I’m running Project AHO as part of my Kendeshel playthrough, and as of level 20, the plotline for this kicked in. So here’s a post with some commentary to review the mod and my experiences with it.
This post is almost entirely without spoilers. I say almost because there’s one aspect of it I do want to call out here in the spirit of a content warning. I’ll be getting into the actual crunchy spoilers as part of the main posts for Kendeshel’s playthrough, and will warn at the top of the relevant posts when those go up.
The TL;DR picoreview version: I have very mixed feelings about this mod in general. Some of it I liked quite a bit. Other parts… not so much.
More details behind the fold.
First and foremost: the core concept of the story
In the spirit of a content warning, I’m going to put down one spoiler for this review post, because it’s something some players may well want to know in advance, when deciding if you want this mod in your playthrough.
That spoiler is this: this is a plot that forces your Dragonborn into slavery.
Personally I find the core idea here sound enough. Slavery is part of the Elder Scrolls lore, repugnant a part though it may be. And even a Dragonborn could be overpowered by a sufficiently large group of hostiles that take her by surprise, especially if she’s only just coming into control of her abilities–which is what happened to me. At level 20, I was still a low enough level character, with only two Shouts in my arsenal and still fairly low combat stats.
This is even part of why I wanted to try the mod to begin with–to see what kind of a story it put me into, and what kind of circumstances I’d be in as I fought my way back to freedom.
So with that out of the way, let me break down what I liked, what I’m ambivalent about, and what I really didn’t like.
Stuff I liked
The visuals are gorgeous, not gonna lie. A lot of care was clearly taken in setting up the environment, both the exteriors of the main settlement, and the interiors of specific locations.
I mostly liked the voice acting in this. Certainly it was very solid for a fan produced effort.
The background music is very evocative of Morrowind. So if you’ve played any of that game at all, the music will sound real familiar, with the primary Morrowind themes being dominant. I heard what seemed like an original piece riffing on the Morrowind motifs, because the instrumentation in it was not familiar to my ear. But I did also hear some of the same background music I’m familiar with from Dragonborn, as well as Morrowind itself.
Callbacks to other Elder Scrolls games
There are some minor callbacks to both Morrowind and Skyrim. I have some quibbles with how one of these callbacks was trying a little too hard to make you notice it. But another one, a casual line of dialogue thrown off by an NPC, made me go “AAAAAH I know what that is”. So good work on that.
There are some pretty awesome quest rewards to be had, and a hell of a lot of loot to be snurched in the final major area of play. Including ways to significantly bump all your skills, some unique spells, a couple of unique followers, one or two unique player homes (depending on your plot choices), and some unusual weaponry and armor.
I liked several of the unique automations in the ruins, even though large groups of these consistently kicked my ass. The most powerful examples of these, and the hardest ones to fight, did admittedly look really cool.
Stuff I’m ambivalent about
Callouts to other media properties
There’s content in this mod that also calls out hard to other media properties, to a degree I’m not entirely happy with even if they are media properties I’m a fan of. Some of this stuff strains my immersion in Skyrim a bit too much.
I’m not going to call out which other media properties get referenced, again because this is a (mostly) spoiler-free post. But trust me, it will be very obvious what these callbacks are when you find them.
Right now my take on the callout content in this mod is still landing on the “that’s fun” side of the spectrum, but it’s riding a hard line between “fun” and “immersion breaking”. Because some of this stuff I have a real hard time slotting into my understanding of Elder Scrolls lore.
Your mileage may vary on this, depending on how much of a stickler you are for adherence to lore in your playthrough, and how entertained you are by the callouts in question.
Dialogue as written
Separately from the overall story structure (more on this below), I want to call out the dialogue here in the “stuff I’m ambivalent about” section. More than once, dialogue lines struck me as clunky–not in terms of voice acting, but rather, in terms of what words the voice actors were being asked to deliver.
And okay yes, I need to acknowledge that this is a fan produced effort, so I’m going to cut at least some slack for that. But as a writer myself, I really found myself wishing some of the dialogue had had a couple more edit passes done on it. It needed to flow better than it did.
There were a handful of side quests to run as well as the mod’s main questline–typical sorts of favor quests similar to ones you might run in any location in Skyrim as part of becoming thane. Some of them even had neat rewards.
But here’s the part I’m ambivalent about, which I’ll tie in to the one spoiler I’m delivering in this post: since this is a slavery plot, I had a real hard time believing that my Dragonborn would care about running any of these favor quests for the NPCs in the plot at all.
Buggy handling of followers
When Project AHO’s plot kicked in and shanghaied me, it automatically dismissed Lydia from my service. I was not surprised by this.
What it did not do, however, was dismiss Meeko.
More on this in the playthrough posts to come; here, I’ll just say it struck me as very, very weird that the mod auto-dismissed my housecarl, but did not auto-dismiss my dog. That seems like an oversight, if the intention is to have you entirely without your expected support mechanisms when the plot starts.
Stuff I didn’t like
How the questline starts
I don’t object to how the questline starts per se. But in my particular playthrough, what I was doing at the time resulted in my suspension of disbelief being strained really, really hard. More on this when I write up the relevant Kendeshel playthrough posts.
It’s come to my attention that there is a patch for Project AHO that gives you more control over when you want to launch the quest, and I really wish I’d have known about that before I started Kendeshel’s run.
If I had, I’d have installed that mod and specifically arranged for taking on this plot later, under circumstances which I think would have been more plausible.
Also, given how the combat parts of the mod turned out, I really wish I’d have come in at a somewhat higher level. I got yanked in at level 20, and there were parts of the fights that were a brutal slog for me. I like a challenging fight, sure. What I don’t like is a fight where I get one-shotted over and over and over because I’m not powerful enough to make it a fight I have a chance of surviving on my own.
As a player I tend to prefer a nice balance between “giving you distinct step by step objectives to take you through a quest” and “throwing you straight into deep shark-infested waters and expecting you to flail around until you figure it out what you have to do next.”
This mod seems to have the latter philosophy. And if that matches your play style, great! I, unfortunately, spent a lot more time than I liked flailing around the final major quest area, trying to figure out where the hell I needed to be. There were quest markers. But they were not helpful, and more than once I saw quest markers still active on my map even after I’d obtained the items they were pointing at.
Which made it really fucking difficult to follow the map properly and find where I needed to go. Also, it confused the hell out of the Clairvoyance spell, too. I’m assuming that this was because there were multiple markers active on the map at once? It seemed like the spell had trouble figuring out what to lock in on. And it was super frustrating to not be able to invoke that. I had to resort to looking for help on the mod’s wiki and on a few Reddit threads I found.
Too damned many pressure plates
The final major area you have to explore has a gazillion pressure plates in it. Seriously, I could barely take two steps without stepping on a pressure plate. This drove me absolutely bugfuck bonkers, because I was already having trouble finding my way through that area in general. Triggering traps or surprise mobs of automations every few steps slowed me down a lot, and frequently pushed the experience for me from “fun challenge” into “brutal slog”.
Overall story progression
As I said above, I feel like the core idea of the story is sound and potentially powerful, since it throws you into a situation that specifically makes your Dragonborn vulnerable.
The problem is, the progression of the story, and in particular its resolution, does not live up to the promise of the core idea. Overall, I found the story the weakest part of the mod. I’ll get into more specific details in the playthrough posts. Here, I’ll just say that the core plot made me want a resolution I didn’t get. And while I cannot complain about the nifty quest rewards you get out of running the mod, story-wise, I was unsatisfied.
I’m not sorry I ran this mod, and I do feel like it’s worth trying at least once in a load order.
I have a bunch of mixed feelings about running it, overall, especially in regards to my disappointment in the plot. But the fact that it had me writing an entire scene between my Dragonborn and the two power figures in the plot (a scene that’ll be in a coming Kendeshel post) tells me that yes, the core idea here is good. I just wish the execution of it had been stronger.
My advice to anybody who wants to consider running it though is, get the Project AHO – Start When You Want mod to take control of when you launch it. And then arrange to launch it at a somewhat higher level than where I got yanked in. 20 was too low. And you will have a lot more trouble than I did if you come in even earlier. Maybe target level 30-35.
And if you decide to take the less vengeful path to end the plot, I strongly recommend you go back out into Skyrim, find your primary follower, and bring them back in with you. Especially if you’re still fairly low-powered. I went back out and got Lydia before coming back in to finish the plot up and was very, very glad I did so.
Also: some of the side quests are entirely skippable, but you want to do the one involving helping a mage. Because you want the spell that’s a quest reward from that. It will save your bacon in the final part of the plotline.
Imma give this two and a half out of five stars.