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Community Mods: Fixing Elder Scrolls V Skyrim, One Plugin At A Time

I think I burned out from Elder Scrolls V the first time in November, 2011.  With a level 63 character to show for it, I can't say that I wasn't enjoying the game enough to put quite a few hours into it, but I hit a certain brick wall of quite a number of cumulative issues which prevented me from really seeing the game through to completion.  As the Skyrim Steam Workshop is now unlocked, I've a list of mods I can recommend to fix many of these problems.

The above video is another thing I really recommend you do in order to eliminate a significant amount of that crippling mouse lag.

Mod: SkyUI 
Ranking: MUST HAVE

Perhaps the worst problem Skyrim has is that your inventory soon becomes a cluttered mess that makes a simple task, such as dropping something you accidentally picked up, a terrible chore.

SkyUI rectifies this considerably by making your inventory sortable by category and even allows you to search your inventory by string, sort your inventory by value/weight ratio, and quickly find stolen or enchanted items.

If the mod has any real downside, it's that it uses the community SKSE script extension kit and Steam seems to have a hard time loading it.  However, despite SkyUI complaining about it SKSE loading properly, the mod largely works without full SKSE support.  You can fix this by launching Skyrim with SKSE support instead of going through Steam, but at the cost of not launching the Skyrim launcher and so not getting the latest updates through Steamworks.

Mod: Realistic Lighting 

As players who were excited about Khaajits having night vision were mortified to discover, Skyrim by default does not really get all that dark.  You can modify the gamma, but it still lacks a certain level of satisfaction in terms of overall contrast.

This Realistic Lighting mod is (in my opinion) the best community mod out there to address the problem, being less resource intensive than competing mod, RCRN, and producing a better overall color balance.  Now, when you're moving through dark night or murky dungeons, you really want to have an illumination spell or torch, as certain places will be pitch black to the point where you're likely to be at quite the disadvantage.

The main down side of this mod is that Skyrim itself really was not balanced around the idea of this lesser illumination.  This has prompted additional community mods to support this one such as Improved Interior Lighting and Well-Lit Cities And Towns.  Also, unlike RCRN, there is no easy toggle to turn it on and off mid-game, but I have yet to encounter a situation in which I needed to.

Of course, if the game colors have never bothered you, you can choose to pass on this mod completely.  However, to its credit, I will say playing Skyrim with Realistic Lighting feels a lot like you're playing the game it should have been all along.  The result feels somewhat dark gothic a great deal of the time, as suits a nordic epic, and there's a lot more awe-worthy scenes encountered with than without.

Mod: Invested Magic

I'm not sure what developer thought having to recast a buff every 30-60 seconds was a good idea, but it's basically a chore that makes Skyrim's UI significantly less enjoyable than it really should be.

Invested Magic solves this by turning a number of spells, such as candlelight or oakflesh, into a "toggle" that reduces your maximum mana while they remain active.  The actual mechanic it employs is quite simple and well-within the standard flow of the engine: all that was done is these spell's duration was greatly increased and a maximum mana debuff added to their affect.  (About the most complicated thing is that casting the spell again will toggle it off, which required a little scripting on their part.)

There's also a secondary "bonus" affect on this mod in that it will increase the potency of your destruction spells if you invest in the mastery perks.  The bonus scaling is based off of all your magic skill levels, so focusing completely on destruction magic produces less damage than focusing on all the magic skill levels.  Considering smithed weapon damage currently blows destruction out of the water, something like this is indeed needed.

There are some minor issues with this mod.  Currently, the muffle spell sound can sometimes play when reloading a saved game even when the spell is not active and stacks - to avoid this bug, do not save while muffle is active.  I'm not entirely sure it's balanced to have muffle and invisibility on a toggle, although I suspect (not confirmed) invisibility will turn off the second you interact with something.  Also, the destruction spell scaling feature is somewhat vestigial and really should have been put on another mod.

Mod: Resilient Dragons (alternately with no added shouts)

Dragons are centric to Skyrim's appeal, magnificent-to-behold beasts providing regular epic battles in order to change of pace from the hack and slash routine.  It's a pity, then, that dragons are complete pushovers in execution.  In many cases, they come off as sad little wyrms that could be killed with a single blow by a surly giant, a few sneak attacks from a high level player, or even common mid-to-high-level bandit rabble.

This mod attempts to rectify the problem by making dragons a whole lot more durable and much less affected by NPC damage, as well as teaching them a few new tricks.  Now, it takes dragonborn intervention to down these horrendous beasts, and this time they're not going down without a fight.

If you love the idea of protracted, challenging dragon fights, this is a great mod to be running.  If you think dragon fights are tedious and you want less of them try this mod out anyway, because it could very well be that what was missing all along was the truly adrenaline-provoking experience of a worthy adversary.

You may prefer to instead use competing mod, Deadly Dragons, but that mod has taken a lot more creative liberties with the vanilla balance.  I think the only real thing the dragons were missing was better durability, and that's what Resilient Dragons is all about.

Mod: Dynamic Merchants

Lets face it: the merchants of Skyrim never have enough money, even after you've taken the necessary speech perks to bolster their gold on hand (which may be bugged).  Dynamic merchants operates under the simple premise that, the more you trade with a merchant, the more affluent they will get.  This results in them having more gold on hand as well as an improved inventory quality.

Honestly, I'm not entirely sure this mod works as advertised, but if it does I'd say it's a good one to be running.   It's more balanced than simply giving them more gold or even scaling their gold based off of player level because it requires the player actually trade with them for their gold stock to increase.

In the long run, this trade guild mod may be a far better way to go about it, but for the time being that mod is too far from complete for me to recommend it.

Mod: Unread Books Glow

Skyrim has quite a few books, and it's somehow easy to lose track of what books you've already read versus what books you haven't.  Not to mention that it's a real annoyance having to sift through piles and piles of the same old filler book trying to find that one interesting book you've yet to read.

Unread Books Glow fixes this by causing any books you've yet to activate ("read") visibly glow.  They will also show as (Unread) in their name.  Practical enough, it works like a charm.

The downside of this plugin is that, if the developers have attempted to hide any books from obvious view, you'll find them quite easily thanks to their glowing, spoiling a little bit of a challenge.  You may also find it a bit of a disconnect to see glowing books stacked together with non-glowing ones.  However, both of these downsides are actually solved in that you can choose to make the books not glow at all, and their titles will simply read "(unread)" when you are looking at them to know you've yet to read them.

Mod: Spend Dragon Souls For Perks

Play Skyrim long enough, and you'll eventually be lousy with dragon souls and nothing you can (or want) to spend them on.  The result is no real incentive to want to face down yet another dragon and a big fat "dragon souls" count staring you in the face that you can't do anything about.

This mod changes that, placing a number of "dragon stones" in the world that allow you to convert dragon souls into perks.  Sweetening the deal considerably is that this mod strives to make this an extremely balanced endeavor: the higher up on the perk tree the desired perk is, the more dragon souls are required to unlock it this way  The result is something that not only gets some use out of those extra dragon souls but greatly increases the length of the end-game.

Skyrim is unique among the recent Elder Scrolls games in that maxing out everything is impossible because, while you can get 100 score in each skill, without the involved perks you'll be significantly less effective, forcing you to specialize.  If you prefer to be forced to specialize your characters, clearly this mod is not for you.  Otherwise, this is a great mod to have for those of us looking to be a master-of-all-trades who really earned it.

Mod: Horses For Followers and (required) Better Followers Improvements

In vanilla Skyrim, owning a horse is essentially abandoning your companion, losing their support for an extended period of time because they simply cannot keep up with you.  It also looks really tacky to be on a horse with some hired schlep trying to keep up with you on foot.  Consequently, I felt pressured to choose to go without a horse or follower, and resentful for it.  Your companions would have horses in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, why not here?

This mod attempts to fix that by allowing you to buy horses owned by your companions and encouraging them to mount those horses.

Now, whether or not it actually works as advertised will very from player to player, but the author is continuing to release additional versions and likely it will work fine in time.

Mod: Disable Fast Travel

Why the heck would you ever want to disable fast travel?  One word: immersion.  If you're an escapist like me who prefers to be sucked into the virtual world of Skyrim, succumbing to the temptation to fast travel somewhere instead of walking there is a real immersion-breaker.

This Disable Fast Travel plugin handles the problem by providing a note you can click in your inventory that disables fast travel.  If you really, really want to fast travel, you can click the note again to enable it, but this does create the opportunity for you to make a extra little cognitive check on your part if you really want to do that.

Many players would, rightfully, point out that if you hate fast traveling so much then just don't fast travel: no mod necessary.  However, this mod can nonetheless be a small comfort to those of us so inclined to opt out on doing this in the name of escapism.  Installing this simply feels that much more legitimate than keeping your hands off the shiny red fast travel button.

Mod: Food Effects

By default, food in Skyrim is a joke.  There's all of three useful foods in the game and the rest is merely a very small heal on consumption.  Scarfing a bag of 20 potatoes to restore 100 health is an immersion-breathtakingly bad use of virtual spuds.

Food Effects modifies food through a fairly clever idea of splitting them into three categories (proteins, dietary acids, and carbohydrates) which boost your character's regeneration in health, magicka, or stamina.  If you neglect eating for long enough, you will suffer penalties in regeneration to these instead.  Alcoholic drinks have also enhanced to provide temporary benefits in exchange for slowing you and blurring your vision.

The main downside of this mod is that you do need to constantly be on the lookout for more food, as the mod is aggressively balanced in such a way that you may wish you did not have to eat quite as much to keep your character's edge.  Perhaps you'll savor the additional challenge (I know I do).  Some players complain that the mod is malfunctioning, incurring permanent penalties on their character, but I have yet to witness this myself, and suspect what may have happened to them is they accidentally unloaded the plugin without using the included "purge of effects" potion first.

Mod: Followers Can Relax

Does it bother you that your followers are constantly standing at attention?

This mod gives them a dialogue option that you're going to hang around a bit so they may as well chill out.  This basically temporarily assigns them an idle behavior to carouse a bit wherever you may be.

It's not at all essential, some would say an unnecessary bloat you won't be using 99% of the time, but it's a nice little frill to have nonetheless.

Mod: Sounds Of Skyrim, The Wilds and The Dungeon

If you're looking for a bit more variety in the kinds of noises you hear in everyday trekking about Skyrim, these plugins can help.

At times, certain sound effects may seem a little inappropriate (e.g. birdsong on a barren winter field) but then, so do the stock sounds Skyrim already uses.

Mod: Slightly-Reduced NPC Greetings

Have you ever been annoyed by every NPC you come within 10 feet of trying to strike up a conversation with you?

Then the reduced NPC greetings mod is for you, as it modifies the NPC awareness so they will not bother you unless you are considerably closer to them.

While the idea was sound, I've discovered that the mod does cause considerable issues in the game wherever and whenever the player's presence being detected by an NPC is essential for something to happen.  The most common situation being when an NPC is trying to lead the player somewhere and keeps turning around to wait for the player to catch up.  With the Reduced NPC Greetings mod, you will have to rub up against them in order to get them to lead you further, and the "Slightly-Reduced" version of the mod is still rather annoying.

For this reason alone, I really can't recommend this, but it still bears mentioning for those who are desperately tired enough of being hounded by idle NPC prattle to bear with the faults even if (as I suspect) it ends up breaking the main quest line at some point.

There's quite a few other things I'd like to see done for Skyrim.

One of them is later-game scaling, which you can see some work for in Epic Endeavors and Magic Scaling.  However these are still largely works in progress more likely to break the game than fix it.  I'm looking forward to when they reach a more acceptable state.  Sadly missing is a mod that fixes smithing from utterly unbalancing weapons and armor in end game - crafted gear should really cap at the first "legendary" level, and probably end up in the hands of NPCs as well.

Another thing I'd like to see is a mod that changes the way the quick item selection hot keys work to switch between complete equipped-item/spell configurations instead of just doing a strange left/right hand equipping thing like it currently does. That just intuitively makes a lot more sense! However, it does not look like that's going to be happening soon, as it likely requires a lot more than the construction kit allows.
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