Skyrim director’s cut: devilishly good details

, | Game diaries

I know that the hunter’s camp I’m looking for is around here somewhere. Twain, budding assassin that he is, has a Brotherhood contract and the fellow he’s supposed to kill is at that camp. As ever with directions, it sounded easier to get here in theory than in execution, and I swear I’ve been all over this riverbank looking. Honestly, I’m almost wondering if I’ve got Twain at the wrong bend in the river entirely. It didn’t use to be this difficult to find quest objectives, after all…

…and I love it.

After the jump, greater than the sum of the parts

The reason I’m struggling a bit with having Twain find the guy he’s supposed to lay some stab into is that I’m using a mod that not only removes floating quest icons, but also completely removes all of the HUD clutter entirely. Remember back in part one of this diary when I talked about a series of videos called Skyrim Mod Sanctuary by a fellow named Gopher? Seems that Gopher not only talks about mods, he creates them too, and one of the most essential to me is a little mod that packs a big punch.

It’s called Immersive HUD, or iHUD for short. What it does is to remove all the status bars, crosshairs, floating quest markers, and compasses from the Skyrim heads-up display. In first person mode, all you’ll see is what your character sees. What’s really splendid is how it gives you the information you want when you need it. Draw an arrow and suddenly your crosshair reappears. Take damage in combat and your health bar shows up and stays visible until you’re back at 100%. It can be customized to allow you to turn on or off anything in the HUD, or to have it just show up when you need it. You can even turn off the stealth indicator for a truly hardcore experience of sneaking.

The trouble Twain’s having finding his mark isn’t only caused by iHUD taking away his quest markers and compass. I’m also using an absolutely glorious little mod called Better Quest Objectives. It changes your journal entries for quests to tell you where you’re going in more precise, but lore-friendly ways. Instead of bland “Go to this town, talk to this dude” journal entries (where it’s clear you’re expected to go to the town and follow your quest icons on your compass), the journal will instead give you much more specific directions, as if your character was realistically noting in a journal. The journal entries read as if you were asking detailed questions of the quest-giver about how to find the person or place he needs to get to. Better Quest Objectives combines beautifully with the way iHUD removes quest markers to make it feel like you’re actually following the verbal directions given to your character. The only drawback is that the mod hasn’t been updated for the expansions or DLC.

While I’d call both of these interface mods fantastic additions to any modded game of Skyrim, the most-endorsed mod at the Skyrim Nexus site is the one that’s absolutely essential, and by saying that I truly mean “I can’t play without it.” I’m talking about SkyUI, the mod that makes the Skyrim interface completely PC friendly. Don’t get me wrong, I think the original interface that shipped with the game is actually rather brilliant in the way it manages to combine being gamepad controller friendly with not being overly clunky for keyboard and mouse users. That being said, if you are a keys-and-mouse player, there’s so much more that could be done with the interface–and SkyUI does it. Everything is divided into clear categories and is easy to find and navigate.

What’s most exciting about SkyUI is something that’s in the works for the hopefully soon-to-be released version 3.0 of the mod. That version will contain an element called a Mod Configuration Menu.

Right now, poor Twain has all sorts of immersion-breaking gadgets in his pack. He’s got a Wet and Cold icicle. He’s got something called a sugar ball for Realistic Needs. He’s got a book for outdoor survival for Frostfall. He’s got another book related to the Crime Overhaul mod. If we checked his list of known spells, we’d find one that summons a guy to set the parameters for depth of field in the Dynavision mod. That’s all very clumsy, frankly, but right now it is the only way for mod creators to give players the ability to do in-game customization. What SkyUI with a Mod Configuration Menu allows is for mod authors to take away those clumsy peripheral inventory pieces and simply put the configuration and customization controls for their mods right into the interface of the game. It may sound like a little thing, but it’s actually one of those things that removes a bunch of immersion-breaking clutter to the game experience.

If you’re going to use SkyUI, don’t stop there. Categorized Favorites Menu is a terrific mod for keeping things sorted when you hit the “Favorites” button. Meanwhile, Better MessageBox Controls and Better Dialogue Controls fix two of the biggest problems with interface that have remained annoying and unfixed for over a year. Imagine how crazy it would be in Skyrim to actually have the dialogue option you want be the one that’s selected!

Not all of the little mods I want to talk about here are interface-related, though. If you’d have told me before installing that a couple of stupid bird mods would go such a long way in making me feel like I was right there beside my character in Skyrim, I’d have laughed at you. Darned if Birds Of Skyrim and Skybirds don’t do just that, though. The first mod adds a bunch of perching and hopping birds around the cities and settlements. The second adds fewer “grounded” birds, but does have more flying birds in towns and villages. They both work well side-by-side, and yeah, having birds around is one of those things in the game you never thought you’d missed, but now without them, to me the game just feels more empty. Another critter mod is SkyTEST. It aims to add more realistic animal/creature behavior to the game. Wolves travel in packs and hunt more realistically. You’re bound to see animals gathering at watering holes. You’ll see entire herds of elk on the plains. Like the bird mods, it adds a sense of liveliness and vibrancy to the world.

Let’s get back to Twain and his search for his contract target. He finally stumbles onto the guy apparently out on a fishing expedition and dispatches him quickly (shades of Fredo). As I type this, Twain’s become head of the Brotherhood and is a high muckity-muck in the Thieves Guild as well, both of which are wonderfully entertaining quest lines. I note with some amusement that I’ve spent nearly 35 hours in the game since starting this diary, and I’ve yet to pick a side in the civil war, so maybe it’s time I finally got around to playing that major quest section of the game. I’m having a great time in Skyrim, and I think I’ve found a nice balance between all the different mods and realism I was looking for. Perhaps with this playthrough that I’ll finally see the biggest game quest through to a conclusion and rid the land of those flying lizards. After all, I hear those dragons can be a surly lot.