I interrupt my usual playthrough posts with a side experiment: attempting to run the Nexus Mods collection Gate to Sovngarde!
Details on this behind the fold.
Collections on Nexus, I’ve come to learn, are an organized group of mods that you can share with others. They’re often oriented around a theme. I happened to stumble across Gate to Sovngarde and was intrigued by its description, in particular this list as quoted from the collection page:
Gate to Sovngarde features…
- 🗺️ A Dynamic World: See Skyrim change as a result of your actions and as time passes by.
- 🧙 Roleplaying: Player choice is at the center of this collection. Be who you want to be, have the world react to it.
- 🏹 Immersion: Start as a nobody. Train, study, hunt and survive to thrive and overcome any obstacle.
- 👌 Streamlined: No complicated in-game menus. No complicated manuals to understand mechanics or gameplay.
- 🍦 Vanilla+: Skyrim, but better. It improves every aspect of the original game while staying true to its design.
- 🎈 Lite-ish: 37GB of download size, but +1000 mods. Customizable experience that should work well in most PCs.
- 🖱️ Easy to Install: Basically a 1-Click Installation. Download and play.
- 🛠️ Carefully Crafted: No BS mods, every mod has a solid reason for being included and is fully patched with everything else.
- 🕵️ Exclusive Tweaks: Enjoy mods I’ve made or tweaked over the years but never had the chance to publish on their own.
- 🎁 CC – Your choice: Support for BOTH if you have only the 4 free CC DLC or if you have the Anniversary Edition upgrade.
I also saw that it had over one thousand mods in it. And I was legit curious if I could actually run that many mods at once.
First attempt: Win11 VM
I tried to set up the collection on my Win11 VM first. The theory here was that the M1 chip in my MacBook is, I’m pretty sure, a more powerful processor than the one in my Steam Deck.
But I forgot a critical issue: I’m running the VM in Parallels. And since Parallels went to a subscription model, they lock down how much RAM your VM can have if you’re not paying for a subscription. So my VM is currently throttled at 8GB, even though my machine actually has 32GB of RAM in it.
Which kneecaps the VM from being able to run this set of mods at all. Hell, I ran into issues just trying to install them all to my Vortex. Round about the 900 mark or so, I saw my Vortex start lagging hard in its attempts to finish installing the collection.
I did eventually get it to install and launch. But it was unplayable. Lots of issues rendering stuff, particularly once I got outside the inn in Helgen.
Second attempt: Steam Deck
This actually worked better, since the Deck seemed to have enough more RAM at its disposal to let me safely install all the mods, and even launch the game once I was done. We’re talking 14GB here, vs. 8GB.
Still, that was not quite enough to be functionally playable. I was able to derp around Helgen a little and investigate things, and then wander around in the immediate vicinity just outside the town. But I saw my FPS tank hard the longer I tried to play. It dragged down into the low 10’s and sometimes down to 6-8.
I was basically only able to play long enough to get a feel for how this collection sets you up with the Alternate Perspective mod, lets you choose your background and your gear, and then sets you up in the inn in Helgen just prior to its destruction. And I got at least an initial idea of what its graphical changes were like. I was not able to take it all the way through to Alduin showing up and torching the place.
I also tried adjusting the graphics quality in the Deck’s Skyrim settings, but ultimately this didn’t help. It gave me some initially higher FPS–but then I saw the same issue I had with the quality set to Ultra, where the FPS fell off a cliff after a few minutes. And that told me that something under the hood was fighting to get enough CPU power to process things.
Third attempt: potato PC
As folks who’ve regularly followed my posts know, my first attempt at modding Skyrim at all was on my ancient PC laptop, Savah, which could barely run Skyrim at all and struggled to deliver me 30 FPS, even with graphics set to Low.
But just for snickers, I attempted to install the collection on that box, too. It has have even a bit more RAM than the Steam Deck does, roughly 15GB. And twice as much RAM available to it as my VM, despite the significantly inferior CPU and graphics capability. And I wanted to see what would happen if I managed to actually launch the game with this gigantic collection of mods.
Before I could get too far with this, though, I found the Windows partition was short on space! (I double-boot Savah between Win10 and Linux, and the half-T SSD on it is split between the two. This collection wants about 40GB of your drive, so I had to do some cleanup work to just have enough space to install it all.
Once I did that, Savah’s Vortex chugged readily enough through downloading and installing all the mods… and then ran out of space again. ;P
So I did a boatload more cleanup work, nuking a bunch of programs on this partition that I never use (or in some cases, that I can easily get equivalents of on the Mac or on Linux), and also nuked a bunch of other mods.
This got me to a point of being able to actually install the collection completely, though actually launching the game was still dodgy. I saw a bunch of mods deactivated in the load order when I tried to launch the save I still had from testing on the Deck. Reactivating those in the Load Order menu inside Skyrim itself didn’t work–I crashed to desktop coming back out of that.
Then I tried to reactivate those items inside Vortex on the Plugins tab.
Finally launched the game and still had it bitching about a few missing mods. And I think those maybe got removed from the collection.
So I just went ctrl-alt-fuckit and made a new test character!
Aaaaaaaaand, no. I was able to generate the character and do the initial room where I choose how I want to start, and I headed out into the inn okay from there. But when I went outside into Helgen, I either hung completely or outright crashed.
So as expected, playing on the potato PC is definitely not an option at all.
Takeaways from all of this
Nothing I have is currently capable of running over 1,000 mods at once. The Steam Deck came closest, but even it was struggling hard.
This tells me that at least on the Deck, my ceiling for how many mods I can run at once is somewhere higher than 112 (which is what I’m currently running with Elessir), but below the 1,000+ count in the Gate to Sovngarde collection.
The VM’s ceiling is somewhere lower than the Deck’s, though again, that’s still a fairly wide range. So I don’t know yet how many mods I can safely run in that VM.
And as for the potato… LOL no. I already knew from Shenner’s playthrough that that machine struggles hard to play Skyrim anyway. I only tried the collection on it just to see how badly it’d fall over. Answer: pretty badly!
What I may try as a result of this
I think I’ll go down the full list of mods in Gate to Sovngarde and see which ones I think actually sound interesting, and try to whittle the list down to something the Deck might manage better. Or the VM. If I try a reduced list on the VM first, this might get me closer to identifying where the VM’s ceiling is. Ideally, the result of this would be a load order I could use on both the VM and the Deck, so trying it on the VM first is called for.
A longer-term project Dara proposed would be to completely wipe Potato, and do a fresh install of a Linux distro on it that’s friendly to gaming. It would be interesting to see whether trying to run on Linux would get me any better performance than running on Windows.
And one last test I also want to try: the collection’s page on Nexus says which mods in it you can disable if you want to improve performance, so I’ll give that a try too.
And I did get a small number of screenshots, testing on the Deck. Here are those! I certainly found this load order’s aesthetics very different from vanilla Skyrim. I’m not entirely sure I like the huge changes, but it was nonetheless interesting to see them.
Editing to add
- 11/25/2023: Restored missing gallery.