To be clear, my goal at the outset was to repurpose my copy of Skyrim: Special Edition into a game that looked as good as something that would release on shelves today. Anybody that has dabbled in the modding scene will know this is going to be no small undertaking. Certain mods cancel one another out and after years of seeing images and video footage of other players enjoying a God-like version of Skyrim, I figured it was high time to delve deep into Nexus and figure this stuff out for myself. Notebook at the ready, I started to record all of my experiences on Nexus Mod Manager. All the times things just worked and made me smile, and the other times where my experiments just weren't playing ball. Welcome to entry number one, after which I assume there will be many.
Some mods are simpler than others. Perhaps they're just a little tweak that barely effects the underlying code of Tamriel. No performance hits. You install it and instantly recognise the change. Happy days. With this in mind, perhaps I bit off more than I could chew for the first course of modding banquet. I chose to start on my biggest bug bear in Skyrim and perhaps, the one thing that dates it the most. Its NPCs.
Total Character Makeover
It turns out that, when it comes to juicing up NPCs, there is no simple route to what your eyeballs hunger for. Are you looking at a mod that just changes the player character? Perhaps it just changes followers. If it affects every NPC you see, will it limit your options with armour and animation mods later down the line? What a minefield. Daunted as I was (as I'd like to think anybody would be by this) I opted for the most downloaded option. Clearly it won out for its ease of use. Total Character Makeover (above) has no complicated install and heck, it works great. All faces were smoothed out (except children) and those jagged angular Bethesda people of old were no more. BUT, unlike what you'd expect, this just caused further problems. My game ran just fine with it active. However, with simplicity for the user comes a crippling limitation of extra options. I took a look at hi-res beards, Apachii Sky Hair and eye retextures. They all looked great but would not work in conjuction with Total Character Makeover.
It wasn't long before I came to the conclusion that character's now higher texture hair just extenuated the problem of looking like straw attacked by hair straighteners and the smoother faces alone were just not enough. I had to go into these NPCs with a fine tooth comb… made of scalpels. This just goes to show that the most highly downloaded item may not be a winner for you, personally.
Having stumbled across Apachii Sky Hair, I could see the uploader had created a whole host of NPC related mods. All of Apachii's screenshots looked great but I could see there would be alot of work involved. As far I could see, it was only about the ladies too, leaving out half of Skyrim's populace and dooming them to be ugly. There was once more option, called WICO – Windsong Character Immersive Overhaul (above). Failing that, I'd get on Apachii's sexy ladies (ahem, poor phrasing) and deal with the men later.
As I learned from the WICO mod description page, it could well be the golden egg I was looking for. Full NPC texture overhaul and the images looked great. The uploader was clearly an experienced chap. Similar to Total Character Makeover, however it was compatible with just about anything except other mods affecting NPCs. Had my prayers been answered? I deactivated Total Character Makeover and activated WICO. There were a couple of extras reccomended by the uploader and these included a couple of A.I teaks that we'll get into in another entry in my quest.
RS Children Overhaul
Most importantly, it involved RS Children Overhaul which would ensure the little Skyrim kiddies running about looked as detailed as their elder counterparts. (make sure if you use this mod, it is underneath WICO in load order) Mods that focus on children NPC that either don't look dumb or conflict with other mods are hard to come by, let alone one like this – which actually looks pretty great. More than that, WICO would completely retexture them and give them new costumes, adding a little variety. As an added bonus, WICO's uploader is very active in uploading patches on an ongoing basis. He's also thrown in Geralt's Witcher 3 leather armour as a craftable in the forge.
NPCs were now looking a lot better. The angular features of their original faces were gone. WICO saw to it that skin textures were more detailed and I would later go on to install an HD mod that sharpen the textures of anything they wore. Eyes were sharper and, well, you can see the screenshots.Not wanting to complicate things any further, I figured I'd quit while I was ahead with NPCs. I was a little frustrated with the hair still looking like ironed hay… Perhaps we'll come back to it.
Was the most complicated aspect of my modding quest out the way nice and early? Time will tell. Modding can be some complex stuff so if you have any questions be sure to ask away in the comments below.
Stick around at KeenGamer for my next entry which will focus on overall texture depth, lighting and environmental effects.
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