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.

Naithin

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.

10 Responses

  1. Rakuno says:

    There are some work being done to get mod packages for Skyrim and Fallout 4. However it is already coming with some controversy. In this case I think the people against it have some good points though.

    The first one is that people don’t like the idea of free mods being monetized. Apparently that already happened as someone had a patreon for his mod package. Even the Nexus seems to be working on a mod package system of theirs but it would require for the user to be subscribed.

    The second is that people might blame an individual mod for a problem when in reality the problem might be a conflict in the mod package or another mod. Then they go angrily to the innocent mod page to complain about it.

    At least in the Fallout 4 side there was a mod author that hid their mods from the Nexus and moved on to Bethesda.net because the Nexus is refusing to let mod authors to opt out of their future mod packaging system.

    I also have a concern of mine with mod packages is that if they auto-update in the middle of a game they could potentially break that save depending of how big the changes for particular mod are. I know it can happen because I updated mods in the middle of a playthrough because I am irresponsible and impulsive like that. :p

    For mod load order and conflicts did you mean leveled lists in the case of Wrye Bash? If it is just actual load order and conflicts then LOOT is the best one to automagically handle it.

    For auto-saves Skyrim does have it. But it only does it before you Fast Travel, Sleep and a third option I can’t remember right now. Might be on level up. Personally I don’t trust Skyrim’s auto-save feature. Nor its quick save. So I just disable auto-saves and never use quick saves. But that might be my paranoia from the Morrowind days speaking. :p

    If you want auto-saves closer to other games you could try this mod: https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/28760

    I don’t know if this is the port of the one I used in Oldrim nor have tested it myself. So if you use it, do so at your own risk for I cannot guarantee anything about it.

    In any case, I am curious to see how your adventures with Skyrim will go. :)

    • Naithin says:

      Didn’t know Nexus was working on a collection like thing. Interesting. For all the potential issues — I’m for it. The current process can be pretty daunting for someone new and perhaps a bit less technical to get into. This is a problem in need of a solution so I just hope they can iron it all out — including dealing with the egos involved in a sensible manner. ;)

      re: Autosave — Yarr, I know it’s there and the triggers. Another trigger for it is zone transition (i.e., entering / exiting a dungeon) — but if say… You’ve just been wandering around the world for a while without doing these things. Or have been in a tough dungeon a while… Autosave is just going to laugh at you. ;)

      Quicksave I’ve not had issues with though – super curious what has led you to a distrust of it? I wouldn’t use Quicksave as my exclusive game save method. Would still make manual save for big moments etc, but as a ‘Hell, I’ve been at this a while and I don’t know what’s ahead’ button — it has served perfectly so far. xD

      Thanks for the suggestion on LOOT too! I’ll take a look. Wrye Bash though was much better than Vortex (in my opinion) at letting me remove specific child mods and their specific dependencies which is why I credited it there. But you’re right, that’s less load order specific and much more dependency specific. I’ll give LOOT a try as well, see if it ends up with anything different than my Vortex/WB combo.

      • Rakuno says:

        I like the idea of mod packs too. I am just not sure how to feel about if being monetized though. I mean, a lot of those mods are made by people in their spare time and shared for free with the community. It just doesn’t feel right for me for someone else who had no involvement whatsoever in those mods to come in and make money from it. The nexus itself might be a bit more of a complicated case too because they are hosting said mods for free so you could say they should be able to make some money from it. Well, ok they do have advertisements and subscription options but I believe the majority of people use adblockers (I certainly do) or don’t subscribe (I did briefly a while ago but haven’t since).

        Also, I may have been wrong about a person setting up a kickstarter for their modpack. I think it was an actual site that was asking money for their modpack. Or maybe it was both. To be honest I just pierced together all this informatiion from several different comments from different mods from the same author who decided to move over to Bethesda.net because of the Nexus modpack thing. Since those mods were all hidden I can’t go back and check the comments again.

        There is hist article by a Nexus mod author that I found by googling it: https://www.nexusmods.com/fallout4/articles/2037

        Warning: one of the pictures in that article may not be safe for work. I might be just being paranoid about it but I thought I should give a warning just in case. :p

        Anyway, the article is generally balanced and makes some good arguments for both sides but it definitely concludes on an anti-mod pack note.

        I also forgot but there are two mod pack programs already. One called Automaton ( https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/97223 ) and another called Wabbajack ( https://github.com/wabbajack-tools/wabbajack ) . I haven’t tested either so I have no clue how good they are or even how they work. If anyone who reads this comment decides to use them they are on their own. :p

        I don’t remember what specifically led me to distrust auto-saves. It is just with Bethesda games and I am pretty sure it must have been some traumatizing event with Morrowind. I love that game but it was also a school of hard knocks when it comes to modding and Bethesda bugs.

        Honestly the only thing I’d use Wrye Bash for nowadays would be to create a merged leveled list mod. For everything else there are better tools. For instance, for any kind of mod editing there is xEdit which does a *lot* of things and is still being actively developed. Wrye Bash from what I hear all the original authors moved on to other things and the group that still maintains it doesn’t have the same knowledge of the code-base as the original ones. Which is a shame because I loved the first incarnation of the Wrye back in the Morrowind days.

        • Naithin says:

          Just saw this now, apologies Rakuno. Looks like the links pushed it into a state requiring manual verification.

          Funny thing was, I saw the link click to that article in the admin panel for site stats and it was driving me batty trying to work out where it was coming from.

          In any case, it’s a good post for the most part. There are a few stretches in there though, and it doesn’t focus enough on the end-user experience in my view. But some of the objections I can sympathise with to be sure and seem perfectly valid.

          But the main counterpoint I would offer as a general thought would be: For every user who endeavours to learn how to ‘properly’ mod a BSG game and spends the time and effort to troubleshooting the experiences as they inevitably make mistakes starting out. For every user who does this and is willing to spend the hours upon hours setting it up (even when you DO know what you’re doing) — how many don’t or can’t?

          How many people are being left out in the cold by the current barrier of entry, and how many kudos are being left on the table by doing so?

          • Rakuno says:

            No worries. I kinda expected it to trigger the spam filter because of the links. Sorry about giving you that kind of hassle to deal with. Normally I avoid putting links in comments just because of that but I felt that in this particular discussion they would help out.

            Anyway, I totally agree with you. I never believed in that making things hard or painful necessarily leads to anything good. If mod packs leads to more people trying mods I am all for it too and might even use it myself as a base.

            I also believe that if people still want to have a more customized experience (like I do) they will still install mods individually or even start modding the game themselves regardless of modpacks.

            My issue is still with the monetization. If someone wants to share their mod for free and refuse that any monetization whatsoever they have their right to do so. If someone else wants instead to sell their mod to Bethesda to be put in the Creation Club they also have the right to do it.

            Now if someone comes, makes a modpack from free mods and then earns some money on top of that why would people share their mods for free? Why not just cut the “middle man” and sell it to the Creation Club and make some bucks themselves? Or just keep it to themselves because they don’t have the motivation to share it with others anymore?

            That is the part that I am worried about and the Nexus doesn’t seem to be understanding or willing to discuss. I am afraid that could irrevocably change things in the Nexus and honestly I don’t know many alternatives to it when it comes to modding Bethesda games nor am I much a fan of them.

          • Naithin says:

            I’m with you on the monetisation front. Perhaps a rev-share model would be the best approach.

            It would still be a bit complicated perhaps — i.e. how would you ‘appropriately’ weight value contribution of any given mod to a bundle?

            I think you couldn’t, and it would just have to be a flat split.

            The actual figures involved would be tiny, but perhaps with the increased volume of users via increased usability it might still be something. And if nothing else, even if it remains token, the gesture and acknowledgement may well just be enough.

  2. everwake says:

    What was the performance like with the 4k mod and what hardware are you using? I haven’t played Skyrim since I got my new rig.

    • Naithin says:

      Well… If you wanted to turn a relatively high end PC into more of a console experience — this would be how you do it. I’m getting ~40-45 FPS as an average, but I should hasten to add I can’t lay this all at the feet of the 4K textures. Possibly not even terribly much of it.

      I’m also running 5120×1440 (32:9) with a pretty demanding ENB preset.

      I’d be inclined to first blame the resolution and then the ENB most likely for the current results. But then having said all that, adaptive sync still makes it look pretty acceptable in motion. And because the FPS range is not too high with no huge dips or spikes, it manages to keep up pretty well.

      For reference, I’m running a 1080ti on an i5-8600k w/ 16GB RAM.

  3. Magi says:

    Aaaah modding! I think the only game I’ve ever modded was Minecraft – and I once used a different client for League of Legends to have the japanese voices while not having to play the game in Japanese. The latter was rather easy, while the first was rather hard to do at first. You had to installed the “Forge”-mod, a mod that doesn’t do anything for the game itself but helps you stabilize other mods. Some mods weren’t supported by Forge while others were… You also had to open the jar-file of the mod and remove the meta-inf-file (whatever that is) and then put the remaining files of the mod-jar-file into the minecraft-jar-file..
    Later they added a folder where you just have to drop your mod files into, which was easier, but it still had the problems of mods not liking each other… and then there were mod-loaders. Lovely.

    And a lot later Amazon bought Twitch.tv who also have bought Curse who then featured a mod-loader of its own with custom profiles, mod lists, different versions, easy access, easy updates and a compability check.
    We’ve come a long way. I hope Skyrim does, too, someday :)

    • Naithin says:

      I didn’t get into modding for Minecraft during the early alphas, was perfectly happy with the vanilla game at that point so I avoided the ‘fun’ of manual jar edits.

      I did however go quite nuts with it when the launchers and modpacks became a thing. They offered some real crazy setups at the click of a button. Back when I was playing I think ‘Feed the Beast’ was still the best of such, but it seems a lot has moved on over the years and there are a good number of other options now too.

      In any case, more generally, mod support for a game is one of the biggest indicators for longevity of the title for me. An unmoddable game is far less likely to see a return visit (let alone repeatable return visits over the years) from me. Skyrim never would’ve seen the light of day again for me without it this time around. Or back in 2015 when I launched a playthrough then, either.

      And this has been a pattern existing back a long way. I just hope Bethesda for Starfield and ES 6 return to modding being an option, and not keeping down the FO76 route.

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