I've Played The New Skyrim Multiplayer Mod, And It's Great
Skyrim Together Reborn finally brings the project to a good place.
Have you heard, citizen? Skyrim Together has been ‘Reborn!’ The once-unthinkable Promised Land project that’s been aiming to let up to dozens of players jump on a server and seamlessly explore Skyrim alongside each other is back in open-source ‘1.0’ form under the Skyrim Together Reborn name.
Reborn claims to address many of the issues that made the previous version of Skyrim Together, frankly, a complete mess. I’ve been following the project for a couple of years now, and played its previous iteration last year. There were moments where it teased the unbounded joys of exploring this wild yet familiar land alongside fellow players (and not in the ‘queue up to talk to a quest-giver while a guy riding a mount jumps around on your head’ kind of way that The Elder Scrolls Online offers). For the most part however, it was a buggy, desynced nightmare, where my partner and I would often be fighting enemies that weren’t there for the other person, quests weren’t syncing at all, and there was a weirdly large number of NPCs walking around naked.
Now, with version 1.0, my adventuring partner – the real-life Lydia to my Dovahkiin – joined me once more. Would our adventures fare any better this time?
Well, there were still a lot of NPCs wandering around in grubby-looking underwear, but however that makes you feel, the overall impression was that yes, Skyrim multiplayer is now an imperfect but quite amazing experience.
Crucially, NPCs are by and large synced. That means that you won’t see your fellow players shooting arrows and waving swords at invisible assailants, plagued by visions as if they’d chucked the wrong kind of mushroom into their stew. You can now approach encounters as a unit, and even on higher difficulties (which you should definitely play at to counter-balance your numbers advantage) can take down foes seemingly beyond your level.
At one point, my partner and I spotted a giant down in a ravine, and began sniping it with our bows. When the great oaf took the smart decision to move out of range, I leapt down into the ravine and began kiting him around while my partner picked him off from the clifftop. These kinds of coordinations really add some dynamism to the game. You can distract a shopkeeper by chatting to them, for example, while your partner sneaks around stealing their precious goods.
During the deliciously dark quest in Riften where you kill the abusive orphanage headmistress on the orders of the Nord kid Aventus Aretino, my partner and I planned our hit carefully. We sat sullenly at the orphanage dining table while the headmistress, Grelod the Kind, reprimanded the children. Once she’d finished, and went into her bedroom, we got up and enacted our plan. As Grelod went into her bedroom, my partner went in after her to ‘carry out the contract’ while I closed the door and guarded it from the outside to make sure there weren’t any intrusions.
It’s a small thing, but these kinds of coordinated actions refresh the 11-year-old game, adding strategy to its simplistic combat system, and a layer of planning to its classic quests. By cranking up the difficulty to a notch above what you’d play the game solo, these little layers of strategy become a necessity, and imbue the game with a nice new layer of roleplaying possibilities.
The above adventures occurred on our second run through Skyrim Together Reborn, but our first shot at it wasn’t quite so auspicious. See, when you die in Skyrim multiplayer, you respawn near to where you died and there’s no consequence for your death. This meant that on our first run we’d simply charge into forts and mines, dying repeatedly in the knowledge that we’d eventually grind our enemies down. The novelty of the multiplayer experience soon made way for a kind of ennui as there wasn’t much challenge or skill involved in banging your head against enemy forts across multiple deaths.
For our second playthrough however, we found that you could tweak the server settings so that you lost a portion of your gold upon death (from 1-100%), and that changed everything. Suddenly we were playing with cooperation and coordination, not impulsively breaking away to smash our way through a dungeon – dying over and over again yet constantly accruing loot. Even a fairly modest 25% gold loss penalty was enough motivation to play as a party rather than as berserkers with no sense of self-preservation.
Skyrim Together Reborn is by no means a seamless experience, though the particular bugs we encountered were more eerie and amusing than game-breaking, as if a spectral presence was accompanying us throughout our adventure. When you kill an NPC, for instance, sometimes they will continue to appear ‘alive’ for you or other players – as if best by instant rigor-mortis and petrified to the spot; you can still loot them – it just feels a bit creepy to do so when they’re still standing there, staring at you. Physics objects and dead bodies may start sliding towards one side of the room, and you may even spot living, breathing NPCs try turning into human pretzels, dragging themselves up the wall as their legs start spinning like helicopter rotors.
See for yourself…
But in the scheme of things, these are small blemishes on the experience (and let’s face it, the kind of things we’ve seen in Skyrim single-player for years now). A largely functioning way to play Skyrim in co-op now exists, and it’s open-source too, so following the statement from the Skyrim Together Reborn devs that they’ll be taking a break from the project for now, it’s on the community to pick it up and polish it.
Where the previous iteration of Skyrim Together could only tease at the magic of a co-op Skyrim experience, Reborn by and large delivers it, realising a dream that many adventurers like us had since the early days of the game. Naked guards, upright corpses, and the occasional rabbit made of fox meat, are a small price to pay.