Skyrim is a land of harsh, beautiful environments. From the lush grasses and plains of Whiterun, rich with deer, to the frozen wastes of Winterhold and the biting winds of High Hrothgar it cannot be denied that when you play Skyrim, you have a varied and engaging landscape. Whether you’re stalking bandits over The Rift’s rolling hills, or sneaking past Frost Trolls clutching your cloak close to you while ascending the thousand steps.
In the midst of these environments, it always seemed odd to me that they had no real affect on the player. As a game trope, it’s nearly as common as forever-sprinting-never-tired protagonists.
As a rule I tend to roleplay quite a bit in games, and so not to be able to engage with the world which Bethesda go to pains to build in Skyrim wasn’t really an option for me.
Frostfall is an immersion and survival mod which essentially turns Bethesda’s Skyrim into a survival game. Your character must stay warm and dry, or suffer the ill effects of Skyrims harsh environment.
There is actually a remarkable depth to Frostfall, with certain zones being ambiently colder than others and your temperature and ability to get warm changing depending on the weather, time of day whether you’re dry, what you’re wearing and proximity to sources of heat, like campfires, braziers and torches.
Frostfall works through a combination of two core systems, Exposure work as a fourth resource, separate from health, magicka and stamina, which you must try to keep as close to zero as possible. You can boost your starting exposure through making sure your character is fully clothed (your mum was right, gloves and hats are a must!)
The W.E.A.R. system causes all of the armour in the game to affect your exposure differently, for example, fur armour gives you great protection from the cold, but hide armour which exposes your chest and arms gives you almost no protection.
Needless to say, these systems completely change how you have to approach the game and force you to consider your environment a lot more when making gameplay decisions. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself valuing your woodcutters axe, tent and camping materials far more than the set of magical dwarven armour you just found.
For the truly masochistic, you can also use (as I do) mods which require your character to eat, drink and sleep. Realistic Needs and Diseases is a good mod for this. I won’t go too in depth on how these work, but the long and the short of it is that your character is required to eat, drink and sleep to survive. Disease also becomes more of a worry, and symptoms become much more serious is not treated. I also use a separate mod for cloaks and hoods, which is supported by Frostfall.
Whilst it might feel like you spend your time tripping over food and drink when playing Skyrim without these mods, I can assure you that it’s quite different playing with them. Living in Skyrim as a battle against the wilderness can be daunting.
Your first challenge right out of the the ruins of Helgen will be finding somewhere to sleep. Having no tent, because you haven’t killed the animals to acquire it will be life-threatening once night sets in. Generally, you’ll want to spend the few gold coins you have to stay in an inn for a few nights until you’ve spent enough time hunting to get your camping materials prepared. Then the real adventure begins, out into the wilderness of Skyrim!
The next thing you have to deal with is making sure you can eat and drink out in the wild. So you’ll need to scavenge yourself up a cooking pot and a ladle. This is relatively easy, but the real challenge comes with making sure you have enough food on you at all times.
I won’t pretend I haven’t sunk so low as to pillage a farmers fields in the depths of night.
Salt quickly becomes a real commodity, and one which I prized above all others in my playthroughs. Ever heard the phrase ‘worth his salt’? Salt is an ingredient in a lot of foods which give you buffs, and you’ll need every advantage you can get if you intend to survive.
It’s not exaggeration to say that at its worst, the environment of Skyrim can be brutal. The timeframe you have to escape from a Blizzard or the frigid waters of Skyrim’s colder areas is literally in the minutes. You’ll experience the terror of a sudden blizzard striking while you’re far from civilisation. It’s a race against time to put up your shelter and start your campfire before you freeze to death.
This is especially apparent when you try and explore the world, and follow quest lines. For the super-hardcore, you can attempt to physically travel everywhere you go, no fast travel.
The real beauty of playing Skyrim as a survival game is that it strips back all traces of high fantasy and is still a compelling game.
It gives you a real sense of what it might actually be like to be an adventurer in a fantasy world. You can’t carry three suits of armour, twelve battleaxes, enough food and drink, your camping and cooking equipment and hundreds of potions. At least, not without pumping some serious points into stamina.
There are those who might say that I’m just taking the magic out of it, and that survival mods are akin to having to take 5 minutes out of Batman so that Bruce Wayne can go pee. And they might be right. But the sense of immersion that comes with it is certainly worth it.