Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Mod List: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

A look at my recommended mods for SKYRIM


Mini-Review:
How good is Skyrim? I've played it for 104 hours so far. It's the only game on Steam that I've racked up more than 100 hours in (correction: Total War: Shogun 2 is also up there) . Heck, it's one of the very few games I've racked up more than 50 hours in. The only other game I've probably played that much is Arma 2. I uninstalled Morrowind after the first town, I never understood the fuss about Oblivion, but Skyrim is the real deal. Buy it. Now.


Test System:
 Asus G73JH Notebook Computer
Intel Core i7 Quad-core Processor @ 1.73 GHz
8GB DDR3 1066MHz RAM
ATI Radeon HD 5870 with 1GB DDR5 discrete graphics memory
500 GB Seagate Momentus XT Solid State Hybrid Drive
17.3" Display @ 1600x900 resolution

Logitech G9  Laser gaming mouse

Essential Mods:



Interface Hard Coded key tweaks by crazy-g
The original Skyrim interface is pretty terrible, once you start rebinding buttons, especially because some of the menu elements are hard-coded, meaning that they're meant to correspond to certain functions on the default key layout, but if you rebind your keys, certain windows still use the hard-coded keys, which can result in strange conflicts. For example, I couldn't favorite anything, because my rebound 'camera' key was C, a habit I've had since Operation Flashpoint. But in the item menu, C is hard-coded for zooming in on the selected object, but the 'camera' key favorites items. This mod gets rid of those hard-coded keys, eliminating conflicts like that. Unfortunately, the hard-coded key images still appear, so you have to remember how your rebound keys differ from the default layout. 


QD Inventory by Roltak
A very nice PC-friendly interface with the main item categories along a ticker at the top of the screen (still scrollable with the mouse wheel), and slightly smaller text so that more items fit on the screen at once. The best element by far, however, is the item count, weight and value displays, including a value/weight ratio category, all of which are sortable. Just what I needed! And it's even better when combined with...



Headbomb’s Better Sorting
This mod renames elements so that they're grouped by type. For example, all arrows start with "Arrow -", so that they're all together at the top. Potions are grouped by effect (Healing Potion I, Healing Potion II, etc). I did like having lesser, medium and greater potions - that just sounds better than 'Stamina Potion IV', but in terms of efficiency, this is much more convenient. One very minor thing I noticed is some Falmer items are named 'Falmar'. But considering how helpful this mod is, that's basically a non-issue.



This mod adds a cool Two Worlds II-type crafting aspect, where anything can be broken down into component materials, and many items are made craftable. You can craft arrows, which is great news for archers. My only caveat is that it is easy to accidentally break down an important item (your main armor, for example) if you are trying to craft ingots and accidentally click on the wrong 'Iron Ingot', since there's an Iron Ingot entry for each different source - one for those made from Iron Ore, one for those made from Iron Longswords, etc. The only way to check what the source is is to click on the entry and read the information on the right. So be careful or you might end up trying to forge all that ebony ore into ingots and accidentally break down your Merhune's Razor instead.



This adds a nice graphical boost to the game without crippling performance (like the enbseries does for me). The ability to change the color template is very nice. I personally use preset 4 and the FXAA, with slight tweaks including drastically reducing the bloom. You can run the tweaking executable while the game is running, and adjust the settings on-the-fly to find the settings you like best by alt-tabbing between the game and the tweaking app.



If you have tree shadows on (a worthwhile tweak since it gives the trees some added depth with minimal performance impact), this addon darkens the distant tree sprites so that the boundary between the 3D and 2D trees isn't so jarring. Performance impact is negligible.



This vastly improves the fire and smoke visuals. Candle flames really look great, flickering and sputtering like real flame, and the braziers actually look like they're burning now, too. I'm using the high-resolution pack without much noticable performance impact, since most fire is in caves anyways, where the lack of distant terrain means I'm not struggling for frames there anyways.



This mod makes the grass look fuller by increasing its size slightly, without performance impact (apparently). It looks really nice and helps disguise the grass draw boundary for me.



This mod makes all the ore veins glow brightly (orange for iron, yellow for gold ,blue for moonstone, etc). This allows you to spot them at a distance, and to see them easier in dark cares if you've turned brightness down with FXAA injector. A useful tweak, but one could argue that it looks a bit unrealistic.



This one's necessary for me because I'm always sick of taking my huge haul of loot back to Whiterun only to find out that I've bled all the merchants dry a long time ago. Sure, it might 'break' that game mechanic, but it's my game and I can play it how I want, right? Besides, I think the equivalent of $10,000 isn't that unrealistic for a merchant (the only one of his kind in the whole province, nonetheless) to have on-hand. There's a 2,000 gold version too. Now to find a version for Fallout: New Vegas...
Honorable mentions:

Ambient Seagulls, Maker’s Mark Ingots, Impressive Skyrim Thunder Mod


Needed tweaks:

FOV fix (for widescreen resolutions; with my 16:9 monitor I found 80 works well for me)
Tree Shadowing
Map tweaks (change scroll rate, change level of zoom)
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