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Quick Thoughts on all the games I've played since 11/25/19

SPOILER WARNING FOR ALL GAMES LISTED!
I am a pretty casual gamer but when I start picking up the controller again I go nuts deep so when I ordered a PS4 on 11/25/19 and received it shortly after, I quickly picked up dozens of titles and have been working through them ever since.
Here are some thoughts on the ones I've played in the last year. I typically prefer more violent action oriented games and am a sucker for a good gore/damage system, but in the last year i found myself exploring more genres. I also am not a completionist by any stretch and just enjoy leisurely getting through the main story on most titles. Also I like strictly single player campaigns, and usually I play on easy or normal just to enjoy the story and/or gameplay.
I generally don't really care for JRPGs, RPGs, puzzle games, etc I dig what I dig and generally pick up games I've relatively certain I'll enjoy which is why the majority of these write-ups are positive. Also some, like TLOU2, are full on reviews. No real structure, just my stream of consciousness thoughts on each game.
I have excluded from the list PS4 games I own but can't really "finish" like Crash Team Racing, Friday the 13th, World War Z, Dead by Daylight etc. I also play a lot of retro games and bullet hell type stuff on PSnow but don't own those obviously.
So here are some basic mini write ups about those games I've checked off the playlist. The ones I've played more recently or ones I wrote about as soon as I finished are a little longer because I was fresher on the details. Feel free to discuss any title more in depth. Again, assume SPOILERS for every title listed.
This list is about 90 games long, alphabetized except for series which are listed in sequence, so this will be several posts.
Edit: Realized after posting the full list that the comments would show up in order that I made them, so that kinda fucked up the alphabetization.
Alien: Isolation
I gave this game a shot when I first got my 360 a couple years ago and dropped it about an hour in. I love the first 2 films, love the aesthetic of the game and the concept but for some reason just wasnt feeling it back then. Fast forward October 2020 and I was in the mood for shitting my pants so I bought the PS4 version and knocked it out over a few days.
I loved it. The tension, the visuals, the music, the story, all of it. I found myself rooting for Ripley and getting excited when she would succeed after hitting a detour or having to think on her feet. The atmosphere is unreal with the abandoned station seeming like a barely living thing, with the survivors therein being its death throes. The scattered corpses with their faces gone or their chests burst or their guts sliced open, the android husks, the fires, etc were all great and added to the overall feel.
The sounds of the alien moving through the vents kept me on edge and early on when you're completely defenseless created some insanely tense situations. The androids could also be creepy AF with their slow, Michael Myers style stalking and their eyes glowing in dark areas. Every new room, even save points and terminals made had me holding my breath as the vents rattled and the tracker beeped, bracing for the alien tale to impale me before I could get to a save.
So many situations like that made the game a great experience. Visually also the space station details are incredible. Everything felt authentic to the movies and the sequences where you walk outside the station are breathtaking. The massive, industrial look of the station looming over you, the infinite stars, the immensity of the gas giant and a blazing sun as the backdrop. It was stunning. It was also very cool getting to explore the derelict and seeing the space jockey up close.
I also appreciated how meticulous some of the processes were. Like toward the end when you're releasing the clamps from the Torrens, I feel like any other game would have just had you hit a button or 2 to disengage. But Amanda must first pull a lever to release a key, then insert that key, then must activate a few cylinders and manipulate each one. It made the world feel authentic and as if all these processes existed for technicians and astronauts.
Criticisms are short really. The game runs a little long, the mechanics can be a bit clunky until you get used to them, and Amanda never really has a "table turning" moment against the alien in which she steps up and defeats it. After being harassed for hours by the creature, the first one is stopped by the Marshal using Amanda as bait, and the last one has Amanda cornered and she jettisons them both.
There wasnt that catharsis of her finally getting the upper hand and dealing some payback for the hours of terror. No real “Get away from her, you bitch” moment. I was stoked that the game transitioned from an Outlast-style "flee or hide" to being able to defend yourself, but actually destroying the Alien would have been a great plus. Also your character not casting a shadow in a game with otherwise great lighting really bugged me.
Really enjoyed my playthrough and found it to be beautiful, immersive, and tense as hell.
Batman: Arkham Knight
This title gets a looooooooot of flak from fans of the series and I really can't wrap my head around it. I focused primarily on the main story (really not inclined to get all Riddler trophies or defuse all the street bombs to get the "real" endings) and enjoyed it quite a bit. The game looks beautiful, the story is dark and interesting and flowed better than Arkham City's, which is usually considered the peak of the series.
I knew the Knight reveal ahead of time, but still enjoyed watching it play out and I definitely loved the inclusion of Joker as an omnipresent aspect of Batman's fracturing psyche. He had some great lines and I loved the dynamic his presence presented. Combat was as fun as ever, traversal was fast and felt great and looked even better as you glided over the city.
And regarding the biggest complaint about the game..... I actually really liked the tank battles. I really didn't mind their frequency in the main story, although I can see how having to battle every time you defuse a street bomb would get old quick. But just with the main story, they were a refreshing departure from the beat-em-up combat and were pretty fun throughout the game. Taking out a whole fleet of them without taking a hit felt great and the cat and mouse tank sections were also a lot of fun.
Also Joker's song when Robin is defusing bombs was great.
Battlefield 1 and V
Really enjoyed both of these and especially dug the short, individual story format. Loved the biplane story in 1 and the tank commander story in V. The opening of BF1 was particularly harrowing and poignant. Both visually great, fun gameplay, and some genuinely great mini-campaigns. I do feel like war games should have more brutal combat, so the rated T level of bullet damage wasn't super impressive, but at least V introduced some blood splatter.
Blair Witch
This is another game that, while not a VR game, I played with the headset and I'm glad I did. The game is visually solid, atmospheric, and creepy as all hell and something about the premise of searching for a missing child in the woods grounded what becomes a pretty off the rails story. The creep factor, the environmental, the labyrinthine nature of the forest, the excellent use of binaural sound, the lighting, the cool camcorder mechanic of influencing the real world through the video playback, etc all came together to create a genuinely unnerving and anxiety-spiking experience. Some very cool areas too like the final house and a particular section of the forest dense with blinding fog. Another had you shifting between the forest and a war zone with embers scattering in the air and monsters surrounding you from the fringes.
The game felt like a mix of Alan Wake, Hellblade, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and Layers of Fear, the latter especially toward the end when the final chapter has you stuck in an ever-changing hell house.
This game definitely instills the sense of dread that you're being watched and that you're always a single step away from getting perpetually lost in the endless woods.
Playing with the VR headset had me holding my breath at time, especially toward the end as shit was getting crazier.
The story dealt with PTSD, loss, grief, regret, and redemption to give its creepy supernatural story some deep human elements that I felt really landed well and just the general premise of being detached from the rest of your search party in the vast woods looking for a kid who you fear the worst for got me engaged from the start.
Your dog buddy Bullet was also a great addition and just like how your PTSD stricken character holds him when he needs to calm himself down, I found myself staying near him and petting him between tense encounters to calm myself down.
Overall the anxiety of the game was unreal. Reality constantly bending around you and fucking with your head. Playing felt like being trapped in a nightmare and I loved it.
Only real complaints are once again the player character not casting a shadow and some objectives and paths can be extremely obscure, such that I resorted to a guide many times during my playthrough. But neither of those things were experience breaking and I very much enjoyed my tense, anxiety-inducing, and thrilling time with Blair Witch.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
What a beautiful game. Very simple in story and presentation but with the added twist of simultaneously controlling two different characters, each with their own joy stick and action button. While this control scheme never felt fluid, it did become more natural and I think was a great feature considering you are two brothers having to work together toward a common goal. The puzzles used this mechanic to a very fun effect.
I think the Chapter 3 was the best in the game and from there to the end the game really shined visually and got much darker in subject matter.
I loved the simplicity of telling the story. The characters speak a fictional language that we are never privy to so we have context and visual storytelling. Some of the brothers gestures to each other are a little contrived and more for our benefit of the player than something two characters would actually do when they both speak the same language, but overall I really liked this aspect.
The ending was a pretty solid gut punch as well. the death of Big after the spider fight and after Little makes the climb for the potion, then having to play as Little as he sobs and buries his bro was sad as hell. As was Little hugging the ghost of big. Then the father breaking down sobbing and Little standing stoically next to him at the graves of the mother and Big.
Just a really well done, short experience that was a refreshing play.
Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition
This game was stupid as shit and I absolutely loved it. Beat the campaign over the course of a single day and was thoroughly entertained. The gunplay is a lot of fun and using the kick, slide, and leash to launch dudes into a slow motion bullet Slaughter made me smile pretty much every time.
The game has some cool environments but ultimately is a remaster from the PS3 era so nothing really comes off as amazing, although a mission in a miniature city was a standout.
The story is dumb and loud and juvenile just like the gameplay and the dialogue, but it fit perfectly. While this is nowhere near the same league as Doom 2016 and Eternal, I consider Bulletstorm, Doom/Eternal, and Shadow Warrior 2 to be games i can turn on and jump into any point and have a quick blast with relentlessly paced, hyper violent action.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
I've played every console COD campaign that's come out in the last two gens and this was definitely my least favorite. I got about 4 missions in when I first played it and dropped it out of boredom and finally picked it back up to finish it. I didnt hate it necessarily but I cant see myself ever replaying it.
The game isnt as polished as a lot of the other CODs. Like there was only a single instance in which my character was in the custom outfit I set up and it was only for like a second before being back to the default outfit. Then there is a glitch in the first mission that requires you to just replay the whole god damn mission and hope it resolves itself. The wall running also served no purpose, offered no tactical advantage throughout the game, and outside of the mission where you learn it I dont remember it working a single time for the rest of the campaign.
Then you have the voice acting for the male player. It is absolutely atrocious. No emotion, no change of tone, just unacceptable garbage. I switched to the female player just so I wouldn't have to hear the dullest voice of all time try to emote. It was like a genie animated a fence post only to force it to read lines at gunpoint.
The combat is fun still, just like the other CODs, and it got very intense at several points, with the robots being a cool enemy to take down. There were also some fun environments in the game like the stormy Singapore level and the more surreal ones later in the game. The underwater combat was also kinda fun but the physics could have been better.
The characters were all forgettable, and the story went off the rails, but I liked the flip flopping of the villains. Ultimately I thought Advanced and Infinite Warfare both did the futuristic sci fi much, much better than BLOPS3.
Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War
After MW2019 I was pretty pumped for this given how gritty the combat was in MW and knowing that Treyarch usually makes the goriest CODs. I also really dug the more CQC missions and the relative realism of MW so was hoping for more of the same but all of the above was a whole lot better in MW.
The story was cool and full of espionage and intrigue, which fit the setting, but there weren't any real standout missions other than some brief stints in Vietnam and a mission in a mock US city used by the Soviets for tactical drills.
Graphically the game looks decent at times but overall MW looked better. The gunplay is the same as always but I was disappointed to see no bullet damage at all, very inconsistent blood pooling under killed enemies (blood puddles even reabsorb into the bodies if you wait a minute) and zero dismemberment, which sucks because even WaW and Blops 1,2, and 3 had it. It just sanitized the violence way too much especially when we know how brutal Vietnam was. Grenades and explosives do zero damage. Just real disappointing after MW.
The only good addition to the combat were the absolutely brutal melee kills, but even those were made less effective by not having any body damage or blood splatter on the environment.
The campaign is very quick. Finished it all in what seemed like 5 hours or so. I did enjoy it somewhat and if some patches improve the gore and blood effects, which I'm not counting on, I'll have more fun replaying certain levels. The game also has branching dialogue (although your character doesn't speak during gameplay) and it has some cool mechanics like searching for clues, uncovering secrets, etc which I didnt really bother much with but completionist will dig the extra content and multiple endings.
It was good seeing Mason and Woods again even though they didnt have much to do. Your player character is a blank slate, which I guess is the point, but Adler really steals the show.
Certain scenes have weird visual anomalies. Toward the end when you're talking with your team the shadows and shading kept distorting and then there is the game breaking controller bug where in the first Vietnam mission the game freezes your controller if you're using bluetooth and the only way to fix it is restart your system. Trying to replay some missions a couple days after completing the campaign, and lo and behold the game doesn’t even get past the “Press X to Start” screen. How the fuck did this get released so broken?
The game had a troubled development and it really shows. A little disappointed but will likely play through the campaign one more time now that I've adjusted my expectations.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
I had read a lot of negative things about this COD entry, but I really fucking dug it. The setting was cool, I liked the story, I loved the side missions, and the one mission on the asteroid fighting the robots through rapid day and night cycles was a standout. Also obliterating dudes was fun
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
Loved this one as well and found the gunplay to be so satisfying. It's a beautiful game to look at, some of the campaign beats were amazing (Farrah's story in particular) and the violence felt very real. The "Clean House" mission was way too short and I wish more similar missions had been included although there were a few similar sequences, but that mission in particular is just so engaging. They tease you with some dismemberment with your 50 cal, but having the shotgun deal some more brutal damage would have been great. I have played through the campaign twice now and still play through Clean House and Wolfs Den occasionally. Playing on Veteran makes those two missions in particular TENSE
Call of Duty: WW2
Honestly, I played this once and soon after didn't really remember much about it. It's a perfectly good time waster and casual play if you wanna just play 30 mins of something before you leave the house (well go to a different room of your house I guess). I dig a good WW2 game though so I replayed once I cleared my backlog and liked it a lot more the second time. The characters are War movie archetypes but they worked well and I liked their chemistry, Pierson was a great "antagonist", and so many scenes were intense as hell. Game is pretty on rails but I dug the Death Factory mission, escaping through the forest as it was getting bombed, the stealth right after, then clearing buildings.Wish the stealth and melee mechanics were better and not in forced sections though. Also wish there were blood pools for the bodies when you shoot them. There is splatter, but no pooling blood unless you blow off their head which is infrequent. It would make the aftermath of a battle hit a lot harder. The Tank cat and mouse was great and reminiscent of BF5 but i hated the plane section and much preferred BF for that. Standout was the visuals in cutscenes. Amazing at times.
Control
Very fun game with some badass mechanics but could get pretty frustrating having to recover 5 minutes worth of ground sometimes if you're killed. Not a super forgiving checkpoint system. Also, I thought the story was cool but I played Alan Wake not too long ago and was waaaaay more invested in the story and diving deeper into the lore. Control just didn't quite get there for me on the narrative front. Standout though was the Ashtray mission. One of the coolest fucking levels ever.
submitted by _RETS_ to truegaming

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Sheogorath is an architect - or, how I went mad trying out settlement overhauls in 2020

The following is a retroactive justification for my descent into madness trying to work out what settlement mods I should use in this latest clean reinstall of Skyrim SE. I have previously got great mileage since 2016 out of JK + DoS with Arthmoor where appropriate and honestly there's not much pushing me away from this set up. However, nowadays there are enough fleshed out alternatives and series that I thought I would try something different.
I then thought I would have my cake and eat it too trying to mash as much together as I could- the mods that are tangentially related to cities, such as the carriages mods, the notice board and missives, docks, outlaws refuges, holidays, sewers, lanterns of skyrim II, glorious doors of skyrim, guards armour replacer... Pride comes before a month of modding algebra, as they say.
As a side note I'm pretty sure any and all problems I have encountered with any mod are my own fault and I don't magically expect authors or patch makers to have everything perfect for my own convenience, especially if I am testing the limits of compatibility. Furthermore mod authors should ignore my criticisms as they're based on my tastes and mine alone- they do not invalidate the creativity and work you've put in. You're all brilliant. This is also not a guide to the best set up for cities in skyrim, merely a snapshot of madness.
JK + DOS + Arthmoor JK I'm pretty sure is a staple of many many mod orders. It's all in one, touches most places players will spend time in, adds a bit of character or utility and frankly it does pretty well. Dawn of skyrim is similar- adds a load of stuff to the 5 cities. Using the two together using a patch leads to very busy cities- I think this is particularly good in Winterhold's grey quarter and Riften but starts to feel a little much in Whiterun. Besides, there was a new solitude overhaul I wanted to try! So in the interest of trying something new, I dropped Dawn of Skyrim and also learnt the tutorial from gamerspoets to make JK "modular". I like Arthmoor's villages/towns philosophy of simply making sure everyone has a place to live- it makes a place bigger while also inherently having a purpose and not bloated. Also after reading the description for each village where he points out which NPCs didn't have a bed of their own I can't forget those facts and it eats away at me at night. The series also touches on many small villages that aren't altered by anything else. Arthmoor's Bring Out Your Dead, Cutting Room Floor, Storefronts, and oblivion gates in cities are also important staples of many load orders, but for the first time I jettisoned Bring Out Your Dead- partly because I realised I never really visited the halls of the dead, partly because it was causing minor compatibility problems and I found it a weak link. Fans of graveyards should not despair- I picked up Sepolcri.
You can also get all of the above mentioned "tangential" mods working with the JK/DoS/Arthmoor set up with patches, as well as big quest mods such as 3dnpcs, or various playerhomes. It's a fine setup, and I would recommend it if anyone hasn't given it a go. My desire to replace was basically FOMO on 2020 mods.
The Competition The Great Cities/Villages - This was the main series of mods that inspired me to try something else this time. Dramatically different in approach to JK or Arthmoor in the settlements the mod author soldierofwar has touched, when I see one of these mods I tend to expect strong boundary marking with big walls and grander "focus point" buildings. It's worth noting the author has said they're going back and redoing some of their older work. Though it comes in an AIO they're also published separately, which is what I ended up having to use and am eternally grateful for.
Cities of the North - Where the Great Cities changes the layout, so this mod radically alters the building shapes to give the settlement a unique shape and fingerprint.
Holds the Cities Overhaul - A huge all in one mod, but actually despite the huge patch centre I got spooked early on in the decision making progress about compatibility and wanted to mix and match some town overhauls with other town overhauls so I'm sorry although it looks great in parts I didn't give this a real look. Fans of Holds will have to look elsewhere.
Expanded Town and Cities - someone pointed out I didn't mention this one at all, and I admit I think I've done missjennabee dirty. It was a staple of my LE load order- you could combine it with Arthmoor and JK in many/all cases, and was modular or all in one. She decided to build again from the ground up in SE, which while coming from a good place of trying to refine her work was actually from my point of view is quite unfortunate as when I moved to SE it wasn't finished, and it ended up being dropped. Even today it's only a few locations, so I had a massive blind spot on it when building my load order and didn't consider it. There are plenty of patches available for it to integrate so check it out. I've mentioned where it's a possibility in each section.
1-settlement overhauls - we'll get to them in turn.
CFTO vs Convenient Carriages - Convenient carriages seems slightly less elegant but easier compatibility when you can't keep in your head straight what you're using. I've switched over, though I'm sure with enough thought I could have kept CFTO.
Mash everything together and hope it sticks So as a greedy mod user all I wanted to do was throw together The Great Cities, Cities of the North for Dawnstar and Morthal, and JK, and stick Arthmoor's villages or the great villages wherever wasn't covered by the resulting fusion blast. There is an "on hold" patch by Xenon but the author directs you to this Monumental effort by Gardden. This author too has moved on from making the patch. I'm pretty sure I did something wrong, or I missed patches, or something. But I'd find JK things in the way of Great City things, or things clipping through walls, and forget trying to get it going with all the ancillary mods... There is simply too much work for one author to do in a short time, and as we see the Great City and Cities of the North get updated in the future you'll see greater problems. It's a good effort, and I realise I'm not helping by pointing out specific things for an author to fix, but it was a while ago sorry. It was here that after a long time trying to get stuff playing nice, I decided that if there was a Great City I fancied trying out, I would just delete JK for that city. I generally found Soldier's work and detailing just as interesting as the JK standard so that would get rid of a compatibility headache. And hey, I wanted to try out new things, right? Out with the old.
Whiterun I've currently got it as just the standard JK with sewers/outlaws refuges. I've been tempted but eventually decided not to go for thing such as perfect or autumnal whiterun- too many trees. I haven't tried Eek's beautiful Whiterun yet- initially I thought it a bit busy but now coming back to it at the end of doing all my other tinkering I've changed my mind. Eli's breezehome has loot freaking out about about deleted navmeshes which I need to investigate so I may yet jump ship on it. As an aside, I adore the nordic carving pair of mods, especially the Dragon Throne Wall. Try it out. I may throw in the horse, undecided.
Riverwood Yep, it's JK again. I like my Riverwood small and sleepy- at one stage I considered Riverwood light add-on but there's a lack of information on what that does. I indulged in Beginner's Shack because you can make it a home for a 3dnpc character. An alternative might be the Expanded towns and cities version, but I didn't investigate.
Riften, Windhelm Honestly I'm in two minds to learn how to make Dawn of Skyrim modular and throw it back on for these two settlements. Snowy AF Windhelm provides Windhelm with a neat solution to giving Windhelm a little more character- throw it under so much white stuff the city of london will be after it (one manhole for skyrim sewers is lost). Riften Docks Overhaul is a welcome "best of" addition to the outskirts of the city- don’t be a idiot like me and make the beta 1.5 file overwrite instead of merge the 1.4 file, it’ll cause any tamerial cell load to crash. In the end I didn't plump for any of the city entrance overhauls for Windhelm, even though the bridge is a bit dull, apart from Windhelm Bridge Seam Fix to stop the very obvious line on the lip of the bridge. Feels like a sledgehammer to crack a nut but it works.
Markarth It's JK. I felt Dawn of Skyrim was almost too busy but not quite, so playing without it will make the city feel a bit cleaner for this playthrough. I loved the beautiful bridge of City entrances overhaul but the compatibility problems reported led me to go for the fixed version instead. Stoop over Markarth is a nice balcony I can observe the forsworn revolution from and I like my Understone Keep rubble swept up thank you very much.
Solitude There's actually more solitude (the city itself) overhauls about now, and honestly I didn't think I would like Enhanced Solitude as much as I do. A patch is available for JK (or JK+DOS) and outlaws refuges, the mod does drop in fps a little but makes up for it in the new shops and bustle. I think the bit I love the most is the paved shop street going up from the outer gate to the solitude worldspace gate. Don't use the JK-Missives patch to make the pair compatible, or you'll lose the board behind a wall. Do use the JK Noticeboard patch. No, I have no idea how Holidays is going to cope with it. If you use skyrim sewers you'll notice the manholes fade in, but as far as I can tell is otherwise useable.
The author also really liked solitude expansion and has both offered a patch for it and a whole new complimentary mod Enhanced Solitude Docks that works off it that does for the docks what enhanced solitude did for the city itself. However, both lagged like crazy for me (there is a patch for majestic mountains in Enhanced Solitude Docks but as I’m running cathedral either the problem is this user being an idiot, or cathedral majestic mountains is different and the patch provided doesn't fix whatever the issue is), and when I tried out solitude expansion some buildings were morphed into the mountains and inaccessible. Please note I was using the Enhanced S – S Expansion patch at the time, so the usual caveat of a missing a patch somewhere is probably true. There's some additional tweaks and other mod integrations available here which you may be interested in, including skyrim sewers replacing an area introduced in enhanced solitude docks.
I've gone for Solitude Docks Updated this time round. It is a more focused overhaul (and distinctly less laggy) with plenty of patches on offer and does well enough for me. Don't forget your frescoes and rectory for holy characters, or harborside for a sea view (though I found it too caused a small amount of lag with my setup). Finally, Centred Blue Palace Throne makes the throne room just that little bit grander.
Falkreath The great city of Falkreath is actually what inspired me to rejig in the first place. I adore that graveyard, especially when paired with Sepolcri (as far as I can work out, the aio great cities patch works for falkreath even if you're just running the individual great city of falkreath). I cut JK- this was a pinch point for the JK-Great city patches, especially around the jarl's longhouse, the blacksmith, and too many big trees in the graveyard. Missives will work, but it'll be half out a low wall, and using the JK-missives patch will move it in front of the execution block. Best just select the offending wall pieces and use the disable console command. I find the opening hall to the jarl's longhouse slightly odd (a tight room that turns into the main hall), but it's a wonderful looking building inside and out (ignore the lighting in the ceiling). I dread to think what cities of the north's falkreath will do to it in the future- I'll never get the damn thing compatible, will I?
Dawnstar I think I've spent more time modding dawnstar than any other location.
This is another classic Great City series example- strong walls, tall Jarl’s palace, busy port. I think pairing it with JK felt like a mistake- there are some tight spots along the upper wall area by the mine and on the docks and the city entrance that I felt the extra touches from both mods overwhelmed rather than added, and I felt it certainly didn’t help the navmesh. There are additional problems if you’re running CFTO with this combination- I got tired trying to work out which patch would move the ferryman back onto the docks, and the carriage out front will refuse to unphase from the wall even with the patch- again, probably my error. Cities of the North goes for a simpler approach to Dawnstar- no planked dock, but the town is shaped by these wonderful cosy Nordic houses that stand out against the snow instead. The Jarl’s longhouse exterior and inn exterior both look fantastic, and the jarl’s interior has this cool raised dais above a feasting hall which all feels very medieval. I haven’t tried to see if characters will feast there instead of the inn, but I really feel they should- someone should make a mod, or it feels like a waste.
The inn is rather large and has an oversized oven as a focal point but I have been getting constant errors in the opining dawnstar “I can’t sleep” scene- the barman is able to speak but I can’t find him even with clipping turned off, and the dark elf doesn’t appear most of the time. I think there might be a bad install or something to check there. The whalebones in the roof are an excellent touch, but all in all I wish I was eating and drinking in the Jarl’s hall. I can’t comment too much about it standalone but I felt it dovetailed well with JK- the JK detailing around the dock, buildings around the mine, and entrance is kept and apart from maybe one narrow squeeze on the walk between the jarl longhouse and the inn it still feels spacious. You can even throw in Arthmoor’s Dawnstar for a slightly bigger town- just head on over to the huge patch collection maintained by Janquel, who I think honestly deserves almost as much praise as the mod authors for his extensive work here. We’ll see them again in Morthal. I feel it’s almost unfair I haven’t tried the Cities of the North – Great City version of Dawnstar (same patch page), especially as I’ve replaced CFTO with Convenient Carriages which was the main headache inducer, but I reckon that’ll be a strong option to look at if you’re looking to reshape dawnstar. I’m sticking with the CotN-JK-Arthmoor version for now, but will admit I slept on the expanded towns and cities version.
Morthal I adore the CotN houses for Morthal. They have this bleached look that makes me weirdly think the trees were felled and lay in a bog before being used. The inn is cosy, the Thaumaturgist’s hut is this weird two story building (suggestion – a fence on the top exterior floor), and the houses tend to have their own sheltered exterior to keep stuff. The guy who wants to be a guard has some practice dummies in his which is some nice environmental narrative stuff. The inn is this weird slightly twisted hall (I think it needs an inn counter area rather than table for the innkeeper but this is probably a design choice), and highmoon hall is beautiful inside and out. I have thrones of skyrim over the default version included here, but if you like your Canadian Native American legends I guess it looks like east coast Native American art. Again, pairing with JK does wonders- a palisade around the entrances ties everything together, and small details here and there make it feel more lived in (even if the blacksmith sometimes gets a bit stuck). The noticeboard/CotN patch offered does work until you add in JK- it then gets hidden slightly behind some crates. I’d recommend either the JK COTN patch removing those crates (there’s plenty in that little nook already) or the noticeboard patch moving it slightly to its left behind the wooden bench. In the meantime, you can simply use the disable command. Bridges of Skyrim adds a bit to it as well.
The Great City of Morthal has some strong ideas about walls (its worn palisade is a superior version of JK’s, and adds a small amount of stone which might be a bit much) and has the nicest drawbridge (if you use bridges of skyrim the patch will overwrite it with the Bridges of Skyrim version which I think is a shame). The lagoon feels a little busier and there’s a whole extra vendor opposite the jarl’s longhouse. As usual, pairing with JK is a mistake- you can barely get down the main street with all the extra decorations and points of interest, never mind the NPCs. Pick one and go for it. However, and remember it may just be me because I’ve never seen anyone else complain, I noticed that the raised entrance to the jarl longhouse will cause guards to phase through the planks and drop down so you’re looking at a torso on guard. The navmesh at the crossroads with the inn leading to the bridge appears to have some problems- guards, children, and people from the opening scene will get caught and bump into each other, even without the missives board present. They will be unable to disentangle themselves at all. Therefore I went with Cities of the North/JK. I didn’t give Morthal Overhaul II or Morthal Ages a go, so apologies for that. In my small testing run abouts I’ve seen the positive impact Denizens of Morthal has even just walking into the inn, so keeping an eye on that one (the author has even replied to this thread with their future plans!).
Winterhold I like my Winterhold overhauls similar to Brexit- a very obvious show of yesterday’s grandeur being yeeted off a cliff where everyone can see the ruins. I guess in real life if this happened a hundred years ago or whatever we wouldn’t be seeing fully formed buildings down the bottom and they would have rebuilt a fair bit of the town but hey, if it looks pretty I’m willing to forgive. This does rule out the various restored winterhold mods (1, 2, 3. Realistic winterhold restores a bit too much for my taste as well. I admit, I haven’t tried out Capital of Winterhold (sorry!) but it’s more the approach I was thinking of. Oddly enough, I really didn’t like the pictures of CotN’s version. The houses themselves are wonderful, like giant mountain goats in blizzards, but there’s not a huge amount of ruin decoration, the town is very sparse, and the fortress while undeniably cool is not what I want in my Windhelm. It’s too… developed and big and cool to have just 3 buildings next to it. With the included JK patch apparently the ruins get spruced up a bit. A patch with the Great City (hello again Janquel) makes it more like CotN than the great cities, which I guess is inevitable but a shame.
Winterhold – Expanded ruins is possibly my favourite set of ruins to add to Winterhold, and comes in several flavours- a full version with walls, ruins, underground maze, extra lore/quest, and player home, or modular. I paired the ruins/walls only version with QaxeIsKaze’s excellent but sadly unavailable Rebuilding Winterhold. However, the Great City of Winterhold has some really nice ruins, and soldierofwar has clearly put in the effort to design the ruined area to have a view of it tumbled down into the sea below. The houses down the cliff look a little too intact but it’s glorious. I’m a big fan of using what is basically the windhelm buildings, they add a lot of character and make the city feel narrower and claustrophobic, and the extra blacksmith clanging makes you feel like there’s still life in the old place yet. I couldn’t work out how to make the great cities – outlaws refuges patch work with just the modular “Great city of Winterhold” file, but I can live with the extra well. It’s not necessarily perfect for me- there doesn’t appear to be a JK patch (so I removed Winterhold from JK as noted above), I’ve hit the reported error of Birna’s shop being closed at all times, and there are a lot of houses that are unoccupied but you can only tell by looking closely and realising the doors are boarded up- perhaps the windows should be as well, or at the very least no lights coming from them? There is also possibly an issue with the crossroads here as well- there are 2 guards that appear to halt and not move from the spot. Strangely the Jarl’s steward will happily wander through- perhaps it’s a guard patrol route choice rather than a navmesh error? The jarl longhouse is suitably impressive by itself but is hidden away in a narrow side street rather than the main street, but I like the new rotated inn building and where it opens out to. Again, I seem to remember problems with CTFO but maybe that was my end not figuring out the patches, but moving to Convenient carriages solves it.
There’s a new alternative about that I have in fact gone at time of writing– ClefJ’s Winterhold- I need to run the Better Dynamic Snow patcher and had a problem with floating embers in the inn from embersxd, but it’s a strong design that’s had some thought behind it with a spectacular central fountain square, a redesigned jarl palace (though the opening foyer is surprisingly small), a tucked out the way player home, and a moderately expanded amount of shops on offer including a clothing and a blacksmith vendor . Even the houses themselves have had a small makeover that brings something unique. I had a minor problem in that the embersxd patch that is allegedly there doesn’t seem to download, but I submitted a question to find out if it was my end or not. I also noticed Birna was closed in this mod too. There are other patches that I believe are in development- missives is perfectly usable but oddly placed in front of some irrelevant stairs at present which will be rectified.
Raven Rock Honestly there’s not much out there for Raven Rock. Quaint Raven Rock add lots of visually interesting things around town- I like the combined statues of the daedra the most. I just went for that.
Dragon Bridge This is another Great Cities mod I was really excited to try out. I like the design philosophy behind it- great big walls befitting a strategic point, and the addition of the jetty while not very functional really breaks it up and makes it more visually interesting from the other bank. The picnic table on top of one of the walls is a favourite spot of mine too. The conversion of the Penitus Oculatus barracks into what almost appears to be a chapter house with a church-like tower from the outside adds a bit of variety and I have grown to like, while the legionary on guard in the very fortified bridge section of the town really makes you feel like you’ve walked into a heavily guarded fortress. I feel there is a navmesh or guard route issue as I keep spotting them bumping into walls, but they free themselves after a while. This really doesn’t work with JK, even with the patches I tried out- have a look at the execution block area or the inn’s outside area if you don’t believe me. I miss JK putting the blacksmith near the Penitus Oculatus barracks, but it’s a minor quibble and is worth the trade off. I’ve noticed Skyrim 3d rocks makes a rock under the blacksmith pop up through the decking (a simple disable command fixes it). A final minor quibble is that maybe the wolf that’s very close to the city should be disabled because it just makes npcs run around and freak even if they easily deal with it. Although JK is out and should be disabled, the Arthmoor compatibility patch included on the page works flawlessly. This is what I’m running with at the moment.
Ivarstead As we move to the smaller settlements, you can really tell that Soldierofwar is trying new ideas and has maybe increased their skills. There’s no huge wall like the great city collection, but suddenly Ivarstead has an impressive temple to Kynareth- which really makes sense as you consider it’s the last major stop on a pilgrimage route before the big trek up the mountain, and in many cases I bet the last stop (we know not everyone goes up the mountain). It’s based off stave churches in scandanavia and has a wonderful interior- the author has been asked a few times if it’s not too tall but they've replied several times (including to me) that it’s in proportion to real life, so who are we to argue? Besides, it’s the last bit of flat ground on the trail before High Hrothgar, if a jarl wanted to build something big Ivarstead is the place to do it. All the buildings have had a makeover, and I’m a big fan of the bridges and lake jetty in particular. The interior of the inn is also changed to match the exterior, and reminds me a bit of some of the city of the north inn interiors. There’s so much character added to this small village, I knew I had to give this mod a shot. There’s also an impressive patch collection which includes a JK patch!
Rorikstead JK’s Skyrim/Arthmoor actually turned this small farming community into a relatively heavily fortified and busy settlement- I think it’s the extra shops JK added. I don’t know if the Great City version of the village was supposed to invoke a viking D-style enclosure fort/settlement (it’s a thing, according to a book I read), but Rorikstead almost perfectly fits the profile. It’s got a feasting hall for the lord which looks spectacular from the outside, and a couple of key buildings (the inn, though in real life this would probably be an armoury or stables) inside, and several dwellings and farms on the outside. There’s not quite as much farming added as in JK/Arthmoor or extended towns and cities, but it still all looks very prosperous. There’s even a ruined house which must be some poor horse thief’s. The inside of the hall is surprisingly small- I was looking for an upstairs for where Rorik slept. It’s also again a pity this wonderful lord’s hall is not going to be used by the NPCs (again, tell me if I’m wrong) because everyone will pile into the inn. Ah well- it’s a fortified small farming village with a real visual identity, rather than a middle skyrim falkreath/dawnstar. I love it.
Kynesgrove, Darkwater crossing, Soljun's Sinkhole, and Old Hroldan The first 3 are basically Arthmoor exclusives (Note: Someone pointed out Expanded Towns and Cities for Darkwater Crossing, sorry)- I’m actually a little surprised there’s not many mods for Kynesgrove- dragon mound, mine, proximity to Windhelm, main quest… seems like a few things you could work with there. I have seen that the Great Town mod is going to release at some stage though, so looking forward to that. Soljun’s Sinkhole is actually touched on by the Great Village of Old Hroldan, as it changes the farmhouse that makes it up to match the tileset introduced in that mod to keep it consistent. These buildings are very distinctive- the inn especially is unrecognisable and novel with its 2nd floor main common room. The ruined wall with the talos statue looks striking as well, and an attempt to change what was in vanilla basically an isolated inn in the reach with the lore of the location, but more emphasis is on the present day village than the old fortress that used to be here. The other mod I’ve tried (and have used previously) Old Hroldan Ruins does the opposite- it makes a vast set of ruins that dominates the road to Markarth with its tall towers and relatively heavy guard contingent. It comes in two flavours- ruins (and monument) only, and “full” which adds a shop in a ruined house, a recently abandoned house you can take over (with a crafting basement) and a very extensive dungeon of ghosts that if I recall correctly fought against Tiber Septim. I always seem to get the forgemaster’s fingers stuck there. The whole place just looms out the fog if the weather is inclined to be dramatic and you get a real sense of people scratching a living in the ruins rather than it being a thriving settlement. But the real success story about this location is that thanks to the efforts of that amazing person Janquel and cheesetoast8 every mod mentioned in this section is compatible. Everybody lives/mods, Rose. Everybody lives.
Shor's Stone Can you remember the last time you went to Shor’s Stone? I can’t either. Although I like the different building style (I swear these minor villages buildings are getting closer to CotN standard of differentiation every day) I was at first put off by the addition of Fallowstone Hall, as I am unfamiliar with ESO and thought the idea of a companions outpost in this tiny village in such an epic-looking clifftop fortress was too much. But the hall itself is rather small (though it has a vault and items etc), the fortress is in ruins and made of this very shetlands style piled stone, so I’m willing to give it a chance over Arthmoor’s functional village this time. I may change my mind. Once again Janquel has patches, though they appeared to have trouble with working out what to do with Elder Scrolls Online Imports.
Karthwasten The great town offers the same Breton-inspired buildings seen in Old Hroldan, but also expands the town’s functionality and makes the hall actually interesting enough to have been pointed out way back in Arena. Yes, there’s patches by the usual suspect.
Mixwater Mill These are perhaps candidates for the prettiest Great Village/town buildings. An unfussy extension of a small lumber camp that is once again serviced by Janquel. This in contrast to the slightly more involved and extensive Mixwater Mill Reborn.
Final thoughts Well, there you have it- a month or two of stubbornness descending into madness. There is a wealth of options for refreshing your cities in skyrim that wasn’t there a few years ago, and with lockdown continuing in many cases I’m excited to see what new stuff will be put together in the coming few months. I hope it was both useful for some people either wondering what’s available or trying to narrow down their options, and a cautionary tale for those trying to have it all. I may end up having to change some of this as well- I haven't even started adding quest mods! I might end up having to add cheesemod for everyone after all...
submitted by Toasterfire to skyrimmods