Skyrim director’s cut: thieves like us

, | Game diaries

Look, I know Mercer Frey is the head of the Thieves Guild, but he has got to be kidding with this one. He wants me to investigate this dude in the city of Solitude. No big deal, right? Well, except for the fact I’m in Riften (where the Thieves Guild is located) and Solitude is all the way across the entire map. This is not some jaunty day trip to the corner store–this is a serious journey, one that should take me across three or four separate climates in Skyrim. This is some serious Lewis & Clark exploration, and it will require some actual planning and attention to detail.

After the jump, join the thieves guild, see the world

In an unmodded game of Skyrim, you can make that trip across the map in maybe a day or two of game time, even on foot. It’s not that big of a deal, and there’s no hunger or other factors to contend with. With the way I have things set up with Twain’s running speed nerfed, though, I’m thinking he’ll spend at least two full days on the road in game time–if not longer. With that in mind, the next things he has to do before setting out are gameplay decisions completely based on the mods I’m using. First, I know that Realistic Needs & Diseases will mean that if he tried to just make the run without stopping that Twain would likely be so weakened by exhaustion, hunger and dehydration that he’d very likely get torn to shreds by a wild animal or group of bandits along the way. He’ll need to provision up before I send him out.

That means spending some time cooking before leaving Riften, and also means making sure I’ve got camping gear to ward off the cold. (I’m still using Frostfall; it’s worth noting we could have a new version of it that’s compatible with the ubiquitous weather/lighting mod Climates Of Tamriel by the weekend). In addition to the food and shelter, Twain will need liquid nourishment. I have him craft a couple of waterskins, and have those filled with boiled water. Twain will be able to refill them along the way from streams, but just drinking river water without boiling it first can give him a host of diseases and is unsafe. You read that right: with this modded game my character has to cook water now. Yes, I like it that way. No, I’m not out of my mind.

I tried to get an early start on this trip across the map, but I wasn’t able to get Twain underway from Riften until nearly 11 am after all that provisioning and preparation. I did eventually get him to Solitude in one piece, but it took days of game time to do so, and I’m guessing he was happy to sleep in a bed at an inn instead of in a bedroll inside a tent.

In Solitude, he’s given some good old fashioned thieving tasks to do as part of the Thieves Guild quest line. Anyone who’s played a vanilla game of Skyrim can tell you: sneaking is easy mode in the game. Should you go even fairly deep with stealth perks, you’ll discover that you’re so overpowered that it almost feels like cheating. As a corollary though, the guard behavior in the game is also somewhat messy, even after Bethesda patched out unintended hilarity like having chickens able to report crimes. What you’ll eventually come to discover is that even though chickens don’t necessarily report crimes, horses, dogs, and cattle certainly seem to be able to, and guards still behave in ways that just feel wrong.

Which brings me to the next great thing about modding a game of Skyrim. Once you’ve decided what sort of character you want your guy to be, you can find mods that deal specifically with that chosen vocation. There are magic mods and overhauls, heavy arms and armor reworks…and of course mods that deal with stealthy dudes like Twain.

To discuss the way I’m modding things for Twain the rogue, we need to go back to the Skyrim Redone mod that I discussed yesterday. SKYRE (as it’s known) does much, much more than just adjust some crafting elements and those associated perk trees. If you let it (and thankfully it’s a modular installation that allows users to easily pick and choose which pieces of the mod to use and which to ignore), SKYRE also overhauls the way sneaking works. It reworks the entire “Sneak” skill tree by adjusting many of the overpowered perks and nerfing them significantly. It goes beyond that by then ramping up the difficulty of sneaking. With SKYRE running, alerted NPCS search for sneaking characters longer, while those sneaking get a significant penalty for carrying too much weight or wearing heavy armor, among a dozen or so changes to the vanilla system.

That’s only part of it. If you really want to get your sneak on, you can incorporate Sneak Tools, which gives rogues in Skyrim some options that are somewhat similar to Garrett’s in the Thief series of games. If we’re going to give Twain these neat tools to play with, we’re really going to ratchet up the difficulty though beyond even SKYRE by using Sneak Tweaks, which makes NPCs even tougher to sneak around at close range.

With those mods now making Twain work to stay hidden, I’m also interested in fixing some broken guard behavior, and that’s where Reneer’s Crime Overhaul comes in. With that mod running, animals finally stop reporting your crimes, and makes thee guards act respond to you–especially if you’re stealing things–in more plausible ways. You’ll also notice that this mod will have guards following you around if they spot you in sneak mode with your weapon drawn.

These modifications force me to make Twain do smarter things in the game. If I don’t make him steer to darker areas, things can go bad for him quickly. If I send him in dragging 350 pounds of junk on his back, he’s going to be detected no matter how cool the black leather Thieves Guild armor he’s wearing looks. It takes getting used to, and can be frustrating if you’re used to playing the game without those more realistic parameters set. What I love, though, is that it actually gives me more things to think about, more interesting decisions to make, and puts more of a tactile feeling of needing to control things in my hands.

With only two restarts, Twain’s able to retrieve the package he was sent for, and soon he’s nearly the head of the Thieves. He’s getting up there with the Brotherhood, too, which is nice. Things are coming together nicely for my alter ego in Skyrim.

Next up: it’s the little things