By Brendan Caldwell on October 22nd, 2014 at 10:00 pm.
There are lots of survival games, but there are also lots of games which
be survival games with the right mods installed. Over the course of Survival Week we’ll highlight a few of those games and i) write a diary of our experience playing with it ii) explain how to do it yourself.
You may have already read my Skyrim survival diary and if not, why not? It sees me struggling to ward off frostbite with wine and adopting the game’s most lovable dog just to keep my feet warm. If you want to plod through the winter wastelands of Tamriel with the same ‘survival mode’ in mind yourself, these are the mods you’ll want to add. Most of them come from a single source, the Nexus modding community. Before you grab them, it is best to have their Nexus Mod Manager installed, as well as something called SKSE. (You will also have to register to join the Nexus community to download these files). Getting all this architecture in place is a minor frustration compared to the improvements you’ll see in the end. It will be worth it when you find yourself freezing to death under a rocky outcrop with no wood to start a fire.
This is THE survival mod for Skyrim. If you only get one mod from this list, get Frostfall. It is a detailed bundle of survival mechanics centred around staving off hypothermia. It is one of those rare mods that is so deftly woven into the game it makes you wonder why it wasn’t included right out of the box. In fact, it is so universally admired by Elder Scrolls fans, you’ve probably already got it.
Frostfall adds a simple ‘exposure’ meter and random bouts of bad weather, like blizzards. In heavy snow you will get cold very fast, penalising you with lower stamina and health regeneration. Some parts of the map will be colder than others (the mountain of High Hrothgar and the Northern Coast are devastatingly freezing) but even in Skyrim’s milder climates the cold still bites when it rains. Rain will make you wet, causing the cold to gnaw away at you even faster. Falling into icy water leads to a crazy Bear Grylls style scramble to get a fire going, as the cold starts to sap you of all energy.
Freezing to death is a perpetual threat. The only way to avoid it is to use Frostfall’s camping and survival skills to harvest firewood, craft fires, and cook hot soups to eat in your hastily-made fur tent. The constant dread of exposure adds so much to the game, it is embarrassing to think back on the time you played without it. It is easy to relearn your love of Skyrim’s world when stumbling across one of its isolated inns complete with roaring fire can actually save your life.
This is partly an aesthetic mod but some features add a little bit extra to that sense of a harsh and freezing wilderness. Wet and Cold adds visual effects like steamy breath from people and creatures when outside, or snow that settles on all characters’ body (and melts away when they’re close to a fire or other heat source). But it also has a few more meaty tricks. When travelling in a severe rainstorm or a blizzard, the player’s vision will become blurry, making it even harder to see enemies or landmarks in the distance. Taking shelter or keeping your head down will stave off the effect. Meanwhile, strong winds will cause a 15% reduction in movement speed. This combined with Frostfall makes getting caught in a snowstorm an actual problem, instead of being a simple atmospheric detail as in vanilla Skyrim. NPCs will equip cold weather gear when it gets chilly, as well as heading straight home in a blizzard, with the exception of Nords, who stand about with their shirts off, chopping up logs. Because every Nord is as hard as a big box of frozen nails.
There’s a lot of food in Skyrim. Meat and veg, loaves and fruit. Not forgetting, ugh, sweet rolls. But none of it really feel like it matters. My first playthrough of Skyrim saw me munch on a few lettuce leaves, just to hear the sound effect, then completely neglect any future meal time. Realistic Needs and Diseases not only solves the pointlessness of foodstuffs but also the relatively forgettable sleep and disease mechanics of the original.
With this mod, going too long without a hearty meal will have a huge impact on your health and stamina regeneration, as well as making it harder to sneak and attack effectively. If you ever get to the ‘Starving’ stage, your carry weight will drop -50, reflecting the dwindling ability of your emaciated body. Thirst has a similar effect, while also sapping you of magicka in various ways.
As if all this wasn’t worrisome enough, you’ll now contract some of Skyrim’s horrible diseases from sleeping in unclean places like bandit camps or near animal dens. And if you don’t sleep at all? Exhaustion will leave you slow, weak and dumb – unable to learn as your skill improving rate drops as far as -75%. This mod is worth getting for the food and drink alone. The realism is unnerving. Drink too much alcohol and you will black out and wake up 4 hours later. Drinking herbal tea will give you +10 speech for 300 seconds. Astounding.
I’m bunching these mods together because they all address the issue of ambiance. Climates of Tamriel adds a fetric muckton of weather effects. This is for the visual side of things – beautiful auroras, cracking thunderstorms and frosty clear night skies. If you’re going to play survival in the mountains, you at least want that distant, bruised sky to look appropriately menacing.
Realistic Lighting Overhaul is a different beast. It has had, for me, probably the most dramatic effect on the way I approach combat in Skyrim. This is because it re-jigs the lighting so that naturally dark or poorly-lit areas ARE ACTUALLY DARK instead of blueish. Oh my god. You have no idea. With RLO switched on, dungeons, caves and old ruins become a totally new challenge, requiring you to bring a torch with you down almost every hole. This slow creep forward with your flame held up is almost Dark Souls II in its nature, especially in the early game when you are still a bit weak.
If you don’t have any source of light going into one of Tamriel’s dingy death traps, don’t worry. RLO has another nifty (read: stupidly realistic) feature. Your character’s eyes will grow accustomed to the dark — at a rate much slower than vanilla Skyrim would like. This is so the mod remains in line with the ‘Realistic’ in its title. You should be sure how much you want this. As the creators have noted: “In real life it can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 1 hour for a human to adapt to drastic lighting conditions.”
Understandably, this may frustrate some, which brings me the third mod of the lighting trio. Wearable Lanterns does exactly what you expect it to do. It allows you to equip a lantern and strap it to your belt, so that you can still use your off-hand when dungeon crawling. A good compromise for those who want the atmospheric dark but still want to carry their comfort shield into a cave full of spiders.
Alternate Start – Live Another Life or Skyrim Unbound
Oh man, these Elder Scrolls games love making you the hero. Well, frankly, I’m sick of it. And by the looks of it so were these modders. Live Another Life sticks with the well-loved Elder Scrolls trope of starting your game in a prison cell but expands your character creation outwards to allow you a choice of 13 new beginnings. Will you be a wandering sailor who arrived in Dawnstar on a rotting longboat? Or maybe you’ll be the wealthy landlord of Karnsdale Farmhouse. Whatever you choose, you will start with a different inventory, far away from that the game’s original opening at Helgen. I like this because it allows you some more time to be a nobody, just wandering Skyrim on your own whim, trying to make ends meet. However, you can stumble across the main quest, giving yourself the pesky title of Dragonborn once more.
Skyrim Unbound offers the same sort of deal as Live Another Life but with a bit more customisation. You can turn dragons on from the beginning while turning off soul absorption and Shouty Walls, effectively removing the main quest altogether, while still keeping dragons as an enemy. Technically speaking, these aren’t really ‘survival’ mods but it does help lend the game a survivalist slant if you are just some shmuck shipwrecked on the rocky shores outside Solitude, as opposed to the all-powerful prophecy-bastard of legend.
That’s the main course covered. But what about desserts? NO. No desserts for you. You are starving to death, remember? Oh, all right. Here are a few morsels which, while not being essential to a survival run-through of Skyrim, do help to lend it a little extra authenticity (or usability in some cases).
Immersive Patrols – adds patrols from Skyrims various factions. Sometimes they cross each other and get into fights. You can stand back, watch, laugh and rummage through the pockets of the dead when they are done.
Run For Your Lives – makes citizens behave like actual humans when faced with the terrifying threat of a dragon or other scary creatures. Instead of taking out their small stabby knives and trying to kill things, they run away and lock themselves up, leaving only guards to fend off the beasts.
SkyUI – super popular mod that declutters and improves Skyrim’s notoriously unwieldy UI.
Sounds of Skyrim – The Wilds – adds extra sound effects into the wild landscape so you can die of exposure while listening to the poetic call of the Loon.
A Quality World Map – With Roads – makes the world map much more readable by adding detailed roads and blowing away some fluffy, annoying clouds.
You can read more Survival Week articles over here.
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feature, Mods, Skyrim, Survival Week, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Last time I went down this survivalist route with Skyrim I lasted 20 minutes before I remembered why I stopped playing Skyrim in the first place.
I recently spend a Sunday afternoon gathering and installing mods with the idea of getting back into Skyrim to finish the never-started Dragonborn DLC. But even with mods like Frostfall, Needs and Diseases, you name it – it couldn’t really move beyond ‘tick a box’-gameplay. There is very little masking the bare mechanics of the base game, and these mods are no different.
I’ve enjoyed Skyrim immensely for a good 100 hours, but I suppose it’s similar to many other games: once the magic is exposed, the trick no longer excites.
You guys are both speaking to my own wretched heart. Every so often I get the pangs to reinstall Skyrim, convincing myself it will be different this time. These survivalist mods (and taking the whole abominable DRAGONBORN crapola out of the equation) certainly appeal more than just throwing over a bunch of texture and gameplay mods but the problem will always be the base game: far too bland, much too repetitive. So while it’s cool you can make the world less hospitable and harder to survive in, from a personal perspective, it’s not really an interesting enough world to actually even want to survive in.
Just checking in to make sure it’s still cool to pretend that objectively good things are totally lame and claim that they have the exact opposite features that they do have. One of the indisputably best open world games of all time is too repetitive? Man, I gotta remember that one next time I’m at a party. Better make sure I wear my sunglasses too so everyone knows that they are in danger of freezing solid from my coolness.
WHa? The only thing to worry about in skyrim is getting lost everything else is piss easy. Still trying to find a re balance mod that dose not turn into one hit kills after 10-20 hours….
Not sure if it ever got fixed, but don’t mix frostfall with the scenic carriages mod.
For if you do you can freeze 99.99% to death en-route, giving a strange infinitely dying state while you trundle past the scenery, leaving you to die instantly the second you arrive at your destination ;)
As someone who has been playing Skyrim this way for a while, I have to say your recommendations are spot on. I’ve used every single one of these mods.
I love Frostfall. In the colder areas entering water brings some severe penalties, so Frostfall actually changes the way you travel the land. You don’t want to take shortcuts through the water anymore if possible.
I can also recommend Deadly Dragons + Dragon Combat Overhaul for people looking to make the dragons a lot scarier. These mods, like Frostfall, are also very customizable ingame.
Using the Alternate Start mod I started out shipwrecked in the sea north of Dawnstar, trying not to freeze to death while I made my way to the warm tavern in town. That involved hopping across bits of ice and avoiding the icy water as much as possible.
Is there any point with other graphics mods, or is that just overdoing it?
RPS’s mod list is pretty light on graphics mods, though the realistic lighting overhaul can definitely impact your performance (it greatly increases the use of the dynamic shadows indoors). There are still plenty of mods to install to increase the texture quality of the world and characters and such.
A fun little addition to RN&D and Frostfall is Hunterborn. It makes hunting animals more involved, with skinning, field-dressing, etc. etc. If you’re into a survival character lost alone in the woods struggling for survival, Hunterborn makes each and every deer killed feel like a hard-won battle when it takes you an in-game hour to get its stinking hide off its reluctant body.
I kinda like and don’t like Hunterborn. I had problems with it, shutting off and losing my kill count (still does it, even on a different play through.) And the first time I came across one of those wooly mammoths, and killed it, it took me an hour of REAL time to full skin it and get all the meat off. Days and days of in game time. I massively tweaked it after that. There IS such thing as too much realism.
That’s how I picture it going down really. Sort of like how needs and diseases + frost fall is so realistic I live as an initial vampire, immune to cold, disease, and hunger forever.
Any input on a good combat mod? I know there are several that strive to make it more realistic and deadly to be poking at each other with sharp(ened) things, but I’ve no idea of the subtleties of each.
Unfortunately (I am told), quite a few things about the combat are hard-coded, so it’s proven hard to do a great deal with. I tried several and none of them ever quite felt right. The one I settled on is probably the most ambitious, but it’s also got a several-second lag in some fights, which is fairly dreadful. Also its creator comes across as a bit of a prick quite often, so I’m loathe to recommend it.
Best thing, sadly, is to just try a few and see how you get on. Also important: how they get on with any other mods you may be running. Trial and error is at the heart of using TES mods, sadly.
Any chance for some kind of mod pack, a configuration or something file with these preinstalled?
Not really, but for any decent modding of Skyrim, it’s strongly recommended that you use the Nexus Mod Manager.
This requires installing Nexus Mod Manager it still being a pain in the ass. Why can’t someone just program so that Skyrim just do what Minecraft does?
You say that as if that was easy. This goes far beyond what you can normally mod into skyrim. My best bet would be that you would have to find a suitable .dll and do a proper and complicated dll infusion to infuse the executable with this capability. You can’t just mod it in, as the mods can only expand on whats allready there and a modding system is inexistent.
Why is it always the bare essential mods that are mentioned? There are alrady 10 of these types of articles mentioning the same 5 mods.
Personally I have a bunch more to make the game more URW/roleplay/immersive/realistic and less skyconsole:
Pumping Iron – Dynamic Muscle Growth
+ the above in the article and a bunch of visual improvements. Takes about a day to download and install correctly but then you got a whole new game. You can find all the mods on Skyrim Nexus and SkyrimGems.
EDIT: I also like Mod Organizer for handling my mods instead of NMM.
I logged in just to thank you for this list. Hopefully some of these mods break my intense Skyrim apathy. Which of these do you consider the essentials?
Realistic Needs and Deseases with compability patches like RND Fully Animated Meals Potions
Requiem – major overhaul, makes the game so much more hardcore and interesting
Interesting NPCS – seriuosly a crazy immersive mods won’t spoil
Bandolier bags and Pouches – makes the weight somewhat more realistic
BorderSense – removes the need for checking the map all the time
Cloaks of Skyrim – good with frostfall and wet and cold
Drinking Fountains of Skyrim – nice when you have RND
Dynamic Things – makes everything you see like a pile of wood usable
Even better Quest Objectives – more immersive quest descriptions, more roleplay friendly
Fully Animated Meals And Potions – nice for 3rd person camera / immersion
Harvest Overhaul – more realistic plants etc.
Harvest Animation – nice for 3rd person camera / immersion
Hunterborn – very essential, makes hunting more fun and hard
Immersive Beds – nice for 3rd person camera / immersion
Inconsequential Npcs – very immersive in cities
Living Takes Time – makes the game harder but more realistic, crafting, reading etc. actually takes time so works well with RND
Realistic Room Rental – Enhanced – Very nice mod for taverns
Static Mesh Improvement Mod – better objects in the game
I had to register only to thank you for this amazing list. THANK YOU SO MUCH! Cheers :)
I’ve tried modding the crap out of skyrim to turn it into something that it isn’t: namely, an immersive survival game oriented around a cohesive living world that doesn’t revolve around the player.
I’ve never really been succesful, most of my attempts reminded me of the limits of what can be done with modders skirting around hard coded design blunders.
Thats the current issue I face with Skyrim so much stuff is locked up you can not really fix anything…… they really need to just open the code to full scripting as an option to the editor. Then have a command line run the compiler off the editor.exe ala UT3+.
It takes time to work but I have 170 hours ingame and only an occasional crash which might have to do with the graphics/memory. The important thing to do is read compability for all the mods and take it slow to get the load order correct. Make sure you read what the mod does and how it works to get the most out of it. Also test the mods together before you start to play for real to make sure everything works as intended. I’m not saying it’s easy though but it’s worth it in my opinion and I enjoy the game much more and for a longer time.
What do you think of Requiem? I’ve got SkyRe installed on my machine, but the lack of level-scaling in Requiem sounds appealing.
I already played a couple of characters through Skyrim on Xbox. I thought I’d try the PC version for mods and Requiem was one of the first I tried. I’ve now totted up over 400 hours on steam. I think of the game that I play as Requiem rather than Skyrim. I recommend it. I haven’t tried SkyRe but from what I read it sounds much less ambitious.
SkYRE does smaller overhauls changes without going to far away from vanilla, you will not feel that the game changes very much. Reqiuem is the opposite, it changes so many big and small things that it’s hard to write it all down. Basically it’s much harder so roleplay choices become more important like old CRPG’s. You should download their pdf manual and read about it.
How difficult is using Nexus with Skyrim? I tried modding New Vegas a while back, which I am sure you’ll be covering sometime this week, but found getting it to work properly a pain in the ass.
Install nexus mod manger then drag and drop zip files into its open window then go to the mods tab/window and look for the unassigned tab within it. It keeps track of what is installed and tells you when you are installing anything over the mods you have. It has a small learning curve to learn once you get it its alot better than the older mod manger for FF3,FF:NV tho it dose not have as many features as gemm/fomm did.
It’s actually the same tool used for Vegas and Skyrim. So if you had problems with one (and I’m really not sure why you had problems), you’ll have problems with the other. Install the program, browse to the website, click on stuff you want and it installs, and you’re done. Where did you have a problem? It’s just about as easy as the Steam addon site.
While these mods seem neat and all, the fact that literally nobody else in that world is affected by the survival conditions besides the player is utterly immersion breaking. I want to use these mods but am reminded at how dumb it looks when I’m over here starving and freezing to death and there’s a half-naked elf walking down the road like its no big deal
“NPCs will equip cold weather gear when it gets chilly, as well as heading straight home in a blizzard…”
Thank you so much for this guys! This is EXACTLY what i have been looking for. I bounced right off Skyrim but this might get me into playing it.
If you like Skywind and you have a steam account (on RPS, everyone has a steam account), join the group link to steamcommunity.com
It’s also worth mentioning that there are other Sounds of Skyrim mods: Civilisation and The Dungeons.
And if you’re using Frostfall, it’s worth grabbing the creator’s Belt-Fastened Quivers mod too, so your quiver sits under your backpack, not through it.
My biggest beef with mods is they turn the game into a really unstable mess. Engine fault, I know, but still. I don’t like playing vanilla any more, but playing with mods on means random crashes every 15-20 minutes or so.
Sounds more like a memory problem (thank Bethesda). Are you using ENBoost/ENB? If not then try that before making nebulous villains out of mods.
If just Hunger, Thirst, Inebration and Sleep is too simple a categorization for you, it’s always fun to to try Imp’s More Complex Needs, which keeps track of:
*Satiation – Penalties if greater than 100%, increases when eating .
* Calories – Penalties if less than 0%, increases when eating/drinking.
* Hydration – Penalties if less than 0%, increases when eating/drinking.
* Sleep – Penalties if greater than 100% (8 hours).
* Blood (if you’re a vampire) – Penalties if less than 0%, bonuses for high levels.
* Protein – Penalties if less than 75%, bonuses if greater than 125%.
* Nutrients – Penalties if less than 75%, bonuses if greater than 125%.
* Alcohol – Penalties and bonuses depending on level (none for 0%).
* Caffeine – Bonuses depending on level (none for 0%).
* Moon Sugar (Skooma) – Penalties and bonuses depending on level (none for 0%).
* Mental Fatigue – Penalties to magicka if greater than 10%, increases as magicka is expended, decreases when you sleep or rest.
* Physical Fatigue – Penalties to maximum stamina if greater than 10%, increases as stamina is expended, decreases when you sleep or rest.
* Morale – Bonuses if greater than 6.0, penalties if less than 4.0, increases or decreases depending on the appeal of the food you eat.
Good’ol Imp has been doing this More Complex Needs mods since Fallout 3, so he has some experience in balancing the algorythms.
IMCN is bonkers and I love it; I’ve been using its various incarnations since the FO3 version.
It’s spoiled me a little, I think; any other eating/drinking/sleeping mechanics in other mods/games seem so limited and inadequate now.
I used this for a short while, and found it a bit much for me. I had been using another one that was no longer being updated and this was the first one I tried. I went with RnD afterwards, because it made the game fun, not a chore.
IMCN is a great mod, but I find it far too complex for my tastes.
What I want from a survival mod is a reason to use all of Skyrim’s features: cooking and sleeping are fine, but I don’t see a major need to do them in vanilla Skyrim. Particularly cooking – what does food really offer me over (much lighter) health potions? So I want a mod that gives me an incentive to do all that stuff.
iNeed – Food Water and Sleep. It doesn’t go to the IMCN level of protein vs nutrients vs total calories, it just monitors food and water and sleep. That makes it feel more natural to me: if I want to RP in depth, I can have a look at what food I’m carrying and debate whether I feel like some apple cabbage stew for dinner, or whether I’d rather have some bread and eidar cheese with roast venison.
As always, your mileage may vary, but for me it hits the sweet spot of enhancing the game without becoming too fiddly.
Regarding Realistic Needs and Diseases (and indeed any other mods that do similar things, like Imp’s More Complex Needs mentioned here in the comments), how does the timing work for getting sleepy? I found the default game time ran much too fast for my tastes so I slowed it down (from 20 to 7.5) using the console. If I do that, will these mods still make me get sleepy by lunchtime, or do they read off of the official game time so they’ll still wait a full day before I need sleep?
Provided you use SkyUI (which you basically must) you can manually adjust rates for all three variables: sleep, hunger, thirst
Awesome, thanks. I definitely use SkyUI; I barely even remember what the inventory interface looked like before.
Neovalen’s from the STEP forums is the business. Completely walks you through every step, solid reliable install (I have 90+ hours on my current save without a single CTD) and makes it beautiful, more fun and also turns it into Fantasy Pauper Frostbite Simulator 2014 should you so wish.
That’s impressive and makes me wonder why my completely unmodded skyrim crahes every few hours (pretty much always on quick-save). I just assumed it was as buggy/crash prone as everything else from Bethesda.
I’d like to give a shout out to a couple of alternatives. 1) Pure Weathers as an alternative to Climates of Tamriel. A bit subjective really but I found CoT got repetitive. Also Pure Weathers seems to have better mod compatibility.
2) Enhanced light and FX (ELFX) rather than Realistic lighting overhaul. ELFX is a bit more stark but also more dynamic. There’s a good comparison video here link to youtube.com
I recommend Gopher’s videos as excellent guides to any mod you’re considering.
ELFX also works well with an excellent mod called ‘Immersive NPC in the dark’ which makes NPCs not all have nightvision goggles. Such radical ideas these modders have!
It doesn’t just make nights darker, but makes them darker depending on the wheather and the surroundings, plus it changes the AI’s reactions to sneaking in true darkness.
Those mods are ok. but a survival mod is nothing with certain standard in game features activated. If you want a truly authentic survival experience you need to mod it to remove the following as I have done.
That way you have to navigate in a much more Dayz style. I’d love a Dayz style inventory system mind you as to be honest the system is utterly unrealistic at the moment with seemingly infinitely deep pockets even though a lot of the armours don’t appear to have pockets.
you people who say it is boring try playing a more realistic playthrough. i have played over 600 hours on this game i challenge you. use these mods beat the main storyline and the theives guild questline with no magic or potions except cure poison and no enchanted weapons or armor that includes the theives guild armor and the nightingale armor and the only time you can use shouts is when it is required to progress like dragon rend or clearskies clear and no console commands either. i have done it took me 252 hours and 53 levels
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