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I’m not an athletic man, but in Doom VFR, the upcoming VR version of 2016’s hit reincarnation of id’s classic shooter, I am Death Himself. As a possessed soldier tries to shoot me, I point a teleport marker and watch as everything slows down. I duck his bullets, teleport close, and shoot him in the face with a shotgun.
After a few shots, a Mancubus starts to flash, indicating it's ready to be torn asunder. I point my cursor into the center of the Mancubus and release the trigger, teleporting myself into the center of the obese demon. The Mancubus explodes and his immense body sags to the floor, the corpse so large that I have to step out of the empty shell to move on with the fight. Clearly, VR is cool.
But even for a relatively young technology, there have been very few major game releases for virtual reality headsets. It makes Bethesda’s all-in approach a confounding surprise, but by bringing Skyrim, Fallout, and Doom to VR, the company is in a good position to change the pace. In associating some of the biggest names in gaming to VR, Bethesda is trying to set itself up as a leader in VR development, build its own internal expertise, and help jumpstart a technology that has grown in fits and starts.
“If you believe something is going to be big, you can't just say, ‘oh, this will be big in six or eight years, so let's ignore it until it's big, and then we'll jump on the bandwagon,’” Doom VRF executive producer Marty Stratton tells me at Quakecon this year. “There's so much to be learned, and there's so many opportunities to be leaders. We want to be technical innovators, so when we see something we believe in, we want to be at the forefront.”
Of the three VR prototypes heading for release this fall, Doom is by far the best. The closed-in spaces of the UAC’s corridors look sleek and sci-fi inside a VR headset, and teleporting up and down hallways to blast imps and shotgun cacodemons feels spectacular, fast, and smooth. Time slows for teleportation or switching weapons, so I always felt able to react faster and be more badass than my weak, fleshy mortal body could ever allow. No matter which weapons I used, pulling the trigger of the controller felt as natural as aiming down the sights.
Sadly, all of these reasons are exactly why Skyrim VR, which is coming to PSVR first in November and PC sometime in 2018, is the weakest of the bunch. The wide-open vistas of Skyrim look pixelated and low-res running on the Playstation headset, and the 180-degree motion detection of the PSVR meant that I had to constantly use physical buttons on my controller to rotate myself and change direction.
Descending one of a Skyrim dungeon’s many spiral staircases was dizzying as I used a teleport button to hop down a step or two, then tap-tap-tap-tap-tap to rotate my body, teleport, then rotate again.
None of this compares to how disappointed I was when I first heard the call of an enemy bandit. I readied my sword only to find myself waving a wand in space, awkward and unsure if I was even making contact. I wiggled it around a few times and the bad guy fell over. Both of us looked embarrassed about the whole thing. Instead of feeling bold as the Dovahkiin, legendary hero of Skyrim, I felt like a child playing Fruit Ninja on a Nintendo Wii.
“Everybody says that,” says Pete Hines, VP of Marketing for Bethesda, when I complain about how the melee weapons feel. “The problem is that when you do this [he pulls a trigger on a gun], you don't detect the funkiness of the action because it's on a predestined path.” The gun behaves like a gun, in other words, and you’re pulling a trigger just like you’d pull a real-life trigger. “But when the sword swings however you move it, you notice it a lot more, now it does feel more like Fruit Ninja.”
Even though Skyrim will be coming to VR mostly unchanged, with all its quests, dialog, and NPCs in place, Hines expects that players will change how they play the game based on what feels good. In particular, he expects more players to become mages. “Because of the nature of VR and magic, it works exactly like you'd expect it to, because you're not missing the feedback.” Dual-wielding magic, in particular, works better in VR. Being able to move your hands independently gives you the chance to shoot fireballs in two directions at once, or hold a shield against one enemy while you shoot lightning at another.
I enjoyed Fallout VR more than Skyrim VR at least, because the world running on a PC looked a lot better and my ability to turn in a full circle was unrestricted. Though I had the option of attacking raiders with a baseball bat, Fruit Ninja Skyrim style, I could easily ignore it since Fallout has a huge array of guns that feel good to use. Launching a mini-nuke at a Deathclaw and watching the blast in VR was every bit as fun as it sounds.
Still, it wasn’t quite right, and I’m not sure if the trade-offs are worth the momentary wow-factor of stepping into VR. Can I explore the Commonwealth Wasteland for hundreds of hours in this gear, or will I always start to feel green like an irradiated ghoul after half an hour?
These are limitations that come with taking an existing game and bringing it into VR. Problems with movement and feedback just aren’t solved yet, and these problems wouldn’t exist if a game was built for VR from the beginning. I can’t help but compare my time with Skyrim VR with , an incredible game that was built to showcase everything VR can do right now, and nothing that it can’t.
But for Bethesda, getting experience is worth it even if the end product isn’t quite perfect. They’ll put out the best version of their games that can exist in VR right now, and they’ll gain valuable internal experience with VR design. I can see how it’s a win-win for Bethesda to take a risk with these experiments, but I’m not as confident that buying these experiments offers much to long-time fans of these games desperate for a familiar experience in their seldom-used VR gear.
Skyrim VR is only scheduled to come to PSVR in November, with a PC release possibly coming in 2018. Fallout VR is coming to PC on December 12, and Doom VFR is coming to both platforms on December 1.
Damage dealing is the most selfish of gaming roles. It's not about mending the wounds of your buddies or taunting off the bullies attempting to harm them in the first place; it's about the ecstasy of climbing to the peaks of damage meters and watching ever-larger numbers splash the screen. If gaming in general is a power fantasy, a strong DPS build is the wet dream.
And sometimes they gets out of hand. Some builds are so powerful that developers pull the plug, worried that they're damaging the game itself. This is a celebration of those builds that have achieved or come near those marks: the most famous, powerful, interesting builds that disrupt a game's conventions as violently as the power chords of an Amon Amarth riff at a Chopin recital.
We know we've barely scratched the list of great builds here—almost every game has one! If there's one you think we should have included, tell us about it!
Subtlety isn't really the first thing that comes to mind upon a first glance at Skyrim—after all, it's largely a game about some rando shouting dragons to death. But for years nothing struck fear into the hearts of giant flying reptiles and creepy Reachmen quite like Skyrim's Sneaky Archer build. It's still quite beastly, but YouTuber ESO describes it in its most broken form.
The build's cornerstone was the Slow Time shout, which you could extend by 20 percent with an Amulet of Talos and up to 40 percent by visiting a Shrine of Talos. Slap some Fortify Alteration enchantments on your ring and swig a Fortify Alteration potion, and you could push that over a minute. That's longer than the shout's cooldown. Pick up the Quiet Casting perk in the Illusion line, and you could wipe out a whole band of Stormcloaks before they even knew you were there.
Combine that with plenty of points in the Sneak line, Fortify Archery enchantments on every bit of gear, and paralysis or fear enchantments on your weapons, and you might be tempted to ask the fur-clad denizens to worship you in place of Talos. Unfortunately, Bethesda killed the fun with last year's Special Edition. Slow Time now slows down time for you as well. But even without it a Sneak Archer remains a force to be reckoned with.
Most crazy damage builds feel as though they're breaking with the lore of their parent games, but The Witcher 3's combination alchemy and combat builds tap into the very essence of what it's mean to work in Geralt's profession. You're a badass swordsman thanks to 36 points in Combat, and 38 points in the Alchemy line see you chugging potions and decoctions along with making sure you're using the right oil for the right monster.
YouTuber Ditronus detailed the best incarnation of this monster setup, which focuses on stacking everything that gives you both critical hit chance and critical hit damage. Ditronus claims he can get hits that strike for 120,000 damage for the build at Level 80 and on New Game+.
The tools? Pick up the steel Belhaven Blade for its crit potential and the Excalibur-like Aerondight silver sword for its damage multiplier. Use some other crit-focused gear along with two key pieces of the Blood and Wine expansion's alchemy-focused Manticore set and use consumables such as the Ekhidna Decoction. Toss in a few key mutagens and frequently use the "Whirl" sword technique, and Geralt becomes the spinning avatar of Death herself. It's bewitching.
World of Warcraft has seen some crazy damage builds over the course of its 13-year history, but none has reached the legendary status of the Paladin class' "Reckoning bomb" of WoW's first "vanilla" years. It wasn't officially a damage setup, but rather an exploit of the Reckoning talent from the tank line that some Retribution (damage) Paladins would pick up. Originally, Reckoning gave you a charge for a free attack whenever you were the victim of a critical hit, and in 2005, you could stack this to infinity and unleash them all at once for your next attack. Build enough stacks, and you could .So how imba was this? In May 2005 a Paladin named Karmerr from the guild PiaS (Poop in a Shoe, if you must know) got his rogue friend Sindri to attack him for three whole hours while he was sitting down, guaranteeing critical hits, until the stacks reached a staggering 1,816. Their mission? The Alliance server first kill of Lord Kazzak, one of WoW's first 40-man raid bosses. Knowing their plan was controversial, PiaS asked a Blizzard Game Master for permission, and the GM claimed it couldn't be done. But Karmerr popped his invincibility bubble and, boom, killed . Alone. The devastation was so intense that it locked up Karmerr's PC for 10 seconds and the system was so unprepared by the 1,816 attacks it could only register the blow in second-long ticks until Kazzak died. PiaS posted a video, and within 24 hours Blizzard nerfed Reckoning from a 100 percent chance to a mere 10 percent chance and limited the stacks to five.
Overpowered Paladins are something of a Blizzard tradition. One of the most infamous overpowered DPS builds of all time is the so-called "Hammerdin" from Diablo 2. The Blessed Hammer skill was the heart of the build, which shot out a spinning floating hammer that smacked any monsters foolish enough to get near.
Hammerdins had been around in various incarnations for months, but the build came into its own in 2003 with the introduction of synergies. With Blessed Aim, Paladins could increase their attack rating; and with Vigor, they could boost their speed, stamina, and recovery. Damage, too, got a boost with Concentration Aura. But nothing made the build so broken as the Enigma Runeword, which sent the Paladin immediately teleporting into huddles of nearby enemies and clobbering them for up to 20,000 points of damage each. Watching it in action looks a little like watching a bugged game.
The catch? Almost everything needed to complete the build was outrageously expensive. But as the obscene number of Hammerdins dominating Diablo 2 came to show, that was never much of a deterrent.
Forget specific builds for a second: Borderlands 2's Salvador is kind of broken by default. His class ability—"Gunzerking"—lets him fire off two weapons and reap their benefits at once, all while taking less damage and constantly regenerating ammo. Nor does this kind of destructive divinity come with any real challenge. If you've got the right weapons equipped, all you really need to do is sit still and fire away. Dragon's Dogma had the right of it: divinity can get kind of boring.
The right weapons push this already preposterous setup to absurdity. Pick up the Grog Nozzle pistol from the Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon's Keep DLC, which heals Salvador for 65 percent of all the damage he deals out. In the other hand, equip a double-penetrating Unkempt Harold pistol, which hits enemies as though seven bullets had hit them twice. Then pick up the Yippie Ki Yay talent that extends Gunzerking's duration for 3 seconds for each kill and "Get Some," which reduces Gunzerking's cooldown after each kill, and you'll always be firing, always be healing, all the time.
Ever wanted to be a raid boss in an MMORPG? You could in 2014, not long after the launch of Elder Scrolls Online, if you were a magicka-focused Dragonknight who'd become a vampire. You were both DPS and tank, able to take on dozens of players in PvP at once and kill most of them as well.
The root of the problem was the vampire tree's morphed "ultimate" ability, Devouring Swarm, which sent a swarm of bats down on everyone else in melee range while also healing you for everyone hit. But every class who became a vampire had access to that.
Dragonknights, though, could also use their Dark Talons skill to root all those players in melee range while roasting them with fire damage at the same time. A huge magicka pool made it even deadlier. Then a passive ability called Battle Roar factored in, allowing the Dragonknight to replenish health, magicka, and stamina based on the cost of casting Devouring Swarm. And it gets crazier. If you were wearing the Akaviri Dragonguard Set, you enjoyed a 15 percent deduction in ultimate ability costs, essentially allowing you to spam Devouring Swarm.
This was already hellish with regular Dragonknights, but players who earned the "Emperor" title in PvP might as well have been Daedric lords. Being the current emperor granted buffs like 200 percent ultimate and resource generation, leading to situations like the one in the video above.
The easy way to stop this nonsense was always just to stay out of range (although the DK's charge ability from the Sword and Shield line complicated that). Within a month, though, ZeniMax Online nerfed it to hell.
How do you bring interest in your four-year-old dungeon crawler back from the dead? With a Necromancer class, obviously! At least that's what Blizzard Entertainment was apparently thinking when it introduced the class to Diablo 3 in June 2017.
That makes the Necromancer the "youngest" entry on this list, but it's no less deserving of the honor. The damage Necromancers have been dishing out this summer is so crazy that the "best" broken builds change every few weeks. Not long ago the top dog was the Bones of Rathma build, which basically let the Necromancer kick back while an army of skeletons and undead mages did all the hard work.
Nowadays it's the Grace of Inarius build (which YouTuber Rhykker calls the "" build), which centers on the set's six-piece "Bone Armor" bonus that smacks enemies who get too close with 750 percent weapon damage and boosts the damage they take from the Necro by 2,750 percent. Then the Necro goes around whacking everything with his Cursed Scythe skill with the help of another bonus that reduces his damage taken. Choose the right complementary skills and weapons, you'll soon be tromping through Level 107 Greater Rifts as easily as a katana slicing through yarn. Getting the set pieces will take a bit of grinding, of course, but it's worth it for the payoff. Until, you know, Blizzard nerfs it.
Skyrim, located in the icy northern reaches of Tamriel, is an unforgiving land of freezing blizzards, ruthless bandits, and fire-breathing dragons. But nestled among all this danger, warmed by fires crackling in stone hearths, are the taverns. These cosy, calming sanctuaries offer weary adventurers respite from the cold and chaos, if only for a few minutes. The hardy, resourceful people who call Skyrim home have mastered the art of comfort and hospitality, as anyone surviving in a place as cold and brutal as this would have to.
And as you step into one of their inns, stone walls lit by the orange glow of the fire, tables stacked with cold mead and hunks of red meat, you feel like you can rest easy. Like you’ve come home. No mudcrabs or skeevers are going to scutter out of the bushes and attack you here. No fur-clad bandits are going to try and shake you down for gold with their bows and arrows. And, best of all, those pesky ancient dragons are too big to fit through the door.
The perpetual howl and chill of the wind is replaced by the soothing music of a strumming bard, the murmur of the other patrons and the clinking of glasses. It couldn’t be more different from the white, wild outside, and it’s the perfect place for a tired, hungry adventurer to grab a cold drink, a warm meal and a soft bed for the night. You could always just sleep on some grotty old bedroll outside, of course, but the Dragonborn deserves better.
Entering a tavern in Skyrim perfectly recreates the feeling of escaping into a homely country pub after a long walk on a cold, windy day. That instant sense of tranquility and peace. You know you’ll have to go back out there eventually, but for now it’s just you, the fire and a pint of ale. Your troubles seem like they’re miles away, although the concerns of the average person in today’s world certainly can’t compare to the Dragonborn’s quest to save Tamriel from an ancient, evil dragon which wants to devour the world.
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to taverns in Skyrim, and their atmospheres reflects their locations. In the city of Riften, a hangout for criminals and other ne’er-do-wells, you’ll find The Ragged Flagon and the Bee and Barb, which are the kind of establishments where you’d get a dagger in the ribs for so much as looking at someone’s pint. While the Imperial capital of Solitude boasts The Winking Skeever, a luxurious, spacious watering hole with a fine selection of quality booze and grub. And as well as these city inns, there are plenty of smaller ones dotted around the countryside, including the Four Shields Tavern.
As well as offering food, drink, and beds, taverns in Skyrim are also great places to meet reliable mercenaries. You’ll often see these warriors sitting in the corner, like Strider in Lord of the Rings, waiting for an adventurer with enough coin to hire them. In The Drunken Huntsman in Whiterun, for example, you’ll find Jenassa, a Dunmer ranger who’s handy with a bow and arrow and doesn’t seem to mind if the Dragonborn slaughters innocent people. But you’ll need 800 gold pieces to retain her dubious services.
Taverns are also rife with gossip, which can lead to some interesting quests. Talk to the bartender and you’ll hear clues about various goings on in the world, including the Imperial boy Aventus Aretino attempting to summon the Dark Brotherhood: a rumour that ultimately sees you joining its ranks. Or you might hear about a shrine to the Daedric Prince Azura, which leads to you obtaining a powerful Daedric artefact. It’s a good thing the proprietors of Skyrim’s inns are so unashamedly nosy.
The tavern is an important part of any fantasy world, whether it’s the Prancing Pony from Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones’ Inn at the Crossroads, and Skyrim is no different. Wherever you drink and whatever your poison, these are fine places to spend your coin
Multiplayer has arrived in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind thanks to a project based on the fan-made replacement engine OpenMW [official site]. Earlier versions of the TES3MP side-project previously only supported PvP, as NPCs wouldn’t synchronise between players, but now you and your pals can roam the land, messing with NPCs and questing and murdering and whatever else you might fancy. This is a huge step. TES3MP also supports scripting so people can fiddle with the game and even make custom modes; one alpha tester already made a Battle Royale mode. (more…)
Like the rest of Earth’s population, I had a wonderful time with Skyrim when it released in 2011, and for hundreds of hours afterwards. Then one fateful Sunday I realised I’d spent six hours smithing weapons and mining for ore, and decided it was probably time to stop playing now.
It turns out I got off the train early: in the intervening years the modding community has gone from strength to strength, doing its best to keep The Elder Scrolls V looking like it was released last week. With Skyrim Special Edition’s arrival in 2016 those modders have a new and improved base game to work with, and the results are getting seriously close to the hyperbolic promises made in my YouTube sidebar. ‘PHOTOREALISTIC SKYRIM: INSANE MOD!’ they shout. And ‘ULTIMATE SKYRIM GRAPHICS 2017’. And ‘Justin Bieber FORGETS words to "Despacito" LIVE’, although I’ll concede that’s not immediately pertinent here.
Curiosity got the better of me. Exactly how good can you make Skyrim look these days, using Special Edition as the new baseline and cherry-picking the finest community-made visual mods? achieved a frankly fearsome level of fidelity with the original version, but years have passed since then and graphics cards have gained multiple zeros on all their spec sheets. Is it possible to get Skyrim looking so realistic that it takes a second for your brain to distinguish it from reality?
The results of my own personal quest surprised me: not only did I get the game looking beautiful enough that I want to play it all over again, but those gorgeous graphics mods have fundamentally changed the way I play now.
There’s a particular alchemy to selecting a series of mods that work well together. Very often one mod will want to overwrite another’s files, or there’ll be some overlap between seemingly disparate mods (like a snow replacer and a water overhaul) which will end up cancelling each other out. I’ll throw my hands up at this point and admit I let YouTube’s sizable Skyrim mod content creator community do the hard work for me on this front. Taking the recommendations of , , , and others, I compiled a list of texture mods, weather mods, flora overhauls, water improvements, armours, and NPCs—in addition to essentials like the Static Mesh Improvement Mod—that looked believable, consistent with Skyrim’s world, and above all, beautiful.
Personal preference is the ultimate deciding factor in any mod list like this, but to make Skyrim SE look like my screenshots, these are the ones to use:
- If you only install one mod, make it this. It squashes bugs and refines things you never noticed were broken or clunky before. It won’t make your game look better, but your experience will be much more polished.
- I tried out a few different weather mods, and nearly prevailed, but to my eye Vivid Weathers produces the more realistic lighting conditions in conjunction with the lighting mods below and my chosen ENB (more on that later).
- A lot of unused assets were found in Skyrim’s code after release, probably relics of content that Bethesda ran out of time to include. This mod puts it all back into your game, and is required by several other mods.
- Turns the vanilla weapons into artisanal masterpieces. You can see the individual marks on each blade and the texture where it’s been hammered into shape. Incredible. Works well with Immersive Armors to make the game feel new (and look new in screenshots).
- Another hugely transformative mod, with enormous scope. Retextures much of the wild and several cities up to 4K. Use this as your base retexturing mod, upon which other more specific textures can be added.
- More lovely plant life to populate Skyrim’s once brown and barren tundras. It’s compatible with Verdant, but be careful which files you overwrite when installing. Load Verdant after this to get the best from both mods.
- Diversity completely changes the appearance of every NPC in Skyrim. The end result is a slightly disconcerting uniform attractiveness, but if you’re sick of everyone you encounter looking like Danny Trejo this is the mod to fix it.
- It’s not an ENB, but more of a pre-ENB lighting mod which changes light values so that all lights look better after you apply an ENB. To be honest I’m not sure whether I have this working with the below mod or whether one is cancelling the other out, but I’m really pleased with the end result so I’m too scared to upset the apple cart.
- Removes all lights that don’t have sources, and modifies the values for the lights that do. That means it gets really dark outside at night and in unlit areas of dungeons. It also means, together with all the other mods in this list and my chosen ENB/Reshade, the lighting always looks believable.
Using the to install these mods and set their load order is basically essential. It’s theoretically possible to do it all manually, but in the time it would take you to modify the .ini files correctly and ensure the right files live in the right locations, you could have coded The Elder Scrolls VI from scratch. It also affords you the advantage of swapping particular mods in and out to observe their effects.
On to the installation.
Initially I was almost disheartened when I installed this giant list of mods, loaded my game, and found a familiar-looking Skyrim staring back at me. The textures were much improved, yes, and the landscapes populated by much more realistic plant life. But it didn’t look like a generational shift. It was still recognisable, and that was exactly what I wanted to avoid. Applying an ENBSeries preset, a popular community lighting mod available for games like Fallout, Skyrim, and Grand Theft Auto, would change all that in an instant.
You’ll hear it said a lot among the modding community, but there’s no more dramatic change you can enact on your game than applying an ENB to it. Therefore, my particular pick would be paramount. There are so many competing ‘photorealistic’ or ‘next-gen’ variants of Boris Vorontsov’s famous lighting mod that you could lose days watching those transitional wipe videos on Youtube demonstrating them all, but in the end I landed on one I was very happy with: the catchily named . While the majority of ENBs feature way too much contrast and bloom for my taste, this one works beautifully with Vivid Weather and my existing lighting mods. It produces dramatic but believable lighting conditions at any time of day, indoors or outdoors, and also exaggerates the depth-of-field and ambient occlusion effects for a more cinematic view.
At this point Skyrim started throwing out some really impressive imagery, so it was time to take things to the extreme. from will let you render games at resolutions far exceeding your monitor’s native output, and then ‘downsample’ the image so that it fits back on your screen. But you likely already know that, because you’re reading an article about making Skyrim look photorealistic. The question, really, is how much closer it can bring us towards that goal.
My monitor’s native resolution is a slightly unusual 2560 x 1600, so I used GeDoSaTo to render Skyrim at twice that: a retina-seducing 5120 x 3200. All those high-res texture replacements really come into their own at this resolution, and the confluence of ENB, mods, and resolution produced natural landscapes that approached photorealism, given the right framing.
It’s a frame rate killer, of course. My specs (GTX 1070, i7 2600K, 16GB RAM) were no match for that downsampled resolution and could only render the game at around 14fps. Attempting a 12K resolution resulted in a single-figure frame rate, which was frankly too unwieldy even for screenshot-hunting.
My longstanding reservation with mod collections like this when I see them elsewhere is: yes, but is it actually playable? There’s fun to be had by being a photojournalist in Skyrim and scouting out the best locations for screenshots, but after you’ve spent all that effort imbuing all that beauty into the game, it’d be a shame if you didn’t actually play it.
I was able to pull it back to around 45 fps (I know, I know) by disabling downsampling and making use of . Simply put, it’s a handy tool that modifies your prefs.ini file and comes with new graphics presets which really boost performance. Using BethINI’s ‘ultra’ preset is much kinder to frame rates than the vanilla ‘ultra’ setting, without compromising any visible fidelity.
I was surprised by how far I could push Skyrim, which is another way of saying I was surprised by the sheer talent and enduring commitment of the modding community. What surprised me even more, though, was that the concessions I made on my photorealistic screenshot quest actually improved the gameplay experience, too.
Firstly: play without the HUD. Really. I disabled it just to take screenshots at first, and my inherent laziness meant that it stayed disabled while I played. I soon found that not having a bunch of quest markers, a crosshair, dialogue subtitles and health meters is, to use the Skyrim modder’s favourite word, a hugely immersive experience. Archery was suddenly satisfying again, and in the absence of a big quest arrow guiding me forth I engaged with the environments properly, looking for signposting cues and navigating using landmarks.
All my efforts to produce realistic lighting changed the way I played, too. Suddenly going out at night without a torch was a terrible idea (a mechanic I always loved about Dragon’s Dogma), and certain areas of caves and dungeons were simply pitch black unless I illuminated them. It meant I had to treat lighting like a game mechanic, like Skyrim had suddenly become a Thief game.
Having those little moments of revelation as I realised I had to play the game differently was a wonderful thing. It’s inspired me to go through Skyrim all over again, which is what I always secretly hoped the right collection of mods would do. And now as I do it, I’ll perpetually be on the lookout for killer screenshots.
The Creation Club was Bethesda’s most contentious . A follow-up to Valve’s failed paid mods program, the Creation Club will allow third-party developers, including modders, to create sanctioned add-on content for Fallout 4 and Skyrim: Special Edition. This content will be sold through in-game marketplaces for Creation Club Credits, which can be purchased via Steam.
The short version is that it’s paid mods. Bethesda insists that the Club isn’t paid mods, but it is. Crucially, it’s also a dramatically improved version of paid mods. Many questions remain unanswered, but we do know that Bethesda will screen applicants, curate Club content and optimize everything themselves to prevent conflict between mods. Club content must also be original, meaning existing mods won’t suddenly cost money. Perhaps most importantly, Bethesda “there will still be plenty of free mods as well.”
Assuming Bethesda follows through on these rules, the Club could actually be a positive development for modding. It’s not perfect; , Club content would be better off free, with the store itself acting as a way to promote the best mods and compensate talented modders. In any case, it is a rare opportunity for modders to profit off their passion.
With all of that in mind, I spoke to three of the top Fallout 4 and Skyrim modders from the community to gauge their thoughts on the Club. As it happens, everyone I spoke to has already applied to be a Club creator.
“At first I was against it, but after talks with some other modding friends I changed my mind and actually decided to put an application in,” says , creator of Fallout 4’s , which contains over 400 new objects and structures. “I saw it as another paid mods scenario, which was terrible the first time, but it’s a bit different this time around.”
For Irving, the Club’s improved quality control process, coupled with the fact that existing mods cannot be sold, was a big draw. It protects his mods and ensures the market won’t become saturated with overpriced garbage like $10 golden potatoes (yes, Skyrim had those). Many modders feel the same, including , best known for his for Fallout 4.
“It seems like they’re really taking all those problems from [Steam’s paid mods] and are trying to stamp them all out,” Shafer says. “With the curation process, I don’t see people stealing other people’s work and trying to sell it. Their policy of not allowing already released content will stop any possibility of thievery. People can’t steal other people’s identities and shit like that. It seems like they’ve thought it out quite a bit.”
Certainly, the Club is head and shoulders above the system Valve proposed in 2015. But there are still holes in Bethesda’s proposal, one of the biggest being how modders will be paid. Will they receive royalties based on sales of their content or a flat rate based on the scope of their project? Do creators get to decide? The modders I spoke to were divided on what payment model they’d prefer. One thing they did agree on was what kind of content they expect to see en masse on the Club store, namely custom armor sets and weapons.
“They don’t have much conflict with each other and they’re easy to put in,” says , creator of Skyrim’s mod, which greatly enhances the game’s character creator. “I mean, I wouldn’t say they’re easy to make, but they’re easy to put in the game and install in your game.”
The advantages of a simple mod like a piece of gear are two-fold, Borthwick explains. Firstly, it’s just an item entry, so it doesn’t inherently conflict with other mods. Secondly, it would be easier to instantly generate in-game, which is one of the Club’s most-vaunted features—being able to buy a cool new sword and wield it within seconds.
That being said, Borthwick is more interested in expanding Skyrim’s core features, such as its follower system. Irving wants to make improved and custom weapon animations for Fallout 4, whereas Shafer is interested in building some from-scratch armor sets.
Above: Enderal is one of the most ambitious Skyrim mod projects to date, but it won't be sold on Creation Club.
Bethesda the Club will include myriad content, from weapons and apparel to new locations and NPCs. But there’s been no mention of total conversion mods like , despite the fact that such massive mods are arguably most deserving of a price tag. So, why is the Creation Club ignoring the grandest mods in the business? Well, Borthwick believes total conversions are actually too big. .
“I don’t know about seeing that sort of stuff as DLC,” he says. “Those would be heavy engine mods, so they’d have to actually update the executable of the game to do anything with that ... I don’t think that’s really the target of the Creation Club mods, because that isn’t something you can easily put into your game.”
Total conversion mods essentially build a new game out of an existing engine, so they wouldn’t mesh with existing Fallout 4 and Skyrim save files. To offer them via the Creation Club, Bethesda would have to sacrifice compatibility, which they’ve trumpeted from the get-go. Meaning total conversions will all but certainly remain free passion projects—as will plenty of other mods, according to everyone I spoke to.
“I don’t think it’s going to have a major impact [on free mods],” Borthwick says. “People are still going to be making mods on Nexus, and not everybody is going to try and push mods on the Creation Club … I don’t think it’s going to be something where people are just going to jump ship and start uploading tons of mods and go completely paid.”
Shafer agrees. “I don’t really buy into all the doom and gloom,” he says. “I know myself, and there’s plenty of projects that I would still be working on that would be free projects. In fact, most of my stuff would still be. I can’t speak for everybody, but if I was part of it, it wouldn’t stop me from working on the bigger picture stuff.”
The gist of the knee-jerk doomsaying which followed the Club’s announcement is that free mods will dry up as modders all sell their souls to Bethesda, but these experts are eager to continue producing free mods. The other common argument against the Club, and paid mods in general, is that involving money in any way somehow taints the spirit of modding. Shockingly, none of the modders I spoke with agree.
“We do this in our spare time. I don’t do it to make donations or money, I do it because I want to do it,” Borthwick says. “At the same time, I’m spending a lot of my time to do this and get almost literally nothing out of it … Most people would say ‘go find another job,’ but if you like doing this, what’s wrong with getting paid to do it?”
Shafer points out that if modders are being paid, they’re more likely to take on larger and more ambitious projects. Similarly, Irving expects the Club to attract new and talented creators to the modding scene—people who do stellar work but don’t have time to work for free. All of which could result in more and better mods.
Yes, Steam’s take on paid mods was a dumpster fire. Yes, Bethesda could have done a better job selling the Creation Club. (Dwarven mudcrab armor, which , probably wasn’t the best headliner.) And yes, there are still lots of blanks that need to be filled. Even so, many modders are optimistic, not just because they may finally be paid for their time and effort, but because the Club may well benefit the modding community as a whole.
A corner of the world of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has arrived in Skyrim with the launch of Beyond Skyrim: Bruma [official site], a mod set around Cyrodil’s city of Bruma. Unlike the still-in-development mod remaking Oblivion inside Skyrim, this mod is telling new stories set around the time of Skryim – 200 years after Oblivion. As well as recreating and updating the Bruma region, it brings new quests, characters, weapons, armour, music, and all that, plus a whopping 24,000-ish lines of voiced dialogue from a cast including professional actors. Fancy! Here, check out this trailer: … [visit site to read more]
Pity Skyrim's humble courier. He's charged with tracking you down in an incredibly dangerous fantasy world to deliver notes, letters, and quest instructions. While as the Dragonborn you're definitely recognizable, finding you as you race around the map killing monsters and looting dungeons can't be easy for the young man (though he does at times appear to be quite psychic), and the truly tragic thing is that this poor fellow doesn't even have his own place to live and rest between his deliveries.
Thankfully, celebrated Skyrim modder Arthmoor has stepped in with an equal dose of mod skills and empathy, and the Provincial Courier Service mod is the result, giving our favorite letter-carrier a proper home and base of operations. In it you'll find a desk, a bed, a dining area, a kitchen, and other creature comforts the courier can enjoy when he's not running all over the world trying to stick a letter in your pants.
The mod also provides an optional home delivery service, which means the courier can just bring his missives to your house (or one of your houses, if you're doing quite well) instead of materializing in your immediate vicinity, which certainly sounds like an improvement from his perspective. And, now that you can track him down for a change, you can also swing by his shack during your travels and collect your mail from him there. Everybody wins.
Okay, it's not a palace, just a humble abode, but we can all agree the fellow deserves it. You'll find the courier's new digs on the road outside Whiterun, and you'll find the mod, and the instructions on how to install it, on its page at Nexus Mods.
Just between you and me, the first time I played Morrowind it was on an Xbox. It was still a great game, but getting the PC version and being able to mod it made it even better. We praise it for being the last truly weird Elder Scrolls game, but we should also remember Morrowind as one of the clunkiest. To enjoy its mushroom trees and settlements built in dead insects meant putting up with rough combat, a leveling system that needed gaming, plenty of bugs, and a bit too much walking.
In the 15 years since its release modders have done an intimidating amount of work making Morrowind better. The best Morrowind mods are now spread over sites like Morrowind Modding History, the Morrowind Nexus, and Mod DB. Here's our collection of the greats, though even this list only represents the tip of a big iceberg.
If you've never played Morrowind before it's worth trying unmodded to see which parts you'd most like to alter before diving in. It's also recommended to use a loader like Wrye Mash or Nexus Mod Manager to organize mods once you start. And even when using them, always read the installation instructions.
Believe it or not, there were a few bugs in this Bethesda RPG. These mods fix those and greatly improve the fundamentals.
A massive effort committed to fixing bugs and mistakes, from savegame corruption and missing objects to the in-game calendar not having the correct number of days in each month. There are plenty of optional changes, including modern resolutions and an over-the-shoulder version of the third-person view. The Morrowind Code Patch is also an essential foundation for the Tamriel Rebuilt mod, but can conflict with leveling mods like or if you don't turn off skill/attribute uncapping when installing it.
Bethesda isn't great at seamlessly inserting DLC into their games, and in Morrowind that manifests in Dark Brotherhood assassins trying to murder you in your sleep until you start the Tribunal expansion. If you're not interested in being assassinated at level one or surviving the attempt but then scoring assassin gear that's way too powerful for you, this mod puts off the nightly murder visits.
Each Elder Scrolls game has one of these, tidying up hundreds of minor leftover bugs ranging from spelling errors in dialogue to problems with quest progression. If you've ever had a quest stuck in the journal after you've finished it, or noticed “Edryno” spelt “Edryon” this is for you. It also fixes a lot of errors relating to NPC barks playing in the wrong situation or not at all.
If you're sick of the rigmarole of going through the Census Office at Seyda Neen every time you make a new character, this mod lets you race through character creation and then choose which of the island's ports to disembark at. It also puts some basic equipment in your inventory, suited to your skills.
User interfaces have never been a strong point for Bethesda's open-world games. If looking at Morrowind's borders makes you miss the Skyrim color scheme and slightly cleaner look, this mod adds that while keeping the basics of the UI the same.
Why run when you can run really fast? New methods of transportation and tweaks to existing methods make life in Morrowind less tedious.
When you're crossing the Ashlands for the fifth time or bouncing back and forth between distant NPCs for certain quests, you really need a more convenient way to travel than a muddled network of giant fleas. This mod makes roadside signs into fast travel points. Look at the sign pointing to your destination, press spacebar, and you'll arrive with six hours added to the clock. Mods that add new landmass can make it a bit hinky and I did once travel to Gnisis only to find myself stuck in the middle of the ocean, but it's still worthwhile for journeys free of Cliff Racers.
Another way to speed up Morrowind is to increase the running speed, which makes a mockery of the incremental increases to the Speed stat you can buy at level-up but is worth it to reduce a lot of the slog. There are multiple speeds to choose from, with Fastest a solid choice if you want to run like a Looney Tunes character but still be able to see the world as you zip past it.
Cool as it is having giant fleas that can be steered by twiddling their central nervous systems hanging around settlements, the Silt Striders always seemed underused in Morrowind. With this mod you can actually see them travel across the land when you hire one, though they're less jumpy than I expected. Their speed is adjustable in case you want to zip over to Vivec but don't have half an hour to watch scenery go by.
If walking up to a ship's captain and asking for a lift to Ebonheart isn't doing it for you, Sell N Sail makes both a small boat and an expensive galleon (205,000 septims!) available for purchase. The galleon has a fancy below decks area you can make your new home, and both craft can be sailed around via slightly fiddly controls. Buy them from the island just off Gnaar Mok.
The Mark and Recall spells are essential for returning to out-of-the-way locations, like your home once you build one or that mudcrab merchant with loads of gold. Normally you can only have one place Marked at a time, but Melian's Teleport Mod lets you cast Mark as much as you like and name each one individually.
Morrowind's showing its age after 15 years, but these mods go a long way towards maintaining its otherworldly beauty.
The landscapes of Morrowind were impressive in 2002 and can still look surprising today, but the faces were always a mess. They look like photos stretched around cubes. Better Heads is one of many mods that improves the way faces look in Morrowind, an easy to use choice that's low on compatibility issues. However, if you're interested in other options with varying degrees of fidelity to the original looks, here's an old .
While you're at it, maybe you'd like nicer body textures as well? These were based on high-res scans of the modders' own skin. There are versions that let you leave your medieval underwear on and also a nude version, though given that some enemies run around in their underpants that's more likely to be disconcerting than anything.
The easiest way to make Morrowind's buildings and scenery look better is with this combination of five existing texture packs. Follow that up with Mesh Improvements to get small objects like bowls and candles looking noticeably less angular.
On a modern PC the draw distance option in the menu can easily be pushed to the max, rolling back Vvardenfell's fog. If you want to go even further the Morrowind Graphics Extender XE mod will let you see Vivec from Pelagiad with ease.
The ash storms, drifting clouds, and starry night skies can be made to look a lot prettier with this mod. It changes the way weather is rendered as well as replacing repeating sky meshes with unique ones, and there are multiple options for changing how you'd like the moons to look.
It's a whole new world. Seriously: you can add enough content to Morrowind to keep playing it forever, and the ones we've highlighted here are the best of them.
Bethesda had planned for the entire nation of Morrowind to make it into the game, but focused instead on the island of Vvardenfell to its ultimate benefit. If you dream of exploring the mainland however this mod will let you do it, greatly expanding the map and adding some gorgeous new cities. The quests are a little rudimentary, but mostly you'll just want to explore all this new land.
If you wish Morrowind felt more like Vampire: The Masquerade, then your dream's come true. The Underground is a questline based around a nightclub for the undead hidden in the Balmora sewers, where sexy vampires will send you on quests and one of them can even be romanced. From the moment the club starts blaring songs by The Beastie Boys and Garbage you'll feel a long way from the atmosphere of Morrowind, but it's goofy, gothy fun nonetheless. You'll want additional mods that add a , and if you finish the questline like, oh, infinitely spawning spiders.
The kookiness of The Shivering Isles (a classic Oblivion add-on) has inspired mods for several Elder Scrolls games, and Immersive Madness is the Morrowind equivalent. It lets you join the cult of the Madgod Sheogorath by visiting their shrine south of Molag Mar where you'll find quests to recover an Orc's stolen buttocks, defeat a rock and then a puddle, win a staring contest against a rival cult, and other similarly wacky missions.
Once you've played Morrowind long enough it stops feeling uncanny and becomes familiar. To regain some of that feeling, try the complete overhaul Morrowind Rebirth. Each settlement is recognizable but different, with more houses and NPCs. There's also new equipment, creatures, music, and more. Morrowind Rebirth on its own is enough to make another playthrough worthwhile.
If you got Morrowind from GOG it will already have this selection of plugins made by Bethesda. If not you can grab them from the Nexus, either individually or collected. They include quests to restore the propylon travel network and take an island fortress back from the undead, more armor, arrows, and sounds, and an option to entertain the drinkers at the Eight Plates in Balmora.
SureAI are a German team you may know for their Oblivion total conversion mod Nehrim, or for Skyrim. Arktwend and Myar Anath were where they started, total conversions that replaced Vvardenfell with a slightly more traditional fantasy world, though one with some gothic touches. They're not as polished as Enderal—you'll get killed by huge mobs of enemies a lot and hear some characters speak German even with the English patches—but they're still impressive achievements.
Inject more life into Morrowind, and make those critters prettier, to boot.
If you're sick of squinting at the font for Morrowind's dialogue, journal, and menus then the Better Dialogue Font mod ups the resolution on all of them. Meanwhile, if you're sick of NPCs rehashing the same paragraphs of information the Less Generic NPC project has been working to give every character their own dialogue, which is a heck of an undertaking.
In the spirit of Better Bodies and Better Heads, this adds new textures for lizard-people and cat-people, making the Argonians and Khajiit look plenty nicer. If you're playing as one you'll have a few new head options as well.
Bothered by the absence of kids? Ma'iq the Liar would like a word with you. If you need to have rugrats running all over the place this mod will do it for you, though as with all mods that add NPCs en masse it can cause slowdown and they absolutely will get stuck between you and a door at some point.
Bethesda staff member Gary Noonan, known to modders as WormGod Elite, made Morrowind Advanced to add more challenging encounters. It rebalances existing creatures as well as adding new ones like Centurion Rippers and Giant Earth Golems, and eventually you'll have to deal with high-level raiders too. A few new dungeons and some new equipment thrown into rebalanced loot tables round it out.
Adding new animals to Vvardenfell is tricky because the existing ones are so alien. Horses would just feel wrong. Modder Piratelord walks a fine line in new additions that feel appropriate to the setting like the Ash Poet and Land Dreugh as well as more vanilla creatures added sparingly, like moose and butterflies. As an added bonus this mod makes Cliff Racers less aggressive the more of them you kill so that eventually the damn things will leave you alone.
Overhaul Morrowind's clunky combat with some some welcome changes, like removing the dice roll behind each melee strike and increasing the pace at which you accrue skill points. Now go out there and be a warrior.
One of the more straightforward balance tweaks available, with Faster Skill Increases all it takes is a single attack or a few seconds of running or jumping to make the relevant skills go up. You'll get sick of the angelic sound that plays with each increase, but you'll also be able to tackle the interesting quests a lot quicker without grinding around in Ratmurder Town forever.
Even if you're not playing a spellcaster you'll want access to the occasional Levitate to cross a mountain or Mark and Recall to bounce back to a quest-giver. Wizards have to nap a lot in Morrowind though, because magicka regenerates at a glacial pace. If you're not ideologically opposed to the idea of making Morrowind more like Oblivion, this mod borrows its rate of magicka replenishment and honestly it's a godsend.
Whether an attack hits or misses in Morrowind is based on a random roll behind the scenes based on your skill. In a more abstract RPG that's fine, but in a 3D one where you can see that spear hit someone to then be told by the math that it whiffs it can be jarring. With Accurate Attack any blow that looks like it hits actually hits.
The lovely, thunky speed of arrows in Skyrim was inspired by a mod for Oblivion that made them less dodgeable but much more fun to shoot. Projectile Overhaul puts some of the same arrow juice into Morrowind, increasing the velocity of everything you can launch, including throwing knives, shuriken, and spells.
Install Madd Leveler to take away the worry about effectively leveling and grinding the appropriate skills, as it'll do all that for you. Madd Leveler raises attributes based on which skills you've been using and does it quietly in the background so you don't even notice. There's also , which is a bit more complicated and can be restrictive if you're trying to play the kind of hybrid character who doesn't fit a single class.
Each Elder Scrolls game makes sneaking a little less ridiculous, but even in Skyrim we're still crouch-walking invisibly in broad daylight because our skill's high enough. This mod doesn't make stealth perfect, but it does add modifiers based on the time of day, weather, what armor you're wearing, and whether you have a weapon out. It also increases sneak attack damage to x10 so it's worth all those potential penalties.
For a few horrible minutes during E3, it looked like Bethesda might seriously claim that The Elder Scrolls and Fallout were part of the same universe. Thankfully, not. Despite this being an era where Sony wants a Ghostbusters universe and Universal thinks demeaning the Universal Monsters by linking them with a top-sekrit monstah hunting group led by Dr Jekyll is anything other than schoolboy fan-fiction, Bethesda’s Pete Hines has been quick to go “What? No. No! No…>” Phew! Honestly, it’s bad enough that Daggerfall has six endings, ranging from the villain becoming a god to orcs being either defeated or victorious, and canonically all of them are true.>
But at a time when we’re seriously asked to pretend that “Dark Universe” is a thing we should want to see, that unholy union really wasn’t impossible…