast of Morrowind would be quite the coincidence and a boring Venn diagram), this timeless work goes deep into the history of Tamriel and is naturally laden with spoilers. Long-time Morrowind fans should get a kick out of the in-jokes.
I'm enjoying Morrowind's new vogue—it was the first open-world game I played, so it's hard not to coo over throwbacks like Morrowind Rebirth, Skywind and OpenMW. The latter is a project to port Morrowind into a new, open-source engine that will allow modding (and all-new games) beyond anything the Elder Scrolls Construction Set is capable of. Multiplayer, for instance.
Officially, multiplayer is on the OpenMW crew's wishlist rather than their aims for version 1.0, but that hasn't stopped one Stanislav Zhukov having a crack at it. The video above shows two instances of Morrowind running one one machine in which one character is clearly synced up to the other's world. Position, animations, inventory and player attributes carry across.
OpenMW can't yet support interaction between the visitor and the host's world, but as a networking experiment on a 13-year-old game, it's a corker.
The Skyrim theme song Dragonborn is thoroughly epic stuff. You can't really dance to it, but it's got the sturm, it's got the drang, and it's got Max von Sydow in your head, telling you that it's time to kick ass and chew bubblegum—and boy, there is yet again a crippling shortage of bubblegum. The only thing that could possibly make it more epic is seeing it sung by an 80-member Swedish chorus fronted by singer Myrra Malmberg. So, here you go.
Yes, the video is a couple years old, but it's semi-relevant right now because the track is one of 13 included on the upcoming Greatest Video Game Music III—Choral Edition, which will be out on January 29. The album will also include the Skyrim track Age of Oppression, as well as music from World of Warcraft, Portal 1 and 2, Assassin's Creed IV, and Minecraft. It's available for preorder now on iTunes.
On this week's mod Roundup, a more informative HUD arrives for Skyrim and wearable backpacks appear in Fallout 4. Meanwhile, The Witcher 3 gets a beautiful texture makeover, and Arma 3 becomes host to an alien virus in a mod that echos John Carpenter's classic horror film "The Thing."
Here are the most promising mods we've seen this week.
If you're looking for an immersive way to improve your carry weight in Fallout 4 (without strapping on a hulking set of power armor), here's a nice little mod that adds a wearable backpack. Backpacks are always a highly requested mod in Bethesda RPGs: they makes you feel like a real traveler, a drifter, a vagabond. This one is no exception.
I think The Witcher 3 looked pretty nice, but the great thing about the modders of PC games is that they're always working hard to make games look even better. This mod improves—greatly I'd say—the textures of rocks and boulders, crates and sacks, and floors and tiles. Have a look at the video above: comparison shots begin at about 45 seconds in, and you can really see the difference.
This custom scenario for Arma 3 brings to life John Carpenter's landmark horror film The Thing (based on the sci-fi novella "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campell, Jr., which I recently read.) Set in 1982, you lead a team of Marines to investigate an outpost in Antarctica and deal with (shoot) the horrifying results of an alien virus. Note, it requires several other mods to be installed—you'll find a full list on this Steam Workshop page.
You're romping through Skyrim and spot something: a book, a weapon, a piece of armor. What are its properties? To find out, you need to pick it up, then open your inventory and search for the item to find out. The moreHUD mod makes an item's properties available simply by looking at it. It'll tell you if you've already read the book you're looking at, how a weapon's damage will improve your attacks, and list an ingredient's effects. You can even see how much an item weighs, and how it'll contribute to your current carryweight. Nice!
There s a theory that no one ever loves one of Bethesda s open-world games as much as they love their first. Whichever of the Elder Scrolls games was your introduction to the format will be the one that sticks with you forever, the theory goes, and none of the others will measure up. But although there certainly is a format shared by all the single-player RPGs in the Elder Scrolls series, there isn t a formula each new game makes significant changes, and many of those changes seem like responses to common criticisms of the previous one. It feels like Bethesda pays attention to the things people complain about and use mods to fix, though the company rarely gets credit for it. It s especially noticeable when you put all five central games in the series—ignoring the spin-offs—side by side to see how they ve evolved, and how different they are. We'll follow that path now, starting with The Elder Scrolls: Arena.
Speaking of evolution, The Elder Scrolls: Arena went through some famously massive changes even before it was properly begun. Initially conceived as a game about a team of gladiators competing in turn-based battles (hence the subtitle), what started as a series of sidequests in dungeons and cities took over during early development and became the core of the game, reshaping it into a first-person real-time RPG in the mold of Ultima Underworld.
What Arena added to the genre was a massive overworld. Its scale still hasn t been matched by any of the follow-ups in the series: players can travel across the entire continent of Tamriel, including the main locations of each of the later games. It isn t like the continuous open worlds of today, though. Fast travel is the only way to get from one settlement to the next because the wilderness is algorithmically generated filler surrounding each town. You can walk down roads looking at trees and stumbling across the occasional dungeon for hours, or at least until the game s memory fills and it became unstable, but you ll never reach the next town.
In those towns the people are created by a similar algorithmic process. Each character has an individual name and career, but every butcher tells you about the same shipment of mutton and every second joiner complains about dryrot. Each place feels like a remix of the last, the random name generator throwing up forgettable shops like The Basic Merchandise with the same white-skinned human character models for bartenders and other service providers no matter which race of people the rest of the populace in that area is composed of. There are sidequests in these population centers, picked up in bars, but all are variations on walking around town to collect or deliver things.
Where Arena shined was in its main quests. Not for their bare bones story—after escaping from a prison you d been locked in by an evil wizard who banished the Emperor to another dimension, you were sent to collect the pieces of a magic artifact to defeat him—but for the dungeons each chapter is set in. They re hand-crafted, making them far more atmospheric than the randomized dungeons in the rest of the game, and each has a dramatically different theme. In Selene s Web spiders are bred in pits and signs warn their trainers to be careful, while in Labyrinthian (revisited in Skyrim) the story of two brothers cursed to guard the place is written on the walls.
Most of the dungeons have an alternate way of exploring them that monsters won t use, perhaps by jumping into mineshafts or underground rivers, as if the player is an alien in the ventilation shafts leaping out to launch surprise attacks before scurrying away. And though its sound palette was limited, the roar of a troll in the distance or the beating of drums in the deep adds menace.
The rest of the world isn t so atmospheric, and not just because of the randomization. Tamriel then was a much more generic fantasy setting. Its Orcs are typical dungeon fodder rather than a playable race, and the Khajiit are described as feline and sleek but look like ordinary humans. There are no Daedra and no Dark Brotherhood assassins. Though the Elder Scrolls themselves are referred to throughout Arena, repeatedly looked to for clues to the location of the next dungeon, a lot of what we think of as essential parts of the Elder Scrolls series aren t present, and wouldn t appear till its sequel.
There were two ways to make a character in Arena. You could choose a class from a list of 18, or have one chosen for you after filling out a questionnaire like a cross between the quandaries at the start of Ultima IV and the Voight-Kampff test from BladeRunner. Daggerfall adds the option to create your own class, as well as a second set of interview questions to determine your background, asking about your childhood nickname, motivation for seeking adventure, and so on. As well as influencing starting skills, these answers were incorporated into the player s journal to create a backstory for who they were before being roped into helping the Emperor with his latest problem. From the start Daggerfall aimed for a higher level of detail than Arena.
To achieve that it shrunk in scope from an entire continent to two provinces, High Rock and Hammerfell, which is still massive compared to the later games. The world map is so intimidating, each town and dungeon a single pixel, that there s a search function without which you d never find anything. Although fast travel is still a necessity for getting around because it takes hours to walk anywhere, it is possible to trudge from one location to the next even if you see the same trees and mushrooms a hundred times in between. Some locations, like the witches covens, are almost impossible to find except by stumbling across them this way.
To get to that overworld though, players have to survive the beginning. Although Arena and Daggerfall are both games in the then-popular good luck surviving the starter dungeon genre, adding more options to character creation in Daggerfall made it even easier to create a hero who s ill-equipped to face the brutal beginning, a dungeon where resting can summon grizzly bears and there are enemies who can t be harmed by mundane weapons.
Escape to the city of Daggerfall, as the tutorial suggests before promptly breaking and never reappearing, and things change. While the streets are still on a 1:1 scale, making travel from one shop to the next take minutes, the people on those streets have a lot more to say. Reviews of Arena had said things like NPC interaction is rather lifeless , but in Daggerfall there s a bewildering variety of conversation topics to choose from and different answers based on whether you ask bluntly or politely. Many characters belong to factions, and completing sidequests for them increases your reputation with those factions—another layer of complexity aimed at giving life to the NPCs.
The NPCs still draw their answers from a common pool that repeated quickly, but the intent was clearly to address one of Arena s flaws. Another criticism of Arena s towns was that wandering monsters infested them at night, gangs of skeletons stalking the streets like they were auditioning for Westeros Side Story. In Daggerfall, there s an explanation for this: the ghost of King Lysander and his army of wraiths haunt the city, moaning VENGEANCE! and driving everyone into well-lit taverns for safety.
Every city has guilds, and now they re joinable and have quests associated with them. There are secret guilds too—pick enough pockets and the Thieves Guild will recruit you, murder innocents and the Dark Brotherhood will be impressed, get bitten by a vampire and their brethren will be in touch. Summoning the pagan Daedra triggers quests for artifacts that would recur throughout the series, like Azura s Star and the madgod s staff Wabbajack. These side stories are richer than Arena s, but also more likely to break. NPCs you need to interact with might not spawn, and the math behind the random dungeons that sidequests send you to sometimes place objectives in inaccessible rooms.
Where dungeons were Arena s strong point, they re Daggerfall s weakest. Twisting staircases and angled floors make for jumbled geographies that turn the automap into an eyeboggling mess: rotatable 3D sculptures that look like they were drawn by M. C. Escher. It s easy to get stuck on objects or fall through the floor, which happened so frequently a keyboard shortcut was added to teleport players to their last stable position (Alt-F11 if it happens to you). Other bugs let arrows fly through walls and doors, transformed the sound of torches into an angry buzz, and sometimes made the main questline impossible to complete. While Arena wasn t free of bugs either—notably reloading the same save too often would cause a crash, and sometimes so would simply attacking with fists—Daggerfall became infamous for its bugginess and gave Bethesda a reputation that s stuck with it to this day.
Yet even though Daggerfall was unfinishable for many players, Bethesda took its endings seriously. Part of the overall goal of adding to the variety of options included having six different endings, allowing the player to choose who to side with. Rather than have one be the canonical conclusion, books in later games referred to a mystical event called The Warp in the West that allowed all six of them to happen simultaneously. It was Daggerfall that added these readable books to the series, filling them with history and legends, jokes and songs. The Elder Scrolls background was becoming richer and stranger.
While Daggerfall followed two years after Arena, Morrowind had six years to ensure its relative sturdiness—the longest development period of any game in the series so far, though that includes a year spent working on one of the spin-offs. That six-year gap also made for the most radical shift in terms of presentation, with the similar interfaces of the first two games replaced entirely. Where they d had thick bars of buttons hogging the bottom of the screen, Morrowind s HUD is unobtrusive, and while Daggerfall s move to 3D had included an option to mouselook by holding Alt, in Morrowind it s standard. The sensation of presence within its world was radically improved.
That world is also significantly smaller. Bethesda boasted that Daggerfall had a game world the size of Great Britain , but Morrowind s setting only takes up approximately 24 square kilometers. Early in development it was planned for the entire province to be playable, but then its scope was reduced to the single island of Vvardenfell. Likewise, plans to have all five of its Great Houses as joinable factions with their own questlines were scrapped, and their number reduced to three. The payoff for these reductions in size is a setting with a greater degree of interactivity. Daggerfall s scenery was untouchable, but Morrowind is full of objects that can be picked up and plants that can be harvested. It feels big because there s so much to do. (And also because fast travel had been removed.)
Rather than being algorithmically generated, Vvardenfell is a hand-crafted place, designed to present stunning vistas. Giant mushrooms, flea-like Silt Striders, floating Netches, buildings hollowed out of the shells of dead behemoths—its overworld is distinctive where Arena and Daggerfall s had been generic. Its lore builds on Daggerfall s to add to that distinctiveness, and people have written entire essays about what its hermaphrodite poet god Vivec is really on about.
Still, the actual quests are fairly cut-and-dried with the player cast as another prisoner given a job by the Emperor, this time living up to a prophecy to defeat a dark lord on his dark throne within a volcanic wasteland. It s underpinned by some of the best mythic fantasy writing in video games, but the quests themselves frequently boil down to traveling to a place and clicking on a person.
Morrowind also made thorough changes to the controls. Movement in the first two games was directed either by left-clicking the edge of the screen you wanted to walk toward (which meant painstakingly centring the screen on objects before picking them up, which made collecting keys from the floor a trial), or by using the arrow keys, with sidesteps bound separately. Morrowind s WASD controls are far simpler, and so is its combat, which no longer requires right-clicking and then dragging across the screen in the direction of your swing. Morrowind s stealth is activated by crouching, where in Daggerfall it had been an invisible skill check modified by the speed of your movement. With this change playing a thief class suddenly became fun.
Three more classes were also added to the character creation options, as well as Orcs and more beast-like versions of the Argonians and Khajiit. But one of the most important additions to Morrowind was the Elder Scrolls Construction Set, which not only made it easier for the designers to add new things to the game, like its expansions Bloodmoon and Tribunal, but also for players to do the same. Morrowind was the first game in the series to embrace modding, with over 3,000 mods available for it today. That would turn out to be one of the series most enduring changes.
With Oblivion, Bethesda tried to marry what was best about Morrowind—the feeling of hand-made specificity—with the larger scope of the first two games. Using procedural generation tools, they created swathes of terrain and then edited them into shape, trees made of splines snapped to columns and algorithmic erosion roughing up the landscape.
Its setting of Cyrodiil is more than twice the size of Vvardenfell, with an extra 33 square kilometers, but with that increase in scale comes a decrease in uniqueness. As Bethesda s Todd Howard said, We wanted to get back to the more classic Arena and Daggerfall feel of a fantasy world that felt more refined and welcoming, a place that you instantly understood. But in that, we sacrificed some of what made Morrowind special: the wonder of discovery.
While Oblivion begins with the hero a now-standard prisoner who is given a vital task by the Emperor, it steps back from turning you into the prophesied chosen one. Instead that role is played by Martin Septim, voiced by Sean Bean (Oblivion was the first fully voiced game in the series). Players help Martin live up to his world-changing destiny, rather than having their own. Instead, you discover your potential through sidequests. While the importance of these sidequests grew with each game, Oblivion emphasizes them to the point of feeling like a different game once you abandon the central story. Join the Thieves Guild and you eventually steal one of the Elder Scrolls themselves; join the Dark Brotherhood and you become a master assassin; hunt down the Daedric shrines and you earn artifacts of the gods.
As well as focusing on the freedom to find their own path, Oblivion emphasizes the freedom for players to explore in any compass direction. Earlier games funneled players with mountains that pushed them away from more dangerous areas, or with level limits on quests. Oblivion s level-scaling means that no matter where you go enemies are balanced to provide an appropriate challenge.
While the intention was noble, it had strange side effects. Certain animals disappear from the land once out-leveled, and NPCs who began the game in rags carry magic swords later. Meanwhile, the arcane way character improvement works in Oblivion—with variable bonuses per level depending on whether players have been dutifully grinding to improve their lesser skills—could make one level eight hero a combat machine while another is still a wimp. It s entirely possible for the same challenge to be harder for a higher-level character than a lower-level one.
In other ways, Oblivion reduced confusion. Morrowind players sometimes felt lost about what to do next, faced with a journal that filled itself with notes until its usefulness as a questlog vanished (the Game Of The Year edition addressed this by adding a filter for quest-related entries). In Oblivion, the journal became less messy, and an arrow points to the next objective for whichever quest is currently active. Along with the return of fast travel this infuriated the kind of fans who complain about dumbing down, but it definitely reduced the amount of time you spent wondering where you were and what you were doing, especially if you didn t play for several days and tried to pick up where you left off.
Oblivion was also the first Elder Scrolls game to add downloadable content, while we re on the subject of infuriating fans. Its horse armor selling for $2 became a running joke among critics of DLC. Later additions would be bigger and often cheaper in response, and were followed by a full-sized expansion in 2007 s Shivering Isles. Set on the island home of the god of madness, Shivering Isles replaces the fantasy European look of Cyrodiil with a twisted version of Alice In Wonderland that concept artist Adam Adamowicz memorably called Walt Disney on steroids crapping a rainbow into your brain. Deeply strange and small in scale, Shivering Isles recaptured Morrowind s magic but with Oblivion s commitment to cutting out filler.
Depending how you measure it, Skyrim s map may be slightly smaller than Oblivion s. It s much less flat, however, and there s a lot of geography outside the bounds of the game, only visible from the top of its tallest mountain on a clear day or during the quest in which the player is summoned into the sky to commune with a god. That it contains climbing mountains and chatting with gods are part of Skyrim s commitment to making everything feel epic. The main quest is the focus again, and the player is restored to the center of the plot—born a chosen one, with powers beyond those of mortals and a destiny to fulfill. Unlike Oblivion, Skyrim s most impressive set pieces all take place during its main quests, whether battling dragons or traveling to the land of the dead.
Some of Skyrim's changes can be seen in user-made mods for Oblivion. Popular mods that added more combat moves were mimicked in Skyrim s system of perks, unlocking new abilities with each level that made its combat more interesting the longer you played. An individual mod that sped up the rate arrows flew in Oblivion, which made a surprising difference to how enjoyable they were to shoot, was replicated for the archery in Skyrim. Other aspects seemed designed with gaps for modders to fill deliberately left in them, like the crafting and detailed weather and wildlife systems that seemed to beg for survival mechanics to be bolted onto them, as they inevitably were.
Way back in Daggerfall players had been given the option to create their own class, and Morrowind removed limitations on which classes could use certain equipment or learn spells. Skyrim took away the concept of classes completely, with starting skills determined purely by choice of race. Any skill could be used by any character, essentially leaving you to create your own class as you played, turning the entire game into one of the earlier entries Q&A sessions about what kind of adventurer you are.
Also removed was the ability to create your own spells. As far back as Arena, the Elder Scrolls games had let spellcasting characters edit spell effects and in doing so give themselves game-breaking magical powers, whether to knock down walls, fly, or become invincible. Skyrim s crafting remained open to abuse, however, through tricks like making potions that temporarily increased your skill at creating enchanted items, which allowed you to make equipment that boosted your ability to brew potions—a loop that ended with low-level characters able to craft some of the best gear in the game.
That crafting system is a rare example of outside influence on an Elder Scrolls game. While first-person RPGs Ultima Underworld and Legends Of Valour have been cited as inspirations for Arena, and apparently the addition of vampires came after the team played the tabletop RPG Vampire: The Masquerade, the Elder Scrolls games have largely done their own thing. They ve become influential, but only rarely been influenced. That changed when Skyrim not only added crafting but companions and romance options—rudimentary ones, but still. It s an example of a willingness to borrow from other RPGs that s new.
Of course, Skyrim was also influenced by lessons Bethesda learnt while working on Fallout 3 between Elder Scrolls games. It and Skyrim share the same level-scaling mechanic, which balances each area to be a challenge for players when they first arrive in them, but then keeps them at that level of danger, making the areas first visited less of a threat when returned to later. Another idea from the same source was giving NPCs unique conversations rather than mixing their personal dialogue with a generic pool of rumors and observations that sometimes jarred. Skyrim s random narrative encounters, like the thief who hands you a weapon moments before the hunter he stole it from arrives, also came from Fallout 3. We realised in Fallout 3 that that kind of environmental storytelling, where you come upon a little scene, is really good, Todd Howard explained. And so we ve tried to do it a lot more.
With Fallout 4, Bethesda has taken even more influence from other RPGs, namely by adding a voiced protagonist, and has also given a nod to building games with settlement construction. It seems natural that the lessons Bethesda learns from these changes, positive or negative, will also make their way into the next Elder Scrolls, along with lessons from Skyrim and its predecessors—although it s probably not going to bring back the game-breaking spellcrafting system. More's the pity.
On this week's Mod Roundup, a better way to conduct conversations in Fallout 4, followers that level with you in Skyrim, a complete—and we do mean complete—overhaul of The Witcher 3, and a big update for a Game of Thrones mod for Mount & Blade: Warband.
Here are the most promising mods we've seen this week.
Fallout 4's conversation UI leaves a lot to be desired. For example, instead of a list of full responses, you only get a brief idea of the tone of what you might say. It can lead to some misunderstandings. And, since this is your character, it makes sense that you'd know what you were actually going to say before you say it. This mod reverts the system to one more similar to Fallout 3 and New Vegas. Find it here.
As you climb the ladder of power in Skyrim, you followers join you... up to a point. Most followers have a level cap of 20, and you may have noticed that when you reach level 40 or 50 your lackeys are comparatively weak against your enemies (to the point that they're getting their lights knocked out immediately). This mod, available on the Steam workshop, means they'll level right alongside you. The Skyrim's the limit.
Modders are hard at work on changes—major ones—to The Witcher 3. The School of the Roach mod just entered open beta, and it comes with a huge list of changes, starting with increases to the game's difficulty. It also aims to improve combat, rework the economy, provide a more realistic encumbrance system, and make changes to the leveling system. Alchemy, armor, weapons, skills, menus... it sounds like nothing is being overlooked. Read more about it, and help test the beta, right here.
This mod for Mount & Blade: Warband, which transforms the game into Westeros from Game of Thrones, first arrived in 2013, but it's still being improved and added to. It's just entered it's 8th beta version and with it arrives a whole host of changes, additions, and improvements. The list of changes is too long to tackle here, but you can read more about it, and download it, it at Mod DB.
In this week's Mod Roundup, the Game of Thrones mod for Crusader Kings 2 gets its v1.0 release and a GTA 5 mod lets you buy additional houses and rent hotel rooms in Los Santos. You can also explore the fantastic environments of Alien: Isolation—without that damn determined alien chasing you around—and begin a new life in Skyrim as a skooma addict or traveling merchant.
Here are the most promising mods we've seen this week.
One of the best full-conversion mods of all time is even better. The Game of Thrones mod for Crusader Kings 2, which transforms Europe into George R. R. Martin's Westeros, has released version 1.0. It's been a while since I've played it, but there are lots of improvements in the latest version that make me want to dive back in. You can download it here.
Obviously, this isn't meant to be a true alternative way to play the horror game, but instead a way to explore Sevastopol and take in all the incredible details of the environment at your leisure and without fear of being horribly impaled by the dreaded Xenomorph's tail. Chances are, you missed something while you were busy creeping, hiding, and dying the first time through. Details and download here.
There's a great mod for Skyrim called Alternate Start, that lets you skip the opening sequence at Helgen and begin a new game as a homeowner, a guild member, someone living at an inn, a bandit living in the wilds, and so on. In other words, it gives you the chance to play as a simple citizen of the world instead of the fabled Dragonborn. New Beginnings expands on that, letting you start the game as a lowly skooma addict, a beggar, a traveling merchant, a prisoner in the jail of your choice, a vampire who was recently laid to rest, and others. You can find it here.
We know Michael, Franklin, and Trevor each have their own home in GTA 5, but why stop there? Let your millionaires buy a whole bunch of houses around Los Santos to serve as alternate save points and hideouts. This mod also allows you to rent rooms at hotels and create other savepoints around town. You'll find it here.