Whew. Skyrim is not an easy game to bite into. In the first 20 minutes of the game, you are thrown into a number of quests and you can’t really connect one thing to another, and feel so lost, the game actually becomes tedious. Coupled with its ugly (old) customisation that could have been remastered and improved and quests that never received all playthrough options (Missing in action – a notorious quest you bump into very early on in Whiterun), Skyrim can turn out to be pretty disappointing or difficult on first contact. This is what worked for me – and mods are part of the answer. I am early in Skyrim but now fully invested in it so perhaps this is the best time to share what finally made me want to play the famed and much-loved game because, while I don’t have the big picture of the entire story yet, the immersion is fresh and I really struggled with Skyrim. This is just a post about how I am now finally able to enjoy the game after a long battle with it. I’ll write about the game properly when I finish it and with the solutions below, the more I play, the more I enjoy Skyrim. I have found the version of Skyrim for me. I thought I’d share, maybe someone else who might be finding the game as overwhelming or difficult to bite into as I did, might find this of some inspiration. I think it might be worth persevering with this game.
I first bought the game during a major sale on Steam but go to so frustrated with it that I put it away. I decided to give it another chance after I felt tired of Fallout 4 (I’ve been playing fallout 4 nonstop for four months, discovering so much of it until I finally feel I’m pretty advanced in it) A legendary game like Skyrim is daunting through its hype alone, but given the chance, it does grow on you and allows to develop your approach to playing it, and to make it your own, in a sense. The shortest answer to the question of how I got hooked on it: I stuck it out, readjusted my expectations and installed mods.
What I struggled with
- The hair/customisation drove me mad. It’s old and ugly and could have used a remaster, not to mention it could have been a lot more elaborate with birth signs and other features.
- Textures/ light / atmosphere. The dungeons and torches were infuriatingly dark, it’s hard to strain eyes sometimes.
- Finding out that some missions, like Missing in action, never had full play options implemented – that’s extremely disappointing when I want to try peaceful options first.
- The fact that there are places like Bard’s College with severely unused/abandoned potential – Bethesda seems to like to tease something out and not finish.
- Lack of requirements for certain quests to start, like I believe the Missing in Action should begin at least after you discover you are dragonborn. There is a mod for that but I’ve decided to let this one go for now. Either way, Bethesda did that in Fallout 4 too and it was annoying. Like going to the Castle with Garvey without a level requirement can be an issue, particularly when you don’t know what you’re doing. Stumbling blindly into a mireluk queen at a low level is not a good way to get on friendly terms with the minutemen. And even in a world that levels with you, like Skyrim, some requirements should have been kept.
- Companions/follower system. I like having characters with distinct stories/personalities/ lines and additionally romance options because that allows me to develop a deeper connection with the story, and a deeper interest in it. The Skyrim vanilla one is somewhat disappointing.
- It’s quest and exploration-driven rather than narrative-driven
Of course, there is something to be said about “being lost in the world” and finding your own ways. It is roleplaying freedom. You are a wanderer guided by what people in the game say and other than that you explore, find treasures as in a lot of typical rpgs. But I need a reason / incentive to explore, therefore storytelling has to be central. There isn’t enough backstory for the dragonborn for me, that’s one thing, although over time we learn more about the Dragonborn themselves, that I like. You get a lot of reading material and lore via books. Dragon Age provided that strong incentive by focusing on quests and building a very ambitious, choice-driven story where choices connected and you could create an entirely your own world. DA is my favourite for a reason. In DA, stories tie into one another, the character creation allows for several interesting backgrounds and those backgrounds, have an impact in such amazingly subtle ways that it allows you to get that sense of discovery and dawning/realisation as you explore the narrative, even in different races. It’s like “A ha, this is a great perspective, I didn’t know that as a human mage”.
Skyrim does not have such a meticulously developed narrative and choice-based focus that would give that sort of sense of wonder, not that I’ve seen so far at least. Perhaps the further I go into the story, I’ll find it eventually, to an extent. Skyrim seems to focus more on the freedom to explore, more than on narrative. It seems a much simpler game in narrative design and that made me feel lost because I couldn’t find much to sink into and just thought the wandering is utterly pointless and not rewarding. It throws you in the middle of things without explaining much. You have to gather bits and pieces over time. Fallout has a lot stronger narrative focus and thus immerses me in exploration from the start because I have a very strong, clear purpose and incentive to go out there. The thing is, I have played my share of RPGs where action and exploitation are strongest. They are not my kind of games. I prefer dialogue and story-driven games with interesting quests that sure should have fighting enemies. For me, the progression via quests in Skyrim is a fairly generic type of RPG questing system. NPCs are simplistic and rather generic and lack strongly distinct personalities, though that might not necessarily be such a big problem, depending on how you look at it. Personally, I’ve already learned that I prefer it when characters have more personality. I come from games like Quest for glory, point and click ones with some fun mechanics and transferring saves for the continuity of the gameplay. But it was Bioware games that were game changers for me, they showed me a vast story universe where choices and what-ifs were truly possible to be played and experienced, not just imagined. The freedom in Skyrim leaves things to imagine more than play through and I guess I prefer the DA way.
The story and writing in Skyrim are, however, good enough to eventually make me curious, especially in relation to the Dragonborn and the brewing war, though sidequests and other things to do are thrown all over the world and don’t seem to connect so strongly to one another or the main story, not in the way I like them to. You go from stuff to the next, like a grind. There’s a bit of vampires here, and werewolves there, does it all connect in any way? I want to find out. Because they are not so structured, the immersion for me is lower, especially at the beginning. Exploring the world is one thing, but I loved exploring Dragon Age because I had strong narrative incentives to do so. It’s not really the case in Skyrim: I don’t really have a strong incentive to travel to the bloody corner of the entire map, just to do a small quest – it’s difficult especially at the start when you don’t yet have a horse so I decided that I’d keep quests active and only do them when I’m in the region. That led me to pick up other quests, which also means I have a cluttered journal but also keeps me focused because I have to check the journal when I travel to another region and see if there’s anything I can do before I explore the new town for more quests. I like to keep my quests active, do them all and then turn them in in one go, if possible. So explore and quest for a while and then relax in cities for the next portion of time and only do quests when I’m in a specific region. Sometimes they can be given in Whiterun but take you all the way to the northwest end of the map. Hard to do without a horse.
Fallout 4 also gave me a much stronger incentive to explore because the plot made me: look for Shaun. My principal reason to retry Skyrim and give it another go was because I read somewhere that, much like with factions in Fallout 4, the choice of Stormcloak rebels vs imperialists in Skyrim is also something to think about and that gave me another incentive I needed. I want to know if the quests / what the NPC say will sway me towards any faction and how. Will my Dragonborn face serious moral choices like in fallout 4? I like thoughtful things. Fallout 4 has a thought-provoking narrative and I wonder if I can discover that Skyrim has one too. I want it to. My expectations for storytelling are always high, albeit idiosyncratic, and I tend to prefer more roleplaying than fighting.
I find it’s a good idea to get a horse as soon as possible, even before your first house. Some players seem to insist on getting Whiterun house first and it might be a good move for storage / other reasons but it really depends. I spend a lot of time on the roads with companions so getting a horse for myself (and for them via mod) seemed like the logical first purchase. I’m now a level 11 warrior with unlocked dragons and options to absorb souls / learn shouts differently and am actually keen on exploring.
In general, I believe it’s best to experience the vanilla game at least once, even just to know what aspects you’d like to mod, and then research if such mods exist. In this case, however, getting mods from the start helps. These mods helped me find a reason/ incentive to explore and thus find my footing in the game to the point I want to persevere and see where it takes me.
Skyrim lacks an immersive companion system, unlike Fallout. Kaidan adds a fantastic follower who is additionally an extremely well-developed romantic option. I’ve said this many times. I enjoy good interactions with unique characters that have backstories I can sink into and I also enjoy romance. Dragon Age had that beautifully written into the plot, and even allowed to grow one of the characters (Cullen) until you could romance him. Kaidan is a reactive companion and getting to meet him and travelling with him provides a strong incentive to explore further, which eventually immersed me in the game. The romance is 100% satisfying and even without romance he’s an amazing companion. He reacts eg. when you get taken by the Brotherhood – though I decided to fail that questline. Hate the very idea of it.
Kaidan’s just the one companion done 100% right and I hope the modder can have some satisfaction knowing they created an absolutely indispensable mod for my playthrough. Fantastic work. You can get a horse for him. For other followers, get the fantastic Convenient Horses mod – very useful and a whole comprehensive horse system that was severely needed in a game like Skyrim.
There are several other interesting companions, no-romance this time. Word is Inigo and Lucien may also be fun, solid companions. Real pieces of writing in a world otherwise populated by something like gen1 synths from Fallout.
Amazing Follower Tweaks is amazing in Fallout 4 and here, too, comes very useful.
For better npcs
To have and to hold – Marriage Mod
Adds some interesting tweaks to the marriage system. I don’t support polygamy but it also adds a perk for monogamy.
There are also a number of nice appearance overhauls, just type the name of a character on nexus. I’d like to make Faelendal a marriageable follower, I think some modders started working on them but I can’t find one to work. It would have been only fair, imho, since Camilla is and the boy has narrative potential.
The first thing that put me off is terrible hair. You might argue it doesn’t matter because of helmets but at least the textures should be a little better. So there is a great mod for hair as there are mods for actually making customisation of traits and perks more complete and more fun. With this installed, I know I will be replaying to build other mods.
Character Customisation Overhaul
Ks Hairdos – 800+ for the female. I’m happy. And over 100 for the male in this one. Haven’t researched male options more.
Like for Fallout 4, the CBBE Beautiful Bodies Enahncer, which I think originated for Skyrim and was ported to fallout 4? Anyway, useful. Some eye mods (there are a few around) are nice as well because I swear those customisation options are an eyesore. Yes, it’s an old game, but even older games made things pleasant enough, I had no complaints in Dragon Age.
I’m using Heterochromia for the eyes.
Atmosphere / light mods
I was freaking annoyed at how dark dungeons are, even with torches. Certain mods allowed me to improve my gameplay in this respect and put me at ease. Add to that wearable lanterns and things become a lot more manageable. Atmosphere and weather mods that add realistic snow / other types of weather/shading also help me immerse myself in the beauty of Skyrim, whose newer versions still don’t fully reflect it. There are more fantastic mods out there but I’m satisfied enough with these and don’t feel a need to mod this further at the moment.
Wet and Cold
Brighter torches with bigger radius
Desmond’s Light Redux – with all the required mods
These mods give more incentives to collect things and use food and actually immerse in LIVING Skyrim and rebalance and expand some things. I particularly LOVE the idea of disguises in the SUMMER mod.
Complete Alchemy and Cooking Overhaul
SUMMER – Skyrim Universally ‘Mursive Mechanical Expansion and Recalibration
Modular customizable gameplay mechanics expansion (& recalibration!)
Combat: parrying, dodging, aim-shake
Magic: new spells, necromancy, potion toxicity
Stealth: disguises, knockouts, lock level requirements & lock smashing
Speechcraft: yielding, persuasion, multi-followers
Crafting: traps & dwarves automata
Localised radiant quests. That’s a nice thing to do when you have free time or want a change of pace.
Thunderchild – epic shouts and immersion
Thunderchild enables players to create shout-centric characters, adding 29 new shouts with multiple effects. It also includes several buffs that are unlocked by completing Kyne’s tests of faith, a custom Greybeard Robe in several variations, the High Hrothgar Library, and an assortment of buffs and bugfixes for vanilla shouts.
Speechcraft, peaceful playstyle and restoring content
Dialogue overhaul: Npcs and followers are way too generic and it makes things disappointingly boring. But there are mods that add lines and at least make them behave more like friends.
Relationship Dialogue Overhaul
Compliments and Insults – finally a nice way to raise speechcraft via interactions with npcs in towns and villages.
Pacifist playthrough options are severely lacking in this game, but with a couple mods, including the Unofficial patch, it is possible to get some of the unfinished content and actually complete the missions with intended but unfinished solutions. I installed the below mods anyway, without going through the first-time vanilla experience, because I want to have options.
Unofficial Skyrim Patch – seems to fix many issues, including Missing in Action quest.
Charitable Soul – be a nice person
One With Nature
Passive dragons and giants
Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood for Good Guys
The Paarthurnax Dilemma
I have no idea what’s this about yet but any extra option is a good option.
A much-needed expansion of what Bard College could be.
Legacy of the Dragonborn
I’m saving this one for a second playthrough. I’m tempted to now, but I need to make at least some semblance of effort to make my first experience as close to vanilla as possible, though I’m way past that territory with 50 mods installed. I’m trying not to overdo it, though, and I always try to be selective, prioritising what I want to see in the game.
Choose a class focus from the start
I like the skill tree in Skyrim but the options are so many, just pick a playstyle and experiment. Becoming a jack of all trades is probably not a good idea and could be overwhelming and stressful. Remember to use the starting race to your advantage in making builds, that’s what it’s good for. This can be a little fun to think about. I know I like one-handed combat with some magic ability, I picked a Nord for my first playthrough for roleplaying reasons. Nords enhance combat abilities and frost resistance. And now I’m just focusing on one-handed combat, heavy armour and archery, along with smithing and speechcraft. That’s probably about all the perks I can be focusing on. Those mods I mentioned earlier add a small extra bonus and it’s extremely helpful. That gives me a focus, too, so I know what I want to look for in the world. Swords. Heavy armour. Making fun armour and weapons. Also, armour enchantment could come in handy so that should probably be developed a little too. It’s a good aspect of Skyrim, this freedom to create customised classes, depending on what you want from games. I’m sure it serves roleplaying purposes and creating personal headcanons. But it’s not really my kind of freedom, in a sense.
Pick a direction and stick to it for as long as it holds your interest, then change pace when tired
Aside from Kaidan, the desire to know the story about stormcloaks and imperialists, for me it was Greybeards that gave me the incentive I needed to get hooked. That’s one thing I just wanted to do early: make the climb. The monastery is a fun place to visit, considering the climb. Make that climb, it gives the sense that – hey, here I am proving myself to be worthy. I don’t like using walkaround/mountain climbing/ for me, it’s more satisfying roleplay-wise to get there using the steps. Greybeards teach you a full shout. With mods installed, you then gain access to the Library, where you can meditate to the god Kyne, learn alternative meanings of the shouts or pick up new ones by doing favours as his follower. You don’t even have to kill dragons. I admit I was having a hard time getting used to battling dragons that keep flying and flying. Sooner or later, you get used to that, and even with no kill dragons mod, I still end up doing them especially when they attack a town. But having the option to be peaceful towards dragon changed my disposition towards the game – so the option is there, great, we could be dragon whisperers instead of dragonslayers. The shout mechanic is definitely one of the most fun parts about unmodded Skyrim and as such, it provided me with a strong incentive. It’s up to you what you want to become first. Be a werewolf. Be a mage. Be a thane. All these ideas give a focus to what to start with and stick to for a while until you’re hooked. I’d still go to Riverwood and Whiterun first and start exploring there. Talking to every NPC is a fun idea as well, though that may overwhelm you with quests, so I’d do that every once in a while, just to see if something fun comes out of a random conversation and to change pace. But after that, you can just look at the map, pick a town, take a carriage there and maybe start from there. I don’t know if Whiterun is any more introductory than any other city out there. If a mage, I’d go straight to the Mage College. If a thief, I’d go looking for the thieves guild as soon as possible. As a warrior now, it’s probably a good idea to do Companions quests in Whiterun but I tried that before and for now don’t feel a need to, I’m, trying a different approach on my first full run.
Now, with Kaidan, I was off to a much stronger “go and explore” start because that mod is super immersive and has a good questline with guided steps. Go to an abandoned prison. Free the prisoner. Get his sword. And after that, there’s a strong investigation quest along with developing the bond. Since he mentioned a book, it gave me the incentive to go to the college of mages and simply get into exploring and finding the book. Now, I’m on a roll and happy to go anywhere I want, and do quests in a given place. One companion like this is enough, especially when he’s got everything I may look for in a companion system – quest to help, meaningful reactive interactions, full affinity development and progression.
So, let’s see where my Skyrim takes me. I’ll write my impressions at some point. For now, I’m, just enjoying the fact I’ve managed to get into it after struggling with the game’s design. There are dragons and extensive mythology and lore, lots of flowers/herbs to pick from – even more with mods. It’s just a matter of adjusting to it, finding the right pace and place to focus on first and enhancing the experience with brilliant mods and go from there. See what you make of the story.