(I wrote this article in 2015 but most, if not all of the mods have been updated for Skyrim Special Edition and are still worth using today!)
I have recently purchased my first gaming PC and so, of course, I was looking forward to re-visiting one of my favorite video games, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and modding the hel out of it! One of the options for modding Skyrim is the customisation of sound and music so I thought it would be a great opportunity for a Shuffle or Boogie article. This is not to say that the original music of Skyrim isn't amazingly good. Jeremy Soule seems to radically improve with each new Elder Scrolls game with increasingly ambitious instrumentation, such as the 30 person choir on the main theme Dragonborn singing in the games own “dovahzul” (dragon speak.)
Though I never get bored with the original soundtrack, when you've spent hundreds of hours with the same 3 hours of music on loop, a little bit more variety is certainly not a bad thing. Most of the music mods have the option to either replace Skyrim's soundtrack or add to the existing randomly ordered compositions. I personally prefer the latter.
First of all, I'm sure many of you know this but if you would like to install any of these mods, you're going to need an account on www.nexusmods.com. It is the best resource out there for mods of a fair few games and it's the only website I have used for my current play through.
Providing 4 hours of new compositions, this mod essentially doubles the amount of music in the game. Compositions by Adrian Von Ziegler have been placed methodically throughout the differing areas of Skyrim and the mod author has done a good job of matching the feel of each track to an area or situation within the game.
Whilst Adrian Von Ziegler is not by any means a bad composer, I found the use of his tracks for this mod very jarring and un-immersive. Skyrim is clearly inspired by the Nordic countries of Northern Europe, the Celts on the other hand, were situated in central to Western Europe. While these medieval cultures were close to each other on the map, they were largely different in their traditions and more to the point, their music.
Whilst Celtic music itself can cover a broad range of traditional styles, I feel that Nordic folk music is far more distinct. Take these examples: a 'Puirt à beul' song native to Scotland and Ireland and 'Kan Ha Diskan' from Brittany both of which can be described as 'Celtic' music. From Iceland, we have 'Rimur' chanting, this example is a collaboration between Steindór Andersen and Sigur Rós. This, along with the track 'I Riden Så' from Finnish band Gjallarhorn whose style echoes the medieval folk music of Scandinavia, can give you a pretty good idea where the major differences lie.
There are similarities of course; mainly the focus on oral tradition and storytelling, however, the same can be said of all folk music. It's the often sombre tone of Nordic music that is intrinsically linked with its harsh climate and periods of total darkness. This juxtaposes the cheery Celtic melodies often accompanied by dance. It's the same reason heavy genres like black metal are so popular in places like Norway and that is the (perhaps overly in-depth) explanation of why I would not recommend this mod over:
This is probably the music mod I have gotten the most out of, because more than any other mod I found these compositions would start to feel as if they had always been a part of Skyrim. The composer goes by the stage name Evil Blue Koala and started the project to try to get more work as a composer.
The mod has been updated regularly and currently includes nearly 4 hours of music, all of which is really good quality. The track “It Crawls” creeps me out brilliantly when I'm sneaking through the dungeons of Skyrim and the ethereal “Midnight Walk” is as good an excuse as any to go searching for shooting stars at night.
The composer has used a great choir sound in a lot of the tracks. “True Nords Never Back Down” sounds very similar to the choir used in the original soundtrack, something of an achievement as I'm sure the composer did not have access to the kind of equipment or manpower that Jeremy Soule has.
While using this mod I often found myself unable to distinguish between the original and modded tracks due to its spot on tone, instrumentation and occasional use of motifs borrowed from the original soundtrack. This is a mod I will be using permanently!
The full Additional Music Project is available on bandcamp and the composer is now working on an unannounced project from new indie developer Rusty Bolt.
This is the most endorsed additional music pack on the Nexus which is probably due to the fact that it uses a mixture of songs from other soundtrack overhauls (including some tracks from the above Additional Music Project) While this is a brilliant idea and I appreciate the mod author's work, I feel there are issues with the tone of some of the compositions.
When I entered the player home 'Breezehome' with this mod installed for instance, I was greeted with a mournful tune reminiscent of a certain character's death scene in Final Fantasy VII. Similarly, when just walking around town doing a bit of shopping I had a fair few overly epic tracks playing. There's nothing sad or epic about buying a pot of bear stew from the Bannered Mare then returning home to eat it before reading Brief History of the Empire by the fire.
It's equally jarring to hear tracks with such varied production. Of course, not everyone can afford the best sample packs or even the best music software but hearing tracks of varying quality or even just differing production technique within the same game could be quite an adjustment for some. With a few adjustments to the track locations this mod could be a lot better, but in its current form I cannot recommend it over the Additional Music Project.
After putting Celtic Music in Skyrim down for not being lore friendly enough, you may think I'd be a bit of a hypocrite to say that I really enjoyed using a mod that changes the soundtrack into a load of ambient electro soundscapes. You're right, I am a hypocrite because that's exactly what this mod does and I really enjoyed using it!
The mod author has used a nice blend of licence free music, all of which is well produced. Though the songs come from multiple composers, the tracks also play well off one another and seem purpose-built for the in-game areas they appear in. I draw the line when the dance drum beats suddenly appear in the middle of a couple of the tracks but luckily the obtrusiveness of these beats is kept to the bare minimum by keeping them low in terms of mix and dynamics. A few of the tracks seem to have made use of Paul's Extreme Sound Stretch, a brilliant tool which I have used on many ambient compositions.
I think this mod would best suit people who find orchestral scores obtrusive or un-immersive. Perhaps you like to have the music as more of a quiet backdrop to the sound effects. I find the default music volume to be far too high already and these soundscapes do a brilliant job of blending in with the natural ambience of Skyrim. Speaking of natural ambience:
Sounds of Skyrim - Civilization/The Wilds/The Dungeons
This is one of those mods that I never realised I wanted, but now I have it I could never go back to the nothingness of the vanilla game. Let's face it, Skyrim's lore suggests it's a lot more populated than it actually is. So when I walk into a tavern, hearing a jumble of conversations, glass clinking and horrible coughing noises helps so much with the illusion that Skyrim is really lived in. The Civilization pack also contains sounds for the outdoor city areas so the so-called 'center of trade' Whiterun market benefits from this immensely! There are kids playing, extra blacksmith and farm animal sounds and people just seem more like they're going about their daily business rather than following a set routine laid out by the developers.
The benefits of the Dungeons pack becomes apparent right from the Helgen Escape Tunnel at the very start of the game. When playing this sequence in the past I never really gave any thought to the chaos that was still ongoing in Helgen while the Dragonborn made his/her escape, but now the occasional dragon roar echoing right through the dungeon stimulates my imagination.
While the wilds of Skyrim are very visually stimulating, there is not much in the original game beyond the flowing rivers that immerses your ears. I find the best part about this mod is not how frequently it does this but how infrequently; a long time can pass with no obvious sound then a buzzing bee might fly past your characters head. Of course the bee is only a sound, not physically there to interact with but as far as the player is concerned, the bee was there just a second ago and sometimes you might quickly turn to see if you can catch a glimpse. The same can be said of distant howling wolves, singing birds and my personal favourite, woodpeckers pecking at the trees around Riverwood.
By the way, this sound pack can be made totally compatible with the Climates of Tamriel sounds as well as a massive amount of great weather, lighting and sound overhauls by using the relatively new mod patch - Weather and Ambience Overhaul and following the brilliant step by step guide on the mod page. Also included in this patch is:
While this does not add any new sounds (EDIT: The mod author has informed us that this mod does, in fact, add several hundred new sounds in different areas, mostly in the ambience and movement categories), the changes to Skyrim's existing sounds are so drastic I feel this may be the most important mod on this list. In the vanilla game, someone could fire an arrow at you and unless it actually hit you, you would probably never know...not any more. With this mod, any projectile that comes near, be it magic or arrow, will have a satisfying whoosh.
This makes the combat so much more intense when facing a mixture of archers, mages and close-range opponents. Of course the projectiles you send back will be equally as satisfying, the bowstrings now sound like real bowstrings and your larger fireball spells will reverberate for miles around. Melee weapon sounds have also been drastically improved and even re-timed so you'll no longer hear a kill move seconds after seeing it.
Winds will howl through caves and across the plains of Whiterun and many other sounds can be heard from a greater distance where appropriate too, such as when a bandit was hammering at the forge in Halted Stream Mine and I could hear it right from the entrance to the sound source itself. The reverb of speech in large halls has been drastically improved, just everything about this mod makes the game so much more exciting!
Well, that's all for now...Perhaps this is all old news to you and I apologise for covering what is now quite an old game but this is all new to me. These mods and many more have re-ignited my passion for the Elder Scrolls series and made a game that I have already played to death worth playing again, so I wanted to share that with all of you.