So I guess this is the Skyrim mod thread. Let me give it a two-year bump to share my recent expeirences(Oct 2013) modding it over the past five days before starting the game up to play.
The benefit of waiting this long to play is that I got it on a good sale, I have all the DLC cheaply, the numerous patches have cleared up an insane amount of issues since launch in 2011, and the mod and tweak scene has really matured to help deliver the best experience for a 1st time player.
That's the good news, but the bad news is that if you want to mod it to a particular liking, it can take a loooooong time to do it well since a screw up here and there can mess up your game I've read. I put at least ten hours since Saturday reading, installing and testing the opening scene before I began actually questing. It's a game in itself when you think about it, but so far the results have been very good, and I learned a lot about modern modding int the process. If you plan to get deep into modding yourself in this game, here are my tips (someone add to or correct my comments as needed):What can your rig do
It is very important to be aware of your computer's abilities before diving in IMHO. Skyrim w/mods scales to your machines abilities, but it does so only with you making conscience choices about whichmods to NOT add, which ones to add, what version of a mod to install (low, mid, or high quality), and what tweaks to make to various core Skyrim files.
Skyrim is built on DirectX 9, so it doesn't natively have exotic features of the more modern API solutions in some 2013 games. That's one reason why vanilla Skyrim (i.e. no mds) with minor tweaks should run well on most systems. It also is a 32-bit game, meaning it can't take full advantage of 64-bit Win 7+ setups with the latest CPUs or more than 4 GB of RAM unfortunately.
With that said, most high level machines can install a lot of the best stuff and not worry too much about performance. I have a mid range PC by comparison (Radeon 6970 2GB, i5-2500K CPU, 8 GB RAM), and so far my mods and tweaks are more than acceptable. If you have a four-core CPU, you should be in good shape. For the GPU, it is really important IMHO to have at least 2GB of video RAM on your GPU to be able to handle a lot of mid-range add-ons or accept the fact that frame rates will not be consistently super high (or you could even get game crashes for running out of VRAM).What are your game play performance goals
Answering this question early will save you a lot of time and frustration. If pristine graphics are your main goal, don't get upset when you have 20 graphic enhancer mods installed that slows your machine down to 20 fps in busy areas because your machine can't handle it.
Decide your persanally acceptable minimum frame rate, and from that you can decide on game resolution, the .ini tweak suggestions you will add to the main files, and the types of graphic mods you will plug in as well as which quality version you will use.
For me, I want 1080P resolution (60" HDTV native res) at 60 fps for 95% of gameplay. Also, I didn't want stuttering (a problem with vanilla Skyrim to me), significant input lag or screen tearing, and I wanted a VERY stable setup that wasn't prone to a lot of random crashing due to some odd setting or conflict on a random mod.
As I researched tweaks and add-ons, I was able to get enough good info that allowed me to get the results I wanted (so far at least), which meant restrictions on the types of stuff I used and ignoring highly popular mods that I felt would be risky at disrupting my requirements.Get properly set up to begin modding
No matter how few or many mods you add, you need to follow a proven gameplan. There is a wiki site set up for this purpose - the S.T.E.P project.
It has a very(!) involved and updated process for modding your Skyrim into a really cool title, whether it be graphics, sounds, UI or gameplay. For me, STEP was one of several guides I looked closely at, but you can do well with it alone.
No matter how you go about it, you will definitely need three critical
- A mod manager. I use Nexus Mod Manager despite STEP's reservations with it. You have to register at the Nexus Mod website and dload the program, but after that it becomes very easy to install/remove almost any simple mod you want.
, which re-orders your installed mods to avoid conflicts and crashes as well as tell you when you need to clean up mod fix a major problem with it. Very easy program to use.
- TES5 Edit
, which cleans dirty files once BOSS points them out to you. Watch this video
for how to use it.
Here are some recommended tools:
. Without this program, you will be unable to run a lot of very useful mods that require it. Understand that once you have it installed (very simple, here's a video
), you will need Steam open before playing Skyrim but can no longer load the game using the official TESV file. You will instead use the SKSE loader file which on its own loads the game. A lot of the newer and popular mods use it so you have easy access to ingame mod menus for on-th-fly adjustments, so I recommend it.
- Wrye Bash
. Another mod orgnizer that works alongside others you may use. It is more technical, and its best feature is the ability to merge mods so you don't quickly reach the 255 mod limit inherent in the game. I haven't needed it yet, and though BOSS tells me I can merge some mods with it, I just ignore that for now (I'm at around 100 mods at the moment).
. This program lets me check my frame rates in-game like Fraps, but it also lets me limit my frame rate itself which helps with stutter. Once set for 59 fps (recommended over 60fps for some reason), I just make sure it is loaded when I play. You can use the official program for free because the paid features don't relate to gaming (it's normally used by videophiles).
- Radeon Pro. Any ATI gamer should have this already, but I have a profile setup with in it that auto loads when I play. I have it so that it turns vsync and triple buffering on. When combined with the frame limiter above, stuttering in Skyrim is gone (Dxtory set to 59 fps), no screen tearing (Radeon Pro VSync on), and minimal mouse lag due to VSync turned on (Radeon Pro tripe buffering on).GPU-z
. This tells you all about your video card (including VRAM size). Most importantly, if you go to the activity tab, click the first VRAM Usage meter until it say 'MAX' and then minimize it, the tool will tell you what the peak VRAM usage was after you quit the game (I hit a max of 1.2GB so far). Use it in an area with the most (and highest quality) textures in a busy scene to really push it.
Oh, and to round out this section, in my 'My Documents/MyGames/Skyrim/' folder, I change two settings in the 'SkyrimPrefs.ini' configuration file to the following in order to remove the internal VSync and mouse control problems:
iPresentInterval=0 (turns off Skyrim's weird VSync)
bMouseAcceleration=0 (turns off mouse setting that feels laggy to most)
Those two config file edits are at minimum what you are recommended to do before playing Skyrim whether you use mods or not.Proceed to mod, but carefully!
OK, while setting up the initial tools and tweaks listed above, I ran the game until the first scene ended with my test character in a small cave room so I could monitor stutter, tearing, mouse lag and the baseline frame rate at my chosen settings before beginning a real game.
I read that some mods, when deleted or in conflict, can mess up game saves, so I wanted to get most of my safely chosen mods in place and tested as best as I could before beginning a real game. This is my effort for long term stability. The game might not be that fragile when modding (usually you can add new stuff mid game with no issue I've read), but I want to be safer now than sorry later.
My general settings were the recommended values preset by the game's scan of my system, but I toned down shadows and draw distance values early while disabling AA, knowing I could adjust them again later.
I stayed away from mods that had very, very involved set up requirements, those with too few recommendations, and those that were said to drag down performance. When given a choice, I would select the medium quality version instead of the high-quality version (or even low quality if it looked reasonable).
Again, one of my goal was to preserve VRAM by not having graphic mods that add texture sizes that were too big, or added too many new objects to be rendered. My video card can accommodate 2GB in VRAM data, and GPU-Z has told me my max used so far from full game play through my first two town visits is 1.2GB. Mission accomplished, so if it holds up I can later add more visual pizzaz as a result.
So back to my early process, one by one I started going through recommended lists of mods at STEP and by random gamer posts on the 'net. Most mods themselves are dloaded from the Nexus site linked above using their Mod Manager, and for each mod there is a comment section where I read experiences from users to guage if it was worth getting BEFORE clicking the file link. I even skipped some approved STEP mods because they looked too complicated to add or had warnings that they *might* cause issues (like the Graphic Blood Texture mod).
Also, most files have readme links at the site before dloading, which again lets us know whether or not we want to deal with any documented issues. It also tells us which mods conflict with the one being reviewed. As a rule of thumb, try not to get multiple mods that do the exact same thing to avoid anomalies, glitches and crashes (unless its just texture files which simply override earlier textures).
The general process for installing each mod using the Nexus Mod Manager (NMM) is this:
- Click on the auto-install link of a mod (not the manual install link)
- NMM opens up and dloads the file
- Install the file within NMM by going to the Mods tab, clicking the mod, then clicking the second puzzle peice on the upper left
- Some mods have a setup page that pops up to choose settings
- Run BOSS before
you test the effects of any mod
- BOSS will auto reorder your mods to remove conflicts, and tell you what needs to be cleaned up by TES5Edit or removed (ignore Wyre Bash notices unless you get 200+ mods IMHO)
- Use TES5 Edit to clean the "dirty" files (if any), using the link above as a guide.
That's it; after that I simply went into testing the latest few mods to catch a problem early, and then added more mods using the same process. Remember, if SKSE is installed, you must ALWAYS use it's loader file to start a game of Skyrim. If not, start normally. Some rare mods have instructions to recompile their executable when you add certain new mods to keep compatability high, but readme files will tell you things like that.
I'll list my current mods if anyone is interested, but two things I can share now that I know gave me quality visuals while not using up a lot of resources:INSS Improved Skyrim Shadows for Medium Range PCs
(they have alternate links for low range and ultra range rigs too). Shadows by default are ugly and frame-rate stealing in vanilla Skyrim. These tweaks (not really a mod) gives me acceptable shadows without the overhead. I was ready to disable all shadows until I found this link.FXAA Post Process Injector
. You have to manually install it (simply extract all files into the main Skyrim folder with TESV.exe), but I like this a lot. It adds extra graphical "Pop" to the entire game once you pick one of the four presets and adjust to your liking. For me, this was the best alternative to using an ENB, which are very popular mods that makes the game look unreal, often at the cost of a much lower frame rate. Check out the many ENB mods instead of this if you like, but this injector (I have its FXAA anti-ailising option turned off for now) is good enough for me at the moment.
There is a grass mod that I selected which is said to improve frame rates (or at least not decrease them), but until I get to a really grassy field I'll hold off on recommending it.Wrap Up
I've tweaked almost every category so far. I have the Official HD patch installed and the unofficial optimizer for that patch applied (fixes and reduces the textures). I have individual visual improvements to many minor objects, to the water, to the sky, the weather, lighting, interiors, landscapes, towns and to characters/animals. The sounds have been tweaked as well
The enemy A.I. is upgraded to fight smarter with a mod (BTW, I'm also starting on Expert difficulty because some say the vanilla game is easy), and I put in a lot of recommended game play fixes. My UI is overhauled to be more PC friendly since default is a port of the console interface. I even added a few fun mods that sounded cool (but installed safely), and have a few mods that are said to better balance skill progression and things like that.
So after 90 minutes or so of real play with all my choices in place, my frame rate has stayed at maxium levels without a dip at all. And as I said above, at most I've used 66% of my VRAM so far. If that holds up during busy fight encounters in a graphically intense area, I'll consider adding a major graphical mod at medium settings (like Skyrim Floral Overhaul or Skyrim HD or Serious HD).
It may not be the best looking modded Skyrim out there, but it is a LOT better than vanilla and so far runs very, very well.