So I took a gaming sabbatical. Around September I realised I hadn’t played games for a few months, spending most of my spare time working on the blog. To remedy this situation I self-prescribed a bit of time spent playing games. This was conveniently combined with another realisation, I still hadn’t finished the main quest in Skyrim.
I started doing what I traditionally do with Bethesda’s roleplaying games after they’ve been out for a while. I started looking for mods to install. When Skyrim first came out I was overseas for a month and a half, so by the time I got back there were already quite a few mods out. I played Skyrim for a bit but other things caught my eye. Then I got stuck into a serious obsession with DayZ and stopped playing anything else for ages.
But now I was back. With the release of proper editing tools by Bethesda the mod scene had taken off in my absence. Between the newly minted Steam Workshop and skyrimnexus I started gleefully installing mods. Having got an urge to roleplay to the game’s setting a bit more I started by installing a bunch of modded armours (immersive armours and a couple of other mods). No bare man nipples in the icy winds of Skyrim for me. I preferred to keep my nips hidden beneath three quarters of a cured bear and several deer hides. Then a mod with backpacks, one for bandoliers (carry more loot? look more awesome? oh yeah!), I just kept going and going. To paraphrase the late and observant Hunter S Thompson, when you start a serious mod collection the tendency is to push it as far as you can.
Some 70 odd mods later I found myself and my 5 heavily armed and armoured followers chasing down the last few side quests and tying up the civil war in Skyrim. I was frankly amazed that it still ran. I mean, I got the odd crash but that seemed to be more tied to the resources used when 100 fully armed NPCs are beating the living shit out of each other (thanks Warzones) than mod conflicts. Skyrim felt like a different world to when I’d started, I don’t mean the end of the civil war or the dragon menace. The landscape looked more detailed, the skies more radiant. Trees seemed greener and the light shone with a special quality that I could only call natural.
That’s all very well, but what about the violence, I hear you say? (Nope? Just me? Oh.) Well I thought of that as well. With a few mods like enhanced blood textures, crimson tide, duel – combat realism and a kill moves mod called dance of death I was in some kind of Tarantino-esqe heaven where you can use any brush you like, but the only paint is red. With the addition of some weapon mods (most notably jaysus swords) I was churning out edged weapons like some kind of one man medieval soviet factory.
When my band of followers and I had carved a sufficient path of bloody destruction to rid Skyrim of dragons and the Imperials both, I found myself at the end. The fun I had along the way and the way the game had drawn me in wasn’t all due to Bethesda. All credit to them they made a fantastic game, but the best thing they did was what they have always done with their RPGs. They allowed people to build on their creation. Through the mods I installed the game came to vivid, detailed, gory life. It felt more visceral, more lifelike and I felt more a part of it. What’s my point? Well it’s this.
Modding is the triumph of PC gaming. Modding is the embodiment of the talents present in the gaming community. It is the biggest win-win that exists in gaming. It takes effort on the part of game companies to release mod tools and documentation for the general community and I respect that. But it’s worth it in the end. The extra time people will spend playing the game is worth it. The memories are deeper and more emotionally involved because we got to change the game to speak more powerfully to us.
Valve has demonstrated that they understand this as an inherent strength of PC gaming, starting Steam workshop to provide a way for steam users to host, install and manage mods. Installing game mods had always involved some fiddling around and a bit of knowledge (or the willingness to attain it) but Steam Workshop has been clearly aimed to try and expand the target market. Based around a simple subscription method and tying into the Skyrim game launcher it takes literally one click to subscribe and install a mod (though filtering and search could use some refining). However due to various factors that seem to act to censor content only a fraction of the modding community in Skyrim has their work on Steam relative to, say the nexus mod forums.
So my time in Skyrim is basically over. I’ve still got Dawnguard, but apart from getting a crossbow the story didn’t grab me. So I’ll go back to playing something else, for now. But always with one eye on the mod forums to see what awesome things people are cooking up. Because one thing’s for sure, interest in a good mod-able game can never die; it just hibernates, waiting for another good mod to wake up.