By guest columnist Rich Kuhaupt.
The land is in chaos; civil war has begun, vampires and werewolves roam the cities and countryside unchecked, bandits lie in wait for unsuspecting travelers, frostbite spiders, draugr, daedra, hagravens, giants, and rogue mages are everywhere, and now dragons have returned! The time has come to return to Tamriel and save Skyrim.
This past October, Bethesda Softworks released their remastered RPG “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition” for the PS4 and Xbox One consoles, and while it may not have contained all the changes and upgrades some fans were hoping for, it’s more than worthy of addition to any RPG fans’ PS4 or XB1 library.
At first glance it may not appear that much has changed about the game; everything familiar to players of the original will find characters still have a gritty, rough complexion and construction paper hair, structures and objects can still exhibit a certain blockiness to the meshes and uneven shaders, and no new content (other than the inclusion of the DLCs: Dawnguard, Hearthfire, and Dragonborn). The best non-change is the incredibly epic soundtrack, which never gets old.
Noticeable changes are to the visuals of the game, courtesy of the move from 32-bit to 64-bit, meaning details are sharper, load times are shorter, and gameplay is nearly bug free. Additional enhancements include volumetric god rays, dynamic depth of field, new water and snow shaders, and screen-space reflections. (Even after looking for a definition of screen-space reflections on wikipedia, an easy explanation is nearly impossible as it was all written in developer speak… an offshoot of Star Trek technobabble.) The point is it creates a game that’s richer and crisper in form and detail.
Who knew: The map of Skyrim is a real-time display. It’s possible to notice a dragon fire attack in progress as a bright dot on the map.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about this remastered Skyrim is the addition of mods for Xbox One and PS4 consoles. Many of the PC mods originally made for Skyrim over the past 5 years are being updated for SSE and uploaded to Bethesda.net for consoles. To download and use mods simply create an account (which is free) to view and download available mods via Bethesda’s website or in console. Mods viewed on Bethesda.net can be viewed by format, filtered by category and added and/or downloaded to the console’s account library. Mods can be viewed and downloaded on consoles by category only but is also where players set the mod load order.
Xbox One owners have a limit of 5GB for mods while PS4 owners are limited to 1GB total for mods. The selection of mods on the PS4 is not as extensive as XB1 due to Sony’s policy of not allowing external assets as part of any mod. Basically, no custom additions such as new NPCs new structures. All assets used in PS4 mods come from the vanilla game. On the plus side, PS4 mods rarely run above 1MB so that 1GB limit doesn’t seem so small. Before downloading a mod, make sure to read the description and take note of any potential conflicts with other mods and if the mod requires a specific load order. When two mods attempt to change the same asset or behavior in the game, the mod closest to the bottom of the load order overwrites any mod above it.
There are currently thousands of mods on Bethesda.net for the XB1, and PS4 with new mods and updates to existing mods appearing daily (PC mods can be found at nexus.com). The variety and types of mods cover virtually every aspect of SSE which greatly expands it’s playability. Players can tailor the game to suit their vision of Skyrim with unique weapons and armor, lush landscapes, realistic weather, and updates to existing structures as well as new towns, player homes and quests. NPC and follower mods are popular and prolific and cover the gamut from simple visual updates to unique followers with original voice acting and dialog, including fully voiced animal followers. Additions to the number of spells, mods for immersion aficionados, god powers, and no small amount of just plain silly mods. With so many offerings, players should always find Skyrim fresh and new with every playthrough.
Listed below are some of the most currently popular and favorited mods. Occasionally, mod authors will remove a mod from Bethesda.net but as long as a mod is not deleted from the console library a player can continue to use that mod.
Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch [Arthmoor] — The team of developers of this mod are constantly updating this patch that hopes to fix every quest, gameplay, NPC, item, placement, and text bug in Skyrim special Edition. It smooths out an already polished game making this choice a no-brainer.
True Storms [fadingsignal] – This mod improves and adds variety to Skyrim’s vanilla storms including immersive sound and visual effects. The mod is not compatible with the more expansive Vivid Weathers.
Vivid Weathers Special Edition [Mangaclub] – While True Storms specifically changes storms in Skyrim, Vivid Weathers changes virtually every weather pattern and type in game. Players dedicated to an immersive playthrough should consider this mod essential.
Skyland – A Landscape Texture Overhaul [johnrose81] – Skyland updates the landscape in select areas (with updates to other areas continually uploaded) with improved hi-res textures and is compatible with other mods.
Gregorian Skyrim Calendar [drugsareinit] – A simple mod that converts the names of months and days in Skyrim to the familiar Gregorian names we use today. For example Sun’s Dawn becomes January and Loredas becomes Saturday. Genius.
Levelers Tower [WillieSea] – This Tower just outside of Helgen is your one stop shop for auto-sort organizing, storing, and selling of all the loot a player accumulates in their travels through Skyrim. An enormous interior with every crafting station, living quarters, garden room, display museum, battle arena, great library, a mining camp that never runs out of ore, and much more. Bards, guards, and merchants included.
Cheat Room [Bradenm1] – Pure cheating at it’s finest with vast amounts of resources and crafting materials. A character editing station as well as every other crafting station adds to the laundry list of features. A very convenient spell teleports the player from any location in Skyrim to the Cheat Room and back again. There are few, if any, mods that offer as much as Cheat Room in pure cheatiness.
Easy Lockpicking [FrJeemanade] – After a few playthroughs, picking locks can become an unbearably tedious task. This mod expands the sweet spot of every lock, no matter the difficulty or lockpick position.
Ultimate Amulet of Akatosh [Drakon] – Increases Carry weight to10,000,. Shout, Magika, and Stamina refresh rate plus 10,000%
Superhuman Jumping [Jesric]- Jumping, like a superhuman. Flavors include 2X, 3X, 5X, and 50X. The mod author warns against using 50X in interior spaces. It can cause… problems.
Nhuk, Nhuk, Nhuk
Silent Dogs [fadedshadow589] – Just as in real life, dogs non-stop barking in Skyrim is annoying Unlike the real world, you can do something about it with this mod. It removes the incessant idle barking but leaves the animation untouched so you see the dog barking but don’t hear him. That always makes me giggle. And fortunately, barking in combat remains intact.
Death Apple [Trainwiz] – Exactly as the name implies; a simple apple that can instantly kill anyone it touches (except you, of course). Because it’s not an arrow or sword or spell it’s a bit unwieldy and can cause Three Stooges like dominoes of death. Diabolical.
Aqua Teens [MurdermiesteR] – A mod that changes armor to faithful reproductions of Frylock and Master Shake.
Kissing – Immersive Lovers Comfort [flexcreator] – I know what you’re thinking; how can a kissing mode be funny. It becomes hilarious when it’s driven by the game physics and not an animation asset. Setting the mod to Unrestricted allows you to kiss anyone verses just your spouse as the default. Any kiss starts normally enough but then devolves into something out of the Matrix as you and your kissee slowly float and spiral in the air until the screen fades to black. You return finding yourself on the floor wondering what happened.
Just Do It – Shout Replacer [LaserLemon] – As Dragonborn you are able to wield the power of the Thu’um or Shout, a set of three words in the dragon language that give you incredible powers. One of the first complete Shouts you learn is Unrelenting Force. When you shout Fus-Ro-Dah, enemies are sent flying away from you. This mods replaces Fus-Ro-Dah with an audio clip of Shia Labeouf shouting “Just Do It”. It brings a little Michael Bay style to Skyrim.
The Basket: Special Edition [adrianrostas] – Adds a basket on the bridge of Valthiem Towers. That’s all. Just a basket. On a bridge.
iNeed [isoku] – Food, water, and sleep. These become essential with this mod where you must eat, drink, and sleep regularly or suffer debuffs which affect your health and performance stats. The types of food and where the player acquires water as well as where the player sleeps determines the level of boost (or buff) provided. Consistency is key and further increases buff bonuses. Well integrated and lore friendly, this mod is rich in features and variety that can only enhance an immersive playthrough.
Campfire: Complete Camping System [Chesko]
Frostfall [Chesko] – These two mods work together in presenting how hazardous Skyrim can be to the unprepared and are must-haves for any immersion playthrough. Frostfall’s main elements are centered around hypothermia, cold water survival., and camping (which is where the Campfire mod comes in to play). Differing levels of customization allow the player to find their own comfort zone of immersive gameplay. Frostfall takes input from location, weather, time of day, clothing and armor equipped to determine the affects on the player.
The highly-rated Campfire: Complete Camping System is one of those mods that integrates so seemlessly with SSE that it’s easy to forget it isn’t part of the original game. Build tents, bedrolls, campfires of varying sizes, tanning station, portable enchanting station, cooking pot and more. Added are Survival Skills of Resourcefulness, which gives a small XP boost for building and crafting, and Instincts which aids in hunting. Highly recommended for any playthrough, immersive or not. Note: Campfire is the base mod for Frostfall. It can run without the Frosfall mod installed, but Frostfall requires Campfire to work.
Open Cities [Arthmoor] – A straight forward mod that does one thing; removes load screens from the city gates in Skyrim. The instructions for installing and setting up this mod are fairly specific so pay attention to them. Considered essential by immersion players and those that have a special hatred of load screens.
PC gamers have enjoyed the benefits of mods for years and now console gamers are joining them in designing the Skyrim that is unique to each player. Mods are extending game play and creating playthroughs that never seem stale or repetitive. Arguably more than VR, mods are literally and figuratively a game changer for Skyrim and Bethesda. It’s exciting to think that, with Skyrim’s mods’ success, other developers may start looking for ways to enable the use of mods within their own intellectual properties.
Rich Kuhaupt is an artist, a writer, and a gamer. Go say hi at @richzilla_blue.