I love Skyrim, but I think I’ve played enough that even after a long break I don’t feel immersed in it like I used to. Managing my inventory and figuring out where I left off seems like a chore and the gameplay is kind of stale now. So I turned to the modding community to see what they’ve cooked up over the years and that’s when I discovered a fresh and compelling new way to play Skyrim.
Note: I initially used the Steam Workshop for some of the plugins, but ultimately found the Nexus to be a better resource. I also used the Nexus Mod Manager which is a little wonky, but gets the job done and makes installing a two-click process. It also might seem a little tedious getting all this setup, but start to finish this might only take 10 minutes. None of these plugins require anything fancy like editing ini files. It’s all just download, install, and enable.
What do I need and why?
- Install SKSE – this is a scripting something something something that is required by like every plugin ever. So just install it. If you don’t have SkyUI either, I’d get that as well.
- Install the Combat Realism – Weapons Armor and Blocking plugin – this is key to making the game challenging. Even on the hardest difficulty, enemies can take a flurry of swings to cut down and it ruins the immersion. There is no way a guard should survive a dozen direct sword swings under any circumstances. This fixes it and makes the game lethal and unforgiving for everyone.
- Install the Amazing Follower Tweaks plugin – with the ramped up difficulty of more realistic combat you quickly realize you need a team to support you. Amazing Follower Tweaks allows you to recruit any NPC in the game and create a group of 5 followers (a party of 6 including yourself). This gives you and your team real power to survive a battle and defeat your enemies. It’s also a lot more fun running around with a small army to protect you and the battles can be really interesting to watch. It’s also nearly impossible to survive multiple engagements alone so having a full team before entering a bandit castle is a must.
- Install the Random Alternate Start plugin – the goal of this article is to describe a new role-playing + arcade-style way to play Skyrim. To achieve this the Random Alternate Start plugin keeps everything fresh and casual. With each death you return to the initial save of your new character and “wake up” somewhere in the world. This means that you don’t have to go through the process of actually creating and customizing a new character every time you die (or sit through the Stormcloak beheading scene). It also allows you to develop a unique narrative about your current character’s life. Why did they “wake up” in a cave or the woods or on the edge of town? Where are they going? What is their objective? I had a lot of fun creating on-the-spot storylines based on where my character started which influenced my next steps in the world.
- Optional Plugins – there are three other plugins I ended up installing, but that aren’t required for this new playstyle to work. The first was “Kill Moves – No Blur” which does exactly what its title implies: it removes the blur effect so kills are more brutal. I think it adds a level of immersion and could be coupled nicely with something like “Enhanced Blood Textures,” but isn’t necessary by any means. The next was “Kill Every NPC” which, again, does exactly what you might imagine. Unfortunately all these “kill everyone/kill essential” plugins seem outdated and so they only partially work. I ran into a couple NPCs that were unkillable, but it did allow me to kill more than before which helps with immersion. Lastly, I installed “Dodge Mod” which, take a wild guess, adds dodging to the game! This is pretty damn useful and, while it’s not required, it definitely increases the odds you’ll survive longer. I found it especially useful when facing off against archers who, with the damage mod above, will one shot you given the chance.
- Last step: configure your in-game settings and start a new game – once you launch the game, head into SETTINGS and increase the difficulty to “Master” (not Legendary). Legendary is too unforgiving to be fun. I’ve blocked dagger attacks with a shield in Legendary and died in a single hit whereas Master has a much more balanced feel. I also turned off all notifications, markers, the crosshair, and set HUD opacity to 0. This leaves you with a completely blank screen which greatly heightens the level of immersion. You will need to teach yourself how to actually use a bow and when you do manage to hit it will be extremely rewarding. You will actually get to discover locations and be forced to use road signs and landmarks to discern your location. It makes the experience incredibly interesting and since the goal isn’t to complete quests you don’t need anything the HUD offers. The only downfall in my opinion is that you never really know if your allies are injured and need healing. Although now that I think about it, there’s probably a plugin out there to display those signs. I’ll post an update to this article if I find a good one.
Some Additional Notes
If you’re bored of reading and want to go test this out, now is the time. If you can stomach a little more, here are some additional notes and ideas that might be of interest (especially the “Building Your Team” section).
Performance and Stability Concerns – I’ve always been a bit skeptical of community plugins for performance and stability reasons. I also think they tend to clutter up your saves and put them at risk of corruption, however, since these are short disposable game sessions half of those concerns are immediately insignificant. I also haven’t had any issues with game instability or performance loss using these plugins, which kind of came as a surprise. The only advice I’d share is to not use these with your actual saves and disable all the plugins if you want to return to them. Other than that, its been smooth sailing!
Spending Skill Points – to help keep your fragile character alive I’d recommend spending your first skill points in block and armor proficiency since they can directly save your life. After that I’d spend a single point in my primary weapon type (generally single or two -handed weapons), then archery, and then sneak. All of the first tier skill points provide a big boost to those basic abilities. If you happen to live long enough, I’d also consider restoration so you can heal yourself and teammates. After that I’d redo the same order and increase survivability, then damage, then utility.
Building Your Team – one of the best aspects of this playstyle is building out a badass team of warriors and there are numerous combat styles and settings to choose from in Amazing Follower Tweaks. You can learn more about the options by checking out the full readme here (specifically “3. Combat” and “7. Settings”). Here are my recommendations to make the game more challenging:
- Turn Off: “Followers ignore friendly fire” – this isn’t as bad as you think and I rarely see my allies cut each other down, although sometimes they do fight each other to the death which can be both amusing and frustrating depending how much customization you did.
- Turn Off: “Followers catch up on weapon draw” – this teleports your allies to you on weapon draw which just ruins immersion and they do fine without it.
- Turn Off: “Followers never refuse commands” – this has never actually happened, although I don’t use the commands feature very often, but I’m hoping it will play a vital role in one of my storylines someday…
- Turn Off: “Followers never run from combat” – it doesn’t happen very often, but when it does it’s kind of interesting. I ended up having to kill one of my team members because they refused to fight and we couldn’t have that sort of insubordination in the party.
- Leave On: “Followers avoid traps” – it seems like, for immersion, it would be good to turn this off, but followers are too stupid to avoid traps that have been revealed by you. They also take enormous damage from traps which sometimes doesn’t make sense like stepping on a fallen rock, glitching out, and dying for no reason.
- Leave On: “Follower Skill Synergy” – this one might come down to preference, but I like that it levels you and your team together. Ultimately it just means you level faster and since these are disposable game sessions it’s really nice to come out of your first team battle with 2-3 new levels under your belt. That way you can guarantee some basic skill points like block and armor proficiency which can help keep you alive.
- Turn Off: “Boost follower stats” and Leave Off “Boost Follower Damage” – these are fairly self-explanatory and make your allies more vulnerable if they’re off.
Why do all this?
Skyrim is an amazing game out-of-the-box, but like everything it grows old after awhile. This unique mix of plugins completely changes the way you play the game. Gear, loot, and money become much less important. Combat becomes challenging and dangerous. Allies bring intrigue and safety to the battlefield. Some areas become too dangerous to explore. And the added immersion expands roleplaying possibilities. Here are some examples of the novelty this provides:
- It’s more fun to play with allies – Building your team by traveling the world and “mesmerizing” citizens to join you is fun. Don’t just grab any random person, find ones that fit your needs or match the storyline you’ve created. It’s an interesting experience when you’ve been through multiple encounters, lost a half-dozen good men, but one or two from the original party still remain. They become more important than the new recruits and when they inevitably die it’s kind of sad.
- It’s more fun when it’s dangerous – The level of danger in some situations is so high that you simply need to turn and flee. There is no save to fall back on and when your allies die, you become incredibly vulnerable. I’ve run into crypts and Falmer dens, lost men, and booked it out because I was invested in my current character. I’ve had ghosts in tombs yell at me to leave and obeyed immediately because in real-life I definitely would have. The entire experience just becomes more believable.
- It’s more fun when it’s challenging – You’re punished for being greedy and stupid. In the original Skyrim I might have looted a body mid-battle out of convenience, but this becomes a dangerous activity as archers take aim when you stop moving or come out of cover. It also discourages stirring up the hive and getting into one-sided battles. Instead I’ve had to engage in guerrilla warfare to clear out enemy locations. For example, in one instance I engaged a half-destroyed house of bandits who all came out looking for me. I was forced to use my bow and take cover behind trees and rocks, sneaking around to split them up so I could slowly pick them off one-by-one. It was an incredibly intense fight compared to my old characters who were more hack-n-slash.
- It’s more fun when you get to create the story – Each new life inspires a new storyline about a random citizen in Skyrim trying to be a hero. Your starting location, where you go from there, what you end up doing all feels like a choice rather than a scripted narrative. Mundane activities like hunting suddenly take on more importance because your new character needs to practice using a bow. There is no fast travel because it’s a new character so the world feels larger as you explore on foot. And since you don’t care about saving or screwing up quest lines, you can engage in noble endeavors like ridding the world of the Thalmor or raiding an Imperial camp for Stormcloak honor. On one character I made it a mission to end the Vigilant of Stendarr cause while in another I was a bandit leader for a marauding group of orcs that terrorized small communities. You get to choose a destiny that wouldn’t otherwise be available in the normal game.
Thanks for reading!