Lexi in early 2012, having just started Skyrim: “Vanilla Skyrim is the best game in the world! I love it so much, I'm overwhelmed by wonder! I don't even know how mods work and have no use for them (except Better Females because that's just goddamn necessary).”
Lexi in 2013, having recently beaten every major questline in Skyrim: “Skyrim was pretty fun, but it definitely had its fair share of flaws. I'm done with it for now.”
Lexi in mid 2014, having briefly restarted the game and gone back to grab a couple old mods, only to find that there are... lots of them now: “Wait... there are so many and they all look so awesome. And they actually work if you use this program? But... but... but....”
Lexi in late 2014, with blisters on her WASD fingers: “MODS. MODS. I NEED THEM. I LIKE THEM. I LOVE THEM. I NEED MODS FOR EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING DAMMIT.”
If that didn't give you a good enough idea, I am currently re-hooked on Skyrim, the majesty all restored through the glory of efficiently modding the game. While certain purists aren't a fan of corrupting the original game content, and I respect that, I've found that giving the game some... “tweaks”... has not only brought back the wonder of Skyrim, but made it more fun than it ever was before. I've now reached a point where I don't even need to quest to have fun, and just searching for the next new modification gives me an addictive, crack-like thrill that has hindered my productivity for some time now.
Y'know how people say “this is why we can't have nice things”? Skyrim's modding community is the reason we can.
In honor of this new addiction, and in order to get my obsessive thoughts on the subject out of my system, I've decided to scrawl up this “educational” retrospective on Skyrim's many, many mods... or, more specifically, the ones I happen to use and can somewhat-accurately “review.” Or, at least, give my opinions on. Which is basically what a review is.
So, without further ado, let me try to organize these as best I can.
These ones are kinda boring but they're pretty necessary. They don't give everyone bigger boobs or turn dragons into Diablo but you still want them.
Nexus Mod Manager: This is what makes mods, um, happen. I mean, sure, you can manually install every single file into your data folders, until they're all piled up and you have no idea what you left where and then eventually totally destroy your computer. But why not just use this instead? It makes everything work a hell of a lot better, giving you greater flexibility and the ability to turn mods on and off at your will. This is enormously necessary, seeing as not all mods play nicely together, and any single incompatible or poorly-made mod can cause your game to crash like a little bitch. You have to be able to turn things off without needing to dig out each file like fragments of a shotgun shell in your chest cavity.
SKSE: The standard script extender. While this isn't part of Nexus's mods it IS necessary for a lot of larger and more advanced mods. This isn't a very interesting one but you do kinda need it.
SkyUI: A staple for PC users like me. While Skyrim's menus are notoriously laggy and poorly-constructed, this alters the interface in a lot of key ways that allow you to more easily access menus by keyboard. Yay!
Run For Your Lives: This makes NPC's go inside during dragon attacks, dramatically reducing the likelihood of them dying horribly and making you unable to buy another sweetroll from them ever again. Nobody wants that.
The Paarthurnax Dilemma:Y'know when the Blades force you to either kill Paarthurnax or take a long walk off a short pier? This little ditty lets you tell them you're the motherf***ing Dragonborn and you do whatever the f*** you want and if they have an issue they can shove it up their fus ro dah.
Realistic Lighting Overhaul / Lanterns of Skyrim: Okay so this one I have mixed feelings on. While I like the lanterns and I kept them, they're mostly useful when everything is DARK AS HELL which is what happens when you use the Realistic Lighting Overhaul. While this mod makes everything look better and makes dungeons more realistically dark and gloomy, it can also be a huge pain in the ass, for a couple reasons.
First, not all locations (this goes quadruple for mod-originated locations) “register” as being dark, so your legion of scantily-clad followers won't pull their torches out and make you able to see. Secondly, even when you do have followers holding torches for you, they'll put them away during combat... which is sort of when you want to be able to see. Thirdly, the mod eats up a lot of the game's efficiency, causing lag especially if you (like me) have a s****y computer.
So, if your compy can take it and you are willing to sacrifice convenience for immersion, pick these two up. If not, leave them be.
A Quality World Map: Self explanatory. Makes your world map not totally useless, not sacrificing any of the map's 3D flavor while simultaneously actually showing you where the roads are.
Cutting Room Floor: Restores some dummied-out content and stitches the game up a bit.
Unofficial Skyrim Patch: Does its best to fix a lot of Skyrim's bugs. Admittedly, there are still too many to be truly repaired... especially once you start modding and can expect a crash from time to time. Save often.
Skyrim Project Optimization: Increases performance while indoors at no cost to graphics. No reason not to get it.
Little changes that will affect gameplay in a noticeable way, but don't follow a specific theme.
Race Menu: Changes the character creation process a bit. This is supposed to be an essential must-have but I haven't noticed it to be thaaaaaaat great. It is necessary for some other mods, though.
Convenient Horses: Exactly what it sounds like. Just get it and thank me later.
Better Magic: Self explanatory. Overhauls magic.
Enhanced Night: One of the first mods I ever used, recommended to me by my girlfriend at the time who was an astronomy enthusiast. While I don't give much of a damn about the stars, this overhaul does make the sky much more pleasant to look at.
Helmet Toggle: While I'd be content to just not wear a helmet, those stupid perks that force you to wear a matching set really want me to. But if I'm gonna wear a helmet there's not a chance in hell I'm actually gonna look at it.
Immersive Settlements: Adds some odds and ends to the towns, making them feel a bit more “whole.”
Improved Combat Sounds: I haven't noticed a huge difference from this, but nor have I used it for a very long time. Still, I have faith in it.
Guard Dialogue Overhaul: Makes the guards less insufferable. Go ahead and grab it.
Monster Mod: Adds more monsters to break the monotony. Comes in lore-friendly and lore-unfriendly versions.
No Naked Comments: So you wanna run around naked and don't want people to keep yelling at you for it. I get that. We've all been there. This mod forces those snooty NPC's to keep their lips zipped and enjoy your nudity as much as you do.
Auto Ammo Unequip: Takes a minute to figure out but holy crap is it worth it. If you're like me, having a bow and arrows on your back really cramps your style and you wanna remove it all the time. This gives you one less thing to have to remove – removing your bow removes your arrows too.
Dovahkiin Perks: Changes your Speech skill into, somewhat weirdly, a Dragonborn-styled perk tree with a lot more options and cool things to get. Worth grabbing.
Path of Shadows: Overhauls Stealth to make it more realistic. This is really one you may want to take or leave – it changes some perks around and makes it so that positioning matters a lot more during stealth. Gone will be the days of being totally undetected by someone while you stand right in front of them.
Pretty Combat Animations: A customizable must-have that lets you adjust the way you hold and use your weapons. Also the way you sneak.
Follower overhauls and custom-made followers. Pretty straightforward.
UFO - Ultimate Follower Overhaul: A must-have. Overhauls the whole follower... thing. Makes them a bit more complacent, causes them to level-up along with you, and allows you to have more than one follower at once (yes, I do have a small army).
Better Followers: I forget what this one does. I think it adds more followers to the game, but I've been too busy using custom-made ones to look for 'em. Still, may as well grab it. Can't hurt, right?
Ariel: Great design, useful in combat, wears what you tell her. She also seems to be disappear-proof. However, she uses default voices and therefore, despite her cool look, is a bit “faceless.”
Mindi Badweyn: Not quite as uniquely-designed as Ariel, Mindi also uses default voices and looks nice, even if her mouth bugs out sometimes and makes her look like a blow-up doll. What makes her stand out is that you can change her combat style when you install her to fill whatever role you need her to fill.
Mirai: Mirai supposedly has an actual questline she's supposed to give you, involving spiders, but she doesn't want to do that for me. Still, even without quests she's got a nice design, is an efficient mage, and is voice-acted. Not a top pick, but a good one.
Arissa: Fully voice-acted, with great dialogue and quests that actually work, Arissa is a well-made and useful lass to have around. The issue with her is that she's a judgmental f***ing bitch. She has a “regard” function where she can grow closer to the Dovahkiin, opening more quests and dialogue options. Issue is, if you... aren't exactly a “nice” Dovahkiin, her regard for you reduces dramatically, to the point where she refuses to even hold gear for you. If you're going on any Dark Brotherhood missions, leave her behind.
Sofia: The follower to end all followers. While Sofia doesn't have any quests, she's well-designed, badass, has a tracker in case you lose her, will ride a horse, and is actually nice to you unlike a lot of other user-made followers who like to be sarcastic hags. You can also change her combat style if you so desire. Most importantly, however, Sofia is fully voice-acted with TONS AND TONS of dialogue, all of which is well-written, hilarious, interesting, and often more than a little bit perverse. She's also a fun option for a queer Dovahkiin – while Skyrim has always made it possible to be romantic towards same-sex followers, Sofia will actually acknowledge that your character is female and admit that she's attracted to her anyway. She sounds a bit conflicted about it, but at least she actually addresses it.
Stealth Kills for Followers: Allows followers to make sneak attacks. I haven't really used this one yet but it sure sounds good.
Some mods that will make your avatar more kickass. This will be pretty sparse since I tend to favor a more... “mature” type of Vanity mods. Check the “After Dark” entry towards the end.
Apachii SkyHair: Though I can't decide whether the name is racist or why it would be, this adds a heap of great new hairstyles that you can choose. And a bunch more horrible ones. But hey, one nord's trash is another nord's treasure, right?
Believable Hair: Rather than adding new hair, this edits the textures of the vanilla hairstyles, making them look a little bit less, um, awful.
Better Females: Technically there's a Better Males out there too somewhere, but I haven't checked it out yet. This makes your ladyfolk look significantly less freakishly hideous and makes elves look like elves, not undead crackhead goblins.
Black Sacrament: A beautiful and immersive set of armor and weapons. This is a little bit tricky, since there are some bizarre and deceptively challenging quests you have to go through to be able to craft it – thing is, the quest may or may not actually work (didn't work for me at all). Nonetheless, if you're good with console commands you can gather up the sets anyway. It might just take a while. A long while. Worth it for how gorgeous these armor sets are. Non-cheesecake.
Feminine Running: You can take or leave this one, I'm not totally sure how I feel about it yet. Makes female models run a bit more... girlishly.
Seraphine's Armor: Normally I don't like borrowing costumes from other franchises, but this one is so damn obscure (Hunted: The Demon's Forge) that I don't think anyone will notice or mind.
Better Homes and Gardens:
Places for your Dovahkiin to actually live. Or otherwise go. Or whatever.
The Asteria: A dwemer airship that's exactly as cool as it sounds. Fairly easy to access, it has everything from mannequins, to a smithy, to an enchanting table, to an alchemy table, to plenty of weapon racks, to plenty of ingredients and presents, with several bedrooms, lots of space, and A WHOLE F***TON OF LAG. A fantastic mod but don't go anywhere near it unless you have a high-end computer.
Northern Cardinal: Your very own ship! An actual ship, though; not an airship. Nonetheless, what the Northern Cardinal lacks in flair it makes up for in efficiency. It requires a short questline to acquire it, but several perks – this ship can actually MOVE to several ports in Skyrim (including Falskaar, which we'll get to later). The insides are well-crafted and wonderfully decorated, with everything you'd need in a house, much less a boat. In addition, you can actually have a crew, comprised of followers and other NPC's, including a few shopkeepers such as a blacksmith and alchemist. Extremely highly recommended.
(After Dark) Bathing Beauties Luxury Suite: Your very own bathhouse! Can get you income from admitting customers, lets you hire guards, etc. Also makes a great player home since you can stay in the master bedroom of your very own little hotel.
(After Dark) Underground Bathhouse and Paradise Valley: What can I say? The bathhouse idea attracted me. This one is different in a lot of ways, mostly in that it's significantly larger. Still, the idea is the same and both locations are very similar in nature. You probably only need to pick one, depending on whether you want a small and fairly believable hotel... or a lavish paradise manor.
Loading Screen Goodies:
Let's face it; we spend as much time in Skyrim's loading screens as we do in the game itself. Let's spice it up.
Uncle Sheogorath's Helpful Hints and Tips: Remember Sheogorath? Otherwise known as the best part of the Elder Scrolls mythos as a whole? Replace to boring “helpful” text with lore-friendly rantings by Uncle Sheo, and get a laugh each time you're forced to load yet another interior.
(After Dark) Sexy Skyrim Loading Screens: While Sheogorath gives us something fun to read, he doesn't give us anything to look at. This does.
Some people are really ambitious. Some people don't think that just making a little suit of armor is sufficient to express their not-insignificant modification skills. Those people make stuff like this.
Moonpath to Elsweyr: The weakest of the three I'm listing here, MtE has its pros and its cons. The new areas are beautifully rendered with no noticeable lag, taking you on a beautiful journey through the jungles and waterways of Elsweyr, the home of the khajiit. It has a few short questlines where you get to fight against the oppressive Thalmor, a new armor suit, and a player home as well. However, a lot of the khajiit shanty-towns feature excessive amounts of narrow stairways that I just love to fall off of countless times. The audio is also a bit fudgy, and the subtitles very rarely do anything resembling lining up with the actual dialogue. Fun, but not a masterpiece.
Falskaar: Closer to a masterpiece, Falskaar is an open-world island not far from Skyrim proper. It features new armor and weapons, plenty of side-quests, a main quest, a new shout, and lots of other goodies. The whole place is lovingly rendered but not entirely unique (seeming very much like normal Skyrim's landscape), and everyone on the entire island is voice-acted. The only issue with this is that the leader of Falskaar, who you will have to listen to for the longest time, is horribly voice-acted and takes about 300% of the necessary time to croak out each halting, emotionless sentence. This also has a few minor bugs that break the immersion, usually involving NPC's taking way too long to perform quest-related tasks.
Or the jarl persistently antagonizing my companions and forcing them to kill him again and again.
Helgen Reborn:Here's our masterpiece. While I haven't finished it 100% yet, I know quality when I see it. Unlike the two I mentioned before this, this mod never leaves Skyrim proper – instead, it takes a “dead” area (post-Alduin Helgen) and turns it into a massive questline that involves rebuilding and defending the ruins. Beautifully voice acted with new companions on top of it, characters have unique personalities and the quests feel very organic and amazingly crafted. The only thing that makes Helgen Reborn seem like it isn't a natural part of Skyrim is that it's better than the official content.
Elvenwood: A little tree-top village populated by Bosmer. Not a masterpiece or even that detailed (in fact, I'd have put it in another category if I had one) but I like it anyway.
Anyone who's talked to me, read anything I've written, glanced at me from afar, or heard my name mentioned knows that I'm more than a bit of a pervert. Hence, it's not a huge secret that the mods that attracted my attention first were the naughty ones. Those under 18, go ahead and just don't open this spoiler block, 'cause this ain't for you.
(Note: That doesn't mean there will be any nudie pics in this section.)
UNP / CBBE: These two mods alter the female model a bit, and in some different ways. You can only have one, of course – meaning you're either an UNP person or a CBBE person. The majority of “sexy” armors or other functions require one of these two mods to function correctly. The difference? Not much – UNP is a bit more athletic, is more detailed, and has a bit more content. CBBE is curvier and has a better slider.
Which do I use? I use the Dimonized “Skinny” UNP build, since I'm currently playing an elf and wanted her to look slim.
Brokefoot's UNP Mashup: This is just basically a big pile of customizable female outfits that can be crafted. And they're all totally awesome. Not exactly NSFW but definitely skimpy.
Merta Assassin Armor: Craftable once you find the manual in the Dawnstar Sanctuary (or by nabbing it with a console command), this NSFW armor set is pretty wonderfully rendered and actually kind of awesome too, making your “slutty assassin” seem like equal parts slutty and assassin, rather than just full-slutty (nevah go full-slutty). You can also reforge the armor sets to make them gradually less slutty if you're into that kind of thing.
R18Pn Set: This introduces some pretty great-looking sets, which come in varying degrees of immersion-breaking. I like to enchant them and give them to my mages.
Sexy Idle Animation: Makes your Dovahkiin do something other than stand straight and give you the stink-eye.
Sexy Mannequins: I can't decide if this one is cool or horrifying. It turns your mannequins into live models... that don't ever move... and are basically lifeless statues. Kinda neat for an evil Dovahkiin as you can pretend you've been working on your sick taxidermy skillz.
Sexy Vanilla Armor: Sexifies all the basic armor sets for UNP-users. Pretty straightforward.
Sotteta Necromancer Outfit: Pretty decent but I mostly just took this one for the bottom piece, which I quite... um, like. The robe itself, however, has a really cool enchantment that does poison damage to anyone who dares come near you.
And with that, I've spent about three hours doing something absolutely meaningless and, now that I think about it, rather self-absorbed. So, I hope this helps you out if you plan to do some excessive modding in the future – and, if not, I hope that it managed to at least be kinda funny and give you something enjoyable to read while you poop.