Here's how to turn Skyrim into the year's 3 biggest games with the power of mods to beat inflation and save money

A nord in a cowboy hat lingers upside-down, thousands of feet above the ground in Skyrim.
(Image credit: Bethesda / MechanicalRat)

We live in tough times. Inflation is high, temperatures are low, my breath fogs in my home and Baldur's Gate 3 costs $60/£50. I can't do much about most of those—though I'm working on a scheme to drive inflation down by burning several billion dollars KLF-style—but that last one? I can help with that last one.

Games are expensive, and only getting expensive-r. And with the world in the state it's in, who but the very richest of us can fork over a full $60, perhaps $70, for the latest and greatest videogame doodad? You and me? As if.

But we don't need them, because lurking in our Steam libraries are like four distinct releases of The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, the most malleable videogame on Earth. With a little bit of ingenuity and a Nexus Mods account, we can turn Todd's opus into any game we choose completely for free with Skyrim mods. There's no difference!*

So, below you will find my endeavours to turn Skyrim into three of the biggest games of the year: Baldur's Gate 3, Starfield, and Counter-Strike 2. They're gonna come lock me up, because I'm cracking this videogame thing wide open.

*There is some difference.

Baldur's Gate 3

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Skyrim already has both dungeons and dragons in it, so there's essentially no difference between this year's greatest RPG and 2011's. Throw a few mods in and your experience will be practically indistinguishable.

But which mods? Well, to me, the beating heart of BG3 is its companions, meaning I needed to assemble a crew of complex and nuanced characters to accompany me on my travels around Faerûn. All I had to do was boil three or four BG3 party members down to their most fundamental traits—Shadowheart (healer), Karlach (big), Lae'zel (green), and Gale (British)—and find modded companions that captured them.

Easy as pie. First up was Atlana, a "half giantess warrior companion" who seemed a suitable stand-in for Karlach. Atlana hangs out in Jarl Balgruuf's abode in Whiterun and is easily identifiable due to being the size of a Ford Escort.

(Image credit: Bethesda / Raxyx7)

Wait. Something's wrong.

(Image credit: Bethesda / Raxyx7)


Just around the corner from Atlana lies our Gale substitute: Mage Guy Follower. Gale is a mage, a guy, and a follower, so I really feel like I knocked it out of the park with this one, but we ran into some difficulties when it came to actually getting him on board. All my attempts to entreat Mage Guy Follower were met with the same canned line: "How ArE yew DEW-in'? Don't answer that, I know you're GREAT now I'M here-yuh!"

The similarity to the true Gale was spooky, but I eventually had to abandon my scheme to get Mage Guy into my party. Atlana had become stuck in a doorway and Balgruuf's Dunmer aide-de-camp kept trying to get me to participate in the main plot, both of which were taking a significant toll on my mental health. Oh well: A proper BG3 party has three people in it plus the player character, meaning Gale, sorry, Mage Guy Follower would have been a fifth wheel anyway.

Also, he refused to look me in the eye, which is just rude. (Image credit: Bethesda / AssassinLord101)

Picking up our Lae'zel and Shadowheart understudies was much smoother sailing. The former was played by Keema the young female Argonian warrior, indistinguishable from Lae'zel to anyone who has never met Lae'zel, while the latter was embodied by Uzuki–Follower or Standalone Follower–Healer Type. Which, look, I don't know. Maybe Shadowheart got into the JET Programme? The important thing is she was a black-haired lady with healing spells.

I had gathered my party, now it was time to venture forth. Almost. Actually, what I did first was install two other mods: Dungeons And Dragons—Weapon Pack, which added all sorts of D&D-flavoured armaments into the game that I later learned I couldn't actually use, and Pestilence—Diseases of Tamriel

Why the latter? Because the cherry on the parfait that is Baldur's Gate 3 is your party's shared illness: Brain-eating tadpoles that live behind your eyes. Pestilence didn't add that, but it did let me give myself "Swamp Fever," which I figure is pretty much the same thing.

It was time for our mission. I, Atlana, Keema, and Uzuki would be venturing to Solstheim, home of the fearsome Mind Flayers and their dread nautiloid, to finally vanquish their threat once and for all.

(Image credit: Bethesda / m150)

Or, you know, near enough. This is the point at which OctopusAndSquidEnemies came into play. For reasons unknown to me, perhaps a lack of stick-to-it-iveness and frontier spirit, I couldn't find any genuine Mind Flayer mods on the Skyrim Special Edition Nexus. 

But no matter, OctopusAndSquidEnemies adds a cabal of cephalopod villains for Atlana and company to triumph over, saving the day for Baldur's Gate and foiling the Elder Brain's plot to, um, establish a McDonald's play area on the east coast of Solstheim. Scary stuff.

(Image credit: Bethesda / m150)

Verisimilitude: Practically indistinguishable from BG3.
Fun factor: Game of the year.
Money saved:  $60/£50


How do you capture the essence of over a thousand planets? How do you boil down a galaxy to its raw minerals? How do you create a spacefaring epic within the confines of a rollocking fantasy RPG? In short, what mixture of ingredients do you need to draw the quintessential Starfield experience from Skyrim?

(Image credit: Nexus Mods / MechanicalRat)

Nailed it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that Skyrim and Starfield are already remarkably similar games on a technical level, transmuting Tamriel into the Milky Way was easy. The first thing on my list of necessary mods, after The Cowboy Hat, was SUPERSAFE DWARVEN ROCKET BOOTS, which improve on Starfield's default jetpack by launching you headfirst at speed towards any location you press Z on.

Then I added in the Lore Friendly Guns of Skyrim, which adds a terrifyingly large arsenal of arquebuses and blunderbusses to Skyrim's default roster of weapons, and went on my merry way, Dwemer shotgun in hand.

Where did I go, you ask? Up, mostly. As if anticipating my mission, a modder named Marfleet1987 created something called the Skyrim Space Project 2.0, a lofty name for a tool that catapults you into the stratosphere whenever you get tired of this long beige Earth.

(Image credit: Bethesda / MechanicalRat)

But that's not enough, is it? There's more to Starfield than going up quickly. You have to remain there. Ideally in some kind of contraption. Luckily, Nexus has just the thing.

Aethernautics—A Space Travel Mod is, quite beautifully, made by the same modder who spends a lot of time putting Thomas the Tank Engine into things and turning dragons into Ohio and what-have-you. It's a little more fleshed-out than those mods, though. In essence, it adds an enormous Dwemer starship you can claim ownership of at the end of a long dungeon, which I duly shot my way through using the power Sam Colt gave me.

The starship itself is cavernous, far bigger than any of the rickety space-winnebagos you can roost in throughout Starfield. It has multiple enormous decks, seating and switchboards for a crew of hundreds, on-board weapons you can summon on your away missions, and the ability to navigate between planes.

(Image credit: Bethesda / Trainwiz)

I think it might actually be better than Starfield.

It's not perfect, of course. My first hyperspace jump left me hanging in an empty void, which was disconcerting enough, but even worse was the fact a postman had somehow managed to manifest on top of my ship as it dangled in space, dropping off some kind of letter before disappearing when I turned away. It all got a bit Event Horizon.

(Image credit: Bethesda / Trainwiz)

But never mind that. A quick jaunt to the engineering deck later and my navigation systems were fully prepared, allowing me to jump between an impressively long list of destinations. I don't actually remember which one I picked, so giddy was I with the promise of exploration, but I think it may have been Morrowind's clockwork city of Sotha Sil.

Now, "The clockwork city of Sotha Sil" is an incredibly evocative phrase, and one that only becomes more powerful when you learn Sotha Sil is also the name of mechanist mortal-turned-god who runs the joint, so you'd probably have high expectations about what you'll find when you get there.

So, yeah, bad news. It was more a network of brass pipes than anything resembling a city, like a massive exhibit someone had set up at a plumbing trade show. There was no one there, there was nothing to do, and once I got tired of looking at the pretty skybox I quickly returned to my craft and went home.

(Image credit: Bethesda / Trainwiz)

Mission accomplished: Skyrim is now Starfield.

Verisimilitude: Basically the same game.
Fun factor: +10 for the rocket boots, -10 for the empty planets.
Money saved: $70/£60, plus who-knows-how-much in DLC.

Counter-Strike 2

(Image credit: Bethesda / Mirci33)

Now I know what you're thinking. Isn't CS2 free-to-play? Yes, but you'll only be in there for so long before the dread hand of crates reaches into your soul and pulls out all your base parts, compelling you to drop megabucks on a 0.00000079% chance of obtaining some kind of lustrous karambit, whatever that is.

Skyrim, on the other hand, wants nothing from you anymore, making it a far safer choice for those of us prone to betting everything on black. Also, it's bizarrely easy to turn this fantasy RPG into a counter-terrorism-themed FPS, and that's not an opportunity a man like me passes up on.

First up on our CS2 modlist is, what else? TB's Improved Smoke. It doesn't quite approximate CS2's puffy, comfy-looking clouds, but it's a marked improvement over Skyrim's default wisps.

It's bizarrely easy to turn this fantasy RPG into a counter-terrorism-themed FPS

Next up, we need a bomb to plant. I originally tried out Explosives Remastered As A Static—SSE, which just leaves a barrel of dynamite somewhere in Riften, but it turned out I got the wrong end of the stick. Those bombs were just models for other modders to use, meaning my attempt to plant one at Jarl Balgruuf's feet just ended up being littering with intent.

But we don't give up around these parts. Let me introduce you to Skyrim SE AE—Modern Weapons V80 4k Edition, which has perhaps the hardest screenshot ever taken in Skyrim on its gallery page on Nexus Mods.

(Image credit: Bethesda / Mirci33)

This thing is absurd. While installing it, I was presented with a fully in-universe justification for why modern military weaponry had suddenly manifested in Skyrim (I didn't really read it, but it had something to do with the Japanese Self-Defence Forces and a wormhole). In-game, it adds a list of weapons to Skyrim's crafting system that's so long I eventually gave up scrolling through it. I think it may be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

So, gold-plated, banana-themed AK-47 in hand, I set about creating a match of CS2 in Whiterun. This was easier than you might think. First up, I installed Face Masks of Skyrim to turn myself and my cohort into convincing terrorist scum. Then, lacking much in the way of gas masks and brusque Scottish accents, I installed Russian Police and Militsya in Skyrim—Guard Armor Replacer, which does absolutely nothing but add a small patch reading either "Politsiya" or "Militsiya" to the game's default guard armour. Close enough? Close enough.

(Image credit: Bethesda / veopikke)

Then I cloned myself four times using the console, handed the clones AKs, and began a countdown. Our mission? To shoot our way up to Dragonsreach and hit Jarl Balgruuf with a deployed explosive, which so far as I could tell basically approximates the experience of planting a bomb as the terrorist team in CS2.

It was a flawless plan right up until it began. Hitting the end of my countdown, I initiated proceedings by rattling the nearest guard with a full clip from my AK, turning the town hostile and getting this Counter-Strike show on the road. Unforeseeably, all four of my teammates at this point suffered simultaneous mental breaks, quailing that they didn't want to die and immediately leaving Whiterun via the door behind us when we started.

To be fair, it's my understanding that playing public matches of CS2 can go very much the same way.

(Image credit: Bethesda / Mirci33)

But no matter, because with my AK, flashbangs, and a handy-dandy rocket-propelled grenade, I was able to make short work on the guards on the way to Balgruuf's house. Kicking open the door, I levelled my RPG (which is basically a bomb with an engine, when you think about it) at the tyrant and fired. Game over. Terrorists win.

Versimilitude: I'm not sure if I've remade Counter-Strike 2 or the section of Cyberpunk where you play Johnny Silverhand as he assaults Arasaka Tower. Either way it was great.
Fun factor: Did you see that bear screenshot?
Money saved: Infinite.

(Image credit: Bethesda / Mirci33)
Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.