“Despite a few bugs, this free mod provides stellar voice acting, deep gameplay, and beautiful world-building, reminding us why we play games like SKYRIM.”

Developer: Dark Creations

Publisher: Dark Creations

Format: PC  

Released: 7/1/17

MSRP: Free, requires SKYRIM (Original or Special Edition) and its expansions

Copy: Downloaded for free, base game purchased by psychotrip

If you’re anything like me, you often find yourself lurking on one of SKYRIM’S mod sites. If so, you’ve likely seen a number of overly-ambitious mods, projects that promise the world and deliver new locations, varied gameplay, and handcrafted environments. For every one of these mods that are announced, two more seem to fall by the wayside, with nothing but a few assets and an unfinished alpha to show for it.

BEYOND SKYRIM is not one of those mods.

A network of interconnected projects, BEYOND SKYRIM’S ultimate goal is to add every inch of Tamriel to SKYRIM’S world. The furthest along is Cyrodiil: the diverse, colorful, and often treacherous capital of the empire. Earlier this month, an expansion-sized beta was released, including the northern-most region of the province: County Bruma.

So, let’s get down to business. Is BEYOND SKYRIM: BRUMA worth your time? 

A Handcrafted Experience

The first thing that struck me about this mod is the amount of custom assets it uses. Many mods use pre-existing items, weapons, and textures from the base game. BRUMA, on the other hand, is a handcrafted experience, and it shows.

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The dungeons are impeccably designed. Each feels unique, filled with impressive set-pieces and intriguing sub-plots. The weapons, clothing, and buildings are made from scratch, and are perfectly tied into the world, history, and culture of Cyrodiil’s people. As a result, Bruma has a much different vibe from Skyrim. Every inch of the game-world feels organic, real, detailed, and alive.

A World Worth Exploring

I’ve mentioned this before, but Bethesda never gave Cyrodiil the treatment it deserved in OBLIVION. The sheer scale and diversity of this region is staggering and difficult to portray in a single game. Previous descriptions portrayed it as a bizarre land where countless cultures and thousands of religions co-existed in a tropical melting pot of battle mages, moth-priests, and byzantine bureaucracy.

What we ended up getting was, comparatively, boring. As far as I’m concerned, we’ve never truly seen the Imperial Province, but BEYOND SKYRIM is ready to change that.

SKYRIM
This is a world I want to explore.

Bruma alone feels like it could be an entire province, with its own distinct culture, history, and politics. While BEYOND SKYRIM is still working within the lore established in OBLIVION, they’re doing their best to bring back the scale and diversity that Cyrodiil was missing.

Choice-Driven Gameplay

It’s been said a thousand times: SKYRIM is an ocean wide and a puddle deep. My biggest gripe with the game was the lack of variety, branching quests, and meaningful choices. In a lot of ways, BRUMA makes SKYRIM the game I always wanted it to be. The depth of the gameplay goes far beyond the original release. Even the simple act of entering Cyrodiil becomes an adventure. If you’re a soldier or a famous hero you can waltz right through the gates. Otherwise, you’ll have to smuggle your way in, finding an alternate path yourself or paying a nearby rogue to do it for you. Or, if you’re feeling vicious, you can kill everyone at the border and enter Cyrodiil on your own terms.

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The Entire Mod Is Like This

This isn’t an isolated incident either. Nearly every quest features multiple choices and branching storylines. At one point, I found a stray dog out in the wild. Upon further inspection, it looked injured. It was clear the dog was hurt by its owners, and it became my job to find it a new owner. On the surface, the choice is easy. You can give the dog to an innkeeper you meet at the beginning of the mod, who had just lost his old dog. Alternatively, you can send the dog back home to its presumably abusive, but affluent owners. Without thinking, I gave the dog to the innkeeper, earning the ire of the rich family. It wasn’t until another playthrough that I learned that the dog belonged to a young boy, and the injuries were complete accidents by an elder family member.

So in short, I assumed the worst in people and ended up stealing a dog from a young boy. Welcome to Cyrodiil!

I’m not used to thinking in an ELDER SCROLLS game. I’m used to assuming a story will follow the typical cliches and tropes. BRUMA expects more from you. There’s definitely RPGs with deeper gameplay, but rarely do I see a mod go so far beyond its source material.

The Mod Isn’t Without Flaws

That’s not to say the gameplay is perfect. It’s still working within the basic parameters of SKYRIM, and many of you know my feelings on that game. As such, the combat is still hamstrung by its own simplicity, the magic is still poorly balanced, and the RPG mechanics still lack any sort of nuance, depth, or creativity. Put simply, this is still SKYRIM, and if you absolutely despised its gameplay, you’re not going to find much value here.

I also encountered a few bugs during my playthrough. While extremely infrequent, they had a severe impact on my experience. During the climax of one of my favorite quests, I found myself completely stuck and unable to progress. Key items were simply missing from the game world, leaving me with no choice but to reload to a much earlier save. This goes beyond a nitpick, because it distracts from otherwise stellar gameplay. It breaks my immersion and leaves me paranoid as I wonder if the quest I’m enjoying will suddenly break.

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But, the fact that I’m even pointing this out is a testament to the overall quality of this mod. Normally, it’s a forgone conclusion that the best mods will be riddled with small oversights and the occasional game-breaking bug. That’s not to say that a lack of polish is ever excusable, but the fact that I’m holding this free mod to the same standard as a “real” game should tell you just how highly I recommend it. It’s also worth noting that, in my several dozens of hours playing this mod, I encountered fewer bugs than I did playing the original game.

Stories We Care About

I’m not the first to say this, but THE ELDER SCROLLS isn’t exactly famous for its story. Sure, the backstory is incredible, with some of the most intelligent, creative, and fascinating world-building I’ve ever seen, but ever since OBLIVION, Bethesda has simply dropped the ball on its narrative design. Their recent games are rife with cliched villains, wooden characters, and predictable plot-lines. It’s incredibly frustrating to see a such an amazing world languish in its own mediocrity.

BRUMA delivers the best of both worlds, with engaging stories, relatable characters, and surprising twists.

I can’t wait to see this mod completed.

For the first time in years, I found myself caring about the people in an ELDER SCROLLS game. I was actually interested in their lives, their relationships, and their problems. There’s nothing I love more than court intrigue, and BRUMA offers a number of quests centered around the quirks and complexities of imperial politics. Solving a mystery by sneaking around a palace, gossiping with nobles, and playing their childish games was a definite highlight for me. In the base game, nearly every quest revolved around dungeon crawls and mass-killings. BRUMA has its fair share of combat, but it doesn’t use it as a crutch. I’m genuinely interested in the stories being told.

Surprisingly Good Voice Acting

What surprises me the most about this mod is its professional-quality voice acting. After listening to Farengar’s monotone voice for 5 years, this is a breath of fresh air. I’m not cringing every 10 minutes from bad accents and stilted deliveries. I actually believe these are real people, living their lives in the fantastical world of Nirn. It only serves to immerse you deeper into the story, and to help you empathize with the characters and their conflicts.

SKYRIM
Except for this guy. He’s an ass.

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Now, not all the acting is perfect, and the quality does vary from character to character, but it never gets as bad as it did in the base game. Honestly, the only downside to the voice acting is that it draws attention to the wooden animations. This wasn’t a problem in the base game, because the robotic acting matched the robotic movements. In BRUMA, the lack of expression really holds the performance back. Still, good voice acting goes a long way. It’s hard to describe the difference until you play the mod yourself.

The Verdict

BEYOND SKYRIM: BRUMA is one of the best mods I’ve played. There’s certainly a few bugs, and you should expect to reload a few more times than you’d like, but this free mod provides stellar voice acting, deep gameplay, and beautiful world-building. If you’re a fan of THE ELDER SCROLLS, but are looking for a deeper experience than the base game, then this is the mod for you.

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