Skyrim was released over half a decade after its predecessor, Oblivion.
Its release marked an aesthetic leap by several bounds. Five years of progress in gaming tech meant Skyrim was graphically more impressive than Oblivion. But more importantly, Skyrim's art direction took it into a much harsher and jagged look befitting the ice-capped home of the Nords. As refreshing and exhilarating as it was, this Nordic aesthetic begins to look dull after many playthroughs.
Bethesda brought some color into its muted palette with the engine upgrade in Skyrim Special Edition. Still, this makeover was forced to adhere to the original art direction by and large.
Fortunately, for those of us looking back fondly on our Oblivion nostalgia or simply looking to freshen things up, only a handful of mods can reinject the Shire aesthetics back into Skyrim.
5 mods to reinvent Skyrim with Oblivion's aesthetics
1) NordwarUA's Vanilla Armor Replacer + Knights of Skyrim
One of the key points that mark this game's aesthetic departure from Oblivion is its armor designs. While weapons, by and large, retain their high-fantasy bulky design, armors are far more distinct from each other in Skyrim.
Bethesda's new era of armor design is all about stylization. They almost universally have thick hems and jutting spaulders as one would expect of attire in a cold, harsh land. Contrary to this realism, their tapered silhouette also leaves a good deal of exposed skin - especially in earlier tiers like hides, leather, iron, and steel.
Even the closest armor to Oblivion's design, Steel Plate Armor, has a stopgap fur-studded rustic addition at the waist. NordWarUA's armor replacer can address this by moving towards high medieval coats of arms that grant far more body coverage and a rounded-out look over indigenous stylization.
Oblivion's gear was much closer to the Anglo-Norman armory of the middle ages, with surcoats bearing the seal of the empire and other factions. The Knights of Skyrim is a recently released armor replacer that reinvokes Oblivion's faction heraldry and army-issue tabards distributed to all hold guards and soldiers. Additionally, the mod comes with color-coded horse barding to match the hold guards.
2) Whiterun Summer Edition + Riften Summer Edition + Veydogolt Trees
After the dull swamps and ashlands of Morrowind, Oblivion was known particularly for its lush pastoral vista. The Elder Scrolls V has its fair share of sprawling valleys, especially with Whiterun, but it is wrought with a browner hue, most likely inspired by the Tussock grasslands of New Zealand. The rift, on the other hand, is peppered with autumnal leaves matching the orange and yellow aspen trees.
zDasF1xer's Whiterun and Riften Summer Edition mods revert it to Oblivion's idyllic greenery, both grass and tree. Veydogolt trees, which replace many of Skyrim's towering pines with aspens and oaks reminiscent of Oblivion's woods, go hand in hand with this.
3) High Fantasy Pack - Mihail Monsters and Animals
The northern wildlife of Tamriel is marked by feral, fur-coated creatures that stalk the overworld. While the game does have a recurrence of Elder Scrolls staples like atronachs and mudcrabs, it is only reasonable that each game has its fair share of unique additions. The sabrecats, bears, mammoths, and foxes fit well into the hyperborean climate, but diversity has slackened since Oblivion.
Mihail, a mod author known for his specialization in importing new creatures into the game with his mods, also has a combo pack well-suited to fill this gap. 'High Fantasy Pack' is a merger of Mihail's standalone creature mod releases that fit the high fantasy theme. Out of the 40-odd creatures incorporated, a few are also direct imports from other franchises like The Witcher 3.
Roughly half of these, though, reinvoke the Oblivion bestiary, including Cyrodiilic wolves, minotaurs, ogres, imps, dreughs, and goblins.
4) Picturesque - Graphical Overhaul
The cold Nordic atmosphere at the outset of the game is the widest leap from its predecessor, stylistically speaking. By default, the climate of the 64-bit Creation Engine is much more diverse than vanilla Oblivion could accommodate. But going back to Oblivion would strip away the essence of Skyrim's baltic weather.
The two key traits that characterize the visuals of Cyrodiil's environment best are its vibrant, warm colors and its thick coat of distance fog. Picturesque is a combination of a weather plugin and ENB preset that greatly fits the job description. Not only are its spunky pastel hues reminiscent of the Imperial Province's climate, but it is a very consistently impressive look in its own right.
5) Oblivion Music in Skyrim
Jeremy Soule might not come back to compose the music for The Elder Scrolls VI. If this is the case, his departure from the franchise is clearly on a high note. Skyrim's music has been widely praised as his best work thus far.
The thematic integrity of the composition relies greatly on the ancestor worship rooted in Nordic culture. The hymnic chorus featured heavily in tracks like 'From Past To Present' and 'Sky Above, Voice Within' can often feel like eons of legendary voices from Sovngarde singing along to the highs and lows of Dovahkiin's journey.
Oblivion's soundtrack consistently keeps its cheerful orchestral serenades close to the more light-hearted vibe of Third Era Cyrodiil. It is also roughly half in scope and overall playtime, but what can better evoke the Oblivion feel than its original soundtrack? This mod sets out to do just that. It adds familiar Cyrodiilic tunes to overworld exploration tracks as well as combat without touching the ambient music of Skyrim's ancient dungeons.
Note: The article reflects the writer's own views.