Anthony "Tony" Magestro--or known on the field of battle as Metzge--is an avid writer, gamer, and entrepreneur. When he's not writing, gaming, or entrepreneuring, he enjoys cooking, trippy movies, and trying to be awesome to varying degrees of success. Feel free to check out his LinkedIn page, especially if you need freelance help with content writing or digital marketing. Or just like to network, that's fine too.
It isn’t news that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one of the best RPGs of recent years, redefining what it means to create a truly immersive sandbox experience. From the vastness of Tamriel’s northern province, its forests and mountains, dungeons and caves, to the debut of the Radiance engine that allows NPCs to live their lives semi-autonomously and generate a virtually limitless amount of side quests from the consequences of their actions (i.e. the Jarl of the local hold needs to clear out bandits that have recently set up camp in an old ruin), this entry of The Elder Scrolls series was one to behold by series veterans and passionate RPG gamers alike.
One of the best features that Skyrim has to offer is its flexibility and open-source policy, allowing users to easily create their own mods to upload to either Nexus or Steam Workshop. If I’m honest, I cannot even remember what vanilla Skyrim is like anymore. Personally, I have 92 different mods installed to my own game, mostly consisting of either texture packs or immersion mods. That said, here are a few mods you should check out. I can’t necessarily say they’re some of the best (the sheer number of mods available and individual player preferences makes it difficult to make these assertions anyway), but I couldn’t imagine playing the game without them now that I’ve had the chance to use them.
Enhanced Blood Textures
If you’re like me and found the stock amount of blood a little lacking, the Enhanced Blood Textures mod by BakaKemono will satiate your lust for the sticky red stuff. The mod is pretty straightforward: make combat more gruesome with the addition of more blood. Specifically? If someone (either you or an enemy) has been damaged or has low health, you’ll slowly drip blood as you walk (making it easier to track prey if you’re hunting and managed to wound your quarry). “What if your opponent doesn’t bleed and is actually a machine or perhaps, something that doesn’t bleed red?” It’s okay, curious user; spiders and crabs will bleed green and machinations such as old Dwemer constructs will leak oil.
Better Combat AI
Much like its name implies, the Better Combat AI mod by joop makes your enemies a little bit more crafty. Actually, a lot more crafty. Instead of just spamming basic attacks, NPC combat behavior is markedly more intelligent. For example, the AI better responds to opportunity, like if their enemy is blocking or staggered, they’ll go in for a power attack; if they’re armed with a shield, they’ll bash or try to throw their opponent off balance. If they’re in a group, they act more aggressive, or if they can’t get an angle on you, they’ll attempt to circle and find a weak spot.
The mod also adds a number of different combat styles to add immersion and a sense of realism. Wolves will circle their target and strike quickly, retreating back and then circling around again in packs, and farmers will be a lot easier to take out than, say, an Imperial soldier. Though it makes combat more difficult, it adds a level of strategy and urgency to your fight, managing stamina and trying to keep yourself from being flanked.
If it’s one thing that I found a pain in the ass, it was Skyrim‘s stock inventory system. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way and so, SkyUI was born! Created by snakster and a collaboration of others, SkyUI organizes quite a few menus, namely your inventory and favorites menu, but also including the map, magic, and shop and container menus.
SkyUI does rely on the Skyrim Script Extender (or SKSE), which you can download here.
Sounds of Skyrim
One of the aspects of gaming that sometimes goes unnoticed is the ambient sounds that help immerse players in the worlds they find themselves in. Sure, breathtaking, photorealistic visuals can blur the lines between the virtual and physical worlds, but the effect isn’t complete without a natural “soundtrack” if you will. That’s where the Sounds of Skyrim come into play, a collection of sound packs that help flesh out that final piece that makes Skyrim come to life.
Creator Cliffworms has assembled literal hundreds of sounds into three packs: Dungeons, Wilds, and Civilization. For example, dungeons riddled with spiders will feature the sounds of chittering mandibles echoing off the stone walls, or water slowly dripping from the ceiling. Forests will have wolves howling in the distance, or birds chirping. Towns and villages will be filled with a symphony of noises, like busy marketplaces, children playing, dogs barking, and the blacksmith hammering away at his latest piece of armor.
If you have high quality headphones or a surround sound stereo system, all you need is a fan, and cooling your room to about 65 degrees (plus an Oculus Rift), and you can happily retire to Skyrim, throwing off the shackles of MeatSpace for good (seriously, this sound pack is insane).
Spend Dragon Souls For Perks
After killing your first dragon, going after those big f**kers becomes more of a chore than something you’d happily do for the sake of experience or questing. The rewards versus the risk seem rather meager, especially with the aforementioned Better Combat AI mod that makes dragons especially dangerous. However, DarkSeraphim85’s Spend Dragon Souls For Perks rectifies this economic imbalance by allowing players to spend dragon souls on character perks, instead of just waiting to level up to become more powerful.
After you install the mod, you’ll find a set of three stones outside of Riverwood that serve as an interactive menu to spend those souls, as well as the rules to spend them. As of version 3.0, SPSFP is compatible with other mods that add their own custom perks, which makes this mod even more valuable to players who want a secondary route to beef up their avatar.
Immersive Saturation Boost
There are some impressive texture mods out on Nexus and Steam Workshop, however not all of them will run on every computer. In fact, a lot of those mods (especially the hyper-realistic ones), might melt your computer if you’re not careful. Okay, maybe not that extreme, but it definitely won’t be fun to play with an FPS of 5. Immersive Saturation Boost (and its sister mod, Immersive Contrast Boost) by Aplestormy makes quite a big impact on visual presentation with no performance loss.
Without affecting lighting, ISB effectively doubles color saturation and nullifies any “washed out” visuals that the stock game has. This, in turn, creates vibrant scenery and cityscapes and is compatible with tons of other lighting and texture mods. However, the Immersive Saturation Boost and Immersive Contrast Boost are incompatible, so you’ll have to choose one. Reason being is that doubling both contrast and saturation would make the game very difficult to look at, though each on its own gives a unique twist to your perspective while adventuring through the forests and caverns of Skyrim.
Here are some examples:
Imp’s More Complex Needs
For the survival enthusiast, Imp’s More Complex Needs adds features reminiscent to Fallout: New Vegas‘ Hardcore mode. By adding thirst, hunger, and sleep, along with other modifiers such as alcohol and skooma intoxication, food poisoning, and spoilage, Imp of the Perverse has made it possible for even the mighty Dragonborn to be a mortal requiring water and sustenance.
Though tedious at times, affecting strength, carrying capacity, movement, and even vision, this mod adds a whole new level of strategy and tactical worth to food. By keeping a few minor provisions on hand, not only does it take up space in your inventory, but you also need to regularly maintain yourself to remain in peak form. For those of you like me who sometimes like to roleplay your character, I find myself visiting inns and taverns more often than not, either buying food, or at least ingredients to prepare my own. Hunting and foraging become a necessity, and finding a place to curl up after being awake for a long time isn’t always the easiest, especially while dungeon crawling.
Of course, like a good boy (or girl) scout, you should always be prepared! And if you have the option enabled to allow yourself to die from hunger, thirst, or sleep deprivation, a lack of preparedness can cost you dearly.
The Dance of Death – A Killmoves Mod
If you have SkyUI and SKSE installed, you can enjoy Daedalus A.I.’s The Dance of Death – A Killmoves Mod… mod. Focusing on combat, this mod allows you to configure how often special kill moves are triggered, whether or not they can be triggered on you, and what perspective to have (i.e. locked in first person, third person, or a random mix between the two). Coupled with Better Combat AI, swordplay becomes a literal dance of death as you cinematically hack and slash through enemies.
Beating up rascally bandits has always been fun, but it never looked so good, especially if you have the blood and texture mods I’ve mentioned earlier. Trust me, upper cutting some highwayman in the throat with your sword, watching blood gush out and trailing from the tip of your blade as his body flips and lands on the ground never gets old.
Random Alternate Start
Tired of starting an Elder Scrolls game as a prisoner, paying for some unknown sins your character haplessly committed prior to you taking control? Random Alternate Start alleviates your woes by rolling the dice of fate to give your character a new chance to thrive as a Dragonborn of alternative origins. Syclonix’s mod gives you over 20 different class loadouts to choose from and then spits you out somewhere randomly in Skyrim. Currently, there’s roughly 463 starting locations, ranging from in the middle of a friendly town to the bottom of a zombie infested barrow.
Though the vanilla start ties directly into the main storyline, you can pick up the beginning by traveling to Helgen and finding it already in ruins, prompting you to investigate further. Aside from other alternate start mods, RAS is compatible with all other mods, so don’t be afraid to give yourself a new chance at life.
Character Creation Overhaul
Though I understand the intent to leave Skyrim classless was to give the player more freedom to create their own character, unburdened by labels, I did miss the class system of yesteryear in previous titles that helped me start on the right foot to developing my character the way I wanted to. Also by Syclonix, the Character Creation Overhaul collection brings back birthsigns, specializations, favored attributes, major and minor skills, and classes to Skyrim.
A few other modules exist, allowing each race and gender to have their own special skill sets and abilities, both passive and active. For example, a male Orc warrior can carry more than a female High Elf sorceress, though the High Elf would have a larger Magicka pool to start out with.
All 21 classes from Oblivion have been remade in this mod and if none of them suit you, you can always create your own class! Coupled with Random Alternate Start, no adventure will be the same, as no adventurer will be the same. Plus, it’s retroactive, meaning that you can apply a class and birthsign to existing characters prior to the mod’s installation.