Skyrim: My experiences with mods

Like the majority of people, I started playing Skyrim in 2011 when it was released.  I put a solid 90+hours into the game, and made it decently far into a lot of side quests and a little way through the main quest-line.  I always get distracted by side quests, and lose my focus on the main quests.  The same thing happened when I played Fallout 4, but I eventually got myself back on the path of the main quest-line for it, and finally finished that; however, I’ve never finished the main quest-line in Skyrim.

As silly as that sounds, I am glad I have never finished it.  I will always have something to do in Skyrim, though Skyrim really doesn’t need anything like that for me to keep me playing.  About 4 to 6 months after Skyrim first came out, I got distracted by another game, and for reasons I cannot remember, and Skyrim kind of fell into my forgotten realm on my hard drive, sitting there idle.  As it turns out when Bethesda was getting ready to release ‘Skyrim: Special Edition’ I remembered my old save from when I first played Skyrim.  I fired it up and was immediately overwhelmed by where my character was, and I couldn’t remember what my plan was or where I was headed.  At that point I quit the game and didn’t really give it much thought.  Soon after, I started looking into more mods for Skyrim.  Mods were available at Skyrim’s launch in 2011, but they were not as main-stream as they are now. I had tinkered with a few mods, downloading them from the Steam Workshop.  Each mod was fairly simplistic; a player house mod, or one that changed the guard’s helmets.  My entire mod list at that time was maybe 3 or 5 mods in total.

When Fallout 4 came out, mods were definitely more prevalent in my game.  I learned about The Nexus, a massive website where creators shared mods for most modded games out there.  Fallout 4 had thousands of mods available, and I quickly learned the ins and outs of installing and removing mods, using their mod program the NMM (Nexus Mod Manager).

Mods for games like Bethesda’s Skyrim and Fallout 4 can be broken in to several parts.

  1. Mods – an add-on for the game, generally include a plugin in order to be used, but not always
  2. Plugins – This is what the game actually uses
  3. Texture/meshes – these replace the default or vanilla textures and meshes in the game
  4. Scripts – these are used to make certain things happen in the game

But back to Skyrim, with me being a bit more informed on mods, I started digging into the Skyrim mod database, and found that the nexus had over 200,000 mods available for Skyrim on the PC.  More mods are being added every day for Skyrim.  I started looking at the mods that were most endorsed.  The Nexus site has an endorsement system, where if you liked a mod, you would endorse it, and the higher endorsed mods are generally the most downloaded.  It is a lot like the thumbs up/thumbs down system for YouTube.

I can’t originally remember why I wanted to get back into play Skyrim, but all I do remember is I wanted to play the game this time with as an immersive game as possible, so I started researching immersive mods and other highly endorsed mods.  The mods that were definitely worth getting were some like SkyUI, a menu system for Skyrim that includes a MCM (mod config menu) allowing you to configure most mods in the game.  SKSE was also another essential mod that was required.  The SKSE was the Skyrim Script Extender, a small add on to Skyrim that allowed mods to run new and added scripts, opening up a whole slew of new things that could happen to your game.  It is easy to get overwhelmed with mods, and it is also easy to get addicted to trying out and testing mods like crazy.  There is a limit to how far you can mod your game though.  The original Skyrim was created so many years ago it relied on older hardware, and faced limitations in the code and engine that restricted you to only 254 maximum plugins.  Since the Skyrim main and its 3 DLC’s are also considered plugin’s you are automatically restricted to 250 plugins.  You can increase

the amount of mods and plugins you can use by creating merged plugins or bashed patches, but that makes things really more complicated, and I won’t really go into them more.

So as you can see, there is a lot of stuff you can add to Skyrim with mods, like new armors, changes to weather, graphic overhauls and additional monsters, NPC’s and followers.  With such a huge variety available on the nexus, it’s easy to keep looking for new mods to try out.  I did just this, almost to the point of getting ‘addicted’ to searching for new mods to try out on the Nexus, all while playing my new play through in Skyrim.

I decided on a new play through because my old one started back in 2011 was well, old.  I didn’t remember what my plan was with the character, so I archived the save, and started fresh.  I wanted to play a style of character that I had never played before in either Skyrim or Fallout 4.  I chose a tank warrior style, relying on heavy armor, a sword and shield.  I didn’t want to fall into the stealth trap I always end up doing, so I didn’t use any stealth at all, just my sword, and on occasion, a bow.

Inigo, is a Kahjiit follower mod that adds many charming aspects to the game, such as him randomly singing while you adventure

Everything was going well; I had started off with a handful mods that I felt make the game more interesting to play.  I wanted to step away from the main story line of the Dragonborn, so when I discovered the mod ‘Skyrim Unbound’ I was excited to have that in my mod list.  Skyrim unbound allows you to start a new character in Skyrim, but not take part in any of the main story line of the Dragonborn.  You might think this kind of bypasses the whole point of Skyrim, but this is where you would be wrong.  Skyrim is a rich, open-world for you to explore.  My main goal was to be just an average adventurer, with an evolving backstory as I went.  I also decided on FrostFall, which is a mod which enables weather effects and disables fast travelling.  Fast travelling allows you to instantly travel to any place you have already discovered in the game, making getting from one place to the next as easy as click of the mouse on the map screen.  Frostfall also enables weather effects on your character.  Skyrim is made to be a cold and frozen north to the continent of Tamriel, so suffering from exposure and struggling to deal with the cold seemed appealing.  Coupled with the inability to fast travel you suddenly needed to plan your excursions, so you wouldn’t freeze to death while travelling.

I also had a smattering of armor mods tossed in, changing how armors looked, as there is so many of them available for female characters and NPC’s, as well as body replacers that allowed you to change how character bodies looked.  When I was ready to begin I had about 2 dozen mods ready and loaded.

Some other tips I learned from starting out with mods, was the load order.  Mods and plugins needed to be loaded by the game in a specific order so they overwrite each other properly.  If something isn’t loaded in the right order, it either won’t work, or the game will crash.  Let me tell you, having your game crash is not fun, and I’ve spent many hours troubleshooting and reviewing my mod list due to crashes.  I’ll talk more about this later.

Mods can be sorted generally by a program called ‘Loot’.  Loot is an acronym for Load Order Optimization Tool.  It has access to a database that is somewhere on the cloud that keeps a track of which mods need to go before or after other mods.  It is not a perfect system, but it gets it right in 9 out of 10 times.  Once it is run, your nod load order is saved and you are good to go. Fire up Skyrim and lets play.

Mod Organizer, using the dark theme, shows your installed mods on the left, and activated mods with the load order on the right

With my mods list sorted, the game loads fine and in I go.  Using ‘Skyrim Unbound’ I chose a few settings on how I want my character to begin.  I chose the north shore, as if shipwrecked, as my mind begins to form a backstory of my character having no memories, and waking up on the frozen coast of Skyrim, with nothing to his name.  The mod dropped me off on the coast, right next to a campfire and a cave, and upon entering the cave I find bandits and begin working my way through them, trying to get better gear and the ability to survive.

Things go well, and as I progress through the cave, and soon after other areas I come to enjoy the disabled fast travel.  You see there are many hidden things in Skyrim, places you can only get to if you explore. By not fast travelling I discovered many new places I had never been, and I actually enjoyed getting side-tracked by discovering a new bandit lair, or a new cave while travelling between the main cities of Skyrim.  Let me tell you, the map is huge.  Walking from one place to another takes time, which is why most people love fast travel, but with fast travel off, you find a new appreciation for exploration.

Mod: Helgen Rebuilt

While I had fast travel off, there was always the option of horse, and the carriage system.  I decided that from an immersive game standpoint, the carriage system would be allowed, as they only go to the main capital cities, and you actually have to go to a city to use them, you can’t just summon them to where ever you are.  To me, this made the game more immersive in the long run, and I still rely on the carriages to get between cities often.

Let me get back to the mods though.  As I found myself adding and removing more mods each week, my mod list grew to over 200 plugins after about 200 hours of game play.  My character had progressed up to around level 50, he had a nice homestead, a wife and several followers (thanks to mods that allow multiple followers) and things were going well.  Or so I thought.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that by added and removing mods so often, I was actually causing my game to get unstable.  My save files started to cause crashes, and after 261 hours of playing I was at the breaking point.  I spent a good 4 or 5 hours tinkering and cleaning my save game of broken scripts, orphaned add-ons and other items of bloat, all to no avail.  You see when you add a mod that has scripts, those scripts are tied to your game, even after the mod has been removed, causing it to be orphaned.  That adds up to bloat, making your save file bigger and taking longer to load, as well as crashes your game whenever your game calls the script that doesn’t work any further because the mod has been removed.  As I mentioned you can clean your save file of these orphaned scripts, but that only gets you so far.  After spending several hours a day for about a week, I had to abandon my save due to instability.  I researched up different items in forums as to why my save file corrupted and I found out that some of the mods I had used were so script heavy (meaning they had massive scripts or scripts being run constantly by the game in the background) that my game was just too badly corrupted there wasn’t anything I could do.  Even though I tried cleaning my save, I discovered the remnants of mods I had removed months before still lingering around.

Sad at losing 260 hours of game play, I moved on.  I chose my mod list a little more carefully, and scaled back to about 160 plugins, I started another character, following along the same lines of my last one, a tank warrior with a sword and shield.

Things went well this time for about 30 hours, until I ran into similar problems.  This time though my mod list was smaller, and I wasn’t adding or removing mods at all.  But it seems several of my mods were still quite script heavy and they were causing issues.  One such example is a mod called ‘Wet & Cold’.  ‘Wet & Cold’ is a mod that ads the ability for NPC’s and followers to equip a hood or face mask when the weather is cold or dusty.  A great mod for Immersion, but one thing it does is it runs on every NPC in the game all the time, and this can cause issues on a lower end system like mine.  Let me say this here, I am not bashing the mod author in any case.  I love this mod, and I would use it if it wasn’t a possible culprit in my instability, but because it was, it had to go.  I was upset again after losing 30 hours this time, but at the same time, not sad I hadn’t lost 260 hours.  I needed to figure this out, I after all wanted to play Skyrim, but it had to be stable and also enjoyable with mods.

This third attempt I spent about a week organizing picking and choosing my mods carefully.  This time I managed to scale back to about 70 plugins in my list, most of them armor mods or graphical mods, along with Frostfall, SkyUI and a new one called ‘Live another Life’ which did the same thing a Skyrim unbound, but according to my research was a lot more stable in the long run.  Deciding to make things a little closer to the main quest-line I also added Dragons to my game, by way of a mod called ‘Immediate Dragons’.  I felt that Dragons were an integral part of the Skyrim experience, but I still didn’t feel like playing the Main quest-line as the Dragonborn.  I also added Falskaar, which is a new area of the map to explore, a whole town with new NPC’s and new quests to run.  While this mod does add some scripts into the mix, it is well done and fun to play.  Scripts are not bad, just adding and removing them all the time is what is bad.

So far on this play through I have had almost no crashing, and my game continues to be stable.  I have not added or removed any mods since starting, and it will stay that way while I play.  While there is always the ability to add and remove mods, my plan is to stick to what I currently have, aside from the odd texture or mesh replacer which won’t affect the game play in any way.  Mods that add scripts will not be touched.  I still have my old saves from my corrupted plays, as well as my original character from 2011, and I know there is a way to extract the characters and place in a new play through, and I might look into that someday, but for now I’m content to continue exploring and interacting with all that there is to offer in Skyrim.

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