Late to the Mod: Skyrim Romance, Part 2

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Bethesda Games
Skyrim Romance
Modder: Mara (and her minions)
Released: December 2015 (Original), December 2017 (3.1)
Played: March 2018

Welcome back, dear readers! It is now time for Part 2 of this modding adventure, where we look into the content and play of Skyrim Romance, the (in)famous mod that brings a satisfactory romance option to a game that is all other respects is enjoyable and rewarding. Skyrim Romance is interested in your satisfaction, dear reader. They’ve put in long, hard hours just for you. So let’s talk about how it turned out.

First off, a correction. In the previous article, I said that I was playing 3.0, which was released in August of last year. I am actually playing 3.1, an update that was released in December of last year. Sorry for any confusion. Also, I have a confession to make. I have played an earlier version of this mod. I didn’t play to completion for various reasons (it was buggy, I had other things going on at the time), and 3.1 is so vastly different that I might as well be playing a new mod. I bring this up simply because there are a few changes between the old mod and the new one that I wish to comment on, mostly positive changes, and I needed to be upfront with you.

Now then, shoo the kids or your boss out of the room (because this will definitely get NSFK and NSFW), and let’s have a sexy adventure. So, as stated in Part 1, you go and find your beau, Bishop, outside the Sleeping Giant Inn in Riverwood. You’ll pass a couple of assholes that start catcalling you when you get close – many women would say this is possibly the most realistic aspect of the mod. If you engage Bishop in dialogue, he makes a comment about the assholes, and you can be grateful or snarky or gruff as you see fit. I chose snarky, which I will alway do if given decent options for it. You find out that Bishop is missing his wolf, Karnwyr, the only creature in the world that matters to him (a big deal will be made of how little anything else matters to Bishop). You offer to help him find the puppers, and boom you have your first traveling companion. Someone got in before Lydia. Oh, snap.

Bishop is the “lone wolf” stereotype played up in black leather armor and more Strider than Strider could have ever been (that’s a Lord of the Rings reference, it crosses worlds but not genres so it’s still acceptable). He’s handsome and gruff and more than a little derisive and condescending, especially in the beginning. Truth is, it’s a bit of a problem – I passive-aggressively shot Bishop in the ass with arrows so many times during the first 4-6 hours of adventuring with him because of his snide remarks on how I needed to be careful and I didn’t know what I was doing and “your ladyship” and “princess” and blah blah blah. We get it, he’s a hard sell. Now, the mod can’t entirely be blamed for this – part of it is how Skyrim is programmed. Certain actions prompt a dialogue comment from your companion. That’s just how it is. Until Bishop likes you more, though, all of those comments are negative. Hell, even after Bishop likes you more a lot of those comments are negative because he’s a salty bastard.

It’s at this point where, if you’re anything like me, you may need to take a step back and acknowledge that Skyrim Romance is all about romance novel tropes. Bishop is the lone wolf, you are the beautiful woman that will cause him to love in spite of himself. It’s very classic romance fare, and it is troweled on with the same heavy-handedness that you can expect from a grocery store bodice ripper. If you’re coming to this mod from AAA titles that have handled their relationship dynamics with more nuance and subtlety, you may be more than a little put off at first. Bishop’s interactions with the Dragonborn, while sometimes touching and reflective of his inner turmoil over having lost his heart to someone after a lifetime of never needing or caring about anyone else, are also rife with possessiveness, jealousy, and objectification. I mean, I like a little objectification as much as the next person, but there’s a line and it definitely gets crossed. If you cannot step back and be aware of the genre, you won’t have a good time. You need to be able to roll your eyes and laugh at it at least a little.

Okay, camera back on Bishop, or Bish as I started calling him in part because it’s shorter and in part because it’s the “friendly” version of bitch, and that felt appropriate at times. As you begin your adventure together, you will run in to NPCs that have been placed in the game to act as rivals and villains for either your or Bishop’s attention. Assuming you head to Whiterun before the other holds, the first of these rivals you will encounter is a woman named Neeshka in The Bannered Mare. Neeshka slides right past you up to Bishop, and starts hitting on him with all the grace and subtlety of a trebuchet. Bishop insults her and tells her to go away, and orders a bath which he magnanimously allows you to have first while he stands guard. While you’re in the bath, she comes at him again, not giving up until he threatens to kill her multiple times. Yes, that’s right. Apparently your traveling companion is so damn hot that it takes not one but multiple threats of death to keep the ladies off of him. Neeshka’s purpose in the narrative is to make you understand how desirable Bishop is, but also that he won’t just roll whatever wench walks up to him, which are important things to establish. Based on how often he will comment about wanting a drink or wanting to bed the Dragonborn, you might think he’s your average wencher and ne’er-do-well without him clearly refusing the readily available hot wench. However, this scene goes on way longer than it should, and the fact that Neeshka continues in the face of escalating threats of violence is creepy and uncomfortable, to say the least. If you walk past Neeshka on the way out or try to talk to her, she just comments that if she had a man like Bishop she would never let him go. Really? After everything he said to you?

As you travel with Bishop, you get opportunities to talk to him. It doesn’t take long before he starts commenting about how he likes following you because he enjoys the view, or how the two of you could find better things to explore than whatever cave or crypt you’re currently in, specifically your or his bedroll. Once you’ve engaged Bishop in enough dialogue (which you have a better chance of outside of town, because as a ranger he’s not a city person), he will say he needs or wants to talk to you. This initiates one of many conversations that, in the beginning, are all about lust. Some of these dialogues have been cleaned up for 3.1, which is good because in their efforts to make Bishop appear passionate and direct he came across as a little, well, rapey in earlier versions. If you respond positively to his confession of desire, you get the opportunity to bed him.

So, remember those fascinating mods we installed earlier? The ones we had to get from the 18+ message board? Here is where they all really come into play. While earlier versions of the mod just offered descriptions of your passionate lovemaking, thanks to the inclusion of SexLab and Schlongs of Skyrim and DIMONIZED UNP, Bishop and the Dragonborn will actually have sex, live and on screen, for you to watch in amusement, fascination, and possibly a small amount of horror depending on how you feel about these things. When Bishop asks if you want him in return, you have a list of ways you can respond – it’s short at first, but the responses increase the longer you’re together and the more you say yes to him. The response dictates the position and pace of the sex scene. Also, if you are near a bed a dialogue box with pop up asking if you want to use the bed. If you know one of these scenes is coming, try to take off your weapons first. The mod will remove your armor and clothing, but it’ll leave that quiver.

Now, I suspect that these scenes owe more to SexLab than they do Skyrim Romance, but we’re going to pick them apart anyway. It’s arguably a good job. There’s a little bit of clipping, mostly into the floor or the bed (though it happens way more often with the bed, so on furs by the fire is really the best way to go here), and sometimes the models don’t quite match up for the more creative positions. Credit where credit is due – they do get creative with positioning and intimate acts. So far I’ve witnessed various examples of cunnilingus, fellatio, standard and reverse missionary, a variety of approaches to being taken from behind, four varieties of anal, and one foot job. I haven’t even gone through all the dialogue options. I’m honestly really surprised – I thought this would be simpler and more straight forward, or maybe one of those scenes where they step in to kiss and then it fades to black and you hear things for a minute. So kudos to the perverts who learned how to code and used their powers for the greater good.

Also, massive credit to whomever voice acts for Bishop in these scenes (or the very similar pitched voice they paired him with from the SexLab voices), because it’s believable. Speaking as a woman who has been intimate with a few examples of the male of the species, that is a believable approximation of the grunts and gasps and moans a man makes during sex. I actually had a surprised moment of, “Huh, that’s kind of hot.” The woman, however – oy. It’s not good. Like, really not good. I kind of want to go find the woman who they recorded for it, hold her hand, and have a heart-to-heart about her sex life, or just complete lack thereof, and offer whatever advice I can about how to better communicate with her partner(s), or barring that, where to shop for the right accessories. Seriously, it’s not believable, it sounds like someone trying to make the noises they think women make during sex. She doesn’t even really gasp or breathe hard. Also, the build up for the female voice track is slower than the male, so while the guy it giving it his all she’s still just kind of going, “Oh…oh…mmm…oh…,” and it just isn’t working.

Why do I care about this so much? Because you cannot end the sex scenes early. I can’t escape, tab, or space bar out of them, I’ve tried. If you don’t want to watch it, you can move the camera, but nothing makes the audio go away.  So I have had to listen to this poor, sad woman fake the least believable orgasm more times than I ever needed to at this point. All while hearing Bishop sound like he gets there just fine every time. This is a trashy romance novel, we’re supposed to believe that the woman achieves orgasm effortlessly and flawlessly, in time with her male partner. The female vocal track is ruining the already thinly held together illusion.

Okay, let’s ditch my audio grump and get back to the NPCs. While there are a couple female NPCs added to the game for this mod (all but one have the same voice actress, near as I can tell, and they seriously need to find someone else), the overwhelming majority are male rivals for the Dragonborn’s affection. Some of them are laughable, like Captain Jack, whom you find drunk as a skunk outside Solitude and you have to lead him to his ship while enduring his suggestions of what you both should do once you get there. At first I was amused by all this, but it took forever, and I was a little disappointed because I like pirates – dealing with a drunken stereotype was not sexy and kind of irritating. Then there was Alec, The Prince of Song. Yes, that’s how he introduces himself. He’s the bardiest bard that ever barded. There is also Darren, the pretentious mage in Winterhold. The interaction with Darren bothered me until I realized you’re not supposed to like him. He’s a pompous ass who refers to the Dragonborn as “Sweet Rose” and challenges Bishop to fisticuffs, which goes about as well as you might expect. These encounters have merit because it’s reflective of how a woman of beauty in a position of power/fame might be viewed. My problem with these scenes, however, is that you don’t get enough, “Are you serious?” dialogue responses as the Dragonborn. You’re often forced to give these guys the benefit of the doubt if you want to continue the little quests that pop up when you meet them. Since I never play characters that are “Lawful Stupid,” the limited dialogue options in these encounters chafed a bit. You’re either all in or against it, they don’t offer affirmative but cautious. In fact, sometimes all in is the only option you’re allowed if you want dialogue to continue.

My favorite NPC interactions are when you meet Cael and Casavir. This isn’t really surprising, because both Cael and Casavir have their own romance mods in the works, so it makes sense that they would be the more fully developed NPCs. So let’s start with Casavir; upon arriving in Solitude, you are greeted by a man with a lovely baritone voice who introduces himself as Casavir, a paladin who wishes to join you on your quest to rid the world of dragons and evil. There is an extra element of intrigue, because he and Bishop have a history, and it is not a pleasant one. Casavir thinks Bishop is a monster (and admittedly, Bishop used to be a bandit, and has a tragic shady past you’ll learn about later), and Bishop thinks Casavir is a hypocrite hiding behind his title of paladin, and isn’t as stalwart and pure as he claims to be. Casavir is, arguably, the better choice of a traveling companion for someone on the side of good and light. I mean, Bishop makes no secret of how petty and selfish he is. There’s also a lot more to it, but neither of them really want to delve into their shared past. Anyway, this worked for me because Casavir is the first guy Bishop picks a fight with for reasons other than getting jealous over some guy talking to the Dragonborn. Their fight has nothing to do with you, you’re just the most recent excuse for them to clash, and that’s a very real thing that happens. I thought it was well done.

Anyway, Casavir admits to being from “not Skyrim”, and so asks if you would attend a ball with him, where he will be the guest of honor. He presents it as asking a favor – he doesn’t know the traditions of this place, and as the Dragonborn you are admirable and good and all those things. Naturally Bishop doesn’t like it, and has many a rude opinion on the subject. If you ask him to come to the ball as well, he says no, loudly and impertinently. So fine. You go shopping, you get a ballgown – no really, a ballgown, Casavir is footing the bill at a place called The Jewel, and you can walk out with every dress they have if you feel like it – Bishop tells you you’re beautiful (and some other things), and then ghosts when you get to the party. Only to make a dramatic entrance later, because as stated, this is romance novel. And if you have ever read a romance novel, you have a shrewd idea how the ball scene is going to go.

Things get weird with Casavir afterward, because it’s at this point you get a good look at the pedestal he’s placed you on, and you need to let him know you’re definitely not his Madonna (religious reference here, not the pop star). I do wonder what the fully developed romance with Casavir will look like – I imagine it will involve a lot less sex (at least in the beginning) and a lot more chivalry, because Casavir is definitely the knight stereotype.

So we have the knight, and the lone wolf, let’s talk about the bad boy. You thought it was Bishop. HA HA HA HA HA! No. No, the bad boy is Cael, Raven of the Reach, and chief of a Forsworn clan. Now, Bish comes across as more bad boy because he’s surly and probably not a good idea but you totally tapped that anyway. Cael, on the other hand, is the worst idea imaginable. He is one of the Forsworn, whom if you haven’t played Skyrim are somewhat analogous to a First Nations group that were driven out of Markarth 20 years ago by Ulfrid Stormcloak, and they’ve been trying to kill everyone and take their land back ever since. No, really. Now, I felt bad for the Forsworn on every playthrough I’ve done, because even though they’re a bunch of psychopaths, someone else started it. They didn’t deserve what was done to them, and the fact that everyone just expects them to accept their defeat and die is more than a little off putting. Now, I don’t think it justifies their choices, but I see how they got there.

The first time you met Cael during early versions of the mod, he was caged in the square in Markarth, and you had the option to be compassionate and try to break him out. This leads to dialogue where he admires your compassion and your understanding. Oh, yeah, and you’re beautiful. I liked the initial meeting with Cael because your willingness to help him and sympathize with the Forsworn were infinitely more important than your beauty. In 3.1 you meet Cael’s hunting party by an altar to Dibella at a new location on the map. His companions are set to kill you, or at least Bishop, but you have the option to approach peaceably. Cael is shocked, asking if you really value your life so little, and you can respond in a deescalating fashion, which leads to Cael praising your open mindedness, and again your compassion, and yeah you’re beautiful. How pretty you are comes up earlier in 3.1, but the conversation with Cael is the least objectifying out of all other mod specific NPC encounters. I’m actually really looking forward to Cael’s romance, which will be called “Forbidden Love,” and will hopefully come out before 2020.

So, after each of these primary encounters, you get a dialogue with Bishop. Make sure you do this dialogue before progressing to the next encounter – I didn’t, and it kind of ruined my ball scene with Casavir. Some of these dialogues might end in sex, but all will involve a show of Bishop’s deepening feelings towards you. If you’re checking in with Bishop often enough, the pace of these interactions is pretty good, but doesn’t fit the pacing on non-NPC interactions, and honestly the writing could be better. At times Bishop is too much of a jerk, and then the next encounter far too endearing, and then back to being a jerk again. There are also prompts for the two of you to bed each other outside of these encounters that come up just from talking to Bishop, and so if you’ve already been shagging but then have one of these encounters where he’s acting like you’re still holding each other at arm’s length it can definitely ruin the mood. It may also make a difference if you’re doing this mod as end game content. I made a new character to try this out with, but if I could easily hop from city to city maybe the romantic scenes would keep better pace with the sexual scenes.

As if all this wasn’t enough, you can eventually marry Bishop (which was the point in the beginning, after all, having an NPC you actually wanted to marry), and even have a child with him. Not adopt, actually have a child. The marriage scenes are sweet, even though they’ve got that damn voice actress back again, and the home Bishop builds for the Dragonborn may be one of the best parts of the mod. It’s amazing. I completely abandoned my property in Falkreath after walking through this place. It has beautiful displays for all your weird collections, a big bed, furs by the fire, and a hot tub out back. After getting married, seeing the house, all that, you get dialogue options with Bishop where you can announce you’re pregnant. This will kick off your pregnancy. Honestly, I wasn’t really excited about this aspect of the mod (I have real children, I don’t need a digital one, I never wanted a tamagotchi, etc), but felt I needed to give it a shot if I was going to experience all of the mod. Based on the Skyrim Romance blog, lots of women were super excited about this part, so whatever floats your boat.

They did a pretty good job with the mechanics for the pregnancy, and made a point of spacing things out to give the feeling of time passing. Talking to Bishop progresses the pregnancy, and you have to talk to him a lot, both inside and outside (because those prompt different dialogue options). I tried rushing it, and gave up. Somewhere in my second trimester I went back to doing jobs for the Thieves Guild, which was kind of hilarious in my maternity dress. Bishop keeps saying things like, “no hunting dragons now” but pretty sure he’s not going to stop you. Bishop has some great lines during the pregnancy, my favorite being, “…and we’ll be begging the dragons to take him! I’m kidding, we don’t beg. We just bribe people.”

You will eventually give birth (though the less said about the “birthing scene” the better), and then you get a baby in a sling, which you and Bishop can pass back and forth. I think. This was a little buggy for me. It takes the place of whatever necklace your character may or may not have been wearing. You can choose to age the kid through dialogue with Bishop when you get tired of having a baby, at which point a dialogue box will pop up saying “six years pass,” and now you have a precocious six year old who is already potentially a better hunter than you are. And that’s it – no teenage years, your son stays six forever. He’s a cute kid, clearly takes after his dad. You can’t take him adventuring with you, he’s too young, so you’ll eventually have to leave him at home with his father if you want to resume your life of adventure. Presumably they travel the Rift together, hunting and tracking, bathing in cold mountain streams to put hair on their chests, that sort of thing.

So, final impressions – overall, it’s a good mod, even a great one. There is certainly room for improvement; the writing needs some work, there are still plenty of bugs, and the game crashed twice during the wedding and again after the kid was born. Also, #SkyrimSoWhite is an issue with this mod.  There isn’t a lot of variety, and given that we know not all the NPCs are Nords, they could have changed it up a bit (Casavir is from Cyrodil, he could have easily been a Redguard, but whatever).  General lack of representation aside, however, they did do a very good job. Considering that this is a fan project that has gathered a small staff to make it happen, it’s quite the accomplishment. If you can enjoy what’s good and laugh at what’s wrong, it is definitely a mod worth checking out. 9/10, would play again.

 

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