PC Gamer

A mushroom towers above you, reaching for the sky. The place feels familiar, but the light has changed. Plants have taken root in previously barren land, new rocks jut from the earth like gnarled fingers. It s the same, but different a place inspired by what came before. A complete remake and re-imagining of Morrowind, in the words of Brandon Giles, one of the lead developers of the ambitious community project Skywind. The mod aims to draw players fresh and old to the world of Bethesda s 14-year-old RPG.

Skywind had its inception in 2012. The seeds can be found in Morroblivion, which ported Morrowind s content into Oblivion s engine. Once the project came to an end, some leftover team members decided to attempt a similar feat this time using Skyrim as their base.

It wasn t until late into the following year that the project evolved into what it is now, Giles says of the Elder Scrolls Renewal Project, of which Skywind is a part. [We] aspired to do something greater than a mere port of Morrowind. No one really knows the exact point that this switch happened, but I think as we got more and more talented individuals on board, we really broadened our horizons and looked to make something much more special. Since then the vision has only grown.

Skywind s global team was brought together by a love of the Elder Scrolls series. They re all volunteers, and their ultimate reward for the thousands of hours invested will be the finished project itself. The challenge they have set is to take a classic and renovate it, improving it graphically and bringing the world s density, life and interactions up to the standards set by today s open-world games.

The team, though scattered, has clear lines of management. Tasks are chopped into manageable chunks and assigned by the development leads. Countless spreadsheets are assembled in order to keep track of the various tasks and deadlines. The driving force is a small core team, working with and managing the vast array of people who have volunteered their time.

These team members all share the same broad vision for Skywind. Morrowind is a game that now shows its age. The locales feel barren and sparse compared to modern achievements, the fog-cloaked horizon is a stark contrast to the immense draw distances we re now accustomed to. The team have to address this disparity, filling in areas of the world with new content. This act of creation in a game so revered comes with its own difficulties the additions must merge seamlessly with the established world. Skywind will include the story and quests familiar to Morrowind players, but some carefully constructed new missions have been added. The ultimate aim is that new content should be indistinguishable from the old.

Modifying a classic is no easy task, and the team must tread carefully when deciding on additions. Every idea goes through a vetting process. When someone has a new suggestion, and they re serious enough about it, they write up a detailed plan and share it with the rest of the team, Giles says. Everyone leaves comments and suggestions and we work from there, and if it s worth implementing, we ll put in the effort to make it a reality.

Additions are rigorously scrutinised to ensure that they meet the same high standards across the board. The gatekeepers of quality are several industry professionals, who are lending their expertise partly because of a deep love for the Elder Scrolls series, and partly to work on a project that s free from corporate oversight.

Lore masters also pick over any suggestions with a fine-tooth comb guaranteeing that everything fits within the universe set out by the Elder Scrolls games. These team members have been followers of the series since the start, and are able to draw from their own deep knowledge of the world, as well as consult the extensive wikis and other reference sources. They are essentially historians historians with the advantage of being in direct communication with the creative mind behind a large part of the world and lore of Morrowind, former Bethesda designer Michael Kirkbride.

Enthusiasm can only take you so far, however, and the attrition rate among Skywind s voluntary team is high. The success of the project has been that, out of a number of people who have offered to help, you get one that really sticks with the project, Darren Habib, one of the team s veterans, says. I ll put a rough figure to it: out of every 100 people that join up to do some tasks, only one person will actually carry on to progress the project.

Lore masters also pick over any suggestions with a fine-tooth comb guaranteeing that everything fits within the universe set out by the Elder Scrolls games.

The bulk of development is therefore handled by the core team, but they still want the project to remain as open as possible. They leave the door open in order to attract unique individuals able to contribute. Burnout is high true of any voluntary project but the team understand this, allowing people to take breaks when they need them. They have managed to keep morale high with their continuous communication and recruitment. Everyone is kept in the loop and made to feel a part of the community.

The legacy of the original game released back in 2002 the third in the Elder Scrolls series still casts a long shadow. Its weird world is filled with wonders, from magically crafted mushroom architecture to the sprawling waterway-filled city of Vivec. Morrowind captured and continues to capture the hearts of its players.

The action mostly takes place on the island of Vvardenfell, which today stands out as delightfully alien compared to other locations in the Elder Scrolls series. All of Bethesda s worlds have had their quirks, but none have had nearly as diverse a landscape as that found in Morrowind. Each region feels fresh and different, its architecture and landscapes drawn from different inspirations.

The first Elder Scrolls games, Arena and Daggerfall, presented players with huge worlds, using random generation to map out and stock their myriad dungeons. Morrowind broke with tradition; Bethesda opted to create a smaller, more detailed, world than its predecessors. Throwing out the random generation, the game s designers hand-crafted every section of the world. This painstaking approach proved a massive undertaking, but the payoff was worth it. The developers love and attention shines through in the design of every location. From the caves of skooma-smuggling bandits, to the tombs cobwebbed with history linked to actual families in-game.

Post-Morrowind, there have been two new main Elder Scrolls releases: Oblivion and Skyrim. These build upon the foundations laid down by Morrowind, inevitably changing aspects of it as well. The strength of Elder Scrolls games especially Morrowind has always been believable world building and focus on exploration, says Max Fellinger, Skywind s game mechanics lead. Skyrim shifted away from this to present a more streamlined reward-curve, based mostly on dungeon-crawls.

The team faces the challenge of deciding which new features from Skyrim should carry over to Skywind and which should be consigned to history. They have to determine how best to retain the feel of Morrowind while keeping any improvements made by the new game. Abilities such as shouts, tied specifically to the Dragonborn protagonist, have been removed completely. In general, Skyrim felt more focused on player skill, like modern action games, while Morrowind focused on character skill, like a classical RPG.

For instance, contrary to the implications of its first-person action combat, Morrowind used the classic RPG dice roll to decide what happened in a fight. Your sword might hit an enemy s flesh, but it was a behind-the-scenes number that decided whether or not you did serious damage. It s a system that lacks responsiveness. Skyrim has far better feedback, because it s driven more by the player s actions than their character s stats.

However, as a result, Skyrim is more uniform when it comes to the character builds of its players. There are certain core abilities and skills that almost everyone upgrades, while others are largely ignored. Morrowind encouraged players to have more freedom in their choices. There s no single correct build. Some balancing issues remain, but in general players have a wider range to choose from.

Skywind again aims high. Its ultimate goal is to have all lines of dialogue fully voiced.

The challenge, then: how best to fix Skyrim s problems without recreating Morrowind s unresponsiveness? The developers have a balancing act on their hands, merging two disparate systems into a cohesive whole. Their approach has been to strip down the Elder Scrolls and other RPGs to their core, and find out what makes them tick how the gears of their various systems mesh together. Ultimately, the team want to craft an experience that brings back some of the systems of classic RPGs, giving players the freedom to build a character in whatever way they want.

In Morrowind s original release, dialogue was largely confined to text boxes, with only a small percentage of it voice acted. Skywind again aims high. Its ultimate goal is to have all lines of dialogue fully voiced. Our biggest challenge is the sheer number of voice actors we re going for, voice acting lead Ben Iredale told me. Unlike Bethesda s situation, where they focus on a smaller cast of actors covering the majority of lines, we re looking to have a pretty massive amount of unique voices to cover the roughly 40,000 lines of dialogue that are in Skywind. We think it is worth the extra effort especially since it is one of the benefits we have as a community project there are so many dedicated fans ready to lend their voices.

Skyrim s world often comes close to a place that feels like home. At least until a guard tells you, yet again, about how their previous career as an adventurer was brought to a close by an arrow to the knee. Idle banter can make or break immersion in virtual worlds, especially those that support hundreds of hours of exploration.

For Skywind, Iredale says that a team of writers have crafted 9,000 in-game conversation lines between NPCs, giving each character their own essence of personality. The final release will include priests discussing the 36 lessons of Vivec, and merchants arguing over prices little touches that breathe life into the world.

On release Morrowind was praised for its vision and fully 3D world. Time has not been so kind. Its once vaunted graphics are now showing their age. Giving Morrowind back its beauty is a major objective for the Skywind team they want to recreate the world with all the bells and whistles we ve become accustomed to in modern games. This is no walk in the park: the team have to rebuild the world from the ground up.

Interpreting the low poly models and textures is one challenge, according to Aeryn James Davies, Skywind s lead artist. [It s] practically impossible without going back to the drawing board and looking at pre-3D concepting by the original team. We went back to the original concepts of Kirkbride and others and reworked it from the earlier stages. The 3D representation of 2D concepts are always limited by the technology of the time. Fourteen years is a big difference in processing power.

The evolution of videogame graphics in the intervening time has given the team the chance to make something really special, building on the ambitions of what came before. The redesign ranges from equipment to landscapes, with a particular focus on ensuring each area of the island has its own distinctive feel.

We felt that each region of the game deserved its own unique set of assets and textures to expand on the exotic nature of the original, says lead landscape designer Giles. As a result, each area looks and feels much different than from before. Any Morrowind purist might be upset by the new changes, but we really wanted to do something different instead of just adding shinier texture work and remodelled objects. There have been countless fans who have commented on videos or screenshots of the game saying it looks and feels exactly as I remember! so I think even with these major changes, the charm and spirit of Morrowind has definitely carried over to this new design.

Azura s coast is just one of the regions undergoing a dramatic change. It was originally sprinkled with menhirs, but the Skywind team have transformed it into a landscape filled with striking basalt formations, quietly betraying Vvardenfell s volcanic roots. An overhaul of this scale could have been a disaster, but it s handled with care by the team changing the visual identity of the region while staying true to the heart and soul of Morrowind.

The team s ambitions aren t restricted to improving the variety of the landscape, either. They re aiming to make Skywind s graphical quality in its entirety exceed that of Skyrim itself now almost five years old. The team feels able to do this because their focus is solely on the PC. Where Bethesda had to take ageing console tech into account, Skywind s developers are free to concentrate on a single, more powerful platform.

The mod itself remains without a release date the general feeling being that it ll be done when it s done. Still, there s confidence that it will, eventually, be done. In the years since the mod s initial reveal there has been the constant worry that it might end up as vapourware all stylish screenshots and video, but never making it to a final release. It s a consequence of the team s open development. Professional studios only reveal projects after years of work. Skywind has been in the wild since day one. Viewed this way, their progress in the last four years has been remarkable from a group of volunteers.

The project inches ever onwards, getting closer to its release, but there is still plenty of work to be done and new volunteers are always welcome. The team have a lot riding on this a lot of people to please but each and every one is convinced they will deliver what they have promised. They probably won t have to resort to using magic to get there.

By Edward Bals.

PC Gamer

The good folks at The Elder Scrolls Renewal Project have released a new Skywind trailer that shows off some of the latest work that's gone into bringing the great Elder Scrolls RPG Morrowind into the great Elder Scrolls engine Skyrim.

Everything shown is but a small fraction of work done on Skywind over the last few months, the YouTube description states, noting that the video is taken from a private developer alpha and, as such, is subject to change. Music, voice acting, sound effects, quest implementation, bug fixes, etc. couldn't be shown properly in this video, but are being developed alongside the visual progress.

It's a gorgeous trailer, and the prospect of playing a version of Morrowind that doesn't look like it was hot stuff 14 years ago is powerfully appealing. But I can't let it go without leveling some sort of complaint, and in this case it's the music: Nice enough as a generic RPG tune, but it's really got more of an Oblivion vibe than Morrowind. Other selections from the soundtrack are definitely more on-the-money, though: You can listen to bits and pieces courtesy of Soundcloud.

There's still no word on when Skywind will be ready for release, but you can follow along with the development (and join in if you're so inclined) at tesrenewal.com, and read our recent feature on the modders who keep recreating Morrowind right here.

PC Gamer

Morrowind reborn as Skywind.

For millions of players, Morrowind was their introduction to the world of The Elder Scrolls, but even Elder Scrolls veterans who cut their teeth on Arena and Daggerfall left Morrowind with an impression that lasted. For some of those players, Morrowind made such an impression that they never wanted to leave at all. Those fans have spent the past years painstakingly updating Morrowind, brick by brick, texture by texture, into Bethesda s more modern engines.

Even returning to Morrowind 14 years later, it s easy to see why. Morrowind's island setting of Vvardenfell offsets a few standard fantasy clich s a villain who lairs in a wasteland of volcanic ash and dwarven ruins full of monsters but also more visionary ideas. There's a prison inside a moon floating over a city built on a lake, a transport network of giant fleas controlled by riders who directly manipulate their steeds' nervous systems, and a settlement where most of the buildings are the hollowed-out shells of gigantic dead creatures. Vvardenfell is a memorable place, more outlandish than anything seen in the Elder Scrolls games that preceded or followed it.

Morrowind was also the first Elder Scrolls game to come with a Creation Kit, a gift from Bethesda that gave players the opportunity to alter that world and make it their own. The best mods tended to leave the setting be and instead tinker with the clunky RPG mechanics it was filtered through, changing the way leveling works and the rate skills improve and so on.

Seyda Neen, in the Morroblivion mod. Image via Steam member Captain Kittenz.

The Morrowind of tomorrow

Bethesda would continue experimenting with those mechanics in later games, alongside making technical improvements like the obvious graphical ones as well as the additon of full voice acting and tweaks to the animations (it took until Skyrim for people to be able to move their legs the right way when running diagonally). Since both Oblivion and Skyrim came with their own Creation Kits, they were just as moddable as Morrowind. While many of Morrowind's mods anticipated future improvements, the most ambitious mods for Oblivion and Skyrim are those that look back, inserting the entirety of Morrowind's setting and story into the newer games. They're called Morroblivion and Skywind, and each is a massive undertaking that has required teams of modders and years of volunteer work.

A modder who posts on the forums at The Elder Scrolls Renewal Project as Brainslasher points me to a Morroblivion History thread that breaks down the timeline. It began with a modder named Galadrielle whose dream was to remake Vvardenfell in Oblivion, but with a new story that would occur during the same time period. Later modders re-imagined Morroblivion as a straight re-telling of the original, unwilling to alter the game they loved beyond some visual and mechanical improvements. As Brainslasher puts it, they were motivated by love for this game and its crazy world with its weird architecture and creatures, the hostile world that you as a player are thrown into without knowing anything about it.

(Someone suggests their next project right there in that history thread: Now let's do it all again with Morroskyrim! )

It s not every RPG that goes so far as to have its own saucy novels.

That crazy world is something that gets brought up again and again in my conversations with people who worked on these overhauls. They talk about its dwarves going beyond beery miner stereotypes to become a culture of Babylonian steampunk objectivists, or Hlormar Wine-Sot, the drunken barbarian who enlists your help in getting his clothes back from a witch. One of them namechecks The Lusty Argonian Maid, a book of in-setting erotic fiction. It s not every RPG that goes so far as to have its own saucy novels, but that level of commitment to detailing every part of the setting is what inspired similar commitment in its fans.

Morroblivion can be played right now, but Skywind is still in development, and has been for four years. Will Jordan, who posts to The Elder Scrolls Renewal Project forum as Smitehammer, has been there for two and a half of those years, joining just as Skywind changed scope from simply porting the old game into a new engine to what he calls a full re-imagining of Morrowind . That means creating a lot of new designs from scratch, guided by the concept art, rather than simply inserting objects from Morrowind and cranking the textures up. It also means creating new quests to fill in gaps and adding new dialogue so that NPCs can chat to each other rather than just the player.

Morrowind reborn as Skywind.

Jordan is both a writer and one of the team leads in the voice acting department alongside Taerkalith, aka Benjamin Iredale, who has been working on Skywind for almost as long, hopping from job to job. I've done a bit of West Gash landscaping, creating the initial river design through the canyons, worked on spells such as Silence and Icarian Flight, and helped jumpstart the music and SFX departments which had slowed down about a year ago, Iredale says. They're now some of our healthiest departments. Also a bit of quest fixing and dialogue implementation, but that overlaps closely with my department so it comes with the territory of voice acting.

Coordinating voice actors is a big job, since Morrowind was very heavy on the text and only a handful of NPC greetings (and one god) were voiced. Early on it entailed acquiring all the text data for the scripts and coming up with a method of identifying appropriate lines by NPC and creating scripts, says Iredale. Now I'm doing implementation of the voicetypes/voicefiles which entails working in the Creation Kit along with third-party supporting applications.

Jordan actually started as one of the actors, inspired by the performer whose greeting is the first you hear in the game. Jeff Baker came up with a very unique voice for the male Dunmer which few people on the team could match. I learned rudimentary sound editing and recording techniques to improve my audio quality, and began coaching others on how to improve their own sound quality and acting forming ideas on how each race should sound for some internal consistency.

A Skywind screenshot from 2012.

It's a lot of work for volunteer pay, but I really enjoy the community and almost everyone laughs or plays along with my jokes so I think I'll be staying.

Corpus X

Michael Pewtress, aka SFX team lead Corpus X, is a more recent addition to the team. He's been part of what he calls the Skywind universe for just over seven months, though he'd been following the project for a couple of years before that. When I came in for a visit last September it felt like nothing was happening and I thought I could offer my help to get it going, he said. When I joined I was just an SFX contributor, but the team lead at the time left the project about a month or two into my tenure so we ran team leadless until I took over in December. It's a lot of work for volunteer pay, but I really enjoy the community and almost everyone laughs or plays along with my jokes so I think I'll be staying.

Very few of Skywind's modders worked on Morroblivion and some of them, like Pewtress, have never worked on a game before at all. This has been a fun learning experience, he says. Iredale, on the other hand, worked on personal mods before stepping up to join Skywind. Given how long it's been and the still unfinished state of Skywind though some of the screenshots they've shown and the videos on their YouTube channel make their achievements so far look very impressive I ask if there s some worry that a new Elder Scrolls game will come out before Skywind does.

Iredale isn't bothered, saying, There is a good chance we'll release before the next Elder Scrolls game if they keep to their typical timetable. Even if we released shortly afterward, I think people would still want to play it, as the graphics and gameplay are still faring decently with the assets we've been creating.

As long as there's a Creation Kit in a new Elder Scrolls game, it'll be used to make Vvardenfell again.

Mewtress

Pewtress notes that Skyrim is still plenty popular, even though it's now almost five years old. I'd say we have a least four years before something is released and I want my SFX guys done [with] our job in six months, he says with enthusiasm. Sound Effects Division Rules!

When a new Elder Scrolls game comes out, whether it's set in Valenwood, Hammerfell, Black Marsh or any of the other provinces of Tamriel, it's possible that Morrowind will find itself being recreated by modders yet again in place of the new location. Porting Skywind into Valenwind, Hammerwind, Blackwind, etc. would require a lot of additional asset creation and complicated data wrangling, says Iredale. There's a good chance it may be done, but I don't think the current team largely is interested in doing that.

According to Mewtress, As long as there's a Creation Kit in a new Elder Scrolls game, it'll be used to make Vvardenfell again. He compares their slightly unhinged dedication to the Star Trek fans making fan films. They're even getting sued by Paramount and that's not stopping them!

Jordan agrees. One interesting thing about Skywind is that nearly all the assets are our own. The animation skeletons are taken from Skyrim or modified from Skyrim's, but nearly all the textures, models, and a great deal of the sound effects and music are to be completely fan-made. This means if another Elder Scrolls game comes out using an updated engine, it would be fairly easy (and legal) to port over anything we've made. We're thinking long-haul for this project, laying the groundwork for not only the project in its current form, but planning for its future development. If we do the grunt work now, future TES modders will be able to focus on refining and embellishing without having to remake an entire game from scratch again.

Some of the environmental assets going into Skywind.

So what is it about Morrowind in particular that makes it worth rebuilding at least twice, if not more? Morrowind, for me, was the first video game that truly realized a D&D world in three dimensions, says Iredale. The bizarre and complicated lore and religious-political hierarchies made it a world you wanted to know more and more about.

Developers like Michael Kirkbride went out if their way to make the world seem as alien as possible, while keeping suspense of disbelief possible, says Jordan. The world has all these fantastic creatures and strange architecture, but none of it looks out of place. For him, an important moment came when he noticed relationships between the different stages in the lifecycle of the humble Kwama, which he calls quadrupedal insecty things that are raised like cattle-chickens by the Dunmer for their eggs.

Their adult forms, the Kwama Foragers, Workers, and Warriors, are encountered frequently by players, and inside the tunnels where they nest you can meet their Queens. But they also have a larval form, called Scribs, which you'll spot both in the wilderness and depicted on the signs that guide you to Vvardenfell's taverns (you can see one outside the South Wall Cornerclub in Balmora, for instance). Their eggs and cuttle turn up as items, and they're mentioned in passing in dreams and conversations, just enough pieces to let your mind puzzle it all together in a way that makes sense.

The individual pieces fit together like they would in a real culture, and the longer you spend inside the game, the more of those pieces assemble into something greater.

It's this sense of interconnectedness, from the lowly Kwama and their eggs all the way up to the legends of ascended gods Vivec, Almalexia, and Sotha Sil that makes Morrowind special. The individual pieces fit together like they would in a real culture, and the longer you spend inside the game, the more of those pieces assemble into something greater.

The Skywind team are doing impressive work on making Morrowind look and sound better, while also helping it become a little less frustrating to play thanks to Skyrim's mechanical improvements, all to allow the Morrowind we built up inside our heads as we first played it to live again. To some degree, though, no matter which game's variety of combat and leveling are applied to it, no matter which level of fidelity it's polished to, that version that will always live inside our imaginations.

PC Gamer

When Skyrim came out I played it on a pretty sweet rig, running it on its highest settings and eventually adding high-res mods so I could see every twist in every peasant s rope belt. Now I m going back to it on a laptop with an Intel HD 4000 graphics card that struggles to run it on low, dropping below 30 fps whenever a fight breaks out or I absorb a dragon soul in that swooshy display of lights and effects. Fortunately, there are mods for this situation too.

The Shadow Remover mod takes the blocky shadows that distractingly flicker over everyone s faces on low settings and gets rid of them entirely, which gives an immediate performance boost. We can do better though, and with the Ultra Low Graphics mod suddenly I m getting between 50 and 60 fps, even if the world now looks like abstract art and some of the faces are a bit freaky. Everything s smooth and plastic, like action figure accessories. It s fascinating to see a familiar setting warped like this though, and I m enjoying seeing twisted versions of sights that had become commonplace.

It s all thanks to Alex, aka The LowSpecGamer, a YouTuber who makes video tutorials to help people get high-end (ish) games running on low-end PCs. I remember struggling to get games running as a kid on the cheap computer my working class parents could afford, but LowSpecGamer goes above and beyond, demonstrating how to edit .ini files and mess around with mods as well as showing which in-game settings give the biggest boost.

Though he lives in Barcelona now, The LowSpecGamer (as he likes to be called) was born in Venezuela and grew up unable to afford the newest hardware. For him, learning to push games below their minimum settings was the only way to play them. There s always this narrative about PC gaming being about trying to get the best out of the game, trying to get the best graphics and so on, he says. That s the main narrative in gaming culture. That didn t really fit with what I was doing or how I felt and I thought I was the only one.

Obviously he isn t, as the thousands of views on his videos show. In those videos he passes on some of the expertise he s picked up from several years of modifying files and changing priority settings to lowspec games as diverse as BioShock Infinite, Life Is Strange, and Goat Simulator. Even if you re not interested in following his advice, it s fascinating to see him surgically altering the guts of games.

It takes a lot of effort to make these videos, with plenty of time consumed in testing tweaks for games made using the same engine to see if they carry across and trawling forums to check out what enterprising players have already done. I have to try everything because it s very often that I will find a Steam discussion where someone will tell me some magical procedure to increase performance of a game and then I will try it and it will actually make it worse, he explains. I do have to extensively test everything.

Some games are more resistant to this process than others. For the three videos he s made about Metal Gear Solid 5 he did a lot of research in the mod community, eventually hitting gold in a thread on NeoGAF where modders were trying to decrypt its configuration files. I don t know, 40, 50 pages into it some guy started figuring out how to do an ultra high graphics mod and he explained his steps for his research. I saw the files he was tweaking and I thought to myself, Wait, I could use this exact procedure but instead of making things higher I could make them lower. Which is exactly what I did.

One of his most popular videos is about The Witcher 3, with over 500,000 views. Following its advice I installed the Hunter s Config mod and disabled various options, then went into the game s user.settings file and edited it to remove even more effects and drop the resolution below the minimum available in the options menu, all the way down to 800x600.

My PC with an i7 processor and 8GB of RAM but a not-so-hot Radeon 7600 graphics card can normally only run The Witcher 3 at about 15 fps. Now it s jumped up to the high 20s, sometimes nosing up to 32, though it looks like it was released around the same time as Oblivion. Foliage springs into existence as I ride past it, Geralt s shadow is only visible at certain angles and only from the knees up, and most of the surfaces look a bit like they ve been coated in milk.

Some of the commenters on LowSpecGamer videos are strangely angered by the idea people are happy to play games this way.

I don t mind because I remember playing games on my parents old 486 in a tiny window in the corner of the screen, but some of the commenters on LowSpecGamer videos are strangely angered by the idea people are happy to play games this way. They say things like don t buy the game at all if you can t run it and claim that it totally ruins the experience . There s an odd defensiveness, as if they re seeing a mural of Jesus permanently muddled by inept restoration rather than someone turning down textures because they can only afford a mediocre laptop.

I remember one guy commenting, I don t see the point of this, you can get a good computer for X amount of dollars at your local store and put it together so I don t see the point of your channel. I was about to answer him when one person responded, The world doesn t end at your doorstep. It s a good point. What the LowSpecGamer demonstrates is ingenuity that comes from necessity, and it should inspire our respect rather than contempt. It s easy to think that it s easy to get a good computer when you live in a developed country. As I know because of the country I was born in, that is not the case for a lot of people, and judging by the analytics of the channel a lot of people from many countries around the world enjoy or feel represented by this.

Not every game has cracked open and revealed its secrets under his pressure, however. He maintains a list of what he calls the doomed games," and they include a couple of obvious suspects. Batman: Arkham Knight seems to particularly frustrate him. To this day I keep regularly re-downloading the game and trying stuff. I haven t given up yet but it s amazing how it ignores the configuration files for so many things. Even the way the configuration files are set up is messy. The problems with Arkham Knight aren t only superficial, they are very evident everywhere. Then you have games like Assassin s Creed: Unity, which is one I particularly dislike because even when getting into the configuration screen of the game, trying to switch things into low, when you check back into the configuration file it will barely change.

There are a couple of games on that list for better reasons though, ones that don t obfuscate their configuration and instead make it so easy to alter them that there s nothing left for him to do. Games like Saints Row IV and Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor are good examples, as both can be changed so dramatically in their own options menu there s no need to push them any further.

And while some players aren t impressed by what he does to their favorite games, the developers don t seem nearly as precious. Recently the team behind Oddworld: New n Tasty!, the remake of Abe s Oddysee, reached out to him personally to offer some advice on how to lowspec their game. To have a developer—especially of that game, I really loved the original Abe s Odyssee—to have the developer help me tweak around the remake to make the video, it makes me extremely happy.

PC Gamer

The team responsible for Skywind, a full conversion mod for Skyrim which recreates the third instalment in the Elder Scrolls series, is still plugging away. While the team at the Elder Scrolls Renewal Project released a short video in February showing off some of the game's landscapes, the video embedded below is a progress report outlining most of the work done since last year's diary. 

While the game has been in development for over four years, the volunteer-operated project still needs help with textures, models and more. They've also recruited over 100 different voice actors to lend words to Morrowind's colourful assortment of NPCs. Details on how to contribute to the project can be found on the official ES Renewal Project website.

Here's the video:

PC Gamer

Remember when buying a game didn't feel like a guarantee of seeing the ending? There are still hard games out there, Dark Souls flying the flag most recently, but increasingly, the challenge has dripped out or at least softened, often leading to sadly wasted opportunities. What would Skyrim be like, for instance, if its ice and snow wasn't simply cosmetic, but actually punished you for going mountain climbing in your underpants?

With a quick mod—Frostfall in this case—you're forced to dress up warm before facing the elements, and things become much more interesting. That's just one example, and over the next couple of pages you'll find plenty more. These aren't mods that just do something cheap like double your enemy's hit-points, they're full rebalances and total conversions. Face their challenge, and they'll reward you with both a whole new experience and the satisfaction of going above and beyond the call of duty.

Realism Overhaul

Game: Kerbal Space Program

LinkKerbal forums

Kerbal Space Program is not an easy game to begin with, and the addition of any extra manageable parameters adds only more complexity to the brilliant flying sim. The realism overhaul wasn t intended to create a punishing experience, it merely brings a few things in the game in-line with the real world. Solar panels are lighter, for example, but produce far less power. Cockpits and components that weigh the same as their real world counterparts, and engine propellants are more accurately simulated. The fact that all these changes make the game seem new and incredibly hard? Well, that s rocket science for you. It s also a great baseline for other mods, like the punishing Deadly Reentry mod.

Frostfall

Game: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Link: Nexusmods

Frostfall stands out among survival mods for complementing the open-world game underneath and not just demanding you stare at a temperature gauge and eat a deer every few minutes. Skyrim s blizzards will kill you. Nighttime will kill you. The water will kill you faster than you can say, Rose, make room on the bloody raft! Big deal, right? All survival games do that. Frostfall alters how you understand the world, forcing you to find crossing points, plan your excursions and select gear based on more than its stab resistance. Simple quests become scenes from The Revenant. In the unlikely event Frostfall doesn t make a human-sized ice lolly out of you, you ll feel like a true Nord.

Infection Mode

Game: The Witcher 3

Link: Nexusmods

Zombie outbreaks are easy to handle if you catch them early, as you ll find out if you install Infection Mode for The Witcher 3. The mod summons a Devourer, who you can kill immediately if you choose. If the Devourer attacks a villager, they become a Devourer too. Anyone they attack will join the Devourer legion, even children. The results are quickly horrifying. Go for a walk for a short while and return to the region for an enormous fight, or let one loose in Novigrad and watch the nightmare spread.

I Am Legion

Game: Dying Light

Link: Nexusmods

Day is night and night is day for Dying Light s breed of zombies. In sunlight they plod around in small circles, not really paying attention. By night they suddenly become a lot more frisky. The circadian difficulty loop is a key part of the game, giving you the chance to scavenge during daylight hours and hold up at night in your favourite safehouse. I Am Legion disrupts all that. Zombies are more lively by day, and there are more of them, while a reduction in bandit numbers means choked access to vital resources like bullets and weapons. More than this, the mod transforms the tone of the game. Suddenly it feels like a true fight for survival.

Motion Tracker Remover 

Game: Alien: Isolation

Link: ModDB

The motion tracker is your best friend aboard the Sevastopol. Guns immediately draw the attention of the bullet-proof monster, so until you get a flamethrower, there s very little standing between you and brutal slaughter. The motion tracker is a little green beacon of light in a world of shadows and fangs, which only makes it crueller when this mod snatches that away from you. With a broken tracker you're forced to rely on your senses—headphones are recommended—if you want to make it to the next room alive. If you eventually get the hang of that, consider installing Unpredictable Alien at the same time, which tweaks the frequency at which the Alien chooses to roam in different areas.

Misery

Game: Stalker: Call of Pripyat

Link: ModDB

All those weapons scattered around? Gone. Anomalies? Now more dangerous. Magic mini-map? Forget it. Valuable quest rewards? Good luck. Things you do get: thirsty, and factions who send goons after you if you anger them. On the plus side Pripyat is much more active, with a complete sound overhaul, and new NPCs to meet—who all have to play by the rules too, with no more infinite ammo. If you can survive here, you've got a good chance when the actual apocalypse comes.

Project Nevada

Fallout: New Vegas

Link: Nexus Mods

Nevada is a good example of making things more difficult without being openly psychotic. Levelling is slower, players and NPCs get less health, and obvious features are now in, such as armour only being a factor in headshots if the target actually has head protection. It's also possible to toggle some extra-hardcore options, such as food no longer healing and taking care of hunger/thirst/ sleep on the move. There's a sack of new content, and an Extra Options mod is also available, offering even more control.

Brutal Doom

Game: Doom

Link: ModDB

Despite what modern 'old-school' shooters would have you think, Doom was a relatively sedate experience—fast running speed, yes, but lots of skulking in the dark and going slow. Not any more! Brutal Doom cranks everything up to 11, then yawns and goes right for 25.6. We're talking extra shrapnel, execution attacks, tougher and faster monsters, metal music, and blood, blood, blood as far as your exploding eyes can see. It's compatible with just about any level you can throw at it, turning even E1M1 into charnel house devastation. The enemies don't get it all their own way, as Doomguy now starts with an assault rifle rather than simply a pistol, and a whole arsenal of new guns has been added to the Doom collection—including the BFG's big brother.

Full Combat Rebalance 2

Game: The Witcher 2

Link: RedKit

This streamlines the combat and makes the action closer to how Geralt's adventure might have played out in the books. He's more responsive, can automatically parry incoming attacks, begins with his Witcher skills unlocked, and no longer has to spend most fights rolling around like a circus acrobat. But he's in a tougher world, with monsters now figuring out counterattacks much faster, enemies balanced based on equipment rather than levels, and experience only gained from quests, not combat. Be warned this is a 1.5GB file, not the megabyte Hotfix that's claimed.

Requiem

Game: Skyrim

Link: Nexus

Elder Scrolls games get ever more streamlined, and further from the classic RPG experience. Requiem drags Skyrim back, kicking and screaming. The world is no longer levelled for your convenience. Bandits deliver one-hit kills from the start. The undead mock arrows, quietly pointing out their lack of internal organs with a quick bonk to your head. Gods hold back their favour from those who displease them. Most importantly, stamina is now practically a curse. Heavy armour and no training can drain it even if you're standing still, and running out in battle is Very Bad News. Combine this with Frostfall, and Skyrim finally becomes the cold, unforgiving place it claims to be.

Radious

Total War: Shogun 2

Link: TWCenter

Not only is this one of the most comprehensive mods any Total War game has ever seen, its modular nature makes it easy to pick and choose the changes that work best for the experience you want. Together, the campaign AI is reworked, as are the skills and experience systems, diplomacy and technology trees. There are over 100 new units. Campaigns are also longer, providing more time to play with all this, with easier access to the good stuff early on in the name of variety. There's even a sound module that adds oomph to rifles. Add everything, or only the bits you want. It's as much of a tactical decision as anything else on the road to conquering Japan.

Game of Thrones

Game: Crusader Kings II

Link: ModDB

Real history doesn't have enough bite for you? Recast the whole thing with Starks, Lannisters, Freys and the rest and it will. This doesn't simply swap a few names around, but works with the engine to recreate specific scenarios in the war for the Iron Throne. Individual characters' traits are pushed into the foreground, especially when duels break out. Wildlings care little about who your daddy was. It's best to know a fair amount about the world before jumping in, and the scenarios themselves contain spoilers, but you're absolutely not restricted to just following the story laid down in the books.

Realistic Weapons

Game: Grand Theft Auto IV

Link: GTAGarage

Guess what this one does. A bowling league for Roman? Cars that drive themselves? A character who appears to tell Niko You have $30,000 in your pocket, you don't need to goon for assholes after Act 2? No, of course not. These guns put a little reality back into the cartoon that is GTA. The missions weren't written with that in mind, obviously, but there's nothing stopping you from giving it a shot. Worst case: murdering random civilians on the street is much quicker, easier and more satisfying. At least until the cops show up to spoil the fun. Range, accuracy, damage, ammo and fire rate are all covered, though be warned that you shouldn't expect perfect accuracy from your upgraded hardware. This is GTA after all. Realism is not baked into its combat engine.

The Long War

Game: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Link: NexusMods

You're looking at eight soldier classes, many more missions, invaders as focused on upgrades as your own science team, and a much longer path to victory. Research is slow, not least to make early weapon upgrades more useful, while the aliens are constantly getting more powerful. Their ships are better, their terror missions are more regular, and more of them show up for battle. In exchange, you get to field more Interceptors, the council is easier to appease, and the ETs don't cheat as much.

Ziggy's Mod

Game: Far Cry 3

Link: NexusMods

Ziggy makes Rook Island a more natural place, removing mission requirements for skills, cutting some of the easier ways to earn XP, increasing spawn rates to make the island busier, and throwing away the magic mini-map in favour of a compass. The second island is also unlocked from the start. Smaller changes include randomised ammo from dropped weapons, being able to climb hills that you should realistically be able to, and wingsuit abilities made available earlier to get more out of them.

Terrafirmacraft

Game: Minecraft

Link: Terrafirmacraft

Minecraft has a Survival mode, but it's not desperately challenging. Terrafirmacraft takes it seriously, with hunger and thirst that must be dealt with at all times, and key elements added such as the need to construct support beams while mining to prevent cave-ins, and a seasonal cycle that determines whether or not trees will produce fruit. Many more features are to be added, but there's enough here already to make survival about much more than throwing together a Creeper-proof fort.

Synergies Mod

Game: Torchlight II

Link: Synergies Mod

This adds a new act to the game, over a hundred monsters, new rare bosses, a new class—the Necromancer—more and tougher monsters and the gear to take them on. There are also endgame raids to add challenge once the world is saved yet again, and more on the way—including two new classes (Paladin and Warlock). It's the top-ranked Torchlight II mod on Steam Workshop, and easily the most popular. Be aware that it's still in development, and has a few rough edges.

Civilization Nights

Game: Civilization V

Link: Steam Workshop

While Brave New World has officially given Civ V a big shake up, for many players Nights remains its most popular add-on. It's a comprehensive upgrade, adding new buildings, wonders, technologies and units, with a heavy focus on policies and making the AI better. The single biggest change is how it calculates happiness, citizens adding cheer simply by existing, but the slow march of war and other miseries detracting from the good times. Annexed a city? Don't expect too many ticker-tape parades. Yet keeping happiness up is crucial, as it's also the core of a strong military. This rebalancing completely changes how you play, while the other additions offer plenty of scope for new tactics and even more carefully designed civilisations.

Ultimate Difficulty Mod

Game: Dishonored

Link: TTLG Forums

This makes Dishonored's enemies more attentive, faster and able to hear a pin drop from the other side of the map. When you get into a fight, it quickly becomes an all-out street war. The biggest change is to Dishonored's second most abusable ability: the Lean (Blink of course being #1). Corvo can no longer sit behind scenery, lean out into an enemy's face and be politely ignored. He's now much more likely to be spotted—especially in ghost runs, where his advantages are now limited to the Outsider's gifts rather than the Overseers' continued lack of a local Specsavers.

Hardcore

Game: Deus Ex

Link: ModDB

New augmentations! Altered AI! Randomised inventories! Also a few time-savers: instead of separate keys and multitools for instance, a special keyring has both, while upgrades are used automatically if necessary. Difficulty also changes the balance considerably, from the standard game to 'Realistic' mode where you only get nine inventory slots, to 'Unrealistic', which makes JC Denton the cyborg killing machine he's meant to be, but at the cost of facing opponents who warrant it. In this mode he gets double-jumping powers, and automatically gobbles health items when he gets badly wounded. Good luck though, I still got nowhere.

PC Gamer
WHY I LOVE

In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Jody gets hammered on alien ale and sings hobbit songs.

Drinking beer makes you tougher according to the screen prompt when you down a can in Duke Nukem Forever. This is one of many pieces of life advice from video games you re better off ignoring. As well as reducing damage by 75%, drinking beer gives the Duke blurred vision and lingering afterimages, slows down sound so that everyone seems deep underwater, and makes him quote dated bro comedy Old School. All that, and a serious case of the burps, after only a single American beer. Duke Nukem is apparently a total lightweight.

Underwhelming as it sometimes is, I ll try getting drunk in any game that lets me. I feel it s my patriotic duty as an Australian. My Commander Shepherd samples the krogan liquor, my Edward Kenway wakes up in a haycart after three or seven ales, and my Adam Jensen didn t ask for this woozy tilting of the Earth or all the double images, please make it stop. And if there s some kind of bonus involved, like getting health back in Redneck Rampage, all the better.

Games sometimes have odder ideas about the benefits of drinking than simple bonuses to your toughness or health. Drink the right booze in Jade Empire and you can learn martial arts. BioWare s wuxia RPG gives you a companion named Henpecked Hou who is as much a drinking buddy as a member of your fantasy fellowship. When Hou is your companion he casually lobs bottles of wine at you in combat; drinking them allows you to switch to the drunken master style of kung fu just like Jackie Chan. Your stumblebum drunken fist attacks cause a lot of damage, especially the one where you topple over like a tipsy oak, though you have to keep drinking to keep the punch party going.

Sometimes drinking in games has worse consequences than rowdiness or beer goggles though, and I don t mean getting murdered in an alley because you bought Leisure Suit Larry too many drinks in Lefty s Bar. The newer Fallout games model addiction, borrowing the same mechanic they use for harder drugs, so that you can easily get addicted to whichever drink you ve been enjoying too much of, whether for roleplaying reasons or just the temporary stat boosts they provide.

This is why my roguish wasteland gambler in Fallout: New Vegas became not an alcoholic but specifically a whiskey addict. Take the hard-drinking Cass as your companion in New Vegas and you can enjoy the Whiskey Rose perk, which washes away many of the negative side-effects of alcohol and gives bonuses to your damage threshold. Just like in Jade Empire and real life, it s best to drink with a friend. Whiskey Rose only works if you stick to whiskey and wasteland tequila, and you can craft the latter yourself from agave and water. It s practically a health tonic.

There are other consequences to drinking too much beyond addiction, and the one most of us will have to deal with in real life is regrettable decision-making. The Witcher games in particular subject their hero Geralt to plenty of that. In The Witcher 2 a sidequest hidden in the starter town has him deal with the consequences of over-celebrating with a fantasy special forces squad called The Blue Stripes. It begins with some knife-throwing, arm-wrestling, and shit-talking, and soon he s waking up half-dressed on a riverbank with no memory of how he got there and a brand new tattoo on his neck. Geralt s quest briefly stops being something about some kings or whatever and becomes a much more immediate search for answers about what he got up to the night before. This being a Witcher game it predictably involves a brothel.

Geralt then turns to Triss, his sorceress girlfriend, for advice on what to do about his new ink. You can either track down the herbs she needs to perform the medieval fantasy equivalent of laser removal surgery, or put up with having a naked woman with a sword and shield prominently displayed on your neck for all to see. It s exactly the kind of tattoo Geralt would like, to be honest.

Classic Geralt.

But as far as bad choices and lost memories the morning after go, the Dragonborn from Skyrim takes the cake, and then vomits that cake right back up into a bedside bucket. Spend enough time in Skyrim s taverns and you ll have a random encounter with a barfly named Sam Guevenne, who challenges you to a drinking competition. Accept and you wake the next day on the floor of a temple devoted to the goddess of beauty. Not helping with your amnesia or hangover, a priestess harangues you about the mess you and your now-missing drinking buddy made, which you have to clean up before you can begin to get answers about the previous night.

This sets you off on a quest that involves retracing your steps across the country and cleaning up bigger messes, like getting a goat back from the giant you sold it to and retrieving a wedding ring from a hagraven you are apparently now engaged to. This being a Bethesda RPG you could just pass some persuasion checks to skip all the fun stuff like stealing back a goat, and instead people will simply tell you outright what they saw you get up to at one a.m. while giggling, swigging Argonian Ale, and making very loud shushing noises.

At the end of your quest you learn the whole thing was an elaborate prank and that your pal Sam Guevere was actually a demigod of debauchery named Sanguine, but on the plus side you get invited to visit his realm afterward and then given a magic staff. This is a much better ending than the quest for a greasy hangover breakfast and a fizzy drink has ever had for me.

Stories like those are why I like to have a tipple in games when I can. Just like in life, half the point of getting blotto is having something to tell people about on Monday morning. The only game that really portrays the fun of drinking in the moment though, rather than focusing on the morning after, is The Lord Of The Rings Online. Plenty of MMOs give you the screenshakes after a drink, but swig from the Spring Festival brandy kegs in Middle-Earth and the world changes color as you slide from side to side and, if you re playing a Hobbit (and why wouldn t you be?) your character bursts into song. Maybe the songs aren t as bawdy as Geralt s, but there s a pleasantness to staggering through the darkened lanes of the Shire with a song on your lips that no other game captures.

Then you wake up on top of a random mountain suffering from a status effect called Huh? Where s My Pants? But still, it s worth it.

PC Gamer

There are so many games! We ve reviewed over 25 since the year started, and we can hardly be comprehensive--hundreds more have already released. It s a downpour, which isn t a complaint, but while we talk about Firewatch and XCOM 2 and one of our new favorite metroidvanias, it s easy to lose track of games that are further off. What s been delayed? Who s doing episodic games now? Which lead writer went where?

As we approach the big spring releases and summer announcements, we ve revisited the news from the past year to give you status reports on the PC s most popular series. We left out series we don t expect regular releases from—no one s clamoring for Team Fortress 3—to focus on confirmed, or at least expected, new games coming within the next few years. Here s where they all stand as of now.

Action and stealth


Assassin s Creed

Starting with Assassin s Creed II in 2009, there s been a new one every year—until now. Ubisoft is finally taking a year off (from the main series, at least) while it works on 2017 s Assassin s Creed game, which we don t know much about just yet.

We ve heard rumors, though. A few years ago there were rumblings that Assassin s Creed 3 would head to Egypt, and that claim has reemerged for AC 2017. Kotaku reports that internet rumors and its own sources have said we re heading to Africa, which would be unsurprising—we ve done Jerusalem, Florence, Rome, Boston, and Paris, and that isn t even the full list. Why not Cairo? It wasn t true last time, but we d bet on it this time (though maybe only a dollar).

In the meantime, Ubisoft may be releasing Watch Dogs 2 this year, and we ve heard rumors that it will be set in San Francisco. Get ready to hack some cable cars and disrupt the tourist transportation industry.

Arkham series

With Arkham Knight behind us (and surrounded by smouldering debris), the Arkham trilogy is over. But Batman games are not. Of course they re not. It s Batman. Speaking with the PlayStation Blog, Warner Bros Ames Kirshen said, We don t have anything to talk about at this time, but the possibilities are endless with a character as dynamic and beloved as Batman. Batman games forever.

Far Cry

Far Cry is sticking with the yearly release schedule for now, and next up is Far Cry Primal, which came as a surprise: now we re a cave dude speaking a made-up prehistoric language and throwing spears instead of shooting bullets. With some concerns about the combat, but a general sense of optimism, we ve written and voiced a few takes on what we ve played so far: first Sam gave it a go, then Tim and Shaun went clubbing. As for next year s Far Cry, assuming another is coming, we haven t heard anything just yet.

Grand Theft Auto

Rockstar is notoriously tight-lipped, but we have to imagine that Grand Theft Auto VI is being made. It was five years between GTAIV s release in 2008 and GTAV s console release in 2013, so we don t expect to hear anything until around 2018, or even later. There are some rumors floating around, but they re pretty thin, like that it ll have a bigger map. What a scoop!

Hopefully this time we won t have to wait two more years for the PC version. While we wait, though, we expect to hear about something else from Rockstar. We're certain they haven't simply forgotten that Red Dead Redemption was their biggest hit next to GTA—not that we d mind playing Bully 2, either.

Hitman

The hitman is going to be hitting men once again on March 11. Surprisingly, the new Hitman (just called Hitman) will be episodic, starting with a Paris location. Later, in April, we ll jet to Italy, and then Morocco in May, followed by Japan closer to the end of the year. It ll be $60 for the whole deal, or $15 for the prologue mission and Paris location and $10 each for subsequent additions.

The unusual release plan notwithstanding, we re pretty into new Hitman so far. Ben Griffin said it was a return to old Hitman values in our last preview—basically, you re thrown into a location and given the tools sneak or murder your way through it how you please, which is just what we hoped. We re going to be trying out the beta soon, so we ll have more impressions from that, followed by our review of the first location in March.

Tomb Raider

Rise of the Tomb Raider was made with help from an Xbox One exclusivity deal, and then released up against Fallout 4—two facts that don t make it look like a priority series for Square Enix. We quite liked the PC version, though, and Crystal Dynamics has spent the past 10 years making Tomb Raider games, so it d be surprising if Lara rose now only to fall off a ledge.

A few years ago we also heard that Crystal Dynamics was also working on something new, though. What ever happened to that? We might find out this year, and either way, count on another Tomb Raider game in our not-so-distant future.

RPGs


Dark Souls

With the impending release of Dark Souls 3 in April, it seems we re about to run out of bonfires for good. Wes says it looks on track to be as dense and interconnected as the original, but the familiarity of the formula meant the magic was beginning to wane. There are still plenty of changes to look forward to in Dark Souls 3; combat feels quicker and more varied thanks to the addition of Battlearts, a step towards the aggressive Souls cousin, Bloodborne. Enemies change stances and behaviors on the fly. The visuals are a huge step up, and if it s optimized well for the PC, it ll look extra dark and soulsy.

But even FromSoftware President Hidetaka Miyazaki knows the Souls series is running out of steam. He told GameSpot "I don't think it'd be the right choice to continue indefinitely creating Souls and Bloodborne games. I'm considering Dark Souls 3 to be the big closure on the series. It may be a hard truth to swallow for fans, but at least Dark Souls comics are on the way before Dark Souls 3 hits. Sit close to the fire, friends. This may be it.

Deus Ex

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is out August 23, and it s got us in a cheerful mood. Tom Senior said it could be the best Deus Ex yet, and he isn t one for hyperbole. We also had a nice chat with lead writer Mary DeMarle, who talked about her views on transhumanism and how the end of Human Revolution leads into the new story.

As for the future of the series, there s little doubt we ll see more. While also pitching in with whatever Crystal Dynamics is up to next—Eidos Montreal helped with Rise of the Tomb Raider—we expect it ll be working on more Deus Ex for the foreseeable future. It s a prestigious series for Square Enix, and Mankind Divided is also a showcase for the new Dawn Engine, which they ll want to get lots of use out of.

Diablo

Last year we noticed that Blizzard was hiring an art director for an unannounced project—except, directly under unannounced project, the job listing said DIABLO. So that s a bit of a hint, but no guarantee that Blizzard is working on a new Diablo. We don t see why they wouldn t be, though—it s been almost four years since Diablo 3 released, and while Blizzard plugs away at Hearthstone and Overwatch it could very well be dungeon designing as well. That s unfortunately all we know for now, but it wouldn t be a big surprise to see an announcement this year or next.

Dragon Age

Last year, BioWare s Mike Laidlaw said that they re not sure what's next for the Dragon Age series, though they ve probably got some idea by now, as we speculate that the next Dragon Age is scheduled to fill the gap between the next two Mass Effect games—so a 2017 or 2018 release. The last Dragon Age: Inquisition DLC contains some hints about where the story is going, but we won t spoil any of that.

One development of note: The series lead writer, David Gaider, left BioWare last month. Gaider has been at BioWare for a long time, all the way back to Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn. It s hard to say what to make of it: a fresh lead may turn out to be a boon for the series as much as we re sure Gaider s experience with the universe will be missed.

The Elder Scrolls

The announcement of the next Elder Scrolls could happen as soon as this year s E3. We haven t heard anything, but it s a reasonable prediction.

Last year, Bethesda surprised us with Fallout 4 seven years after it developed Fallout 3. When we get to E3 this year, it ll have been about six years since Skyrim released. It s about time for a countdown clock and teaser with swelling choral music, isn t it? Seems probable. If not this year, we expect a new single-player Elder Scrolls to be announced before the end of 2017. If Bethesda follows its Fallout strategy, it ll be playable within a few months after being revealed, too.

Fallout

With Fallout 4 DLC still on the way, it s too early to speculate much about a sequel. We do know that, if given the chance, Obsidian would be up for taking another crack at the series. It makes plenty of sense for Bethesda to have Obsidian build another in-between game like New Vegas while it works on whatever Fallout 5 is going to look like, so fingers crossed for that.

Final Fantasy

Square Enix seems set on eventually porting the entire Final Fantasy back catalogue to every platform available, including the PC, which is fine by us (although we d prefer if they didn t make them so ugly. New games aren t quite a sure thing, but we ve seen a few signs that a PC release is likely for Final Fantasy XV. And the Final Fantasy VII remake is coming to PS4 first, but a multi-platform release seems inevitable, especially as Square Enix works more with western technology. Kingdom Hearts 3 is using Unreal Engine 4, after all.

The big question is when these games will come out. We look forward to playing Final Fantasy XV in 2030, and the Final Fantasy VII remake shortly after.

Mass Effect

Mass Effect: Andromeda will supposedly release before the end of the year. We tend toward skepticism when it comes to release dates announced as far out as this one—lots of games announced for the holiday release window get pushed into February of the next year—but EA often hits deadlines. There have been a few exceptions recently, though: Battlefield Hardline was originally meant to release in 2014, but ended up coming out last year, and Need for Speed was recently delayed on PC.

Whether or not it makes it out this year, it s happening, and so far we know that it s taking us to the Andromeda galaxy and may involve settlement building. During last year s E3, we pored over the trailer and rumors to suss out any other details we could, and there s quite a bit there. We expect to see a lot more at this year s E3, followed by a marketing blitz if it s really meant to be out around December.

In other Mass Effect news, a few days ago we got confirmation that Andromeda s lead writer, Chris Schlerf, has left BioWare to work at Bungie. We imagine that much of the story is already in place, so we re not sure it s any cause for concern. We do wonder still what s next after Andromeda, though it d be shocking if it weren t the start of another trilogy, given that save game transfers are such a core part of the original trilogy. The heck are they going to call the sequel, though? Mass Effect: Andromeda 2? Mass Effect: Aquarius Dwarf Galaxy? Andromeda 2: A Mass Effect Story?

The Witcher

Geralt s trilogy is over with The Witcher 3, but that doesn t mean CD Projekt isn t going to return to the universe. The franchise will continue, according to CD Projekt Red CEO Adam Kicinski. For the next year, CD Projekt has said it s focusing on support and expansions for The Witcher 3, though we also heard that it has a bigger team working on Cyberpunk. Our guess is that we ll be playing Cyberpunk 2077 in the winter of 2017, a nice round 60 years before it takes place, and then start hearing about The Witcher again in 2018.

On the next page, shooters and strategy games...

Shooters


Battlefield

EA has to have at least one big shooter every year. Last year we got Battlefront (and Battlefield Hardline, though that was supposed to release in 2014), and this year it ll be another Battlefield. EA said so during one of those investor calls we all love to listen in on. Presumably BF is going back to DICE (Hardline was primarily developed by Visceral) and may be called Battlefield 5, but we don t know for sure. We expect to see it at E3 this summer and, if it follows tradition, a late October release date. Looks like we re getting Titanfall 2 this year, too.

Borderlands

Back in 2014, Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford said that Borderlands 3 wasn t in the works, but told Polygon that they ve got big ideas. It should be massive, he said. Then, in January of last year, recruiting began for the big one. So, it ll be big. That s what we know, and it sounds like Gearbox has put about a year of work into it so far. It s possible that we ll see what they ve been up to sometime this year, but I d wager that we might not see a trailer until next year.

Meanwhile, we also learned last year that a Borderlands movie is in the works, and then that the series creator, Matthew Armstrong, left Gearbox. The parting sounded amicable, at least.

"I could leave without damaging Borderland or Gearbox too much if I did it at this moment, so now was the time," said Armstrong. "I think Gearbox will do great in the future, and I think Borderlands will stay strong and awesome. I've been thinking about it for a while. I'm not quitting out of anger or getting fired. It's just time for new adventures. I'm an inventor. I'm ready to make something new. Not just new to me, but new to everyone."

Call of Duty

As long as the sun rises in the west there s no worry of Call of Duty missing a year. It was just revealed on an Activision investor s call that this year s CoD will be made by Infinity Ward, which last contributed the somewhat disappointing Ghosts. We expect to hear someone say wait and then instruct us to take the guy on the right. Outside of that, who knows? Maybe they ll surprise us and it won t be a near-future war with terrorists.

Doom

The Doom reboot releases on May 13th, and we know lots about it: movement is emphasized over Doom 3 s horror, it s said to have a 13 hour campaign, and we ll get a map editor but no mod support outside of that. As for the future of the series, it s probably a wait-and-see sort of deal.

Half-Life

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Max Payne

Tough to say what the future holds for ol Max. The Rockstar-developed Max Payne 3 felt a bit like the end of the line—or as Max would say, the final bullet, silhouetted against the thundery sky of everything. We haven t heard anything that suggests Rockstar definitely isn t pursuing another Payne game, but outside of some highly suspect rumor reports, there s equally no sign that the series will continue. If it does, it might not be for some time, when we re really hungry for it. It was nine years between Max Payne 2 and Max Payne 3, after all, and Rockstar has GTA to worry about.

In an ideal world, Remedy ties up Quantum Break and gets to do another Max Payne, maybe ignoring the events Rockstar Studios put in place and spinning off into whatever noir timeline it wants. But Max doesn t live in an ideal world and nor do we.

Strategy


Civilization

There s no suggestion of when Civilization VI might be announced, but it seems clear enough that Civ V is in the hands of the modders now, with no more expansions planned—which doesn t necessarily mean we ll be seeing a new game soon. The gap between Civ IV and Civ V was five years, and though five years has passed since Civ V (feels like yesterday, probably because we were playing Civ), with Beyond Earth as a midday snack it s reasonable to assume we ll have another year or two before we hear about the next one. Civ games don t need yearly iteration to stay relevant, though, so there s no rush. We re just curious to find out how Firaxis might further alter the board game—doesn t seem to be much point in releasing a game with Civ V s rules but prettier graphics, so if a new one is in the works we expect a divisive change or two.

StarCraft

Legacy of the Void is the end of this StarCraft story, but surely not the end of StarCraft. Back in August of last year, producer Tim Morten said that Blizzard may consider returning to Warcraft, but that more StarCraft is also possible. Anything is possible.

Also last year, we saw that Blizzard was looking for a "Senior Software Engineer, Classic Games," which might suggest that it s planning to re-release some oldies.

Total War

Total War: Warhammer is next for The Creative Assembly, and it ll be out on April 18. We had some substantial time with it last year: Wes wrote about six observations he made while playing it, and Dan Griliopoulos talked to the devs and penned us a feature about their ambitions.

Meanwhile, Creative Assembly says work on the next historical Total War game has proceeded uninterrupted, though it hasn t been announced yet. The free-to-play Total War Arena is also in development, and is currently in closed beta.

XCOM

We can expect an expansion for XCOM 2, but after that it s anybody s guess. Unlike Enemy Unknown, XCOM 2 has all the longevity that modding affords Civilization, so a quick turnaround on a new one feels unnecessary. Enemy Unknown came out in 2012, so even if XCOM 3 is coming, it probably won t be until 2020 or later. And by such a futuristic-sounding date we have to assume we ll be living on cities built of flotsam lashed to tankers and cruise ships.

PC Gamer
PC Gamer

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.

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Contributors: Tom Hatfield, Christopher Livingston

Patches, optimization, and UI

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.

Sky UI 5

Download link

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.

Unofficial Skyrim Patches

Download links: Original, Dawnguard, Dragonborn, HearthfireHD-DLC, and Legendary.

Skyrim Mods - Unofficial Patch

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

Download link

Skyrim Mods Project Optimisation

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.

Performance Textures

Download link

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.

Performance Plus

Download link

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.

Better Dialogue Controls

Download link

Skyrim Mods Better Dialogue

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.

Immersive HUD

Download link

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.

HUD Clock

Download link

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.


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Visual overhauls and weather

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.

2K Textures

Download link

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.

Climates of Tamriel

Download link

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.

Book of Silence

Download link

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.

Static Mesh Improvement

Download link

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.

FXAA Injector

Download link

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.

Skyrim Flora Overhaul

Download link

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

Download link

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.

Xenius Character Improvement

Download link

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.

True Vision ENB

Download link

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.

Realistic Lighting Overhaul

Download link

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.

RealVision ENB

Download link

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. 

Book Covers

Download link

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.


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Quests and new locations

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.

The Forgotten City

Download link

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.

Sea of Ghosts

Download link

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.

Legendary cities

Download link

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.

Undeath

Download link

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.

Moonpath to Elsewyr

Download link

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.

Falskaar

Download link

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.

Moon and Star

Download link

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.

Wyrmstooth

Download link

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.

Helgen Reborn

Download link

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

Download link

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.

The Notice Board

Download link

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.


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Roleplaying, survival, and immersion

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.

Frostfall

Download link

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.

Alternate Start

Download link

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.

Enhanced Camera

Download link

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.

Skyrim Unbound

Download link

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.

Realistic Needs and Diseases

Download link

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.

Sounds of Skyrim

Download link

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.

Wet and Cold

Download link

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.

Hunterborn

Download link

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.

Perseid's Inns and Taverns

Download link

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.

Campfire

Download link

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.

High King of Skyrim

Download link

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.


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Creatures and animals

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.

Armoured Skeletons and the Walking Dead

Download link

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.

Enhanced Mighty Dragons

Download link

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.

Automatic Variants

Download link

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.

Bellyache's Animal and Creature Pack

Download link

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.

Convenient Horses

Download link

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.

Immersive Creatures

Download link

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.

Tame the Beasts of Skyrim

Download link

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.

High Level Enemies

Downoad link

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.

Realistic Animals and Predators

Download link

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.


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Equipment and animation

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

Download link

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.

The Dance of Death

Download link

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.

Immersive Weapons

Download link

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.

Enhanced Animation

Download link

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.

YY Anim Replacer

Download link

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

Download link

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.

Immersive Armour

Download link

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.

Bandoliers

Download link

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

Download link

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.

Wearable Lanterns

Download link

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.

Unique Uniques

Download link

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.

Project Flintlock

Download link

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.


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NPCs

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.

Guard Dialogue Overhaul

Download link

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.

Interesting NPCs

Download link

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.

Diverse Guards

Download link

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

Download link

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.

Run For Your Lives

Download link

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.

Amazing Follower Tweaks

Download link

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.

Travelers of Skyrim

Download link

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.


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Magic, combat, and skills

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.

Perkus Maximus

Download link

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.

Duel: Combat Realism

Download link

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—Magic of Skyrim

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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.

Way of the Monk

Download link

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.

Sneak Tools

Download link

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.

Thunderchild

Download link

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.

Alchemy and Cooking Overhaul

Download link

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.

Gifts of the Outsider

Download link

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.

Ish's Souls to Perks

Download link

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.


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Tools and utilities

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.

Nexus Mod Manager

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 3Fallout 4, and many more.

Skyrim Script Extender

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.

Mod Organizer

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 Optimization Tool

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.

Steam Workshop

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.


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