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Skyrim! The game has been on Gwendel's Steam account for years; apparently her motivation was because it offered Japanese language support. But like the vast majority of the games on that account, that doesn't mean she'll ACTUALLY EVER PLAY IT.

Well, I got to the point where I decided I could use a break from Fallout 4 (which I've been playing to death in heavily-modded Survival mode, wasting tons of time on settlements, and not in all that much of a hurry to pursue the central, depressing storyline any further than I have to). But, hey, I keep hearing about Skyrim, and -- lo -- it's on Gwendel's account. So why not try it out?

I tried it out, and learned to loathe and despite that mangy, shaggy murderous mutt by the name of Barbas. (He who SEEMS friendly, but has absolutely no respect for personal space, and seems bound and determined to block every doorway, and to nose me off every cliff.) I didn't get all that far into it, but every now and again I write emails to Koogrr to keep in touch, and I mentioned Skyrim, and it turns out that Koogrr is quite the fan. Of COURSE he has a kitty-cat -- er, I mean, Khajiit character. (Haio, or something like that, for a name.)

Steam put the Special Edition on sale this week at 51% off. Special Edition? Apparently it came out last October or so, boasting improved graphics and such. More importantly, though, it fixed glitches involved in the "windowed" play of the game (weird stuff happens if I use ALT-TAB to go to another window), AND it includes all of the DLC -- so getting that would be cheaper than getting all the DLC for plain-ol' ordinary Skyrim.

Therefore, I impulsively grabbed it, and started a new game. This time? I'm playing Loki, a male Khajiit who is as close to being a black-furred kitty-cat (with a white chin) as possible. A few months ago, doing this would have made me start bawling. I am STILL not over losing my cat, and sometimes have dreams where he's tagging along with me, meowing to be let through doors, meowing for food, meowing for attention, etc. Or I'll be tired and have some half-baked thought that I should check on the cat -- and then, a split second later, realize that this is no longer relevant. No, I'm not quite over that. Consider this a little tribute, I guess?

But how to represent a cat who meows for attention? Aha! He should be a BARD!

Except, that is, while bards exist in Skyrim, you don't get to play one.

Unless ... MODS!

Okay, so I've gone a bit overboard with the mods here. Why play vanilla when you can go into overkill?

I'm not quite resolved to go into a Survival pack, or disable fast travel. (I might toy with that once I've caught up to about where I left off on my first play-through. There are still paid wagons to quickly get across the land, after all.)

So, some of the mods I'm trying out (all from the Nexus Mods site):

  • Become a Bard.
    Yessssss! I am going to play a kitty-bard!


  • SKYUI 2.2. This one is tricky. For my first play-through, I downloaded SKSE (Skyrim Script Extender) from Steam, and loaded "SKYUI," and it greatly helped with inventory management (mainly by letting me break up sections of my inventory into categories much like Fallout, without so much falling under "misc"). The trouble is that SKSE doesn't exist for Special Edition yet. The TRICK is that SKYUI 2.2, despite listing SKSE as a prerequisite, works (at least partially) with the Special Edition. You just have to install it manually, have something that handles 7ZIP files, and ignore the pop-ups that warn you that you're missing SKSE. 2.2 doesn't have all the nice features of the latest SKYUI for regular Skyrim, but for me, at least, it was better than going entirely "vanilla."


  • Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch.
    Because who doesn't like bug-fixes?


  • Total Character Makeover.

    Basically a combination of various other "make faces pretty" texture packs and such. I was a bit taken aback when I started up Skyrim Special Edition and the faces looked so ... er ... off. I think this helps considerably.


  • Convenient Horses.
    Yay! You can set horses to NOT charge into battle. And your follower can ride on a horse, too. HOWEVER, I recommend going into the mod options and disabling the "Whistle Quest." It is freakishly annoying. "Hey, let's have the protagonist act like an immature man-child who got dropped on his head a few thousand too many times!" Thank goodness it can be turned off.


  • Skyrim Flora Overhaul.

    More variety to flowers, wild grasses, trees, etc. It DOES make it a little more challenging to gather blue mountain flowers and such, but I think the aesthetics are worth it.


  • Achievements Mods Enabler.
    This is just because ... eh, why not get Achievements? It's a little bit of a stickler compared to the other mods, since while most on Nexusmods can be auto-installed with the Nexus Mod Manager, this one requires an extra step to put a prerequisite .dll file in the "skyrimspecialedition" folder manually.


  • Immersive Citizens - AI Overhaul SE.
    Noncombatants run inside when a dragon attacks! Non-workers go inside when it rains! And other stuff.


  • Open Cities
    This might lead to conflicts with a few mods set in cities, but the basic gist is that you get to head straight into Whiterun and other cities without a loading screen. (The city gates close at night, but you can still get out.) If I find that it causes any big conflicts, I may drop it, but for now it's a nice touch, with all the running in and out of Whiterun I have to do at this stage in the game.


  • Vivid Weathers Special Edition.
    I liked this sort of thing for Fallout 4, so I thought I'd try it here, too. Heavy rainstorms, foggy mornings, etc. It does make VISIBILITY more of a problem, especially at night, but especially on RAINY nights, but that only seems reasonable.


  • Wet and Cold.
    Little aesthetic touches, like if you're in the frozen areas, living characters have little puffs of fog breath when they're speaking, and if they have fur cloaks/hoods in their inventory, they'll put those on (but prioritize armor in other areas). It's also designed to mesh with certain survival mods, though I don't have those loaded up yet.


  • A Quality World Map.
    The maps show ROADS! This would have been a big help on my very first introduction to Skyrim before I started messing with the mods.


  • Ars Metallica - Smithing Enhancement.
    Got a bunch of metal armor you don't need? Melt it down for the raw metal! Craft your own lockpicks and arrows. That sort of thing. It sounded like fun. But admittedly, I first looked at it because it said "METALLICA." Note: This DOES alter play balance. I get experience for mining, smelting, melting down items, so it's become easier to improve blacksmithing skill (maybe about twice the rate of improvement that I had in my first playthrough) without having to churn out iron daggers just for the skill points. Possible exploit in that mining the quarry or the clay deposit near a Hearthstone household still counts as "mining."


  • Followers Can Relax.
    This basically adds "sandboxing" from Fallout 4 to companions. If you're in a home or city, and you idle a while, your followers can go over and use crafting stations, sit in a chair, or if it's nighttime even go to an unoccupied bed and take a nap. Just seems like a cute little detail -- better than them standing at attention all the time and riding my tail (sometimes LITERALLY -- silly game-physics glitches!) when I'm at Lakeview Manor. I'm a bit concerned that this might be conflicting with certain other NPC-behavior mods, though, so I might end up taking this out. But for now it's kind of cute to have Sita (c.f.) stirring at the cook pot or tinkering at the alchemy table while I rush about furnishing the place.


  • Blaze of Eventide

    FLAMING HORSE! :D I loaded this one up in my first play-through, too. The most practical benefit is that he's "summonable," but beyond that it just looks awesome.


  • Improved Bards.

    This might be redundant to the "NPC overhaul" above, but the screenshots looked nice.


  • Sita the Khajiit Ranger.

    "Khajiit follower" -- yay! So far, she's adorable. :) She doesn't sound very Khajiit-like, but I'm guessing the dialogue was just cut-and-pasted from some other female (human) follower. There's no "make friends" quest involved; you just show up at the Drunken Huntsman, and Sita's all "Hi! My good friend! Where have you been? Here! Have some random useful thing I picked up!" (Iron sword has been added to your inventory.) "Let's get going!"


  • Khajiit Child Maisha.

    Adoptable Khajiit kitten! :D Adorable!



BEWARE!
When I started a new game with these mods loaded up, I had a bizarre situation where the opening "ride a wagon to your doom" sequence had the protagonist and all other passengers STANDING outside the wagon, the wagons were stationary, and the horses were turned backwards and walking in place, heads butting up against the wagons. (Said Gwendel: "Now that's really putting the cart before the horse!") The game won't progress, since apparently the scripted events are triggered by reaching certain locations, not by time elapsed, and the wagons AREN'T MOVING.

I tried disabling individual mods to find out which one was the culprit, but this was time-consuming. Ultimately I just disabled ALL the mods, got through the intro, then plugged them back in. As long as you don't have any mods expressly set up to alter character design options, this shouldn't be a big deal, I hope.

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jordangreywolf

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