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The Quest For A Next-Gen Skyrim Vol.2 - Environment

Author: Nick Banks
20-May-2018

Category: Opinion

In case you’re just tuning into my quest, let me catch you up. I recently came in to some fancy new PC hardware and decided it was time to go back to Skyrim. After all, it’s a great game. More than that, it was time to pursue the one thing I always wanted to do. Create as close a representation as I could to an eighth generation Skyrim. A Skyrim that, from a visual and gameplay standpoint, would release on the shelves tomorrow. In the first segment of this quest, I’d focus on graphics. In this volume, let’s take a look at how Skyrim’s environment can be drastically improved.

The Quest For A Next-Gen Skyrim Vol.2 - Environment

All mods discussed were applied to Skyrim: Special Edition

If you're new to modding and would like to get started, familiarise yourself with Nexus Mod Manager as this is the source of mods discussed. You can do that easily with our guide.

In case you missed out on the previous entry in my quest, don’t feel left out! Take a look at how to create lovely fresh NPCs at last week’s Narcissistic NPCs. It’ll take you through the mods required to create new NPC character models across Skyrim, smooth out faces and add more depth to character eye textures. There’s even a Witcher related surprise there, lying in wait for you!

Let’s First Make Everything Look Better… And Go From There

When Skyrim originally released, it was amazing to look at. We hadn’t quite gotten too numb to the visuals of great stretching landscapes yet and Skyrim did not fail to impress in this regard. Looking at it now however, we can see LOD issues as distance textures pop upon approach. Textures get super confused when moving the map around or looking down at the province from High Hrothgar. Even the wide open landscapes that surround Whiterun suffer from a blanket, blurry texture, punctuated by the occasional rock or fort. Before we begin to resolve these issues, bringing them to a modern gamer’s eyes, let’s make that blanket sharper with Sweet HD Skyrim.

The Quest For A Next-Gen Skyrim Vol.2 - Environment - Those brick textures though

This one cannot be automatically installed by Nexus Mod Manager, so things will get a little technical for install. First off, this mod is essential to modernise your Skyrim environments so, for the love of God don’t pass this one up. I too was a little nervous about fiddling with files manually. Yet the quest must go on! So on I went and it turned out, installation was super easy. You have nothing to worry about. The uploader has even given step by step instructions on how to install this and I’m confident you will not run into any problems. 

Bear in mind, this mod can be a power drainer for some PCs if they weren’t already running Skyrim on ultra settings. On the flip side, some in the modding community have actually reported increased frame rates after installation!

That’s The Ground Sorted - Now, The Sky

The beauty of skyboxes is that, really, they’re just 2D wallpapers over your head. As such, unlike our previous mod, this one will not run the risk of sucking the life out of your dusty old PC. Skyrim Textures Redone - Enhanced Night Sky will make night time in your game beautiful once again. After installing on Nexus Mod Manager, you’ll get several options for how you want your sky to look. You can tweak brighter stars, add more planets and choose between a 2K or 4K night sky. The hi-res nebula formations and distant planets frankly look amazing.

The Quest For A Next-Gen Skyrim Vol.2 - Environment - 4K night sky

(The above image honestly does not do it justice)

The beauty of the two mods covered so far is that they work perfectly in conjunction with one another. In the worst case scenario, if your PC can’t handle anything else on today’s list, you’ve already got NPCs sorted out and your overall ground and sky textures have enjoyed a makeover. But by golly gum, we’re nowhere near done yet. Next up, let’s juice up the lighting.

Give Mead Halls A Glow Among A Great Many Other Things

For a game that came out in 2011, this is the one mod that proved to me it can still pop with added life after all this time. Combined with Sweet HD, indoor areas look spectacular. Whether it’s Whiterun’s throne room or the well lit Temple of Kynerith, these locations now look like exactly what I’ve been after this whole time. A game with visuals we’d expect to see released on the shelves tomorrow. I’d done it! At least, just for indoor areas. Great stretching landscapes outside would yet need a lot more work.

The Quest For A Next-Gen Skyrim Vol.2 - Environment - A mead hall glow

Just check out that image to see for yourself how crisp things are really starting to look. Want this one for yourself? Head over to Enhanced Lights & FX at Nexus for an easy install and activation. 

The Quest For A Next-Gen Skyrim Vol.2 - Environment - The temple of Kinareth blew my socks off

You can also be sure to grab yourself Lanterns of Skyrim. A very simple and low demand mod, this one. It just adds lanterns along the roads of Skyrim, which will come in handy as Enhanced Lights & FX makes darkness realistic. Like… when it’s dark, it’s bloody dark. Say goodbye to that ominous grey whitewash light of a visible night time. The same goes for cave locations, which more hardcore gamers will appreciate as you’re forced to explore them with a torch or some kind of light spell. 

The Quest For A Next-Gen Skyrim Vol.2 - Environment - Lanterns of Skyrim

Lastly, as far as light is concerned, I had just one gripe left - fire. Skyrim’s vanilla fire does not look great. Especially the fire pits in mead halls as they emit a few fire textures over burning embers and give off the now lovely lighting effects as if it should really be a roaring fire. Resolving this one was tricky as there don’t seem to be that many options for tweaking fire across the Nexus. In the end, I arrived at Cinematic Fire Effects HD 2  which turned out to be a bit of a double edged sword. 

The Quest For A Next-Gen Skyrim Vol.2 - Environment - Dodgy fire effects

While the mod itself looked great, dual casting fire ruined my frame rate. It also cancelled out the next mod I'm going to discuss. It also sorted out spell fire and torches but not fireplaces, leaving them to stick out like a sore thumb. So be aware, if you choose to use this one, it’s entirely up to you in how you experiment with it and whether you decide to stick with it. 

More Realistic Approaches To Weather Cycles

The vanilla climates in Skyrim are well… kinda vanilla. There’s a couple of things we can do to boost the atmosphere outdoors, quite literally. Ordinarily, the first choice for outdoor climates would be Dolemite Weathers - Natural Lighting and Atmospherics II. This mod is gorgeous but - remember that juicy lighting mod earlier? Well, it cancels that out. Hesitant to mess with my next-gen interiors, I left Dolemite Weathers on the back burner for the time being. If you’re prepared to revert your now juicy indoor environments to vanilla, go ahead and uninstall Enhanced Lights & FX and give this one a go. 

The Quest For A Next-Gen Skyrim Vol.2 - Environment - NAT

If however, you’d rather stick with me, you’ll need NAT - Natural And Atmospheric Tamriel. With this hefty mod, you should expect a full weather cycle. At any time, things could go from sunny and clear, to overcast and windy to full-on thunderstorm. This mod gets an extra thumbs up from me as it doesn’t just use stock sound effects to drive home the effects of its weather. It uses original homebrewed rumbles for thunder and wind can be heard as well. The only problem I encountered was, during more violent thunderstorms it’s almost impossible to hear what characters are saying… but that’s just realism for you, I guess. Expect wetness shaders on surfaces too. Shiny! 

The Quest For A Next-Gen Skyrim Vol.2 - Environment - Extra grass

For the final touch, let’s add more grass textures throughout the land. So much of Skyrim’s landscape is simple ground textures and grass load was kept to a minimum back in the day. With the machines of today, we can increase that load with Viscous Foliage. The grass can get a little bit carried away in more built up areas so this one is entirely up to you. Although, it does give the landscape far more ‘alive’ feeling. 

Earth, Fire And Water

With all things earthy and fiery attended to, we’re now left with water. This was an easy find, given Realistic Water Two’s popularity at Nexus. This mod will retexture your water effects and give them a murkier, blue/green tint the more inland you go. Not much to say on this one other than it just makes your water look real nice. There is however, a problem with LOD as, when you see water in the distance, a line of un-texture can be seen, cutting off the effect until you get close enough. 

The Quest For A Next-Gen Skyrim Vol.2 - Environment - Realistic Water

To get rid of this, you’ll need to also grab Realistic Water Two - LOD Fix. It does what it says on the tin ONLY if you place both of these mods at the very bottom of your load order. To do this, go into your downloaded Nexus Mod Manager, head over to the Plugins tab and there, you can rearrange the load order of your mods. Get your Realistic Water mods as far down that list as you can! 

Miscellaneous Added Bonuses

Finally, let’s clear things up a little, starting with the world map. A Quality World Map will bring your Skyrim world map into the modern day. Everything you see is crisper, roads are clearer and there’s definitely more colour on show, which feels more in line with Skyrim’s varying environments. Let’s also clear away that annoying fog with No Fog On World Map.

The Quest For A Next-Gen Skyrim Vol.2 - Environment - Better map

As a final added bonus for today, let’s take a look at blood. For mod as simple as Enhanced Blood Textures there are an interesting amount of options to tweak after install.

Here’s hoping your computer is keeping up with all this. Stick around at KeenGamer for next week’s continuation of the quest for a next-gen Skyrim, where I’ll be going over animation sets. Do you know of any mods I should be using? Be sure to comment below. 

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