Reading this article requires some technical knowledge. Please play Skyrim once and visit Nexus Mods to understand what the author is trying to say here. – CXRomulus
Recently, PC Gamer UK voted Skyrim – the fifth installment for The Elder Scrolls series – as the best PC game. This can mostly be attributed to the extremely large modding community. Skyrim, since its inception, has been the most widely celebrated and critically acclaimed RPG (short for Role Playing Game) of the decade. And arguably so.No other game was neither so detailed nor large with such deep lore in it. Oh of course, you have the World of Warcraft’s Azaroth or The Legend of Zelda series‘ Hyrule, which arguably also are at the same levels Skyrim is but World of Warcraft is a MMO and The Legend of Zelda series is exclusive to Nintendo consoles. The Elder Scrolls series, on the other hand, runs on newer platforms having better graphic capabilities and hence, has gained immense popularity since then.
Especially on PC. Now it so happens that PC, other than reputed for having superior graphics, is also recognized as the modder’s platform. And with the success of the fairly big modding community of Morrowind and Oblivion, Bethesda Softworks, released a Skyrim Creation Kit, which made making mods for the game very easy indeed. Bethesda knew what the shortcomings were and let the users decide how to eradicate them. Basically the users now used their knowledge to create their own workarounds instead of waiting for another patch to fix it for them, elevating the game to its current position now. Soon, we also started getting some pretty damn awesome mods, some even scaling to give us extended hours of gameplay by adding new areas and quests to the vanilla (basic un-modded) game and hi-res texture packs and ENB series which totally change the way the game looks. Pictures speak a thousand words. And videos have thousands of pictures. So here’s a video of what I’m talking about
Shortly after, people started saturating their games with multiple mods with the pretense that their rig would accommodate the load. To their surprise, they found that the game would crash after a certain while no matter how powerful the system specs were. This was later attributed to the infamous 3.1GB Limit. This led users to scrap many of their mods and some even just quit modding the game because they were not aware of this and thought their rig was not capable enough while it certainly was. While this is not exactly a bug, Bethesda did not make any kind of claim as to fix this problem either and so we finally and unfortunately know that we have a limit to the extent of modding the game. If you ask me, it stopped the users from throwing in all kinds of things they saw and ultimately making a mush of the game. Anyways, check this link out to have a clearer view of what I am exactly talking about.
All that is well and good but notice that the person in the Machinima video had a GTX 580 in his rig. Not many people own such a card. Many people I know, own pretty much mid-range or low-end systems and I myself own a rig with an i5 3550s and a GTX 660 in it. Not exactly high range stuff. When using heavy mods like the Skyrim HD 2k Textures, I’ve experienced stutter and then radical frame drop after 15 minutes and then a CTD soon after. If anything else, my rig is telling me that these mods are just a little bit too much for it and I know that people with rigs similar to mine have the same experience too. Oh and don’t even ask me about the ENBs. So after countless hours of surfing around the Nexus and Steam forums and also doing some experiments myself, I came to a conclusion that the texture and character model injection mods(eg: Inconsequential NPCs. Found on Nexus forums) are the bulk bringing the game to the 3.1 GB limit alarmingly fast. But after playing with them for so long, the game without them looked very drab. Soon, I found an alternative. Bear in mind, this alternative is not for low or mid end systems only. This can take off a lot of load from your game, so that you can enjoy it even longer without having to force yourself to endure premature CTDs every now and then, which you will get anyway because the game is going to hit the 3.1 GB limit at some point or the other. So the article is gonna be a little big, if you did not guess it by now so bear with me.
From my long time I spent on research, I found that rather than animation or sound mods, the main culprita behind the short CTD time are the Hi-res packs and character injection mods. While Hi-Res packs can run flawlessly on high range systems, it will cause stutter, frame-drop and ultimately, premature CTDs in low to mid range systems. While the default Hi-Res pack does add some beauty to the game, most of it is flawed, pretty much like the original textures themselves and is not that effective. Hence, are my suggested tools to make your game look like the modern day open-world RPG it should be.
Bethesda Hi-Res Optimized Pack
“Vanilla game uses LOTS of low resolution textures (512, even 256) that have been replaced (by the Hi-Res DLC) with 2048 counterparts, that look a lot better but are also very taxing for people with 1gb of VRAM or less.” – Vano89
That are his exact words, taken from the description in the mod page. I would explain in detail about what is what but that would be too confusing. Just think it out as this. He took some Hi-Res textures, compressed them, and then made a texture mod out of it. While this is not as good looking as the HD 2k textures, this definitely preserves the performance and also makes the game look reasonably good. Better than the vanilla game anyway. Also, it is DLC optimized. Meaning that you do not need extra patches in case you own DLCs. A word of warning though: This mod is HUGE in size.
Static Mesh Improvement Mod
“Skyrim is the greatest open-world RPG ever created and includes fantastic 3D character and creature models. However, playing the game for even one hour made me notice Skyrim also contains many ugly 3D models. More precisely, there are quite a few low-polygon static meshes that comprise the architectural elements, clutter, furniture, and landscape objects.
It would appear that while the artists devoted a large amount of time to create the races, creatures, armors, weapons, and major buildings, the more “boring” 3D models that make up the game world were severely neglected.
Hence, this mod edits many 3D models to improve their appearance and to fix many of the ugly seams and other oddities. The ultimate goal is to improve about 500 of the worst offenders (333 total meshes are done as of July 2012). This will take a long time, and I’ll release incremental updates to include new 3D models as I finish them.”-Brumbek
Yup. You got it. And you would not believe how much this actually changes the look of the game. Things like fences, rings on a signboard, tankards, vegetable models, rocks, wood texture all the things that we think don’t matter much are remodelled and you would be surprised to see how much this actually affects the look in-game. With this mod, you will truly understand what “little things matter” is. Since most textures are mostly not that heavy, I did not come across any loss of performance even when I chose the full version.
aMidianBorn Book of Silence
Goddamn the armors and weapons look sexy in this game. But don’t you sometimes feel that some armors need to look a bit different? Like how the Skyforge Steel weapons could have been be a bit more unique? or how the daedric artifact Ebony Mail could have been different from the Ebony Armor? Or how the Steel Plate armor lacks the intricate design on it? I dunno about you all but I certainly do. And for this, we have the aMidianBorn retextures. This person, along with his associates, has pretty much retextured every armor in the game, male AND female. Also, since this is just a retexture, the body scaling is pretty damn accurate and it does not clash with other mods. Except texture ones of course. So each armor comes as a separate mod if you want it that way but I suggest you get the 3 instalments of the Book Of Silence. It has all the armors, weapons and some daedric artefacts and more. But you might want to do a search in his page if you are looking for DLC armor. Say, Nordic Carved. Oh, Almost forgot. I would avoid the 4k textures if I were you (Yes, you get an option to choose between them) and install the armor set after you install the character body’s compatible armor packs.
Link(to Book Of Silence): http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/24909/?
So after armor, another aspect of Skyrim that somehow manages to grind my gears are the mushrooms. Apart from the obvious differences, all mushrooms look pretty much the same and since they are unfortunately a very important part of Alchemy. This mod adds some awesome new 2k detailed structures to the various fungi that grow in this harsh tundra and some variety is never a bad thing. Not such of a big deal but sure is something. And when it does not hurt performance either, why the hell not? Also, don’t forget to install the Dragonborn addition if you have it.
Enhanced Lights and FX
As the name suggests, it enhances the lights and adds some impressive FX like the tyndall effect in buildings and some subtleties here and there. Also, you get the option to choose a more realistic interior etc. Another mod worth mentioning here is the the Realistic Lighting Overhaul (RLO).Both do pretty much the same thing but RLO concentrates more on lighting but has no extra FX. You can choose either one though I think that ELX (short for Enhanced Lighting and FX) has more features than RLO.
Ok for this one, I am going to leave it at your choice. You have a wide range of body, face and hair models and I am nobody to tell you what is good or bad as it’s just a matter of taste. All of them give zero performance decrease anyway so anything will do. The custom armours for each body work a little bit different. Since they work similar to the re-texturing so just make sure that you load the armour before aMidianBorn or any other armour mod you might choose. If you ask my preference, I prefer the Dimonized UNP with Real Girls Realistic Texture and Better Males by Chris57.
ADDITIONAL ARMOUR MODS/CHARACTER INJECTORS
After you are done installing the texture packs and character models, you can now start playing around with the other things. Like with the introduction of the Hearthfire DLC, players can now build their own home-steads in certain locations and there are mods that enhance those home-steads to make them look like castles. Or armour, NPC and weapon packs. While the home-stead mods are freaking awesome (I used HearthFire Winstad Manor upgradeable by OH and Lakeview Manor Extended by AC3S), just keep that in mind that they also add tremendous load to the game as they have pretty high res textures. Back to the armour, weapon and NPC packs, check these out. For my custom female body meshes, I use Exeter’s UNP armor collections
Immersive Armours and Weapons
Bethesda has given us a wonderful choice of weapons and each have their own attributes, all helping you create the type of character you want to make. That is well and good. But ever wondered where the hell were the longswords? The Double Axes? or where was the awesome shining Knight Armor? After all, this is a game set in the early but still medieval period. So here we are. One of the best armor standalone mods, hand-crafted by the legendary Hothrooper44 and his team. Feel free to try them out. Lore friendly, awesome looking and giving no performance loss. What more do you want? And then combine it with aMidianBorn Textures, voila. To add to the awesomeness, you can add Cloaks of Skyrim and Winter Is Coming by Noodles and Nivea to add some awesome cloaks and capes to the game.
Link for Immersive armors: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/19733/?tab=2&navtag=%2Fajax%2Fmodfiles%2F%3Fid%3D19733&pUp=1
Link for Immersive Weapons: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/27644/?
Link for aMidianBorn textures for Immersive Armors: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/29167//?
Have you ever wondered why there are only a handful of folk apart from the guards living in cities? I did. And I always wondered how the hell could these handful of people construct those houses! And if they hired the work, where the hell were they now? Well, this kind of solves those questions.
‘Inconsequential NPCs’ aims to add more NPCs to Skyrim in unintrusive ways that will allow them to blend immersively into the social fabric of the land. Most of the ‘Inconsequential NPCs’ do not care if your character is the Dragonborn. They don’t really want to talk to you (but they are all voiced), so most of them won’t have much to say to you (and those that do, will generally not have nice things to say). They won’t ask you to ‘deliver this…’ or ‘fetch that…’, and they won’t tell you their life stories because they just don’t want to get to know you. There is no way for you to improve your relationship with them, because you are as inconsequential to them as they are to you. They are not going to drop everything they are doing to become your followers (…at least, not for free). They are so unimpressed by you that the thought of marriage is completely ridiculous to them. All they want is to go about their business and cope with the daily grind.
But these are not just completely ‘random’ NPCs. They are all ‘unique’ and are intended to fill ‘gaps’ in the the various social environments of Skyrim. How often have you entered a particular location in Skyrim, expecting to find certain ‘types’ of people loitering in that area, only to be greeted by merely a couple of NPCs or an empty room? Just as lighting mods aim to subtly enhance the ‘visual ambiance’ of the game, ‘Inconsequential NPCs’ aims to enhance the ‘social ambiance.’-Ripple
Link to Inconsequential NPCs: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/36334//?
Ah! so finally here we are. The one section to rule them all. A good ENB can root out the need for any other kinds of mods and can totally change the look of your game. Since I first started modding, I always wanted to my game to look like something out of a Lord Of The Ring movie. All that merry warm bloom and that brilliance. In my search to make my game look that way, I started trying out different ENBs. They DID make my game look that way but I had one very serious gripe. My FPS was at an all time unplayable 20. No matter what ENB I tried. None gave me both performance AND the look. So I was at a constant choice as to choose either an unplayable FPS or the no-LOTR-look game. Why was it so hard to ask both? Then, when I started surfing the forums, I found DynaVision by Gopher. After messing around with it for a while, I found it awesome but not much to my liking. Then, recently, a new file came up on Skyrim Nexus called Ultimate Lighting Overhaul (ULO) by VoidNull. In his mod, he exactly mentioned my gripes and actually showed the workaround to it.
SweetFX was used as a means to easily tweak and enhance ENB without having to sort through the mess of ENB’s config and shader files. However, I felt that SweetFX was capable of doing so much more. After hundreds of hours of tweaking, fine tuning and playing around in a multitude of video games I have developed a intimate knowledge of the Shader suite and its potential.
It is with all of that invested time and knowledge that I now bring you the Ultimate Lighting Overhaul. A labor of love that will significantly enhance the lighting of Skyrim while having little to no impact on your performance. -VoidNull
Intrigued,I tried that out and…well, look at the results for yourself.
Pretty ENB-like? I agree. Oh but it does not end there. This gave me about 5 FPS loss when I was using this at INSANE settings. So the Ultra and high settings give practically the same performance as the vanilla game. This is a bit older version. Up next are the pics with the latest settings, at Ultra.
How did this happen? As I mentioned before, Ultimate Lighting Overhaul and also a FX modifying mod-cum-tool called Imaginator by V1C.
With the help of these tools, you can pretty much make your own ENB-like settings without the loss of ANY performance whatsoever. The version of ULO I am using is the v1.3.1 Fantasy setting.
Link to Imaginator: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/13049
Link to Ultimate Lighting Overhaul: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/37846/?
Link to Imaginator MCM menu(requires SKSE 1.6.13 and SkyUI 3.4 and Imaginator itself): http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/35581/?
Well, that’s pretty much it, people. Hope it helps. I’ve used Nexus Mod Manager to install most the mods and then BOSS to make them align themselves in the right load order. Nexus mod manager can be found on the Nexus website.
Link for BOSS for Skyrim: http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/6/?
Oh as an ending note,
I was once a vanilla player like you. Then I took a modding community in the face-CXPorthos