Bethesda’s 2011 open world RPG is often regarded as one of the games of a generation. Whilst the company’s most recent games (The Elder Scrolls Online and the dreaded Fallout 76) have attracted harsh criticism and dwindly player numbers, Skyrim remains a community favourite and still has a dedicated base of players constantly replaying, modding and exploring the expansive fictional world of Tamriel.
The prospect of a multiplayer Skyrim experience, one where this wonderful game can be experienced with a friend, has become almost the holy grail of gaming especially after the huge disappointment many people felt with The Elder Scrolls Online (which is not necessarily a bad game per se but absolutely not the kind of game the fans wanted). As a result of this desire numerous modding projects sprang to life, all with one common goal: Skyrim multiplayer.
Even as I am writing this, a new Skyrim online mod is teetering on the edge of completion – the greatly anticipated and much talked of Skyrim Together project, now in a closed beta phase. The imminent release of an online multiplayer mod got me thinking, surely such a thing had been attempted before. A brief search yielded details of hundreds of Skyrim multiplayer projects, most of which just being concepts which never actually reached a playable state. There was however one mod which stood out. The Tamriel Online Skyrim multiplayer mod (not to be confused The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited).
Initial impressions were good. The set up was quick and extremely easy, with a host of available tutorials that are very simple to follow. The editing of some files is required, and if you want to play with a friend online you both need to configure some things but it is a simple as a a drag and drop of some files shared over a file sharing service.
Once all the setup is out the way, you can jump right into a game of Skyrim online. An important thing to note however, is that starting a new game is recommended. Save files do tend to become quite severely corrupted and broken, so it’s probably best you don’t lose your endgame 1000 hours+ character for the sake of killing some chickens with a pal.
Once you’ve sat through the excruciatingly long introduction cutscene, an introduction with a vast length and providing a level of boredom only rivalled by Fallout 3, it’s time to create your character. It’s best not to spend too much time doing this, the mod certainly isn’t going to be your next playthrough of Skyrim, for reasons discussed later, and you’ll likely have a friend on the edge of their seat desperately waiting for you to finish so you can both connect to the server and let the multiplayer fun commence.
After sprinting through the well rehearsed and ever-repeated dragon attack set piece, rushing into the caves below Helgen, hurriedly dispatching some guards, spiders, a black bear and you’re finally free. You come to the end of the dark cave blinded by not just rays of sunlight, but also an overwhelming sense of freedom and childish excitement. The open world of Skyrim is now your oyster.
A rapid tapping of the tilde key informs you that you are now “connecting to the cluster” signally that the magic is just about to begin. And those first few moments, seeing your friend’s character smoothly popping into your world (in my case a very stout balding breton), are just that: magic. There was something so surreal and indescribably amazing in seeing another human pop into a far too familiar world that was, until now, completely isolated. Akin to seeing man step foot on the moon, seeing another player in Skyrim feels like a monumental achievement of human progress, something that was once relegated to the confines of dreams has become reality through the wonder of technology and the blood, sweat and tears of a modding community.
Once the buzz from the gaming equivalent of a religious experience has worn off, you will likely begin the process of careful experimentation; pushing at the boundaries of the mod, trying to find its limits. These limits become extremely apparent almost instantly, with your first encounter with an NPC. As hysterically funny as my encounter with the moonwalking mountain wolves was, it did signal something. Whilst this mod may technically “work”, it is a far from playable experience.
Crashing was extremely common throughout my time with the mod. Almost every area you enter or exit presents a very likely crash to desktop, effectively confining you to the outside world. That would be fine, there are after all many none-quest activities that can be done without entering an area, if almost every aspect of the game was not in some way completely and bizarrely broken. Hunting isn’t too enjoyable when the animals all stand still, and turn invisible when killed. Horse riding loses its charm when the horses can only travel in two of the four cardinal directions. Collectibles aren’t worth collecting if they can’t even be picked up.
All this strange brokenness creates an experience much like a fever dream. That surreal feeling I noted in the first few moments continues throughout the experience, you’re trapped in a strange world with no logic, something you can never comprehend. Tamriel Online feels like a surrealist art gallery, a series of pieces beyond any understanding, but certainly improved by the presence of a friend with whom you can laugh at the bizarre nature of everything on show.
I cannot stress enough the fact that Tamriel Online is not the online Skyrim experience you want, but it’s definitely one you need. It will provide a few hours of laughs and a handful of extremely memorable moments. It will certainly give you a renewed sense of anticipation towards Skyrim Together, which promises to build the best Skyrim online experience, but it remains to be seen.