Skyrim is a beautifully vast and sweeping game. Also vast: the possibility of its modding potential. The nomadic fans of Morrowind are crossing those rolling plains of creation, as part of their quest to settle within the safety and shelter of this newer game's engine. Their journey started just over a year ago, and now - while still far from the home stretch - they've made great progress. They've even released a trailer showing just how far they've come.
Skywind is currently on version 0.91, and, according to its makers, still very much in alpha. "You can move around the world, interact with a few things, but the full content of questing, gameplay and many other various elements are not part of the game yet," they write. "These Alpha releases are more for getting people interested, inspired and up-to-date with development so they can help with the project."
Nevertheless, it's a fantastically ambitious project that appears to be progressing nicely. You can download Skywind from the Morroblivion website, stopping only briefly to appreciate how great the word "Morroblivion" is. To play it, you'll need both Skyrim and Morrowind (along with the Tribunal and Bloodmoon expansions) installed on your computer.
Isn't starting a new character in an RPG the best? Sure, it's great being a high-level badass with an arsenal of weapons and spells and enough loot to choke a dragon. But there's something about starting over from scratch, when every rusty dagger is a priceless treasure and every minor monster is a genuine threat. Let's all start a new character in Skyrim, and let's all use the Skyrim Unbound mod. It makes starting over an adventure in itself. Skyrim Unbound is designed to give you a fresh start to the game. You've played through the original Helgen opener enough, right? You've been the Dragonborn plenty of times. You've slain so many dragons you need to build an extra room on your house just to store their bones. This time, let's skip all that. You can save the world later. For now, let's just get busy living in it.
There are tons of places to start your game. Or you can let the mod pick one for you. When you start a new game, you'll see the Skyrim title card, and then a notification to visit the mod configuration menu. There, you can select the options you want to start your game with. You can pick a specific starting point, the place in the world your new character will appear, or just specify the type of area you’d like to start in (city, town, wilderness, inn, even a jail cell). Don't care where you start, or want to be surprised? Leave it on random, and the game will decide. There are several types of characters to choose from: you can be a hunter/explorer, a warrior, a mage, a merchant/traveler, a thief/assassin, and even a beggar. The type of character you pick will determine the type of gear and clothing you begin with. A hunter will have a bow, a mage will have a staff and a couple spells, a warrior will have a starter set of armor and a nice big melee weapon, a merchant will have a fat purse of gold. A beggar, naturally, will have just some ragged clothing and a few coins. None of this modifies your actual stats, just your starting gear, and you'll still get to customize your character's race, gender, and appearance before you begin playing.
I picked a thief/assassin. And that is definitely the vibe I am getting. As far as dragons themselves go, you’ve got a number of options. You can turn them off completely, allowing yourself to pretend they have not yet awoken. You can activate just the scripted dragon encounters (which take place at word walls and burial grounds) so you'll still have a few dragons to slay. Or, you can turn on the random encounters as well, so they'll appear in the game as they usually do. You can turn dragon soul absorption off, allowing you to fight and kill dragons without absorbing their souls, as if you were a run-of-the-mill adventurer instead of the fabled Dragonborn. Best of all, you can always adjust your dragon options later, meaning you won’t be married to any particular dragon-related setup. If you do want to become the Dragonborn at some point in your game, just enable the dragons, absorb a dragon soul, and then visit those old guys on the top of the mountain. That’ll kick off the main Skyrim quest. And, until then, no one will accuse you of being the Dragonborn.
If you don't want to choose a character class or starting spot, the mod is happy to do it for you. Just launch the game with everything set on random, and see what happens. Once I spawned as a warrior at a campsite. A couple hunters were staring at me as if I just stepped out of the gloom to warm my hands at their fire. Another time, I appeared as a thief inside a fort filled with bandits, as if I'd just snuck in to loot the place. Another character of mine appeared at a tavern, as if he were just another weary traveler looking for a drink before going on his way. It's fun, and it lends itself to role-playing and building a little story for your new character. Who are they? What are they doing here? And, where are they going next?
Normally I'd pick the lock, but this time I'm just a lowly merchant. I know: I'll sleep my way out! One time I got a merchant character who started in a jail cell. Perhaps he'd been doing some shady dealings. Maybe he was more of a con man, a thief in merchant's clothing. Boom. I've already got a story for him. Another time, I appeared as as an assassin in the town of Rorikstead. I could only assume I was there to murder one of the residents. Boom. Story. Another time, I spawned near a Forsworn settlement near Morthal, and they immediately attacked. Now my character is committed to wiping out the Forsworn. Whoops, no, he's dead. But if he hadn't died, he'd totally have a story!
No need to create a back-story for this fellow. The Forsworn saw to that. Skyrim Unbound is a great way to kick off a new adventure. (I only wish I'd had it back when I wrote The Elder Strolls.) Leave the Dragonborn stuff aside for the moment, roll up a new character, and see where they land. It won't be long before you've created a new story and are living a new life.
Who is that mysterious Argonian at the bar? Somebody? Nobody? I guess it could be anybody. Installation: Two choices here. You can subscribe to it through the Steam Workshop. When you start a new game, you'll be presented with a series of prompts on the type of character you want, where you'd like to be placed in the world, and so on. To get the most out of this mod, however, you’ll also want to subscribe to SkyUI, which means also installing and launching the game with the Skyrim Script Extender (long-ish video on how to install and launch the game with SKSE here). This will allow you to configure the mod through the menu screen and change your dragon-related options later in the game. This is how I used the mod for this column, and I definitely recommend using it alongside SkyUI and SKSE.
Necromancy has a bad rap in Skyrim, which is a little weird. With the mountains of corpses the Dragonborn leaves in his wake, you’d think bringing a few of them back from the dead wouldn’t be such a big deal. Undeath, created by modder Antioch08, tasks you with snuffing out a teeming cabal of necromancers... but it also gives you the option of continuing their evil work, learning their dark secrets, and performing a ritual to transform yourself into a powerful Lich capable of commanding an army of the undead. Which path did I choose? Here's a hint. That image above? That's me. (A couple notes up front: your character needs to be level thirty or above to play this mod, and it uses assets from the official Dawnguard and Dragonborn DLC, so you’ll need both of those. You're also going to need your enchanting skill maxed out, and you should have almost 300 Magicka to really enjoy the fruits of this mod.)
Slaughtering a bunch of innocents? But... that's MY trademark move. The mod begins with a request to investigate a missing (dead) convoy of Vigilants of Stendarr (those goodie-goodies who stroll around in robes looking for evil-doers). After searching bodies at the scene of the ambush, I discover one of the attackers was kind enough to carry his orders with him, nicely written down on paper, just as you'd expect from a super-secret cabal determined to hide their existence from the world at large. This clue leads me to a secluded tower, where one particular necromancer has left a few journals detailing his plans to unlock a dark ritual that will allow him to become a powerful Lich. He’s also sent some followers on several missions across Skyrim to collect important objects he’ll need to complete the ritual.
Since they already dug him up... couldn't hurt to open the coffin for a little peek. Right? After tracking down one of these groups, who are digging up a dead priest with the intent on cutting out his heart, the mod gives me a choice. I can rebury the priest and go on with my mission to extinguish this evil plot, which seems like the sensible thing to do. OR. I can, y'know, finish digging up the priest and cut out his heart and stick it in my pocket, thus completing the necromancers mission, only without the necromancers, because I just killed them. I take the heart. Why not? The hard work is already done, and the guy is already dead, and I've been meaning to dabble in necromancy anyway.
A human skull in the pot, throw in a couple mushrooms... baby, you've got a stew goin'! After tracking down and killing another group of acolytes, I find that they were brewing a weird potion up top of a hill. They’ve done most of the work already, and the recipe is nearby as well. Again, I'm given the option to dump their cauldron on the ground, putting an end to this evil business! But, I hate to see a meal go to waste, and most of the ingredients are close by... what the heck! Soup's on!
The commute is a bitch, but the necromancers must pay very little rent out here. Eventually, I've killed all the necromancer dweebs and completed their tasks for them, because they're all to busy being killed by me to do it themselves. Now that I've got all their leader's precious belongings, it only stands to reckon that I hunt him down and kill him too, thus ending his evil plot. And beginning mine.
Did I come at a bad time? I find the leader deep underground in a massive network of ruins and tunnels, and mow my way through his remaining assistants and skeletons before hacking him to death. If I were interested in putting an end to his plans, I guess the mod would be over right then and there. However, I’m not looking to just kill a bunch of hooded weirdoes for the fun of it. Imma be a Lich! Becoming a Lich is not exactly easy, however. The head necromancer is dead, but I need to figure out exactly what he was doing before I can continue his work. I read his notes and scour the massive dungeon, eventually locating some hidden items and placing them in the right spots. Then, after finding a massive Black Book, I'm whisked away to the weird library dimension of Apocrypha.
This is not a toilet. I won’t go into details, but the library dimension kind of sucks (it kind of sucked in the Dragonborn DLC as well). You have to run around with a torch (the darkness physically hurts you) getting attacked by the same monster over and over and looking for switches to open gates so you can collect a bunch of items to place in the right spots. This takes roughly forever, but eventually, I've completed the quest and I'm whisked back to the real world.
Starting to think necromancy might be a little evil or something. Once I’m back in Tamriel, there's more work to be done before I can Lich-out all over everyone. I require a few more items and a secluded spot to perform the forbidden ritual. As it happens, a shadowy merchant called The Broker has been watching me hack my way to the top of the necromancy ladder, and sends me a note, via courier, inviting me to check out her ghoulish shop, where I can purchase most of what I need, including the deed to a nice underground lair where I can transform with some privacy. More work follows, of the gathering kind, then the crafting kind, then the enchanting kind, and finally, after closely following the intricate instructions, I glug an evil potion of my own making and drop stone dead on the floor. Whoops! Missed a step.
A side-effect of becoming undead is becoming dead. I reread everything, try again, and this time it pays off. I'm a Lich!
Houston, we have Lich-Off. Returning to the surface in human form, I step into Solitude, ready to unleash my powerful evil upon the city. I transform into a Lich, hovering above the ground, bathed in eldritch magic. All will tremble at my hideous shade! All will die at my bony hand! All will be raised as my willing zombie servants! And then a courier walks up and tells me he's got a delivery for me.
Dude. DUDE. C'mon. Tryin' to be an evil skeleton ghost monster and you're FUCKING RUINING IT. Well. Not quite the dramatic display of unspeakable evil I spent the last four or five hours unlocking. Still, after the courier wanders off, completely nonplussed at delivering a telegram to a TERRIFYING HOVERING LICH, I'm free to (somewhat sheepishly) cast spells, terrorize the locals, blast them with magic, and raise those who have fallen to fight for me. Except for the damn Apocrypha level, this mod is pretty great (and quite challenging). There's also apparently a ton of extra content I didn't even get to. It's also the most reading-intensive mod I've played, and knowing what to do and how to do it is dependent on the careful reading of journals and books. Pick up all the new books and journals you find! Read them! Take them with you! It's the only way you'll become a Lich like me. Installation: Download the mod here. I used the Nexus Mod Manager to install it, and you should too, because while there's a manual download, I don't see any manual installation instructions anywhere. This mod also doesn't really hold your hand except in the early quests, so if you get stuck, read the FAQ contained on this page.
A new post on the Elder Scrolls Online blog offers a look at the creation of everyone’s favorite flaming daedra, the flame atronach. The ESO dev team has been focusing on lots of flickering flame effects and suitably creepy demonic sound effects to bring the creatures to life.
“Sound effects are critical for any creature—especially for one with so many kinds of movements and attacks,” the post reads. “Most of us are familiar with the kinds of sounds fire can make, but how do we create believable audio for a creature of animate, magical flame? Our Sound Designers get a good look at creatures and their animations before they get to work to get an idea of the kinds of sounds they’ll need to create. For the flame atronach, they imagined how its various attacks would sound right away. Utilizing huge sound libraries, they found sounds for swinging torches, campfires, and even an actual geyser.”
The video shows off a lot of details in a short time. There’s enchanted weapons, dual-wielding, a first-person perspective and dodging attacks with combat rolls. There’s also the inevitable death that comes when you charge face-first into a group of flame atronachs. And with a fire damage weapon? Come on, guy, it’s like you’re not even trying.
Elder Scrolls Online is shaping up quickly, aiming for an early 2014 launch. Check out Chris's impression from his hands-on time back in May.
Perry recently told us about a mod called Gifts of the Outsider that imports the magic powers from Dishonored into Skyrim: Blink, Possession, Bend Time, Devouring Swarm, Wind Blast, and Void Gaze. I decided to the use the mod not just for its powers, but also to reenact the plot of Dishonored in Skyrim: the tale of an honorable man seeking revenge after being framed for a crime he didn’t commit. It’ll be just like Dishonored, only in Skyrim, and starring a furry woman with a tail. Just call me Khorvo.
Don’t worry, this will be supremely light on Dishonored spoilers, I'll cover a few of the activities you perform during the Dishonored campaign, Skyrim style. Let’s get started. What’s the first thing you do in Dishonored?
Play Hide-and-Seek with a Child
This is how REAL assassins train. Next: hopscotch.
I find some kids running around in Solitude, but they don’t want to play hide-and-seek, so we play tag instead. Minette Vinius and I chase each other around, forming a close personal bond that will surely keep me motivated in the dark days to come. I catch her and tag her and then I fast-travel to Whiterun so she’ll never be able to catch me and she'll be “It” forever.
Go To Prison for a Crime I Didn’t Commit
In Whiterun, I use a Frenzy spell on some guy standing around in the city. He goes nuts and starts attacking anyone nearby. The guards run over and arrest me while he is killed in the background. I’m shocked and outraged. I didn’t kill anyone! It was all him! You won’t get away with this! I will have my revenge! Looks like I’ve been... DISHONORED!
Can you believe the crime around here, officer? Wait, what did I do?
Escape from Prison
Not a problem! Pulling a lockpick out of my butt, I open the cell door, sneak through the prison, collect my gear, and slip back out into the streets. You’ll all pay for what you’ve done, I silently vow. All of you. It’s time to reclaim my honor. But how?
Meet the Outsider
Since I’m a wanted woman in Whiterun, I need to get away to plot my revenge. I head out to an abandoned house west of Riften, where I find a book and read it. I appear in Limbo, where everything is floaty and slanty, and meet The Outsider. He gives me the Blink power, which lets me teleport short distances. He tells me there are other powers I can collect by visiting his other shrines. Could these powers be the key to destroying those who wronged me?
I promise I'll only use Blink for good or for revenge or for fun.
Assassinate an Important Religious Figure
There are plenty of religious types in Skyrim, but when I think about one I’d like to assassinate, a particular zealot immediately comes to mind: Heimskr, the Nord Priest of Talos. Even if you don’t know his name, you know him: he’s the dude who stands in the middle of Whiterun and screeches incessantly about Talos, all day, every day. Oh, and is it a coincidence that the spot he stands in is just yards from where I was arrested for my “crime?” Not a chance. His death will mark the beginning of my quest to dis-dishonor myself.
This looks cool but I'm actually sliding off the statue for the 8th time.
I creep through Whiterun, using my new Blink spell. It’s neat, it really does zip you around, even on top of buildings, though I tend to slowly slide off. I blink onto the statue behind Heimskr, then to the ground behind him, and then I stab him in the back. I blink away onto a rooftop and the guards look around, confused, having no idea where I went. Actually, they don’t seem confused at all. They immediately shoot me with a bunch of arrows. I run away, but only because I'm in a hurry to reclaim my honor.
Now to just fold up my sword and OWW IT’S NOT A FOLD-UP SWORD
Now that Heimskr is dead, it’s time to find another Outsider shrine, collect a new power, and choose a new target. In the sewers under Riften, I find the shrine, caress the skull, and acquire the Devouring Swarm rune.
Assassinate Two People in a Brothel
Haelga’s Bunkhouse in Riften isn’t a brothel, but it sort of sounds like it could be. You know there are at least a few inappropriate back-rubs going on in there. I summon up a swarm of rats, and try to kill two people with them.
The perfect crime. Good luck trying to arrest swarm of rats, coppers!
Okay, the rats sort of killed everyone in the entire building. Those rats are NOT messing around. Having killed a room full of people with rats, a feeling seeps into my heart. I haven’t felt it in a long time, not since earlier today, but I know what that feeling is. It’s honor, slowly returning to me. I collect the Possession rune near the Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary, and I’m on to my next mission.
Abduct a Doctor on a Bridge
The first step goes well: I head to Dragon Bridge. I run into a bit of a snag here, though, as there do not appear to be any doctors out for a stroll across Dragon Bridge today. For a lesser assassin, that would be a problem, but I’m clever enough to find the owner of a lumber mill sitting nearby. A lumberjack is sort of like a doctor for trees, if doctors killed all of their patients and cut them into pieces, right? (The answer is: right.) He’s not on the bridge, but that can remedied with my new Possession spell. I leap into his mind and run him onto the bridge, where I pop out of the back of his head.
Revenge is a dish best served inside an innocent lumberjack’s head.
Having gotten him onto to the bridge, it’s time to abduct him off the bridge, which means possessing him again. I steer him off the other side of the bridge and into the wilderness. Abduction accomplished! I figure I’ll just keep possessing him and repossessing him and making him run so far away he’ll never find his way back, thus completing the abduction, but thirty seconds later we run into a bear and the bear kills him.
Looks like I got out of this dude’s head just in time.
I’ve just used magic to get a lumber mill owner murdered by a bear. I’m one step closer to regaining my honor. I visit another shrine and collect the Wind Blast rune.
Kill a Fancy Woman at a Fancy Party
There actually is a dinner party quest in Skyrim, but I’ve already completed it, so I need to find another fancy lady at a fancy place and kill her, fancy style. For honor. I know! The Blue Palace at Solitude. It’s the fanciest place I can think of.
Making sure to avoid Minette Vinius (I don’t want to get tagged “It” again!) I run through Solitude and enter The Blue Palace, which is run by Elisif The Fair, a fancy woman. I creep into the throne room, where there are some people hanging around. Looks like a party to me. Sorry I didn’t bring any WINE, I growl from the shadows, but I did bring some WIND!
Get it? Wine. Wind. Almost the same word. And so forth.
They don’t seem to get my wine/wind joke, probably because they are being slammed all over the room by magic wind. It’s a great spell: it’s like the Unrelenting Force shout, only you can hold down the button to keep it on, sending everyone flying all over the place until your Magicka is drained. After blowing everyone around the palace for a while, I head to the nearby mountains to collect the Bend Time rune. It’s time to kill the most important person in Skyrim.
It’s Time to Kill The Most Important Person In Skyrim
I figure the Jarl of Whiterun is the most important person in Skyrim, except for maybe me. I sneak into his chambers in the dead of night, slipping past a couple guards after slowing down time. It doesn’t quite work how I want: I was perfectly hidden from them until I cast the spell, which made them aware of me. The spell slows down time just fine, though, and even having seen me, the guards don’t seem to care that I’m creeping around near the Jarl’s bedroom casting time-bending spells in the dead of night.
You can’t really tell, but he is dying in slow motion. I can vouch for that.
The Jarl has an honorable, slow-motion death as I hack at his sleeping body. The guards run over to arrest me, and I try telling them that I’d rather die than go to prison, anticipating a fun Blink-filled escape from Whiterun. Unfortunately, Skyrim does that thing where it doesn’t select the line of dialogue I’m pointing at, so I accidentally bribe the guards and they peacefully escort me to the front door. Oh well.
Skip A Big Part of Dishonored’s Story To Avoid Spoilers
My easiest mission yet! I collect the final rune, Void Gaze, so I guess we’re ready for the big finale:
Kill Someone At a Lighthouse
Back in Solitude, I run around the lighthouse long enough discover there’s no one important in the lighthouse or on top of the lighthouse. There’s only Ma’zaka, the lighthouse keeper, but he’s downstairs in his little chambers. I sneak in, and use Void Gaze, which works like Detect Life, letting you see people through walls. I could possess him, run him up to the top of the lighthouse, and Wind Blast him off, but when you’re possessing someone they can’t open doors, so I have no way to get him out of his room. If I want to kill him, I’ll have to kill him right here.
Yep. There he is.
This isn’t quite the grand ending from Dishonored, though. I know that killing people with rats and blasting a fancy woman into her own ceiling and getting a lumberjack bear-mauled were all necessary -- absolutely necessary -- to regain my honor. But killing Ma’zaka, a humble, harmless lighthouse keeper in his own bedroom to end the story... it would just be complete anti-climax, wouldn’t it?
Yep. It was a complete anti-climax.
Lesson learned: if you want Dishonored’s story, go play Dishonored. If you want to have fun with Dishonored’s powers in Skyrim, though, this mod works great.
Installation: I installed this with the Nexus Mod Manager, but the mod looks as if it's just a single bsa and esp file. So, if you're doing it manually, just download the files and plop 'em in your Skyrim data folder (Steam > steamapps > common > skyrim > Data). No magic required.
Looking for more Skyrim mods? We recently updated out grand list of the best 50 for your perusal.
At QuakeCon last night, Bethesda announced The Elder Scrolls Anthology, a special edition retail release containing every TES game, expansion and DLC pack. That's a hell of a lot of prison escapes, grand adventure, and stilted voice acting being packed into a single box. But if you're not tempted by an attractive re-release of games you likely already own, the developer is also packaging the ultimate in PC gaming physical rewards: five maps, covering Tamriel, Iliac Bay, Morrowind, Cyrodiil and Skyrim.
Here's what you'll get:
The Elder Scrolls Arena The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind The Elder Scrolls III DLC: Tribunal The Elder Scrolls III DLC: Bloodmoon The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion The Elder Scrolls IV DLC: Knights of the Nine The Elder Scrolls IV DLC: Shivering Isles The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim The Elder Scrolls V DLC: Dawnguard The Elder Scrolls V DLC: Hearthfire The Elder Scrolls V DLC: Dragonborn
Given Bethesda's tendency to bundle the official Oblivion add-ons onto retail discs, it's a likely bet that they'll be included as well. After all, it's not much of an anthology if it doesn't include Horse Armour.
It's a lovely looking artefact for fans of the series, but if you just want the games, there are cheaper options. With Bethesda running Steam sales this weekend in celebration of QuakeCon, expect to see Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim all get heavy discounts at some point. As for Arena and Daggerfall, both have been released as free downloads directly from Bethesda.
The Elder Scrolls Anthology will release September 13th in Europe, and September 10th in North America. It will cost £49.99 / $79.99 / €59.99 / $89.99AUD
We love Skyrim mods. A new, noteworthy one for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Falskaar, was released over the weekend, and it is quite a doozy. Falskaar adds almost 25 hours of content, a land mass a third the size of the original game, new characters, new voices, and dozens of quests. As impressive as it is, though, it’s nowhere near as impressive as the creative force behind it: Alexander J. Velicky, a 19-year-old gunning for a job with Bethesda with his first try at modding Skyrim.
“I organized everyone involved, but the voice actors themselves recorded all the dialogue and submitted it to me,” Velicky told me. Though over 100 people contributed in some way, including composing an original soundtrack, Velicky took their contributions and plugged them into Falskaar himself. “I had some people help me out with a few models and textures, someone wrote a book or two for me... But otherwise all content was implemented, written and developed by me.”
So how does a 19-year-old take the helm of a creative project of this size? Velicky wants a job. He graduated from high school over a year ago, and instead of finding a design school, he turned Bethesda’s Creation Kit into his classroom, spending 2,000 hours over the last year building Falskaar.
“ was incredibly supportive and allowed me to live here, paying for living expenses and charging no rent,” Velicky says. “I was able to not go to school and not have a day job. Meaning, more or less, that Falskaar was my day job.”
The mod is fully voice-acted by 29 voice actors playing 54 characters (Velicky held auditions), and the quality is much higher than most community-made content. “I'm still kind of shocked at some of the talent I got on the project... and every single one of them surpassed my expectations by leaps and bounds.”
A massive dungeon, “Watervine Chasm,” may be Falskaar’s crowning achievement. It took Velicky three weeks to build and players report it takes an hour or two to complete. The community response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Falskaar isn't perfect,” Velicky says. “I'm not an expert who's been crafting game experiences for the last 20 years, so I certainly still have a lot to learn, and I always will. I'm always looking to learn and improve, and Falskaar was a huge chance for me to do this.”
According to Velicky, Bethesda is aware that he’s out there, and he isn’t shy about putting his goals right out on the table. “The best way to show Bethesda Game Studios that I want a job there and should be hired is to create content that meets the standards of their incredible development team.”
Falskaar is available now on Skyrim Nexus, and I encourage you to check it out. Have a gander at our list of the 25 Best Skyrim Mods, too.
Elder Scrolls fans are getting really worried about next year’s Elder Scrolls Online, for fear that it will simply be a World of Warcraft clone with a thin flavor of Tamriel sprinkled on top. A blog post on ESO’s website describes the innerworkings of the game’s instanced group-based dungeons, and what it reveals plays a little bit to each side of that argument. In the post, developers explain that enemies in the same room will operate on a “pack mentality” basis, where an attack on any one of them alerts all of the others. Tanking members of a dungeon group will base their strategy off the knowledge that “By default, a pack of monsters spreads out, and each enemy chooses a target,” as the post explains. “Player actions can change their targets to some extent. For example, taunt abilities force an enemy to attack you for a fixed duration.” This is worryingly standard MMO construction, as are the enumerated differences between the three members of the Tank/Healer/DPS holy trinity. The tank needs to control the fight by keeping enemies focused on him; the DPS needs to cause damage without bringing too many enemies into the scrap at once; the healer needs to keep an eye on everyone’s health bars. So far, so 2005. But lo! A ray of hopeful sunshine appears! ESO has always promised the open-ended, multiclass play that we love, where an Orc with a penchant for dual-wielding battle axes can also deploy the gentle caress of healing magic. In ESO, skill bars will change depending on the weapons equipped, allowing a single character to switch between various roles depending on their current equipment. “Let’s say your group’s healer goes down during a boss battle... You swap your two-handed sword out right in the middle of combat for a restoration staff, which activates your second hotbar (where you’ve cleverly slotted some healing abilities). Now, you can keep the party going.” Is this enough to dramatically mix up the rote MMO formula? Is this twist just enough to claim that their game is different, but without actually changing the fundamentals? I suspect that fans on either side of the debate will find evidence for their side. Elder Scrolls Online is slated for a 2014 release.
Welcome back to the town of Helgen! Last seen at the beginning of Skyrim being curb-stomped into splinters by the Nordic God of Destruction, Helgen has since remained a shattered ruin filled with bandit jerks... until now. Helgen Reborn invites you to play a key role in transforming Helgen into a functioning town once more. You'll crisscross Skyrim on a sprawling adventure that includes recruiting a team of oddball soldiers, busting up a human-trafficking ring, fighting to the death in a gladiator pit, and moving into a new home with perhaps the coolest basement you've ever seen.
The mod begins in Whiterun where I meet a grubby fellow named Patsy, who actually looks quite a bit like Patsy from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (the first of several movie references in the mod). Patsy sends me to find Marcus, a former Imperial soldier, who sends me to find Val, his former comrade in arms, who is holed up in the remains of Helgen pretending to be part of a bandit crew. As Dragonborn, savior of Skyrim, prophesied and sung of in songs, I find it a little rude for these guys to assume I have nothing better to do with my time than play postman, carrying messages between them all day. (Actually, I do have nothing better to do with my time, but these guys don't know that.)
Oh, you are NOT getting your security deposit back.
Eventually, the two former old chums reunite at Helgen and start making plans for the future. Val is looking for revenge against the people who killed his family, and Marcus wants to rebuild Helgen, a town he visited often in his youth and thus has fond feelsies for. I get straight to work for the both of them.
First up, Val needs me to spring one of his men, who is being held in a Thalmor prison. I come up with a great plan: kill all the Thalmor with an axe. But wait! Val has an even better plan: dress me up as an Imperial and send me in with a forged prison transfer order. YES! This is just like 90% of World War II movies, where someone G.I. has to dress up in a Nazi uniform to bluff his way into a compound behind enemy lines. Those plans always go well, right?
Me am Imperial. Not famous Dragonborn Orc. Me... not lie about thing like that.
My Imperial uniform gets me in the door, but Val's plan hits a slight snag because my Orc, who mainly communicates with others via two-handed axe blows, has not really bothered putting skill points into Speechcraft at any point ever in his entire life. After just a few words with the Thalmor officers, they shrewdly decide this hulking brute in front of them is not actually part of an Imperial envoy transferring a prisoner to the embassy. The ruse fails, and I have to go with my original plan of AXE AXE AXE.
Guten tag. Zigaretten? Oh, screw it. YAGGGGGGH
Having messily rescued Val's scout, I turn to Marcus and the issue of restoring Helgen. The first thing he needs are guards to protect the town from bandits and other threats while it's being rebuilt, and he gives me the choice of asking the Stormcloaks for help, or assembling a patchwork force of various loners and oddballs from all over Skyrim. Well, that's a hell of an easy choice. Finding a ragtag crew of misfits and shaping them into an effective team? That's an 80's movie just waiting for some montage music.
I scour the map, visiting taverns all over Skyrim to put together Helgen's new town watch. I recruit a shrimpy Nord who wants to prove himself, a somber Khajiit who is mourning the death of his dog, a dope named Kindrick whose only combat experience was once seeing (and steering clear of) a single mudcrab, an Argonian who... actually, I can't remember what his deal was. There's also a brother and sister who are not that interesting because they seem like they'd be excellent choices, and I'm more about the weirdos.
We've got till the end of summer to turn this motley crew of goofballs into a winning softball team.
One by one, I take them out on minor quests to test their nerve and their steel, or at least to let them watch while I rush through caves ahead of them and kill everything as fast as I can. Eventually, they all prove their worth, or at least they don't die. Back in town, they all get matching uniforms and shields bearing the new, independent crest of Helgen. I gotta say, seeing my collection of misfits lined up in spiffy matching armor is a pretty cool moment.
Now those stuck-up rich kids from the Thalmor camp don't stand a chance!
Marcus, grateful for my help, gives me a tower in Helgen. From the outside, it doesn't look like much, but the inside is nicely furnished. There's a massive lower level with all the crafting and enchanting accoutrements, not to mention a sprawling area with mannequins for armor and display cases for weaponry. But that ain't NOTHIN'. The coolest feature of this new home, by far, is the spacious cavern under the tower. Patsy, it seems, has a talent for taxidermy. In related news, I kill a lot of monsters and take pieces of their corpses. Do you see what I'm getting at? Forget hanging up a couple axes on a rack or putting armor on a dummy: the cavern is where you can display your REAL trophies.
This is my basement. Correction: this is one CORNER of my basement. Seriously, get this mod.
Aside from being able to stock your basement with stuffed, posed monsters like dragons, giants, and mammoths, there are other displays that appear based on your progress in Skyrim itself. For instance, I have a werewolf statue down there, because I became a werewolf during one of Skyrim's quests, and there are all sorts of other trophies and treasures in the cavern based on what I've accomplished. I think this is the coolest home I've seen in a Skyrim mod yet.
With my awesome new home (that I never want to leave), Helgen's spiffy new armed guards, and the town now noisy with the hustle and bustle of workers and new citizens, it would seem like your job here is done. But this is Skyrim, an odd and violent land, so issues with a late lumber delivery naturally wind up with me fighting to the death under the name "Skull Crusher" in a gladiator pit called Fight Cave while onlookers chant "Two warriors enter! One warrior leaves!" It's Skyrim, man. You never know where your day is going to take you.
Welcome to Fight Cave. You are not how many septims you have in the bank. You are not your enchanted ebony armor.
Fight Cave is reminiscent of the Imperial City Arena in Oblivion. You work your way up in a series of bouts against tougher and tougher opponents, while gamblers watch and (sort of) cheer. Once you've become champion, which somehow solves the delay in the lumber delivery, you're back to helping Val with his deal, which turns out to be busting up a human-trafficking ring. Of course!
Using my dragon to punish slavers. Wonder where I got that idea from?
Despite the mod's guide urging you to SAVE SAVE SAVE YOUR GAME, I only had one crash, and one issue with a quest that required me to reload my most recent autosave. So, it's actually pretty darn stable, all things considered. Also, it's pretty great. There's a bunch of lore related to the mod in the form of books and conversations. There is an impressive amount of original voice work, and nearly all of it is very well done, with the exception for the guy who sounds like someone doing an Arnold Schwarzenegger impression (on the plus side, it's a very good impression).
If we don't rebuild, then the dragons have won.
Plus, when you're done, you'll get to witness Helgen being rebuilt into a real town with an inn, shops, and all sorts of original characters walking around. My guess is that this mod took me about five or six hours to play, and apart from one embarrassingly regrettable scene with a moaning prostitute (though at least it contains a reference to Blazing Saddles), is really well thought out and impressively put together.
Installation: You can easily download and install the mod using the Nexus Mod Manager (I didn't see it on Steam Workshop, unfortunately), though check the mod's FAQ for conflicts with other mods (there seem to be a lot). I didn't see instructions for a manual install, but there's just single .bsa file and a single .esp file in the download, so I'm guessing you just drop them in your Skyrim Data folder, and tick the Data Files checkbox when you launch the game.