Do you want your Skyrim to look like this? I know that for the longest time, I’ve always admired beautiful, rich coloured Skyrim screenshots, and wondered why they had depth of field and I didn’t. As much as I absolutely adore the game, I did kind of miss the vibrant environments of previous Elder Scrolls games (I was a Shivering Isles fangirl…) and found that, while the bleak landscapes of Skyrim were beautiful, the fact that even forests and interior areas looked a little grey kind of bothered me.
Enter stage left: A Realistic Hope. ARH is a “photorealistic ENB” mod, which deepens colour, adds depth of field, and modifies some textures to be more photorealistic. The environments feel more alive, if a little bit oversaturated in colour, and allow you to get some seriously beautiful screenshots, let alone feel more immersed.
Ultimately, it is very beautiful. I love that whatever I’m looking at takes the focus, and honestly I didn’t notice any performance drop when in-game, even though I chose to download the regular mod rather than the “performance” version. With some .ini file tweaks, the game focuses regardless of whether you’re in first or third person, and when you look at something close to you, you’ll notice the background fades out a little.
The only real downsides for me were very minor. The regular mod does increase load times significantly; I went from loading a zone in 10 seconds or less to 30+, but this isn’t a huge wait for such a visual improvement. The only other issue I encountered was that it seems the shader that gets used uses a stencil buffer type effect which updates slower than your rendered frames. I’m not sure if that’s what it is or how it works, but if you stand in front of a particularly strong light source (in my case, it was a large fire) it seems that the “stencil buffer” lags behind a bit, so you see a bit of a residual outline. But it’s barely noticeable!
Despite the really vibrant colours, the environment doesn’t entirely lose its bleakness. Outside towns, things can still get pretty grey, so if you’re worried about losing the cold atmosphere of the game, don’t be too concerned. The vegetation is still bright, but the evenings feel pretty crisp and somewhat unwelcoming.
How to install
Make sure to download the mod manually (don’t use the mod manager, even if it gives you the option on the files page!) on the Realistic Hope ENB mod page on Skyrim Nexus. The installation steps are explained pretty well on the page, but in case you’re a little bit confused, there’s also similar directions below.
Before installing, you should also get WATER – Water and Terrain Enhancement Redux and install it. I recommend doing this using the Nexus Mod Manager. Once you’ve installed it, activate the mod in the mod manager and follow the instructions. It will ask you to choose your preferences such as water colour, whether you want additional features like boats and vegetation etc. Up to you!
001. Download the file and extract the .ZIP. You can use WinRAR or any other extraction software you have.
002. You can extract the file directly into your Skyrim folder, but if you’re concerned about overwriting files, compare the filenames in the downloaded directory with those in your Skyrim folder. If there are any that might be overwritten, rename them. I usually add, “.OLD” at the end of these files so I can recognise them if I need to restore them. You shouldn’t have to overwrite anything, however.
003. Navigate to My Documents > My Games > Skyrim and open up “SkyrimPrefs.ini” in Notepad.
004. Search for “bTreesReceiveShadows”, “bDrawLandShadows” and “bFloatPointRenderTarget”, and change the value from ‘0’ to ‘1’. If it’s already set to ‘1’, ignore this step.
005. Add the following text at the bottom of the file to play or look at your character in third person (good for screenshots):
006. Launch the game!
If you have an older system, you may want to try the performance version of the mod, which is listed in the downloads section. I haven’t tested this, but with my system (AMD Phenom II X4 955 at 3.2Ghz, nVidia Geforce GTX 560 1GB, and a measly 4GB RAM) I can run the regular version of the mod with a bunch of other mods, with no drop in FPS.