I played Skyrim for two-hundred hours when it first came out. YOLO!
Even after all that, I still haven’t done everything in the game. Countless side and main quests remain unquested, shouts remain unshouted, and useless trinkets and wheels of goat cheese remain unstolen.
Fact is, we didn’t need the modding community to create a ton of new items, weapons, and campaigns to make Skyrim unbeatable. I know this. Bethesda knows this. Boromir “One does not simply…” memes everywhere know this. Nonetheless, after two-hundred hours, you fall into a bit of a rut. The game begins losing its mystique—not its addictiveness, mind you. But that feeling you had when you first opened your eyes on that horse-drawn cart with Ulfric Stormloack and that thief from Rorikstead who gets shot in the back? Gone. DLC content and modding expanded and enhanced the experience, yes, but how do we truly regain that sense of larger-than-life adventure Skyrim first birthed in our nerdy little hearts?
You change how you play the game.
A Philosophy of Skyrim
There are complete conversions of Skyrim already available, the most notable being the sublime Frostfall. Frostfall essentially creates a game mechanic where weather, hunger, and thirst adversely impact your character to the extent that if you don’t find shelter, food, and rest, you’ll not only experience stat penalties, but eventually die. Frostfall forces you to be not just an adventurer, but a survivalist. Traveling to Windhelm or Winterhold by foot is a much different experience when you have to take hunger, thirst, precipitation, and the outside temperature into account.
This article is not about Frostfall—though by all means, try it—but rather a list of mods I’ve assembled and a method of playing the game that will provide you a new and refreshing Skyrim experience. My original goal with this method was to combine a series of mods with some self-restrictions to change the way I played Skyrim. I was inspired to do this in consideration of all the campsites in the game.
“All the campsites? Whuuu?”
Think about it. There are a lot of campsites in Skyrim. They’re under clefts in rocks, near fallen trees, or even in old Nordic ruins. You can see where people have been eating, resting, and surviving out in the harsh wilderness. You probably stole some carrots and potatoes right out of their cooking pot, you fiend!
When I first played Skyrim, I didn’t at all feel like I was surviving anything other than tussles with dragons or the occasional dungeon dive. I was a werewolf, so I never got sleeping bonuses. I avoided diseases and I fast-traveled everywhere to complete quests as quickly as possible.
When I stopped and smelled the sweaty bedrolls, so to speak, I realized what the developers were subtly hinting at: enjoying Skyrim not merely as a mad-dash to earn ALL THE ACHIEVEMENTS, but as an invitation to immerse myself in a fantasy world in which the experience itself was the greatest reward. Even a game like World of Warcraft, with its tremendous in-game world, doesn’t lend itself to this sort of satisfaction, because its mechanic of positive reinforcement is character growth through questings and gear acquisition. Basically, I realized that I’d been playing Skyrim like I played World of Warcraft. And all the campsites scattered around Skyrim were subtly saying, “Hey, try this instead.”
So What Do I Do?
You’re the Dragonborn. You do your quests. You push the plot. You dungeon dive. Everything you need to do to complete the game, you keep doing.
You play the game on the highest possible difficulty.
You don’t become a werewolf or vampire, so resting bonuses are worth the effort and disease is a credible threat.
You never fast travel. It is extremely important that you never fast travel, and if you don’t have the self-control, here is a mod that will remove all fast-travel markers from the game. You will still be able to hire horse carriages to travel between major cities.
BONUS POINTS: Don’t ride a horse.
The purpose of the mods is to supplement the experience of traveling across Skyrim for days at a time. The focus is on surviving the wilderness in addition to the normal business of adventuring. It includes gear and equipment that would sensibly be present in such a scenario, increased carrying capacity, reduction in the amount of time you’ll spend running back-and-forth selling from merchant to merchant, adjustments to crafting and follower mechanics, and slower passage of time.
The mods are categorized below. If you search for the mod titles on the Steam Workshop or the Skyrim Nexus you should find them right quick.
Companion Character Mods
What Is It? A custom, expertly-voiced, female Nord follower who helps you in battle and comments on the events of the story as they unfold. She’ll even sing for you if you ask her nicely. Slight drawback: she talks a lot. But she realizes this and makes fun of herself. Self-awareness can be a real kick in the shins.
Why Should I Get It? I’m not gonna lie, she makes a lot of sexual innuendos and is kind of mean-spirited. But she’s hilarious, and her personal lore is quite interesting. Traveling with Sofia is the equivalent of sitting in the back of the classroom with your BFF cracking jokes about how lame school is. Sofia even takes a few potshots at Lydia. Find her passed out drunk in the stables outside Whiterun, then never leave home without her.
Also: At the end of a long day while you’re resting up and preparing for tomorrow (see “Camping Kit of the Northern Ranger” and “Followers Can Rest” below), Sofia will sometimes sing to herself while you complete needed tasks. She’ll do it without being asked. There’s just something cool and immersive about this.
What Is It? An expertly-voiced male Khajit follower who comes with his own custom equipment and storybook. He has a tragic backstory you can learn by talking with him and reading his personal journal.
Why Should I Get It? Inigo is easily the best custom follower. He is full of life, humorous observations, and witty quips. He comments on people and places and events much like Sofia. You might say he’s…purrrfect? …Sorry.
Amazing Follower Tweaks
What Is It? A major overhaul to the follower system that allows you to customize your followers’ (plural; you can now bring multiple followers with you!) equipment, behavior, etc and to manage their equipment.
Why Should I Get It? More than one follower. Followers can ride horses. Followers won’t activate traps. You have much more control over how your companions behave, and you can even set their home so they are easy to find if you feel like dismissing them for a bit.
Also: Sofia and Inigo at the same time is a rip-roaring good time, but be careful: there are some compatibility issues if you start the Dawnguard quests when Serana joins you.
Followers Can Rest
What Is It? In addition to telling followers to wait or be dismissed, you can now tell them that “we’ll stay here for a while.” They’ll proceed to check out the surrounding area and generally chill.
Why Should I Get It? Because you have the Camping Kit of the Northern Ranger (see below), you can do all the crafting and cooking you need to prepare for tomorrow’s adventure while your companions do some cooking of their own, play an instrument, read, or hit the hay early. This is really about making the experience more immersive.
What Is It? Craftable backpacks that come in a variety of colors. All require leather and other materials gathered from hunting, looting, etc. Some of the rarer backpacks require hard-to-find materials, but they have increased carrying capacity and will provide additional, smaller buffs. Some enemies even wear and carry backpacks, so you can loot them as well! Backpacks are wearable by you and your companions.
Why Should I Get It? Other than the obvious increase in carrying capacity, the backpack item creates a real feeling of adventure. A Nord in iron armor with a two-handed sword going out to kill things doesn’t really feel like roughing it, does it? If you take a backpack with you on a three-hour hike, how much more would the Dragonborn need a backpack out in the wilderness for a week at a time? This one’s a gimme; backpacks already existed as loot containers. This should have been in the vanilla game.
Also: There are a ton of mods to integrate equippable backpacks into your game.
Bandolier—Bags and Pouches
What Is It? Craftable bandoliers, belt satchels, and pouches that come in a variety of colors. All require leather and other materials, some of which were uniquely designed as crafting elements for these items.
Why Should I Get It? Same reason you get the backpack. An adventurer would need all the space they could get. It makes sense from an item capacity perspective and from an immersion perspective. Plus they just look so cool!
What Is It? Your quiver sits low and horizontal across the back of your belt instead of vertically on your back. There’s even a new keynote animation so characters correctly grab arrows from their waist. Shiny.
Why Should I Get It? Presuming you decide to get the backpack mod, it’ll look real weird if your character reaches into a messy tangle of mesh overlay to grab an arrow, no? This makes it so you can wear a backpack and a quiver simultaneously without things looking too weird.
Fur Hoods HD
What Is It? Craftable hoods that come in a variety of colors requiring custom materials designed specifically for crafting.
Why Should I Get It? Immersion plus an armor bonus. In any case, they just look cool.
Also: There are several mods (including Frostfall) that let you craft and purchase fur cloaks and hoods. This is the one I use.
Left Hand Rings
What Is It? You can now buy, craft, and equip rings for your left hand.
Why Should I Get It? Another item slot to buff your character! This was probably left out of the vanilla game because of the potential to be OP, but from a practical standpoint, it makes perfect sense.
Camping Kit of the Northern Ranger
What Is It? You can purchase a camping kit item that allows you to pitch tents, lay out bedrolls, start a fire, sleep, cook, do leatherworking, and mix potions.
Why Should I Get It? After a long day of adventuring, it’s nice to be able to sleep, cook (see “Cooking Matters” below) and use all the reagents you found to mix the potions you’ll need for tomorrow’s quest.
Also: Just using the camping kit doesn’t make rest a life-or-death requirement like in Frostfall, but I always find myself pitching camp at the end of the day. Ultimately, it’s your experience.
What Is It? Items are renamed so they can be more easily categorized. For example, instead of having to look for “iron ingot” or “iron ore,” you can now look for “[ingot] iron” and “[ore] iron.” Since all ingots and ores are renamed similarly, it’s worlds easier to keep track of your stuff. Similar changes are made to the names of other items.
Why Should I Get It? Streamline your digital life in a high-fantasy world.
Also: Complete user interface conversion mods are available for download.
Leveling Merchant Wallets
What Is It? Merchants have increased pools of gold as you level.
Why Should I Get It? Spend less time finagling with your equipment management and more time dumping your junk, making bank, and playing the game. Plus you don’t have to allocate stat points into the Speechcraft skill tree.
Also: You’re still gonna have plenty to do when you get back to a major city after a few days out on the road. This just expedites the process.
Lightweight Potions and Poisons
What Is It? Potions, poisons, and similar items are much lighter.
Why Should I Get It? Carry more of the healing and buffing items you need without killing your carrying capacity. A bit unrealistic, sure, but part of my philosophy is making sure you’re spending more time playing and less time sorting through your stuff. Not to mention that on the highest difficulty, you’re going to be taking a good bit of damage and will need all the potions you can get.
What Is It? Implements many new recipes into the game and changes the stats and buffs of food items. Cooked items are now much more valuable and versatile.
Why Should I Get It? You can’t live if you don’t eat, and shy of getting a mod that will actually kill you if you don’t eat, this mod gives you a reason to cook and eat anyway. Plus if you’re taking a lot more damage on the highest difficulty, you’re gonna need all the food you can get, since you will run out of potions before you’re able to get back to a general store.
Also: There are a number of cooking/food mods available. This is the one I use.
Sounds of Skyrim Series
What Is It? A whole slew of new, high-quality sound effects and ambience for dungeons, towns, the outdoors, etc.
Why Should I Get It? Barring bugs and mod incompatibilities, why shouldn’t you get it?
Realistic Timescale 1:5
What Is It? It slows Skyrim’s default timescale to 20%, so days and nights last longer. Sleeping and waiting times are not affected.
Why Should I Get It? Especially as it pertains to getting “a new lease” on Skyrim, making the timescale more realistic provides you more time to adventure and travel. Since you’ll presumably be camping outdoors, this means you won’t have to do it as often as if you were playing at normal game speed. So it allows you to enjoy and appreciate camping mechanisms without making the experience tiresome.
RNG Dynamic Guards
What Is It? Guards will wear different armor instead of being clones of one another with those stupid helmets. Additionally, different holds have more and different clothing specifically tailored to the region they protect.
Why Should I Get It? As with the Sounds of Skyrim Series, why shouldn’t you get it? It makes the Skyrim experience more diverse and believable, and the modder did a great job, so no shoddiness to speak of.
Also: There are several mods that do this or things similar to this. This is the one I use.
How Does All This This Change The Experience?
Because you can no longer rely on pointing and clicking where you want to go, you have to actually plan out your journey across Skyrim. You must consider, “I’m in Markarth, but I have a quest both north and south of Dragonsbridge, so I’ll cut southeast, swing north, nab the first quest, turn it in, nab the second…” What you come to realize is that some quests and dungeons are simply too far out of the way for now. Not only must you decide where you’re headed, but you have to learn the topography of Skyrim. Which directions do rivers flow? Where are waterfalls and rapids? Is that an unscalable mountain, or just a hard-to-climb hill? Where’s the nearest town that actually has a general store and, gasp, an inn? These are not questions of concern if you have the ease of the fast-travel system at your fingertips. Now, you have to be more than an achievement hunter. You must be a survivor. An adventurer. And you now have the equipment, gear, spirited accompaniment, and tweaked game mechanics that will greatly enrich the experience.
By the time you’ve dungeon-dived, slayed a dragon, and torched a few bandit camps, it’s been nearly a week (in game time) since you last set foot in a city. You and your friends’ bags are full of treasure, your digital feet are calloused, and you never knew until now how beautiful it is to see a made-up town called Whiterun rising up over the horizon just as the dawn breaks.
Agree? Disagree? Something nice to say? Leave it below.
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