Time flies. Skyrim has been out for nearly five years, giving its mod scene time to grow and change and then change again. It’s a culture unto itself, one that’s weathered identity crises and that whole money fiasco. So, all these years later, where does it stand?

Yesterday I found myself curious about the state of Skyrim’s mod scene in this, the most pre-apocalyptic year yet for good ol’ humanity, after the buzz surrounding Galandil’s Holds: The City Overhaul. It turns the popular yelling-at-dragons simulator’s towns into full-blown cities. Citizens have their own lives, schedules, and all that good stuff. Rad, right? Clearly, it struck a chord, with popular threads and articles appearing everywhere from Reddit to PC Gamer to local news sites. After that, I decided to take a look at Steam’s recent crop of popular Skyrim mods. Here’s what I found:

The Forgotten City

This one is a giant murder mystery story. It’s ambitious enough to be its own game. Check this out:

“The Forgotten City is a unique experience: a murder mystery investigation in an ancient underground city. You’ll travel through time, interrogate suspects, navigate moral dilemmas, fight new enemies, and solve puzzles that reward lateral thinking. It features an original orchestral soundtrack, over 1200 lines of dialogue, and multiple endings.”

That’s the kind of mod you simply don’t get within the first couple years of a game’s existence. Since many mod communities don’t stick around that long, I’m thankful The Forgotten City even exists.

Diverse Dragons Collection

New dragons with unique abilities, perfect for people who are still looking to be surprised by Skyrim in the year 2016. I’m not being facetious, either. I can totally understand the appeal of freshening up a familiar place. Plus, one of the dragons looks kinda like Diablo. You know, from Diablo! Who doesn’t love that guy? Such a mischievous little prankster, that one.

Blood Magic

Skyrim players have long clamored to play as a Blood Mage, and this mod gives them the spell arsenal they need to do just that. Sucking the life out of enemies and replenishing your own—what’s not to love? Interestingly, though, this version of the mod was once created by somebody else. The current developer found it languishing, apparently abandoned, and just sort of adopted it. That’s modding for you, for better or worse. Sometimes ideas and even assets get passed around so much that people forget who first put virtual pen to virtual paper entirely. It’s one of the larger issues Valve faces in their continued commitment to paid mods of some variety.

Unofficial Skyrim Legendary Edition Patch

Even after a dragon-infested mountain of patches, Skyrim still has bugs. This patch, humble in its scope, merely aims to fix every bug in one of the most massive single-player games out there. No biggie. Given that Fallout 4 is here and Bethesda doesn’t support Skyrim the way they did when it was king of the open-world dungeoneering hill, this sort of mod makes perfect sense. I doubt there will ever come a day when Skyrim is 100 percent bug-free, but I can’t fault modders for trying.

Artorias the Abysswalker

You might recognize this fun-loving vessel of agony and regret from Dark Souls. The mod adds him and his armor to Skyrim. Nothing too crazy, but why not, you know?

MediEvil: Hero of Gallowmere

Want the entire first four levels of PlayStation 1 cult classic MediEvil in Skyrim? Here you go. Because if you’re gonna resurrect a beloved video game skeleton, Skyrim seems like a pretty logical place to put him. He certainly won’t have trouble finding friends.

Skycutter

It’s Tyrael’s sword from Diablo. You know, the one with Diablo. Who doesn’t love that guy?

Assassin’s Creed Rogue Mod Templar 11th Century Armor

I know, I know: more gear from another popular video game. You gotta admit, though: the person who modeled this set did a fantastic job. There’s even some Assassin’s Creed Syndicate stuff in there, including a set that makes you look kinda like Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes: The Dragons of Baskervilles. It will be his greatest (and possibly also shortest) case yet. Who did the murder? Gonna go out on a limb and say PROBABLY THE FUCKING DRAGON.

Open Cities Skyrim

Hate the way loading screens make Skyrim feel less like a living, breathing world and more like, well, a video game? BEGONE WITH THEM.

“Open Cities Skyrim is a comprehensive project that aims to bring back at least part of the feel of Morrowind - specifically how most of the cities were a natural part of the world and you could just walk in without loading screens. Ever wanted to ride your horse into the center of Riften? Well now you can. Need to get some help from the city guards to vanquish a foe? Run toward the gates and the guards will do their duty while you can seek safety within the walls. The town guards make for some very interesting interactions this way. This will also make running dragon battles that much more interesting since the flow of the battle won’t be interrupted by the loading screen and all of the city guards can be involved at the same time.”

A mod that brings back the feel of an older game, Morrowind, while taxing hardware in a way that might not have been advisable back when Skyrim first came out. Makes sense!

Arandor

Arandor is still in alpha, but people are already downloading it in droves. The goal? To add an entire new island to Skyrim. And goodness gracious will this island ever have a lot of Stuff:

Planned features include:

-fully voiced characters

-over 100 uniquely drawn and designed dungeons

-plenty of side-quest-lines from several factions

-a large central city, housing the most important individuals

-four, smaller cities and towns, controlled by existing factions

-a unique main-quest line, involving a war of 3 factions, featuring betrayal, and twists, with multiple endings

The development team is made up of three people, so... good luck!

Crime Overhaul

This mod takes Skyrim’s black-and-white approach to player-committed crimes and adds a whole mess of gray. For instance:

“Getting away with crimes is now more challenging: guards who make the remark ‘Wait... I know you’ will force the player into dialogue. (Violent crimes will get the ‘stand fast’ dialogue.) Depending on your options, exiting this dialogue may be considered resisting arrest.”

However:

“The greeting distance for all NPCs has been greatly reduced so that you almost need to physically bump into a guard in order to be caught. Crimes totaling less than the ‘petty crime threshold’ won’t put you on their radar (unless they are alerted.)”

You also don’t generally get into trouble for accidentally thwacking people as long as you sheath your weapon afterward. Thank goodness. If only things were so simple in real life.

Dragon Under Whiterun

This one’s an elaborate quest involving, well, a dragon under Whiterun.

“Dragon Under Whiterun is a single quest that takes the Dragonborn under Whiterun in search of a treasure that legends say is guarded by a dragon. The legends apparently do not have the whole story. This was an exercise in learning the Creation Kit from scratch, and experimenting with game mechanics and level design, in an attempt to tell a unique story that is tied into the existing lore that we all know and love. The loot is intentionally generous to reward players who are still playing Skyrim.”

Awww, that’s kinda nice. They’re essentially saying, “You still support this scene, so here’s some shiny stuff in return.” Gratitude: never a bad look. That said, it’s hard to look at a situation like this and not think of the paid mod fiasco, of the ugly underlying truths it revealed. People pour days, months, sometimes years of their lives into making these things, but at best they make peanuts in donations. Many of them consider every player precious, because it’s not easy to get an audience for creative projects these days.

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But it’s not always a two-way street. Players can get oodles of sweet, sweet #content for free. There’s no need for them to give creators more than a passing glance, so many don’t. I don’t really blame said players, either. There’s an overwhelming number of creators out there. It’s hard to keep up. To this day I don’t know whether a better payment system is the answer, or if it’s something else entirely. But there’s a massive disparity in gratitude and expression thereof in large mod scenes like Skyrim’s. That kinda sucks.

Ella

A pretty lady follower. There are, not entirely surprisingly, a lot of these, but Ella’s the flavor of the past six months. You can marry her, or just adventure around and whatnot. Skyrim modders have put a ton of work into getting characters’ skin to look more natural than in the base game, and regardless of their intentions (read: people want to be followed around by conventionally attractive ladies), you can’t argue with results. Fuckability is the strange bedfollow of progress in Bethesda game modding scenes. Speaking of...

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It should be noted that Mod Nexus, another huge mod community, is an entirely different animal. While there’s a fair amount of crossover in popular gameplay and quest mods, Nexus also allows for adults-only content, which leads to quite a bit of sex/romance-related stuff. And then, of course, there’s a separate community focused entirely on those sorts of mods over at LoversLab. Patricia recently wrote about that side of Skyrim’s mod scene (warning: NSFW). It’s amazing just how far people have been able to push Bethesda’s game about dragons, adventuring, and the hellish process of dog adoption in a direction I’m fairly certain they never intended.

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