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The classic RPG question is who do you want to be? , and here The Elder Scrolls games have always been on strong ground. In the case of Skyrim, it s how you go about answering that sees the magic emerge. Partly it s the game s vast open world, but there s also the playful take on the subtle and not-so-subtle expectations built into the genre. More than anything, though, it s that Skyrim is a fantasy about freedom—an icy, brutal freedom best explored with blade in hand.
Skyrim s underworld—with its Dwarven ruins, huge chasms, and secret passages—plays with the experience of space in a way few other games do. Because the world below ground is crafted with such care and attention, each step I take in the world above becomes that much more meaningful. Skyrim never feels flat. It feels like there s a mysterious portal or mad Daedra lurking under every hill.
Beyond the setting, Skyrim s approach to fantasy trappings also strikes fresh notes. It succeeds in making me care (again) about the intricacies of ancient weaponry, odd bestiaries, and the oh-so-serious ways of a dominant culture—in Skyrim s case, the Vikings. Even following in the footsteps of Morrowind and Oblivion, Skyrim excels at making the familiar seem strange and interesting once more.
So, in this installment of If you like… , I ve picked out some non-games that share Skyrim s disorienting geography, its mostly-medieval sensibility, and its affection for all-things Nordic. And also, of course, big bloody swords.
Valhalla Rising, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
There are few other imaginings of pre-modern life that capture the dark and brutal potential of such a time quite like Valhalla Rising. Played by the silent but effective Mads Mikkelsen, (who currently stars as Hannibal in the TV series), we follow the journey of a warrior named One-Eye and his encounters in a world reeling from religious fanaticism and the selfish pride of rival chieftains. Sounds like a typical day in Skyrim to me.
As you can probably guess from the trailer above, One-Eye s solution to most problems involves astonishing acts of sudden violence. But Drive director Winding Refn s film doesn t ignore the philosophical problems that a world built on blood and death brings to the surface. What if hell is a place we make for ourselves and can never escape? But setting aside its stylish surrealism, which saw the movie described as a medieval Apocalypse Now, Valhalla Rising also works as a beautifully-shot, incredibly slow burn, adventure film with an effective, if gruesome, interpretation of the hard-bitten solitary warrior mythos.
The Death Gate Cycle, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
The death gate cycle
The seven-volume Death Gate Cycle takes Weis and Hickman s talent for fantasy world-building, so evident in their genre-defining earlier work on Dragonlance, and turns the dial up to 11. In a way reminiscent of Skyrim s tendency to always push me to look below the surface, the Death Gate Cycle universe is anything but flat. Following a cataclysmic event, earth is remade into four distinct realms, each primarily built around a single element—air, water, fire and stone. These planets feature floating continents, mysterious machines, and yes, dragons.
We again see the introduction of elves, dwarves, and men, as well as other races, but they are so defined by their geography—and the conflict this creates—that these familiar archetypes still resonate. One of my favorite images appears in the second book and deals with Pryan, the fire planet. On a world bathed in constant sunlight, endless jungle forests have grown and created an almost unimaginably thick layer of vegetation. The actual ground has become a legendary place of wingless dragons and massive caverns the dwarves carve out of moss instead of stone. Survival in this environment then becomes a compelling force that drives the narrative the story.
The Death Gate Cycle is a series to lose yourself in.
Trollhunter, directed by Andr vredal
This 2010 Norwegian film selects a piece of mythical Nordic fantasy and drops it straight into the modern age. What if there really were trolls roaming the hills and highlands of Scandinavia? What would we have to do about them? Trollhunter unveils its story in the style of a found-footage documentary. It s a good approach for the subject matter, as the film is brilliant at simulating the dread of this what-if encounter and also not taking itself too seriously.
So if you ve ever had a good read through Finn s Troll Slaying manual or maybe lived through a bad moment with one of the beasts somewhere outside Winterhold, you may crack a smile when you see how a more modern hunter tackles his troll problem. Along the way you also get a nice tour of Norway s misty valleys, dark forests, and icy plateaus.
Longswords in the 21st-century
No one talks about the combat in Skyrim in the same kind of hushed, reverent tone so many save for something like, say, Dark Souls. The game s swordplay just isn t that intricate. But Skyrim s combat still leaves me feeling great. I m a sucker for those kill-screen cinematics I guess. And with enough commitment to crafting, even one of the game s basic iron blades becomes an effective partner in all but the deadliest dungeons. The very first character I made ran around as a sort of unstable blacksmith on the hunt for the secrets to crafting Skyrim s finest greatsword.
But one thing I ve discovered recently is that I m not the only one fascinated by the potential of these archaic weapons. As you can see in the video above, the longsword is one of the central weapons in the growing practice of what are now called Historical European Martial Arts. Want to see how that dual-wield style might actually feel, well, there s a good chance you might be able to find a fencing or longsword fighting club where you could do just that. Or maybe you might want to forge your own?
"It s a total conversion for a four-year-old game, read PC Gamer US s rundown of Nehrim: At Fate s Edge, when the Oblivion mod clinched the coveted Mod of the Year award in 2010. But Nehrim is so impressive that it was a contender not just for best mod, but for best RPG. Such are the lofty standards that German hobbyist group SureAI works to, its total conversion mods feel less like add-ons or additional content indolently tacked onto games post-release, and more like entirely new releases.
Nehrim received plaudits across the board, including four separate Mod of the Year accolades from ModDB. It was praised for its detailed plot, its mature political and sociopolitical themes, and its extensive landscapes.
Enderal: The Shards of Order, SureAI s upcoming Skyrim total conversion, aims to be bigger still. Enderal is almost as big as Skyrim, Nico Lietzau, one of SureAI s team leaders, tells me. There are a lot of areas to explore. In terms of exteriors, there are different climate zones: a desert, a forest, heathlands, mountains, all with different vegetation and climates, there s a lot going on. And of course there are many, many dungeons. A mod of Skyrim quality that is almost as big as Skyrim itself. And it s out this year.
We re in good hands. SureAI has been casting its modding magic since the team s inception in 2003, when a small group of Bethesda enthusiasts came together out of a common love for the freedom and atmosphere conveyed by that publisher s sprawling sandbox worlds. Having met through the German modding community amid the fanfare surrounding Morrowind, SureAI originally consisted of two teams: one working on its debut project Myar Aranath; another on a second Arktwend. Upon completion of the first mod, the Aranath team dissolved, its members fusing with their Arktwend counterparts to move forward as a united front.
SureAI may be a hobbyist group working for free, but regimental organisation and rigorous professionalism rank just as highly with the team as the standard of the games they produce. Although inspired by and running on the engines of previous Elder Scrolls games, Myar Aranath, Arktwend, Nehrim and Enderal exist in their own extensive universe, separate from those dreamt up by Bethesda. They have their own lore, their own characters, their own political and economic infrastructures, their own intricate game systems.
The group operates along similar lines to a professional development studio. Although many of the peripheral personnel work remotely around the world, SureAI is now based in an office in Munich, which houses the ten-strong core team. Lietzau notes that in conjunction with studying game design at university, he sometimes finds himself sinking 40-60 hours of work per week into Enderal s development. And most of the team treat SureAI as their main job, even though the majority of them hold down real jobs elsewhere—most of which are in and around the games industry, but some as far afield as architecture and full-time parenting.
Myar Aranath, Arktwend, Nehrim and Enderal exist in their own extensive universe
With Enderal we started planning before 2011, before the [Skyrim] creation kit was released, explains Johannes Scheer, another of SureAI s leads, and one of its founding fathers. After Skyrim we did some pre-production, where we set the scope of the project, first drafts of the story, and features we wanted to change. We do change a lot of the gameplay, as a matter of fact, and then we just work to a rough production plan.
Features are realised one by one, to see if they re still fun to play once implemented. If they aren t, we discuss and see what we can do to make it more fun. As opposed to a normal game production, we already have assets to start building levels right away, so we can start all the departments at once. We start building the world, the quest designers start working away, and once the quest script is written they start implementing it. That goes on for a long time and we try to play it as much as we can along the way.
Enderal takes place two and a half years after the events of Nehrim, and although newcomers can expect to jump aboard with little difficulty, recurring characters and nods to its predecessors await those more familiar with the lore of the series. The aftermath of Nehrim has sunk the land into civil war, forcing the game s protagonist to flee to the isolated continent of Enderal. Very quickly, however, it becomes clear that all is not well and that a red madness has taken over the minds of Enderal s inhabitants.
The protagonist begins to have surreal and disturbing dreams in which he happens upon the theocratic Order of Enderal. He learns of Cycles —passages of civilisation which see its citizens live, prosper, and then miraculously disappear without trace. It s all very dark, but Lietzau makes clear that s it s not as black and white as it may first appear on paper. It s not as simple as putting rest to a demon army which The Order appears to represent—rather Enderal s plot is to be multi-faceted, ominous, and complex with no immediately obvious friends or foes.
What makes Enderal different from Skyrim besides this surrogate storyline? Perhaps the most obvious transformation is the mod s overhauled class system, which itself adopts a modified version of SkyUI, the community-made improvement of Bethesda s user interface. Basically the intention was to make a class system which is more traditional, but still has all the advantages of a sandbox skill system, says Lietzau. While in Skyrim you could basically skill every perk that was there, in Enderal you have nine classes and every class improves two skills. You can specialise in two, perhaps two and a half classes. That means you kind of have to commit yourself to a path, and we did this to create a sense of identity for the player.
Another significant change is the omission of Skyrim s signature Dragonshouts. Given that Enderal s protagonist is not the Dragonborn, this change is hardly surprising, but it will change the feel of the game. Special skills known as Talents stand in the place of shouts. Every class has two Talents that can be unlocked via the assigned perk tree, which allow the player greater variety in combat. In developing these, the player s combat style will ultimately reflect their class.
Levelling up in Enderal is different to Skyrim in that SureAI has completely disabled the native learning by doing protocol, instead allowing players to gain traditional experience points by killing monsters, completing quests, exploring locations, and possibly even by being witty in dialogue scenarios. Once the player has a certain number of experience points, they can level up. A single Skill Point is also provided at this stage which can be transferred to the class tree, and thus work towards buying the player new Talents.
There are also Learning Points and Craftsman Points, adds Lietzau. Learning Points can be used to advance your skills with trainers—it s a little different from the trainers in Nehrim because in Enderal you can buy books from trainers, meaning you don t have to go back every time you level up. Instead you can buy, say, five books that train your one-handed skill, but you must have the Learning Points to consume them.
A precise shot from the hero s bow ignites the oil, toasting everything in the vicinity
Players also have Craftsman Points, which operate in a similar fashion. While we thought things like speechcraft in Skyrim were hardly ever used—players tended to consider points too precious to use on things like this—in Enderal you can use your CPs to increase your crafting skills, or your speechcraft skill. I think it s also safe to say that this system makes crafting and skills like speechcraft a lot more useful.
These are major, cultured changes and it s easy to get bogged down in the finer intricacies without seeing them firsthand. To put things into context, SureAI demonstrates Talents in action. By pulling from the Trickery and Vagabond disciplines respectively, you re able to combine a flask of oil with a flame-tipped arrow, so I watch as deep within a dingy catacomb SureAI s player character smashes a jug of oil against the floor, catching an unsuspecting enemy s attention in the process. The enemy charges, only to slip on the oil spill and tumble to the ground. A precise shot from the hero s bow ignites the oil, toasting everything in the vicinity—enemy included.
This mix-and-match mentality echoes the Plasmid system of BioShock, and Lietzau assures me a vast array of combinations await keen conceptual connoisseurs. He admits that it is also possible to sneak your way through dungeons, avoiding foes whilst hugging the shadows—but when there appears to be so much scope and so much potential in this nuanced combat system, why would you not want to get your hands dirty?
My conversation with Lietzau and Scheer eventually leads me to two burning questions I have to ask. Firstly: if this is a game rooted in Skyrim, aesthetically, if nothing else, do SureAI think they ve made a better game?
Scheer laughs, almost as if he s surprised that I ve asked, but at the same time surprised that it s taken almost an hour of chatting for the question to come up. Well I d say we definitely succeeded in delivering the same standard of quality, he offers diplomatically. Enderal plays like a triple-A roleplaying game and this is something we re very proud of. In terms of if it s better—that really depends on the player. As I say, we have a different focus, the focus on the whole world just feels different. I think it s up to the players to determine if they enjoy it more or less than Skyrim but I think we definitely succeeded in making something comparable to Skyrim.
I m not surprised by the conservative response. First and foremost these guys are Skyrim fanatics, and it would be uncharacteristic for them to criticise their core inspiration. Nevertheless they re clearly very passionate about their own game. They ve worked incredibly hard on Enderal—and on all of their projects—and know that the best way to definitively answer the question one way or another is to release the game into the world and let the public decide.
This leads me on to my second question: as a hobbyist outfit working for no pay, how do they manage to work so hard, and yet stay so motivated?
It actually works pretty well for us, Lietzau says, but in general, non-commercial projects are always very hard to realise because people lose their motivation so quickly if they re not getting paid for it. If people don t depend on it, some can be really unreliable. We ve had a lot of bad experiences with people coming into the team and promising to do a lot of stuff and have then just left. We now have very complicated application procedures, so that doesn t happen too often, but it is very hard to keep people motivated.
He pauses for thought. For us it works because first of all, through the years of development, most of the people who are not committed leave anyway, so the rest remain. We re also very tight and work as a team, and we try to keep everyone—even if it s someone who has just applied—involved in the process, because it s important to feel as though you re contributing something of your own—especially when working non-commercially. This keeps people motivated for a long time.
For those familiar with Nehrim, it may come as a surprise to learn that SureAI had in fact envisioned an even more ambitious project than what came to be. Ultimately they were governed by limited time and resources. Nonetheless, Nehrim set the bar extremely high as far as total conversion mods go, not least for themselves and successor Enderal. ModDB has preemptively awarded their Skyrim conversion Best Upcoming Mod for the last three years running, all before even a sniff of a release date.
Even now that tentative 2015 date isn t nearly as specific as it could be, but given SureAI s track record, not to mention the quality of what they ve shown off so far, Enderal is almost certain to make good on it. Should this be the case, SureAI s plan is to make the jump to fullyfledged professional independent development studio.
Until then, developing a game based on Bethesda s game engine and legacy, SureAI are standing on the shoulders of giants. But they re doing so wearing a damn flashy pair of Daedric boots.
By Joe Donnelly
For more Skyrim mods, check out our round-up of 50 of the best.
Skywind is an ambitious mod that aims to recreate Morrowind in Skyrim's engine. A new update to the as-yet-unreleased project means better landscapes, new assets, new weapons and more—all of which is showcased in this new video.
Don't be fooled by the version number. 0.9.6 would normally suggest we're close to the magic 1.0. Here, that's not the case. "As goals changed," explains the trailer's description, "we realized there was so much more to do than initially thought. 0.9.5 came out in October, and there is a lengthy gap between each major update. These versions are not an accurate representation of overall progress towards a release, but instead milestones to keep track of. When we have more information on a beta or a release, we will let you know."
See more from Skywind by following this link.
Skyrim is weird place filled with ice wraiths, giant spiders, werewolves, and skeletal dragons. It could always stand to get a little weirder, though, so why not start filling the world with walking, talking, humanoid creations made of wood? You can assemble these wooden people yourself with the Craftable Followers mod.
Start by subscribing to the mod in the Steam Workshop. Once you've loaded the game, find Anise's cabin, a small shack southwest of Riverwood. Head inside, pick the lock on the cellar's trapdoor, and look for a book on Anise's table. Grab it and read it, then head back outside, where you might find Anise in a foul mood. Like a lot of uptight Skyrim citizens, she doesn't like having her home broken into.
Visit a forge: this is where you'll be building your new wooden pals. In the crafting menu, scroll down to 'Misc' to find the list, and note the necessary ingredients. You'll need firewood, of course, and often things like leather, linen wrap, wheat, some plants, and possibly a few weapons or armor, depending on who you want to build. You can chop firewood at mills, gather wheat on farms, buy leather from blacksmiths, and find linen in general stores or by killing the undead. You'll also need some soul gems, which you probably have dozens of anyway.
Once you've got the goods, build someone. They'll appear in your inventory as a scroll, so select it, use it, and presto! You've got a new best friend. You can craft bards, merchants, farmers, mages, or warriors. You can build a trainer as well, and while they can't personally teach you anything they can at least sell you a selection of skill books.
If you plan to build more than one wooden ally, I'd suggest starting with a crafted lumberjack. He carries around 1,000 pieces of firewood, so if you build him first you won't have to do any more chopping. It's a little ghastly: from his perspective he's essentially carrying around a bunch of dismembered limbs, but he seems fine with it, so why should you object?
If you want to get even weirder, you can craft a wooden bride or groom and get married, though I'd be mindful of splinters on your wedding night. And, if the sight of your creaking creations walking around makes you wish your own body was made of wood instead of boring old flesh and blood, no worries. By starting a new character (or using the 'showracemenu' console command) you can actually play as a member of the Manakin race, as the mod calls them.
Talk to one of your creations, and you'll get the same options as when you talk to any of Skyrim's followers. You can invite them to come with you, dismiss them, or have them hang around a particular spot waiting for you. Keep this in mind while dragging them off to fight monsters: your new pal is made of wood, which comes with a natural weakness to fire. On the plus side, they're immune to poison and disease, and don't need to worry about breathing during extended underwater dives.
I spotted this mod on Kotaku. Thanks, Kotaku!
Morrowind-in-Skyrim remake mod Skywind is continuing its long "look don't touch" trailer campaign. Previously we've seen such exotic locations as Bitter Coast and West Gash, and also had 13 minutes of general gadding about. Now? Sheogorad: home of dirt, rocks and mushroom trees.
Sure, it's a little bit drab this time—but that's just the region. In fact, Skywind's creators have made a bunch of new assets for Sheogorad's various surfaces in order to make it stand out from the land's other regions.
Skywind is likely one of the biggest, most ambitious Skyrim mod projects around at the moment—alongside Enderal. Here's hoping we'll get to do more than just look before the year is out.
Valve's Source Filmmaker is regularly used to parody Team Fortress 2. Here, instead, it's being used to accurately (and stylishly) portray an entirely different game. With the help of TF2's Heavy, and taking a mere 24 seconds, here is Skyrim in a nutshell.
The short was created by Ferhod, who previously made the Saxxy 2014 winning TF2 film Animation vs. Animator.
Dec 25, 2014
The good news is, I'm doing great on time. I'm about a third of the way through my trip to deliver presents to every NPC household in Skyrim (read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here) and I've only burned about an hour and a half. I should be able to wrap this up by midnight. But then, there's Riften.
Better Not Pout
Typically, when I break into someone's home, I get a few stern warnings before they call the guards. Not so at Snow-Shod Farm outside Riften. I let myself in and Leonara Arus immediately draws a dagger and attacks. Outside, some Riften guards do likewise. I take off, but Rudolph crashes into the river, leading to a serious reindeer malfunction.
That's how I arrive in Riften: already wanted by the cops and running in place on a magical reindeer's back. It takes long minutes to make my way through the city, with guards in pursuit, hacking at my body and blocking every single doorway. Eventually, I spot one building in Skyrim desperately in need of a little Christmas cheer: Honorhall Orphanage.
I know this experiment is a goof, but I thought visiting the orphans on Christmas Eve and giving them presents might be, I dunno, a genuinely nice little moment? Well, it's not. Imagine, just for a minute, being an orphan in Skyrim. Your headmistress, Grelod, is in the process of calling you names and telling you you'll never be adopted. Suddenly, the door crashes open and someone sort of dressed like Santa Claus bursts into the room. He's filled with arrows and covered with blood, and there are a dozen soldiers stabbing him in the back as he forces his way through the crowd, dropping pieces of armor and enchanted weapons on your beds.
Santa, apparently exasperated by the ordeal, suddenly whips out a giant two-handed sword and starts hacking away at Grelod, probably thinking to himself, "Might as well do some good while I'm here." He kills her, slashes in anger at a few guards, and flees, leaving behind a dead headmaster, an odd collection of gifts, a bloodstained floor, and a collection of horribly traumatized orphans. Merry Christmas, everyone!
Finally, I flee from Riften, not knowing who I delivered to and who I missed. I no longer care. It's time to fly.
I'm glad that unpleasantness is over with. How about some new unpleasantness, then?
The dragon, ultimately, isn't a huge deal. It can't really drain my extensive hit points, and while it follows me for a good long while, I eventually duck into a home near a mill, and when I emerge, it's gone. I hit another orc stronghold, some farms, and finally reach Windhelm.
The frosty city is wonderfully peaceful. Now that its a bit later, a lot of people are actually sleeping and almost no one is on the street. A give a beggar a coin, a beggar I once considered marrying in another life. I actually make it all the way through the city without triggering the guards and any real animosity from anyone.
Be Good For Goodness' Sake
More stops at mills, and then make my way to Winterhold, which is also uneventful (I can't access the college, however). Next, I visit Frostflow Lighthouse, and let myself in. Then I quickly let myself back out. Santa didn't see nothin'.
At Dawnstar I visit the Dark Brotherhood sanctuary, though the evil door won't let me in so I just drop some coal for those naughty assassins. In Dawnstar proper, I somehow anger a citizen named Hroggar, who follows me from house to house through the entire town, whacking me on the back with his axe. No one else gets ruffled, though: even the guards don't care. It's only 10:35 p.m., so clearly I'm not in a race against the clock. Why not take a little me-time and murder this Hroggar a-hole? I select a gift from my pack, a giant two-handed sword, and cut him down. I take his axe as a potential present, and leave.
Finally, I reach Whiterun, my final stop. I dash in and out of the surrounding farms and mills without issue, and even get through the first few stores in peace. Then I meet Lars Battle Born, who shall forever now be known as The Jerk Kid Who Ruined Whiterun Christmas. He starts warning me, immediately, that I need to get out of his house, despite the fact that I've very nicely dropped a potion of True Shot on his bed. What little boy wouldn't want his bow to do 20% more damage for 60 seconds? He also seems completely unimpressed when, a moment later, I (accidentally) summon Rudolph in his house.
Unimpressed by the appearance of a magical reindeer, the Battle Born kid calls the guards, and I'm back to shouldering my way through crowds of swords and arrows as I make my deliveries. Eventually, I make my way to Dragonsreach. Lydia is there, and is nice enough to fight the guards for me while I stagger around dropping presents.
In the hall, I snatch a bunch of Santa hats from the barrel and put one on. It took all night, but I finally feel like Santa again! My final stop is the bedroom of Jarl Balgrull, where I sarcastically deposit a spare Santa hat on his pillow while he rouses from slumber. Remember me, Jarl. Remember the hat. That's my calling card. And I'll be back. Santa will be back... for you.
I'm officially calling an end to Christmas. I burst onto the Dragon Porch, summon Rudolph, and take off, circling back for one more angry pass over the heads of those anti-Santas. It's 10:56 p.m. I know I probably missed a ton of NPCs amidst the crowds of guards, but I did the best job a I could. I may not be the best Santa, but I'm the Santa Skyrim deserves.
Happy holidays! And remember, if you see Santa this Christmas, please don't summon the guards.
Dec 24, 2014
It's the 24th of Evening Star, Skyrim's version of December. As I stand at the North Pole (Septimus Signus's Outpost, the north-iest point I could find), 7:59 clicks over to 8:00 p.m. It's time to deliver a present to every NPC household in Skyrim. (Confused? See Part 1.)
Coming to Town
I hop on Rudolph's back, then hop back off. I know I decided not to deliver to caves, but Septimus Signus is, like, right here. I run into his ice cave where he's pacing around. He looks cold. He doesn't even have a bed. I drop him a bear pelt.
Then I'm off for real! I hop onto Rudolph and fly my way to my first real stop: Solitude Lighthouse, home of an NPC called Ma'zaka. Ma'zaka's door is locked, but my new Knock spell works perfectly, and at 8:03 p.m., I break in. He's standing right inside the door and immediately warns me: "You're not supposed to be here." After stumbling around for a moment, I find his bedroom in the back, and drop a Amulet of Dibella on the floor next to his bed.
"Last warning," he says. "Leave. Now." Well, merry Christmas to you too, jerk.
I head to the Thalmor Embassy. Along the way, I begin to discover a few of Rudolph's flaws, namely, that when he collides with something, like a mountain or an invisible wall at the edge of the map, he plummets to the ground. Also, when I climb off his back, I sometimes continue to fly on my own. Trying to open doors when you're hovering eight feet above them is tricky.
Another problem: the Thalmor Embassy is locked, and needs its own key. My Knock spell can't open locks that can't normally be picked. Oh well. I drop an Amulet of Kynareth at the feet of the Thalmor Wizard guarding the entrance. "Just leave your refuse wherever you see fit!" she spits sarcastically at me. Ho-kay. I'm not really feeling the Christmas spirit so far. I'm off to Solitude.
I deliver gifts to the residents of The Winking Skeever, the city's inn, and magically pick the lock of Radiant Raiment. I crash around looking for the owner's bedroom while she issues warnings to me to leave. Before I can navigate my way out of her home, she starts yelling. "Guards! Help! Tresspasser!" That's when Christmas officially gets messy.
Outside, the guards try to arrest me, and I flee into Angeline's Aromatics. They follow as I run upstairs and drop some trinkets near the bed, then they block the stairs as I try to leave, while Angeline chants "You need to leave. You need to leave." I finally manage to maneuver past the guards and back onto the street. I make it into Bits and Pieces, leave an enchanted axe on the bed, and run into a massive crowd of guards by the door. There are so many soldiers I can't force my way past them. As Santa, I've only played the main quest as far as Dragonsreach, so I don't have a Fus Roh Ho Ho Ho Dah shout to blast them out of my way. I'm stuck! Desperate, I summon Rudolph, whose giant fat butt creates enough of a gap in the guards for me to squeeze through to the door.
There are now a dozen guards after me. After a few more quick deliveries to the remaining stores, my Santa speed takes me to the other end of the city quickly enough for the guards to lose sight of me, and I get to make a few deliveries in relative peace. I hit a few homes, drop a ton of loot in the extensive Bard's College, and visit Styrr in the Hall of the Dead, all without incident.
And I In My Cap
Then I head to the Blue Palace, where the guards immediately attempt an arrest again. Unfortunately, this time I accidentally pick the "Pay my bounty" option. This means they confiscate any stolen goods I've got. I've bought all my gifts legitimately, but I do have one stolen item: my Santa hat, since I "stole" it from the barrel in Dragonsreach. They unceremoniously strip it from me. My Santa hat! My festive lid! Gone! I'm deeply upset.
My giving mood has been spiked, and I start leaving charcoal for everyone else in Solitude. I'm pleased to see that charcoal comes in sticks, and those sticks look like poo, which feels fitting for these ungrateful citizens. Outside the city, even Rudolph isn't feeling cooperative: when I summon him, he appears on a ledge out of reach. I leave him there and run to the stables and farms outside Solitude on foot.
I then fly off to Mor Khazgur, an orc stronghold. We arrive with Rudolph sporting an arrow in his face due to us passing too close to a few angry bandits with no Christmas cheer but plenty of good aim.
The orcs are not thrilled to see me bursting into their longhouse and crashing around, dropping loot by their beds, but despite several stern threats they never get violent. A half-hour into my trip, I visit Dragon Bridge, then arrive in Falkreath at 8:40. They welcome me with open arms. Open arms that shoot flames and ice bolts. Someone even summons a ghost dog to attack me. Does real Santa have to put up with this crap?
I've hated Falkreath even before tonight: it sports a confusing multi-level layout that makes it hard to find doors that you can see on the map. Now I've also come to hate its easily-angered residents. Still, by 8:52, we're out of there, having either visited everyone or perhaps gotten sick of trying to visit everyone while surrounded by angry guards and wizards. Rudolph is having major problems by this point, crashing to earth every few seconds while in flight, meaning we're constantly being attacked on the ground by Forsworn, bandits, wolves, and sabre cats. No one seems happy to see Santa tonight!
Well, the first leg of my trip didn't go well. But at least that means things can't go worse, right?
Things go worse. Next time, on Serial. Continue to Part 3.
Dec 23, 2014
Let's skip the requisite preamble paragraph and get right to it. Here's the plan: in Skyrim, I'm going to use mods and console commands to transform my character into Santa Claus. Then I'm going to deliver gifts to every single NPC household in Skyrim. And I'm going to do it in a single night.
Making a List
As an aspiring Santa in Skyrim, I face a few challenges. First, a heavy workload. Even a quick glance at the Elder Scrolls wiki shows 115 NPC homes, and I strongly suspect there are more. For instance, the owners of stores often live in rooms above their shops, not in separate homes, so those aren't listed on that page. Cities have castles and palaces stuffed with NPCs who actually live there. There are orc strongholds, two Dark Brotherhood sanctuaries, a few mills that aren't listed, a couple lighthouses, and so on.
For sanity's sake, I'm going to define NPCs as characters who have actual names. I don't plan to do forts or towers, for example: bandits, while naughty and deserving of coal, typically aren't named, and thus can't be on Santa's list. Same with guard barracks: guards are just guards, they have no outside lives that I'm aware of, other than gently mocking passing heroes. No caves, either: while there are some named NPCs living in caves, they're not getting presents because, look: don't live in a cave, okay? Shacks, typically, are inhabited by monsters, or dead bodies, or no one, so I'm skipping those as well. Following those guidelines, I've come up with my general route.
Now, to look a bit closer at the details. Just by examining the city of Solitude and making notes, I've counted up 76 NPCs who need presents. Granted, many of them share lodgings, so I should be able to dump presents for entire families in a matter of moments, but that's still a lot of individual stops. More than I had really thought there would be.
Which means I really need to do something about the duration of Christmas Eve. First of all, vanilla night is not nearly long enough: the day/night cycle in Skyrim is set at 20:1, where every minute of real-time equals 20 minutes of in-game time. Using the console command 'set timescale to 1' makes the passage of time in Skyrim identical to real-time. Provided I start at 8:00 p.m., and plan to be done by 8:00 a.m., that should give me enough time for the trip.
The Santa Skyrim Deserves
Quick! Before I decide this is a terrible idea, let's turn me into Santa. Using a new character, I begin by getting in the mood with a little santa cosplay. I found this Santa hat mod, which places a Santa hat (actually, 1000 of them) in a barrel inside Dragonsreach. That's a good start. I also avail myself of a bright red Santa coat with another mod.
As magical as Santa is, I'm still going to refrain from using fast-travel, but I'll make up for it by traveling fast. I use the console code 'player.forceav speedmult' and set it to 800 (the normal movement speed is 100). That makes me fast. Real fast. A test run, however, gives me a new problem.
As you can see, whooshing around Skyrim like Quicksilver means I can very easily fling myself off a cliff and die from the impact. I'm tempted to just use God mode —Santa is of course immortal—but being immortal, in my mind, doesn't mean you can't be killed, just that you won't die naturally from aging. So, I just boost my health to 10,000 using another console code. I also lower my speed back down to 200: that will keep me fleet but I'll still be able to stop easily enough to open doors.
Speaking of doors: how will I get into all of those homes? It's not like I'm going to skulk through the world pick-pocketing the house keys off every single NPC in advance (though, note to self, I should do that sometime). I sure as hell don't want to play the lock-picking mini-game all night. So, I'll do it the same way a morbidly obese elf traditionally fits down a chimney: with magic. I find it a little lame that Skyrim doesn't have a simple Knock spell, which should reside in every magician's bag of tricks, but as with everything, there's a mod for that. This mod lets me cast an Open Lock spell and then crack open a door in short order.
Now that I dash from door to door, and open those doors without lockpicks or keys, there's the question of quickly getting between towns and cities. That's where Rudolph comes in, via another mod. I can summon him with a spell, hop on his back, and fly through the air. Perfect! I also increase his movement speed with another console cheat.
Another issue pops up. If I'm doing this at nighttime, when everyone is at home all snug in their beds in their kerchiefs, caps, and full plate armor, it's going to be dark, possibly very dark. Not only will this make it tough for me to find my way around, but it's going to make for some terrible screenshots. Thankfully, yet another mod gives me a spell to control the weather, including changing it to Sovngarde conditions, which are bright and magical and even shower down little sparkles that look like snow. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! I also install a lovely UI mod to help me keep track of the time on-screen. It adds a widget that displays the current time, including a little graphic showing the moon in the sky. Perfect.
Next, I mull over my gift options. It would be in keeping with tradition to actually craft the presents, but I don't want to spend hours standing at a forge, and I don't have an army of unpaid elves to do it for me. So, I rush around to every store in Skyrim, buying the best in armor, weapons, clothing, potions, ingots, and jewelry. I also acquire some charcoal in case I come across anyone naughty. Naturally, to carry all this loot I need to increase my carryweight ('player.setav carryweight 10000' oughta do it).
Okay! I'm ready to spend the night breaking into people's homes all over Skyrim. What could go wrong?
Next time: a bunch of things go wrong. Continue to Part 2.
Dec 12, 2014
Enderal is the Skyrim-based sequel to top Oblivion mod Nehrim: At Fate's Edge. It occupies a similar space of disbelief in my mind, too. Normally, I would never assume a total conversion of this size and scope could ever make it to release. But then, I thought the same about Nehrim and that did come out—despite what years of watching big mods get dragged down by drama has taught me.
Can Enderal be similarly real? The mod's makers not only think so, but think it'll happen next year. As proof of their intentions, they've released a trailer filled with scenes and environments from the game. It certainly looks like it exists.
For more on Enderal, head over to its ModDB page.