Ever since Skyrim was released (for the first time) back in 2011, the decision made by Bethesda Game Studios to remove classes from character creation has been a contentious one. Evidence of this can be seen in the existence of several class mods on both of the Skyrim modding nexuses and their staggering download counts. While all of these mods have their own niches and ways of re-implementing classes into The Elder Scrolls, one stood out to me during one of my bi-weekly Nexus Mods trawls as a unique, unintrusive, and best of all, ESL-flagged addition to a modded game: Sets of Skills - a Skyrim Class Mod. What, though, is it that makes the Sets of Skills mod so interesting?
Why Doesn't Skyrim Have Classes Anyway?
To bring classes to Skyrim, a lot of mods have tried to emulate the class systems of previous Elder Scrolls games by bottlenecking or outright disabling experience from skills that aren't a part of your chosen class. However, this approach also clashes with Skyrim’s design, which eschews the traditional class system, instead encouraging players to discover what skills interest them and define their build as they play. During a GameInformer podcast before the game’s release in 2011, director at Bethesda and meme icon Todd Howard explained the reasoning behind this decision:
"What we found in Oblivion is people would play, and even though they played for a half hour and then they picked their class, it's still … not enough time to really understand all the skills and how they work. So people would play, and the general pattern would be they'd play for like, three hours and then, 'Oh I picked the wrong skills, I'm going to start over.'
"They weren't necessarily upset about that, but to us, someone who's making a game you're like... 'Is there a way we can solve that? Is there a better way of doing it?' And we think this is it.“
While players returning to Skyrim likely already know what kind of build they’re going to make ahead of time, using a mod that sequesters the player's character into a skill-based category removes any options the player has to diversify their play style. In Skyrim, this can lead to some tedious situations involving grinding just to increase a skill level - and smithing a billion iron daggers isn't everyone's idea of fun. The Sets of Skills mod avoids this issue by ignoring the mechanics of class systems in previous Elder Scrolls titles altogether and, in the author's own words, taking inspiration from the job system of Final Fantasy Tactics.
How Does The Sets of Skills Mod Work, and What Makes It Good?
With the Sets of Skills mod, classes are no longer character-defining categories that you play within, but instead are minor perks that denote your playstyle and reward it accordingly. Mechanically, they are passive benefits that increase the more you level up with a given class selected, each also providing a boon when you reach their cap, which tends to be only between 5-10 levels. With the Commoner class, for example, all of your attributes regenerate at a faster percentage based on how many levels you've had it selected for. You can change your class at any time, but doing so will lose the benefits provided by the previous class in favor of the new one.
Once you “master” a class, however, you not only gain a boon from having reached its level cap, but you also permanently retain its passive benefits. To highlight the Commoner class again, once you have leveled up five times with it selected, it reaches its cap and is considered “mastered.” Not only do you gain a boon in the form of 10 points to your Health, Stamina, and Magicka, but you also keep the bonus to your attribute regeneration even when you select a new class.
What’s more, the relationship between classes and skills is far more relaxed than that of previous Elder Scrolls titles. For example, classes such as Cleric or Healer still incentivize the use of the Restoration skill, but not in a way that halts your character's progression if you decide to use skills not typically associated with a healing archetype.
With this new framing of classes, the Sets of Skills mod achieves the best of both worlds. Players receive benefits that reflect and reward their roleplaying, while not forcing their character to be defined by an archetype, or being penalized for changing their approach or branching into new skills. This stands in contrast to previous games such as Oblivion for example, where players are not incentivized to use skills outside of their classes at all. The player's character feels static and gains no tangible benefit from engaging with the game's other mechanics.
Far from narrowing the options of your playstyle in this way, the Sets of Skills mod incorporates multi-classing as a core feature, with special combination classes unlocking once you have mastered their prerequisites. These include Warrior and Thief to unlock Rogue, Thief and Mage to unlock Nightblade, and so on. You “take” as many classes as you like, unlock new specialized ones, and gain dynamic bonuses that reflect your journey and make your character feel both accomplished and unique.
Positions of Prestige
The coolest feature of the Sets of Skills mod follows the pattern of building off the base game and goes the extra mile to make you feel like you’ve really accomplished something in the world of Skyrim. Once you have mastered two of three prerequisite classes and reached a certain point in the appropriate questline, Prestige classes become unlocked. These include a class for each of the major faction questlines such as Harbinger or Nightingale, a bonus one in the form of Telvanni Wizard, and a class for the Dragonborn during the main quest.
Prestige classes behave a little differently from the standard ones, providing powerful bonuses that are flat rather than scaling as you level, and only applying any benefits while the class is equipped. This means you can only use one at a time, but the features more than make up for it. These classes serve as excellent rewards that go just that little bit further to enhance your roleplaying and provide tangible bonuses that reflect the titles your character has earned.
It’s ironic given the title of the mod that classes actually have less connection to skills than ever, but, to coin a phrase, it just works. The Sets of Skills mod is ESL-flagged so as to save a spot in your load order and is designed specifically to play nice with gameplay and perk overhauls, so it’s hard to find a modded game that it won’t fit into. The mod comes with 47 classes out of the box, with an additional 10 available within community packs that are well worth your time to check out.