This article aims to improve player awareness for changes that a player may find disagreeable. Some examples include suggestions for reverse-patching.
The “Unofficial Skyrim Patch” (USkP), or newer “Unofficial Skyrim Legendary Edition Patch” (USLeEP) (or USSEP for Special Edition), is a mod addressing bugs within The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (TES V) by Bethesda Game Studios. The TES chapters are known for amusing bugs, Daggerfall taking the top (bottom?) spot in teaching us to save the game often especially before opening a door. The USkP fixes content bugs never resolved by the official game patches, however the USkP also includes changes to gameplay balance and lore along with added content. Those primarily looking for just fixes may want to give the USkP/USLeEP some careful consideration first.
Keep in mind that fixing bugs in a complex game is difficult. Some changes may have unexpected consequences due to loosely related, or unintended connections, within the game engine. Also, trying to decipher original intent can be very challenging. I respect the effort for taking on a large project like this, but unfortunately the USkP is presented as a patch when it may be better described as a game-changing mod. Some players may be surprised by the amount of changes and new content. I believe the USkP would better benefit the community by showing a disclaimer, or offering optional files for new content and gameplay changes.
According to team member, Arthmoor, “A bug is defined for our purposes as a defect in the game that can be factually proven to be broken.” This statement may not extend to deciphering original intent, but I’d like to think maintaining original gameplay should be a goal. As I’ll show in the examples below some changes depend on loose interpretation, lack of solid evidence, and three listed below can be directly disproven by TES game material. Arthmoor admits to making judgement calls, and USkP and USLeEP are their mods in the end.
Sometimes the team realizes a fix wasn’t a fix after all and reverses it later. Mistakes happen.
One former USkP user (Setitimer) mentions on reddit that after v1.3, USkP started adding too many non-bug changes causing mod-compatibility issues and breaking the game. On forum.step-project.com, kryptopyr, Kuldebar, and others point out that adding content should be left to other mods. A few others share their complaints on forums.nexusmods including Writhes’s comment, “Things like fortify restoration, necromage, the added armor to the smithing menu, etc. These are all very disputable changes that should be obvious candidates for being separated.”
Back in 2012 I disagreed with some of the USkP changes, and after reviewing it again recently, I still recommend giving the USkP/USLeEP careful consideration. After extensive testing to see if I might try to revert-patch some changes, I decided against using USLeEP for regular play. Skyrim is quite playable with only the official patch 1.9.32.08. There’s some odd dialogue, a handful of places the follower can’t follow, a couple of minor quests may go unfinished (may anyway if key quest character dies), or a few quest rewards may not materialize. Below I go over selectd changes to help decide if the bug fixes are worth the content and gameplay changes, or what might warrant reverting.
Some concerning USkP/USLeEP/USSEP changes
1. Ebony Blade made improvable at smithy (v1.0)
This change unbalances the game by overpowering the item, and hurts the mystique of this sword. The Ebony Blade is a deadric-serving (Mephala a.k.a. Whispering Lady) weapon permanently improved by killing trusting allies; friends. Allowing this weapon to be improved at a grindstone reduces the incentive to murder allies. With a high smithing skill, why bother doing Mephala’s bidding? This should be evidence enough of original intent. Found beside the sword is a note, Admonition Against Ebony. Not proof in itself, but given the sword can’t be improved at a smithy, the note supports the restriction by stating “Not even the hottest fires of the Skyforge could melt it; indeed the coals themselves seemed to cool when it was placed within.”
A player offered a similar argument about this change on AFK Mods, and Arthmoor replied the decision was not about balance and cited the tips shown during the loading screen as reason for the change. The tip states, “Any weapon or piece of armor can be improved at a smithy, regardless of the material type or the smith’s skill or perks. Smithing perks increase how much the item is improved.”
Taking a tip out of context is shaky evidence at best, and doesn’t meet Arthmoor’s policy on “factually proven to be broken” except perhaps in the very loosest sense. The intention of this tip is to remind the player that a perk or high skill isn’t required to improve a weapon of specific type. Given that armor at maximum rating can’t be effectively improved, and a low skill prevents further improvement, both contradicting the load-screen message, then we should assume certain unique items are at their best. Or without a special improvement method as is the case with the Ebony Blade.
If there’s a problem here at all it is with the wording of the tip.
Other items (partial list below) were also made improvable at smithy for the same reason. Without stronger evidence, perhaps some of these deadric artifacts and unique items should have been left as is—if not for caution, out of respect for the game designers. Balance is an important design decision.
I doubt many players would be confused by being unable to improve the Ebony Blade at a smithy given its special means for improvement. Deceive friends by murder to improve the blade further, and by no other means. That’s what gives the Ebony Blade such mystique.
1a. Other items made improvable
A partial list of other affected items that could be considered at their best or unable to improve without arcane methods:
- Masque of Clavicus Vile (v1.0)
- Jagged Crown (v1.0)
- Shield of Ysgramor (v1.0)
- Drainheart Sword, Drainblood Battleaxe, Drainspell Bow (v1.0)
- Amulet of Articulation (v1.0)
- Ancient Nordic Pickaxe, Hoarfrost, and Champion’s Cudgel (bug #12554)
Making silver swords improvable may break an Atronoch Forge recipe (unconfirmed). Except the ghost weapons, and perhaps ancient items, I can see these going either way: at their best or made improvable. No matter, a game tip isn’t strong enough reason by itself.
2. Black soul gems restricted (v2.0.1; bug #14194)
Soul trapping black souls (NPCs) into the white version of Azura’s Star has been mentioned as being impossible by in game dialogue, printed in game information sources, and all known lore from the TES series as well as published game guides. Regular black soul gems should also only accept the souls of NPCs (black souls) and is mentioned in all of the same lore material as being this way. This major discrepancy should now be fixed.
True about Azura’s Star, but wrong on the black soul gems. I’m curious about the “lore material” cited by the USkP team on regular black soul gems, because all the material I find supports black soul gems may hold white souls.
Skyrim lore implies, and prior games prove, black soul gems function like white soul gems (Souls, Black and White), and that “only the rare black soul gem can hold the soul of a higher creature, such as a man or an elf.” (Also see A Tragedy in Black.) Sometimes black soul gems are referred to as “larger soul gems” (Guild Memo on Soul Trapping - TES IV). The strongest evidence showing USkP’s statement on black soul gems as false is the previous chapter: TES IV: Oblivion allows black soul gems to hold lesser (including grand) white souls (elderscrolls.wikia) just as normal TES V.
Changing black soul gems to only hold larger, black souls causes a big discrepancy with previous chapters and lore.
Consider soul gems may accept souls of equal to or lesser than its size, and that a black soul gem can be made from a grand soul gem (Anchorite’s Note - TES IV). All “white souls” are of creatures lesser than man or mer. TES lore implies this remains true for the larger black soul gems, and I can’t find a book, note, or dialogue that specifically states black soul gems (not including The Black Star) can’t hold lesser, or white, souls. Previous games allowed it, as does Skyrim.
The confusion comes in when Nelecar (elderscrolls.wikia) states that repairing The Black Star, cut off from Azura, may then only hold “black souls” mentioning this limitation as a precaution in case the hero wants to instead take the star back to Azura’s Shrine for repair. It seems likely The Black Star should have been limited (the bug), but regular black soul gems must work as normal accepting lesser souls.
Not only does this USkP change contradict lore and TES gameplay, it also makes the game a bit easier since the player no longer needs to keep track of running out of regular soul gems and accidentally filling a black soul gem with a lesser soul. I prefer the original logic and keeping with lore: black soul gems work like white soul gems for larger, black souls as if a necromancer had taken a grand soul gem and altered it as done in TES IV.
On AFK Mods, a player looking into reverting this error reported the change was done by script making it a bit trickier to correct without adequate scripting knowledge.
3. “Archery is in the wrong guardian stone perk.” (bug #2335)
This can be argued. For game balance, the Thief Stone needs an offensive skill. In previous chapters, rogues benefitted from marksman skill. As noted on elderscrolls.wikia, the Thief Stone includes archery even though archery is a warrior skill. The difference with Oghma Infinium may have been a design change, such as for balance, so we could give Bethesda Game Studios benefit of the doubt unless we can find factual evidence otherwise. This difference also supports the class-less philosophy and that some skills overlap. More importantly, moving archery to the Warrior Stone would mean rogues need to work harder than mages and warriors at lower levels.
In support of this USkP change, I believe it’s too easy for rogues to work archery anyway leaving 20% bonus to the skills requiring more determined practice. The Thief Stone is described in game as improving stealth skills, and archery is not a stealth skill. At the very least this change makes the skills sets more consistent throughout the game, not counting the dragon priest masks.
4. Necromage affects on vampire player removed (v1.2.3)
Necromage defined in game: “All spells more effective against undead.”
The Necromage perk increases spell strength and duration on undead (details on elderscrolls.wikia), great for fighting vampires and powerful draugr. Handy for healing undead minions, too (Dawnguard DLC). If the player character (PC) is a vampire then the perk also increases affects including weaknesses. This nearly seems fair earning extra power at the cost of achieving Restoration 70 with increased weakness to fire and sunlight. And it’s what a player would expect with their vampire character. Interpretation of “against undead” may vary, but I’d like to see proof including player character is not intended by the designers. And “all spells” certainly includes those affecting the PC.
This USkP change increases confusion, and in-game evidence supports the original affect.
5. Added content
USkP adds unnecessary content at the risk of conflicting with mods and changing intended story. It would be nice to offer an optional file, or let other mods add content allowing players to have more choice. Adding new rooms or clutter may cause extra confusion if mod author or player assumes added content exists in original game. Aesthetic changes are better addressed by beautification mods.
- “…now have beds in a new room attached to the Ragged Flagon, down a new passage…” (Bug #12618)
- “New bed added so that the 4th guard in the rotation can sleep…” (Bug #13063)
- Woodcutter’s axes added to some towns “so that the player won’t need to travel…” (Bug #19022)
- 60+ new rocks/piles/boulders added to various locations.
- “3 bedrolls added to the deck of the Sea Squall”
- Dawnstar Sanctuary: “One additional bed in the common room has been added to provide adequate space for sleeping. (Bug #19439)”
- A few thousand cosmetic changes (UV map, texture, added/removed clutter, item repositioning).
6. Grimsever changed to two-handed (v1.2.3)
Mjoll’s lost sword, Grimsever, is a one-handed weapon, but she’s better with two-handed style. Perhaps Mjoll has grown more proficient with two-handed since losing Grimsever. She’s changed her life since then. A one-handed Grimsever makes Mjoll’s history more interesting; a better story. Sure, it could be a mistake, but what is the factual proof? Besides, Grimsever makes a nice one-handed weapon. Several other NPCs come with gear they aren’t most proficient with. Give your follower what she needs.
This change should be player’s choice. Older mods had this covered.
If you’re using USkP and prefer one-handed Grimsever, it’s easy to create a revert patch using TES5Edit. Search for FormID: 00053379.
7. Erik the Slayer class changed to match equipment (bugs #14739, #19324)
Several other characters were changed as well, but I call out Erik the Slayer because it makes more sense that he starts out with mismatched equipment. It fits his story! More importantly, part of the game is to determine the best gear for the follower. Mistake or not, Erik is a more interesting character by starting out with gear he isn’t proficient with. Erik may become a slayer as he builds his skill set, but he starts out as a hoe-pusher.
8. “NPCs will now comment on the player’s College of Winterhold robes, as was intended.” (v1.2.2)
In the original game, guards and townfolk would only comment to Dragonborn about being a wizard when wearing novice robes or the hooded arch-mage clothing. The hint of a bug here is that the alternative non-hooded arch-mage outfit wasn’t marked for commenting. Also in favor of this change, many mage players may never hear these comments having quickly upgraded to better outfits.
Other robes are rarely seen in Skyrim, so we could argue the intent was for commenting only on the most recognizable robes worn by mages of the college. Also consider expert and master robes appear much like ordinary clothing. At first I thought including comments on other robes was nice, but later I felt it might be too much.
If playing without USLeEP, and you like comments on more robes, try Mage Robes Comment Fix
9. Other minor changes
- “Bucket moved on to shelf to prevent Wilhelm from stepping in it and dragging it around the inn.” (Bug #15101)
- “Dragons and Draugr will no longer be considered enemies.”
- “Texture set CityBannerMarkarth had a generic placeholder texture with the word ‘Markarth’ on it. This has been replaced with a proper banner texture for the city.”
- “Uthgerd the Unbroken has had her class changed to CombatWarrior2H to match her weapon and combat style.” (v1.2)
- Spell absorption no longer absorbs caster’s spells. (bug #445)
Dragons occasionally attacking draugr seems logical and interesting to me. Editing the Markarth banner is unnecessary since the placeholder doesn’t show in the original game. This fix actually causes a bug for official HD DLC users so that the green placeholder banner shows. The unofficial patch team offers a fix with yet another patch “Unofficial High Resolution Patch” (part of USLeEP). Also see “Markarth City Banner Retexture”. In many ways, I would expect spell absorption to absorb the caster’s spells, but conjured creatures don’t target the caster.
Some bugs may still occur
Here are a couple I experienced which may not be the same for others: housecarl sometimes still asked, “Are you lost?” (#12563). Even after defeating the old orc warrior (“A Good Death”), he kept coming back again and again (bug #13900). In all my original plays, once dead that old orc stayed dead! Naturally, bugs beyond the scope of USLeEP will happen. A very rare bug happens in my games far more often with USkP: enemies get stuck on the compass at great distance or when going indoors. (Update:) I’ve tested again on three clean builds with USLeEP, and this rare bug still shows up far too often.
This shows the difficult task the USkP team faces, and deserve huge credit for what they have accomplished. Also consider these pesky bug revealed by other fixes as demonstration of the complexity of the game and one reason why Bethsda Game Studios leaves minor bugs in game. Fixing takes time, and if the problem is entrenched enough, a buggy side-effect may never die.
Update Feb 2016
I played using USkP v2.1.3b, UDGP, UDBP, UHFP with a handful of characters, two from start to beyond level 40. Now, I’ve started new characters without the unofficial patches to better ascertain the differences.
Improved clean-up means fewer weapons left strewn about the landscape if the player doesn’t tend to it, and ash piles go away. Retro-active completion/award for broken side quests are nice (especially those pesky bard instruments), as are the spelling and grammar fixes. Followers can reach more areas, but a few spots still cause trouble.
Conclusion - March 2016
I say no to USkP/USLeEP. I like the fixes addressing broken quests, disappearing walls, follower navigation, missing animations/sounds, and even the dropped-item clean-up. However, the cost of breaking game balance and lore along with new content is high. The deal-breaker, though, is that the change log, bug reports, and forum discussions often fail to cite evidence or make ambiguous claims. Some changes deserve more critical thinking, in particular with #1, #2, and #4 described above. I give credit to the USkP team for taking on such a huge, complex task. Sometimes a decision must be made in order to move on.
There are too many changes I want to revert, some of them difficult. A much smaller task is to patch the game by just fixing (actual) bugs. The game is quite playable with only the official patch, so I really only need to address the bugs that truly annoy me.
If you’re uncertain about installing USLeEP, and have never played Skyrim before, try playing with just the official patch. You can always add USLeEP later.
Questions or comments?
Let me know if you have questions, or would like to share critical points I should consider. Find me on Twitter @dracotorre.
Some notable bugs to avoid - fixed by USkP
This is a list of bugs I’ve learned to avoid through the magic of reloading old saves and playing multiple characters.
- Don’t pick up a named musical instrument until after receiving the quest.
- Redbelly Mine and Soljund’s Sinkhole re-spawn after quest completion. Return when miners are outside.
- Shroud Hearth Barrow: a wall may disappear - step through door, wall returns.
- Ironbind Barrow - followers can’t follow up spiral stairs in final room.
- Don’t put Ebony Blade on a weapon rack. It may fall and disappear.
- Hearthfire wall storage problematic. Use a chest to be safe.
Alternatives to USkP/USLeEP
Here are some fixes I’m using, and I’ll continue working on more. Also see “Mods Made Obsolete by Unofficial Patches”.
- Dawnguard Wolf Howl Fix (animation file)
- Vampire Eyes Fix - Instead of this, I incorporated the female eye change with DIY skin-tone fix below.
- Vampire Skin Tone Fix for Breton, Imperial, Redguard. See DIY instructions and consider Update.esm as master.
- Soul Trap projectile animation - I created patch using TES5Edit changing spell and effect.
- Shrine of Azura LOD Fix
- Farkas wears wolf armor - I created patch using Creation Kit.
- Modern Brawl Bugs Fix
- Mage Robes Comment Fix
- Possessive Corpses no more lazy zombies and shy nirnroots
- Thalmor Embassy Disguise Fix