Five Game Challenge Day 2: Modding Skyrim

Selecting, downloading and installing mods for a Bethesda game used to be a multi-day process. I remember for Morrowind patches of spending more time in the Mod forums than actually playing the game. And then of course, once you did actually start playing it was a slow dance of trepidation and learning.

Learning what your game liked. What mods it could handle together. Load order was important. Get it wrong and things might not work. Get it really wrong and you could expect to be summarily dropped to Desktop until you learnt your lesson.

The Steam Workshop has come along since those days and taught us a thing or two about streamlining the experience. It’s still far from perfect, but the ability to come along as a modding novice and just click ‘Subscribe’ to a mod-list from your favourite streamer or community member is incredible. Just like that, a comprehensive and already tested list of mods can be yours.

XCOM 2 supports this very well, and has spoiled me something fierce. RimWorld too actually — although I haven’t gotten around to it for my current install on the latest build yet. Technically, Skyrim does have Workshop support. Practically speaking… Eh.

This might be a hold-over of ill-will in the modding community from when Valve (briefly) attempted to charge for mods using Skyrim as the pilot game. There might be perfectly good technical reasons Steam Workshop doesn’t work for Skyrim. Or it might just be that for Skyrim, perfectly acceptable other solutions already existed.

Whatever the case — Nexus Mods is still the recommended go-to when it comes to finding mods for Skyrim (and Fallout 4, and even ESO I believe).

The ‘Nexus Mod Manager’ of old has been rebranded to ‘Vortex‘ so I’ve given it a download, cracked my knuckles and prepared to get down and dirty with modding Skyrim again.

Installing Vortex

The first thing I noted is that it’s a reasonably heavy download for a mod manager. I mean, it’s not crazy. But it comes in just shy of 80MB. Not quite sure of the reason for that just yet, but it isn’t exactly a problem — just a curiosity.

The install went by quickly, and it booted into the client with no fuss. It presented me with the need to login to my Nexus Mods account but offered the nice touch of an oAuth login (confirm via website the authorisation request) rather than making me manually enter my details again. (Although manual entry was also an option.)

It detected the installed games that Vortex could handle pretty much immediately, but had an option to scan for more. Oout of my five, it could’ve done XCOM 2, ESO and Skyrim. I told it to manage ESO and Skyrim, but leave XCOM 2 alone.

Then — I received a stream of error notifications in the top right. Rut roh.

I hadn’t even picked a single mod yet! This didn’t bode well — except actually… I was about to be quite impressed.

The errors weren’t just ‘Sorry, you be screwed’ but actually linked through to precisely how to fix in settings and let you know exactly what action was required. For the first I simply had to change the mod install directory to the same drive as the games. Easy enough, and something I wanted to do anyway.

The second was letting me know I had never launched Skyrim: SE, and so I needed to start it up at least once to generate a profile before Vortex could have its way with it.

Installing Mods

Welp… I wrote that last paragraph sometime this morning. Sometime around 10am I think. I still wasn’t done installing and configuring mods by 2:30pm.

I did… Kind of go for a lot though.

My base guide of mods I sourced from here.

The main things I went rogue on were to install the 4K Skyrim texture pack instead of most of the texture packs recommended in that list.

But the short of it is — it’s still a long, lengthy process of installing a significant number of Skyrim mods. Even with modern tools like Vortex, you’ll still be working through load order and conflicts. Wrye Bash is still an invaluable tool for sorting through it.

It’s way beyond the scope of this post to talk through specifically how, but there are guides a-plenty out there if you need ’em. In my case the memories started trickling back as to how it all works when I went through it.

The other thing I noted though was that Nexus Mods has become a little more stingy with its downloads for free users. 1MB/s cap is it — and when you’re looking down the barrel of multi-GB texture patches… Well… Let’s just say I became a premium user fairly quick.

I don’t actually begrudge them that though, they’ve offered a fantastic service for years and the cost of the premium subscription is very low.

Actually Playing

So I guess the question after all that is… Was it worth it?

At first — I wondered myself. It was all feeling a bit too familiar. The intro sections being something I’ve gone through dozens of times. Could I really bring myself to do it all over again?

2-3 hours of lost time later would suggest that yes, yes I could.

There’s a visual taster, but I’ll put more of the actual play experience into the Day 3 post (in an attempt to get ahead of the writing schedule while I can in the weekend). :)

But I’m pleased to find the interest levels still there.

Oh: One other gameplay thing I will say now — I had grown soft from just how frequently most games autosave these days. The fact Skyrim doesn’t is probably the one key thing that still belies its 2011 origins. It had me pressing that F5 key in paranoia at every bend after the first instance or two of untimely demise.


Gamer, reader, writer, husband and father of two boys. Former WoW and Gaming blogger, making a return to the fold to share my love of all things looty.

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