I love Skyrim. It’s possibly my favorite game of all time; it’s definitely the one I’ve clocked the most hours in. I’m also pretty sure the number of hours Steam has listed is not even remotely close to the number of hours I’ve actually sunk into this game. Half the time I spend fussing over my Dragonborn isn’t actually spent in-game, it’s spent on the internet looking for more great mods to install.
It all started innocently enough—I just wanted to turn off Skyrim’s kill cam. I didn’t particularly care whether it was there or not, but I knew it might bother one of my good friends, who often gets queasy at blood and gore but loves to watch me play video games. The game itself didn’t have an option to disable it, but a quick search online revealed that there was a mod that could easily turn it off for me. I downloaded it and a copy of the Nexus Mod Manager (the main platform for installing Skyrim mods, apart from Steam Workshop), and ten minutes later I was happily slaying bandits without being treated to an up-close, blood-splattered view of where exactly my sword was going.
“Well, if it’s that easy,” I thought, “maybe I can find a mod to better sort my inventory while I’m at it.” It wasn’t long before I had moved beyond trying to fix specific elements of the game and was reading through lengthy lists people had made of “essential” mods for Skyrim. It’s two years later now, and my current count of installed mods is … oh dear god. Well over 75. Does that mean I’m almost halfway to madness?
I didn’t play Skyrim very much this past fall, partly because I needed a break and had plenty of other games awaiting my attention, and partly because it felt as though the modding community was starting to disappear. My searches for new lists of “top ten essential Skyrim mods” were turning up fewer and fewer new results, and even G.E.M.S., a wonderful site that curates a list of the best mods out there, stopped updating and disappeared (it has since returned, to my delight).
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my level of enjoyment with Skyrim as a game had become closely linked with my ability to be constantly modding and customizing it in new ways. I’d log into Nexus Mods regularly just to see what the featured mods of the week were—even if I had no intention of installing them. I’d waste hours downloading updates and testing my game to make sure nothing was glitching too badly … and then as soon as I got it working, I’d promptly quit the game and go back to look for more things to add.
I’ve been playing Skyrim a lot more lately (possibly as a backlash from getting fed up with Minecraft yet again), and it’s a delight to find the modding community thriving once more. It isn’t even necessarily the mods themselves that I enjoy so much; it’s the fact that I can take this game I love and customize it even more beyond the standard choice of face, race, and fighting style. Even though neither Skyrim nor the mods are my own creations, the ways in which I combine them and interact with them make it feel like I’m playing a game designed just for me.
Wouldn’t it be great if my character had a swishy cloak? There’s a mod for that. How about a friendly tiger companion who can act as my sidekick when Lydia’s busy elsewhere? Mod for that. What if I’m tired of snow and want to make all of Skyrim a tropical paradise, or want my mage character to carry a lightsaber, or simply want to start a new game and wander around Skyrim as someone who’s not the Dragonborn and can’t be bothered with all that main questline nonsense? Well, if your PC can handle it, then of course there’s mods for all of that.
As I browse through Nexus and the Steam Workshop (the two main repositories for Skyrim mods), I never cease to be amazed by the amount of time and care put into mods by their creators. Mods and patches are completely free, and some of them are quite extensive. There are carefully written, fully-voiced companions (such as Vilja or Inigo), entire islands and worlds complete with their own quests and dungeons (Moonpath to Elsweyr and Falskaar), and countless mesh, graphics, and texture improvement mods. There’s even a project out there to completely recreate the previous two Elder Scrolls games—Morrowind and Oblivion—in Skyrim with its updated graphics engine. These people have poured hours and hours of unpaid work into the creation, documentation, and maintenance of their mods just so people like me can enjoy them—and complain constantly in the forums about every little thing we’re dissatisfied with.
I don’t feel compelled to install mods on all the games I play, even when it’s an option. Nexus, for example, also has quite a lot of mods for Dragon Age: Origins, but I’ve only ever installed one or two—a basic texture replacer and a tweak that tells me which party members I should give specific gifts to (come on, how else was I supposed to know Alistair didn’t want those sparkly gold earrings?). But for Skyrim, it’s become an integral part of how I play. There’s always something I can add to make it better, or simply different. Besides—how else am I ever supposed to get a refreshing change from all those arrows to the knee?