The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is nearly four years old, and most gamers who might be interested in it have likely poured countless hours into its vast open fantasy world. The world eater has been defeated, scores of dragons have been slain, and the civil war that ravaged the land has come to an end.
If you haven’t experienced Skyrim yet, you should. It’s a shining beacon of fantasy gameplay, boasting a unique and absorbing setting, fine-tuned mechanics, a massive open world, and tasty sweet rolls.
Today I am speaking to the millions who have plundered the depths of Skyrim’s many dungeons. Your work as Dragonborn may be long complete, but Skyrim lives on. If you’ve played through the main story quest and dust off your character’s save today, you’d find that despite your triumphs the land of the Nords is still in peril. Dragons continue to roam the skies, the schemes of Daedric lords are falling into place, and factions like the Dark Brotherhood and Mage’s College still have business to be done.
And those are just the quests and adventures Bethesda has crafted for you to do.
Modders have opened up infinite new possibilities. You can now explore a whole desert filled with cocaine addicted cat-people, meet far-more immersive and detailed NPC’s than those who originally populated Skyrim, wield new weapons, don new armor, and much, much more.
With this in mind, I embarked on a new quest in the great northern tundra. I decided that I wanted to have as different an experience as possible without branching too far from the spirit of the game.
Preparing the Game
The original content of the game is good enough to keep players entertained for hours upon hours (according to Steam, exactly 249 hours for me), but if you really want to maximize your enjoyment within Skyrim you’ve got to search for additional content.
Bethesda put out three official expansions. The first, Dawnguard, sees the Dragonborn trudging through gothic style castles, doing something with vampires I guess? I don’t really know. I never bothered to dish out the $19.99 for content that is almost universally regarded as mediocre.
After that was Hearthfire and Dragonborn. Hearthfire lets you build a big custom house and store everything you have collected in it. I snagged it on Steam when it went on sale for $1.99. It was more than worth the price. Dragonborn lets you explore the island of Slostheim, which you may remember from The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind. Morrowind is my favorite game in the series and many Skyrim fans have lauded it; it was an obvious choice for me.
After determining which expansions to fork over your hard earned cash for, there’s the matter of user-created mods. Most mods are hosted by the Steam Workshop, making them a breeze to install. Others, however, are only available on websites like ModDB. The best part is that, except for a brief period of time where Valve lost its mind, mods are completely free.
The mod I was most excited about was Alternate Start, which allows you to choose from several alternative origin sequences. It replaces the tired cart-ride sequence. Unfortunately for me, it requires Dawnguard to be installed. Sadly, I didn’t get to use it.
The acclaimed Interesting NPCs mod by Kris Takahashi is a particularly enjoyable addition for any return to Skyrim. It adds a staggering amount of new, fully voiced NPCs to the game. Many of them are just random denizens with stories to tell, while others are vendors, trainers, and even companions with unique dialogue for various quests.
And I would have been a fool to ignore Moonpath to Elseweyr, which contains the aforementioned junkie felines.
I also installed a number of mods to make the game more convenient. SkyUI is an insanely popular replacement for Skyrim’s notoriously clunky inventory system. Whistle allows you to summon your horse wherever you might be, and Unread Books Glow allows you to see which books you’ve already read and which you haven’t as you encounter them, making them great additions as well.
There are Many Ways to Skin a Khajiit
Experiencing Skyrim anew doesn’t end with finding new content. You’re going to return to familiar quests at some point if you don’t want to get killed immediately by Dragonborn’s cultists, or annihilated by high-level mods.
The key to finding enjoyment in the familiar is to approach it in new ways. This can be as simple as using a new character build, or as involved as letting a role-playing concept inform your in-game actions.
If you are looking for radical changes to gameplay, there are always mods like T3nd0’s Skyrim Redone which fundamentally alters the game’s mechanics. I enjoyed the built in variety of the base game well enough, but it’s good to know that there are even more options out there.
If you’re like me, at least a few of the hours you’ve logged in the game have been spent looking at your character in his or her latest gear, admiring the badassery. I really dug the faux-Viking aesthetic my first time around, so I made a big, surly Nord, covered in dirt, and sporting crazy war paint. He looked damned awesome in the game’s signature horned helmet while he split skulls with a comically large warhammer.
However, this time I went about as far away from any archetype as I could. I elected for a Dunmer, a dark elf. After playing around with the extensive character creation tools, I crafted a sinister-looking waifish, little evil-doer with terrifying face tattoos and a generally decrepit look. He felt well suited for my intended style of play, which revolves around destruction and illusion magic.
Skyrim boasts an incredibly robust progression system, allowing for nearly infinite play styles. Whereas I focused on melee combat my first time through the game, I shifted my character’s focus to stealth and sorcery. This new approach allowed me to discover the devious possibilities of illusion spells, which I had disregarded as largely useless in my previous play-throughs.
Should You Return to Skyrim?
Having come out only four years ago, the snowy peaks and dragon filled skies of Skyrim are still fresh in the minds of many gamers. Thanks to the sizable and dedicated community, continuing support from Bethesda, and the built in variety and endless content of the base game, there’s always a new and interesting experience to be had in Skyrim.
One or two free mods alone can justify diving back in for 20 or 30 hours, not to mention the AAA quality DLC, or the plethora of faction and side quests.
I’ve already spent an embarrassing amount of my free time on Skyrim since jumping back into it about a week and half ago. I’ve still got a pile of user-created quest lines that I haven’t even started. I keep meaning to travel to one of the entire, new open-worlds I’ve added to the game, but I keep getting distracted by the factions I never get around to helping and the NPCs with interesting stories to tell.
So yes, you should return to Skyrim. Because even if none of that appeals to you, you could always just become Talos.