Every day this week, we'll be visiting a version of Skyrim unlike any you've ever seen before - a world thrown into anarchy and chaos by Sheogorath, God of Madness, and the assistance of over 200 blindly-installed mods. In our second part, we use magic portals to go clothes shopping in a world with a one-track mind, take a scenic trip through the woods, and Lydia... well, she's not happy.
Catch up on the adventure: Day 1
When we last saw our ever-heroic heroine Compass, Whiterun had just been saved from a dragon in sunglasses and a big purple hat, the land of Skyrim was newly filled with Nords shouting "Fus Ro Dah" at lions and dinosaurs, and in gratitude for saving his Hold, the Jarl of Whiterun had assigned Lydia to be her Housecarl. That at least was familiar enough... except that instead of being the snarky, well-prepared fighter we know and frequently make walk into traps, it turned out poor Lydia had found herself at the business end of some horny modder's fashion sense. Our story continues...
Despite appearances, there actually is a pragmatic reason to stick to 'real' gear. Several characters now offer a dress-up menu, but it's not immediately clear whether it's simply an aesthetic choice, or they actually get the bonuses of the armour set you have them wear - a wide selection from tavern uniforms to assorted armours to... well... other things. Exactly what bonus a complete 'schoolgirl' set would impart, I have no idea. I'm pretty sure I don't want to know. I'm certainly not Googling it.
All of these presented in the same creepy way, which is... well, okay when it's a supposedly consenting love interest or similar, but seriously weird when it's a regular follower - or in the case of Lydia, someone who's essentially a employee who's been ordered to serve you. Amongst the options available are:
"I've noticed how tight your Dark Brotherhood leather is."
"I have trouble controlling myself when you're naked."
"I think wedding dresses look classy."
But you know what really stands out about all of this? While I'm sure there are mods out there that turn every conversation into a potential scene from the most awkward porn movie ever, none of those seem to be installed in this playthrough. Instead, at the top of this list is... wait for it...
"Someone needs a hug."
Awww. And they say romance is dead.
A lot of clothes in the game have just automatically changed - the standard female mage robe for instance now has a rather prominent hole exactly where you'd think, given Lydia's current uniform and the rather pornier things I'm not showing. You still have to acquire them though, with some found in stores, but most crafted at a forge. Almost as weird as some of the items is the fact that you're expected to bring a whole ton of materials, rather than the recipe just being a loaf of bread or something - a sack of ebony for instance, or Daedric hearts that you're probably not going to just stumble across.
But I suppose this is only reasonable. If you're going to mod a game like Skyrim, you obviously want to stick as close as possible to the Skyrim economic system and esteemed Elder Scrolls lore.
Looking around, mods have added at least a couple of options for getting around. For starters, there's a ring of portals just outside Whiterun that warp you to any of the Holds you like - regardless of whether you've made the trip there before. Fast, efficient, free. I approve, even if it is a bit cheaty. Their presence also possibly explains what the hell a certain familiar looking ship is doing not too far away...
There's another option nearby though, which looks much more entertaining - at least as a one-off. Skyrim already offered carriages for getting between Holds (though they were easy to miss), but they were essentially teleporters. That option is still there, but talking to one of the drivers I notice a new option - Scenic. It's what it sounds like, giving you a choice of horse speeds, or the option to just teleport if you get bored. With this many mods running, getting there is a question of fighting the odds, but it's a good addition I'm actually surprised Bethesda didn't put in by default. Didn't everyone complain about not being able to ride the silt striders in Morrowind? Really? Why not?
Sadly, with the stability of my Skyrim installation right now, there's no way I'm making a full journey by that route. Pity. While the trips last, it's hilarious to have the driver casually smashing through guards and completely unfazed by bits of civil war going on as he drives. He's probably the most badass character in the whole of Skyrim, and he drives a carriage. Respect owed and delivered, sir.
I make a note to myself to head back after I finish playing the game and get to see what mods I'm using, switch off a few of the more intensive ones, and record a video of an example journey. Unfortunately I don't ever manage to make a full journey with everything switched on, but would highly recommend this mod for a more sensible installation. Skyrim is such a pretty game, but it's easy to forget that when you're fighting for your life or focusing on a quest. When you're just sitting there, you appreciate it.
Unfortunately due to game stability, you'll have to mentally add moments like the driver casually running over a Giant while driving over a bridge, or driving through epic magical battles. Sorry. I tried, and left on as much as seemed safe, but ditching the more active additions was the only way to get one uninterrupted recording without a freeze, crash-to-desktop, or full system switch-off.
Picking a destination at random, the dice come up "Markarth". Arriving via carriage, it doesn't take long for some differences to present themselves - though first of course, there's a little important business to be done on Lydia's behalf before going sightseeing in the town itself...
The main change to Markarth, sadly not including a name-change to Markath like everyone always accidentally spells it, is that it's been infested with giant floating jellyfish for some reason. Also, running in, the guards are swarming all over a naked man. At this point though, pfft. That's barely even noticeable any more. Sadly, nothing else really jumps out while poking around, so I bid it farewell and hit the nearest portal. As Scrooge toasted himself on Christmas Day - To Solitude!
Last on the current tour route is Winterhold, on the grounds that it would be a shame to not at least check out the snowier parts of Skyrim. Last time I was here, in another life, it was as Arch-Mage of the College, so I remember it quite well. It's a quiet part of the world, unless the mages are up to something. Quiet. Peaceful. Not just because lots of it fell into the sea a while back, but because... actually, no, that probably explains it. Either way, it seems like a perfect place to quietly bring things to a-
Yes, werewolves. Lots and lots of werewolves, and not the friendly Companion variety. I land right in the middle of the pitched battle - hairy creatures of the night on one side, a combined army of town guards and the Blue Stripes from The Witcher 2-
-on the left. The good guys are winning, but there's a lot of fire and fangs and Fus Ro Dah-ing going on, so I bravely bail out of the way and try not to be noticed. Lydia on the other hand joins right in, apparently working off lots of frustration over something or other. Surprisingly, she doesn't just hold her own in battle, she rocks it with some pretty good lightning powers. Having avoided the wilds today, I've not really seen her in a fight so far, but she really lets rip against everything in her way.
Unfortunately it is hypothermia, and that's a problem - having teleported here, Compass doesn't have any thick clothes to protect her from the cold - and it only takes minutes to freeze to death. Despite appearances, Lydia, like the other underdressed NPCs wandering around, is immune - the effect only seems to apply to the main character, not Followers or townies or enemies. Unfair!
No. This isn't going to work. Hurrying back to the portal, it's with no small relief to get back to safe, warm Whiterun. Winterhold and its college, and whatever weirdness has been added by the whims of Sheogorath, will have to wait for another day and a much better suit of armour. Speaking of which.
There are of course many other bits of armour and clothing on offer in the crafting menu and from certain vendors, but you can probably tell the pattern. Sensible things do exist, like Lydia's new dragonbone armour, a kind of Tron looking thing for mages, and more classic swords and shields ripped from The Witcher 2, Lord of the Rings, and a couple of other fantasy series. The bulk of it though seems taken up with assorted anti-gravity bras, panties, leotards and nipple-poking lycra horrors in an assortment of colours - and I don't just mean for the ladies, but as a general thing. The number of original outfits for men on the various screens can be counted on the fingers of one hand - presumably the one hand not otherwise occupied while most of them were being designed.
Despite a little cheating on Lydia's behalf, mostly to make up for her default look, Compass herself is of course still wearing her bandit gear as scavenged to avoid going too far. As for the adventure, exploring the world has certainly produced some odd things, but spreading things out so thinly, it can be a little tough to spot the differences. Next time then, it's time to dig deeper into a single Hold - and where better to go spread a little chaos than Skyrim's biggest hive of scum, villainy, and-
Tomorrow! Lydia's revenge! A corrupt city cries out for a hero! Compass, saviour or destroyer? The world's wussiest Mafia! A visit from the God of Madness! Wabbajack!
The insanity continues... come along for the ride...
Day 2: Quest For Dignity - The Housecarl Chronicles