Then I stopped. I stopped because I usually spend days getting tons of mods, then I spend a couple of days more installing them, and finally spend another three days chasing bugs and conflicts so I have a stable game..... well, stable enough that I can stand to play it anyway. By the time I have done all of this I'm sick of mucking about and go play something else, so I never actually play the game.
So this time I stopped myself from doing that and sat back. I thought to myself, "Exactly what is it I want from my game? How do I keep it fun?"
That's when it hit me. What I want from my game is "fun". I know that seems obvious when I say it like that, but when was the last time Skyrim was about nothing but fun for you? You will have to judge for yourself when that was for you, but for me the last time I just had fun with Skyrim was when the game first came out 3 1/2 years ago. There were no mod crashes or conflicts because there were no mods yet. I just played the game and had a blast. It was (for a Bethesda game) rock solid stable and only crashed about once every three to four hours. Sure there were a few small bugs and it wasn't perfect, but fuck was I having fun.
This was what I wanted again out of Skyrim. I wanted a stable game, with the minimal amount of mods in it so it stayed as stable as Skyrim can be. This is so I wasn't spending tons of time sorting out issues, and I wasn't spending tons of time reloading because of a crash or saving every three minutes in case I did crash. However, I wanted to update the game to 2015 standards for gameplay by adding in a few mods that added to the gameplay that was already there but without going for a complete overhaul that changed the way the game felt.
With that worked out, the next step was to decide what was essentual. I started to think of what would I add to a game even if I was going to play a vanilla game without any other mods. What enhanced Skyrim so much that playing without it was unthinkable. What was, well, essentual?
What I came up with was a surprisingly short list. I thought of quite a few mods, but while nice they were not needed for a stable base. In the end I whittled the essential list down to these mods:
- Unofficial Skyrim Patch
- Unofficial Dragonborn Patch
- Unofficial Dawnguard Patch
- Unofficial Hearthfire Patch
- Unofficial High Resolution Patch
- Skyrim Script Extender (SKSE)
- Skyrim Startup Memory Editor (SSME)
I don't think anyone who has modded Skyrim a lot would argue that these really are essentials, so I will avoid descriptions and why they are there.
With the essentials out of the way, what was next? Well there are four mods which were not essentials, but very close to it imo.
This one almost made it onto the list above, but you can actually play without it and it wouldn't stop your enjoyment of the game. However it is such a useful extension of SkyUI that not using it would be like trying to ignore gravity - pointless. All it does it show you brief information about objects you can pick up before you pick them up. It saves you having to pick things up and open your inventory all of the time just to find out basic info. Read the description on the mods page for more info on how it improves your game experience. And although it's only a small tweak, it does make a big difference to your game.
I have tried a lot of magic mods in skyrim, but I always come back to this one - it just feels right. Magic has been altered slightly by the author so that all magic schools are balanced. To quote from the mods description page: "I have attempted to make each school of magic uniquely powerful while staying pure to Elder Scrolls lore." And he has imo. Nothing feels weak like it did before, but it also never feels overpowered either. Because of the tweaks, magic wielding enemies are now stronger too, so be careful when dealing with them.
Enemy AI OverHaul ---Revenge Of the Enemies---.
This just makes enemies feel like they should. Vampires can change into bat swarms, draugr can use shouts, bosses get more complex AI, etc. It does make enemies harder, but only because they are now using powers that they should be rather than just making them harder for the sake of it. It makes playing the game fun again.
Sands of Time.
This mod adds a combination of intelligent random spawns and placed set spawns. For example, if you go into bleak falls barrow, you get random spawns just inside the door that include extra bandits as bandits are in that area, but after this you get random spider and draugr spawns on top of the usual set spawns as they are the normal inhabitants of the tomb. Because they are random you never know what's around the next corner and it's different every time you play, but because the spawns are using the enemies you would expect in this particular crawl, they never feel out of place. On the other hand, once you get to the final chamber where the word of power and dragon stone are, you have set piece spawns that are the same each time, but make things much more interesting. (Don't try to do this tomb at lower levels anymore. )
These four mods are a must imo. The first just makes things more convenient, but the other three blend together to make things very interesting. Every time you go anywhere you have random enemies. You never know what is around the next corner and you spend a lot more time moving cautiously through a dungeon (rather than charging in, because you (a) know what to expect, and (b) can pretty much win most encounters so why worry?). When you do run into something you have to fight carefully, the enemies act more intelligently and they WILL use their magic (if they have any) against you. And when they use magic against you, it will hurt more than it used to because it's now balanced.
Frankly it makes Skyrim feel like it should have in the first place. A cautious and fun exploration of the world as an adventurer. While the difficulty is increased, it never feels like it's just difficult to be difficult. It's fun and intelligent.
That is the core of the game setup now. You could play like this and have a blast, but I want to cover some other mods that add to your experience in the post below. However it is now midday of the day after I got up and I really need some sleep. So I shall continue this later tonight.