Ever thought you could do a better job than Legolas at the Battle of Helm's Deep? Well now you can prove it, as the final version of this incredible Lord of the Rings Skyrim mod has just been published.
The Elder Scrolls V Middle-Earth began back in 2014 and has seen several updates, but Maldaran told me the Redone version adds new content, solves bugs, re-works the portal corridor and streamlines all the past versions into one neat package.
The remarkable one-person project, made by 26-year-old Maldaran from Germany, allows PC players to explore many of the most famous locations in Lord of the Rings, including The Shire, Lothlorien and Rivendell. You can re-enact the Battle of Helm's Deep, fight goblins in the mines of Moria and even battle the Balrog. Players can also craft Mithril armour, and Maldaran told me the latest version introduces even more craftable items, along with new spells to learn.
So, how do you get to Middle-earth? You have two options: either grab a Middle-earth teleportation spell from Farengar in Whiterun, or simply walk there by finding the "Lord of the Rings" door in the west of the map. After encountering a couple of technical difficulties with the teleport spells, I found it easiest to take the fast-travel option.
Once in Middle-earth, you'll find yourself in a long corridor full of beautifully-crafted doors leading to various locations from Lord of the Rings. Naturally, I went straight to The Shire, and was welcomed by a charming birthday party with lanterns and classic round-door hobbit homes. A little walking will take you to the town of Bree - suitably dark and foreboding - while the hobbit homes feel small and cosy.
Having relaxed in The Shire, I then explored Moria, and got absolutely wrecked when I poked my nose into the lower depths and encountered dozens of goblins. I did not learn my lesson, and went back down again to tango with the Balrog. Guess I still did better than Gandalf, though.
The elvish locations, meanwhile, were simply stunning. After stumbling through an orc-elf skirmish, I explored the arches of Rivendell, while Lothlorien's tree buildings have been beautifully recreated with twinkling lights.
But this mod isn't just about locations: there are interactive elements too. In one of my nerdiest moments ever, I re-enacted the Battle of Helm's Deep (role-playing Legolas) with the official Lord of the Rings soundtrack thundering away in the background. Players can activate the battle in three separate stages using stones inside the grounds of the fortress. Things get very intense, very fast.
Although I did encounter the occasional problem - such as floating foliage, the occasional place name that wouldn't disappear, and a few lurking snippets of German, the mod is seriously impressive and really captures the feeling of being in Middle-earth. The Shire, one of the newly-added locations, feels particularly well-crafted, and Maldaran describes this as their "masterpiece".
The mod has certainly come a long way from its roots: Maldaran told me The Elders Scrolls V Middle Earth began as only three areas "which were not much bigger than normal dungeons" - and the love and attention put into the mod really shows.
I asked Maldaran, who works in an architecture office, a few questions about their work and how long they spent on the project.
"I started modding over 10 years ago, firstly for the old Star Wars Battlefront 2," Maldaran told me. "When I began modding for Skyrim, I worked around three to four hours a day on the project, but that was when I went to school."
Despite the new restraints on their time, Maldaran still spends "a few hours a week" on modding projects: but it sounds like this will be the Middle Earth mod's final version.
"For five years I worked on [the mod] and added many interesting things... not only the big worldspace the mod offers now," Maldaran added. "But since the engine is now very old and many bugs of the creation kit are never fixed... modding for skyrim became a bit exhausting.
"I have plenty more ideas for worldspaces I haven´t covered in my mod. The retexture of Bree's buildings and the implementation of the mumakil was definitely preparation for Minas Tirith and a battlefield.
"As I said [in the mod description], I will stop it here. I bought a brand new computer and want to start modding for Ark Survival Evolved.
"BUT while reading all the positive feedback I´m really really tempted to continue Middle-Earth and my passion for modding it. I can't make a promise."
One final concern I asked Maldaran about was the risk of getting in trouble with Warner Bros. This previously happened with another Lord of the Rings-themed Elder Scrolls mod (known as MERP), which had to stop development in 2012 when it received a cease-and-desist letter.
"A very very small part of me is worried," Maldaran mused. "But there are some differences between my mod and theirs.
"Firstly I still work with Skyrim objects and put them together to [create] new content. MERP recreated stuff from the movies in 3D software. I think that was a point Warner didn´t like, I think they saw this as direct copying.
"Secondly the MERP project was a team [effort] by gamers all around the world and they were looking for more members, had a Facebook page, Twitter accounts, fansites and all this advertising stuff. Maybe this was in Warner's eyes some kind of 'founding a company'.
Maldaran also has the added benefit of their project already being completed, I suppose.
If you want to install this mod and role-play Frodo yourself, you'll need the latest version of Skyrim and all its DLC (Hearthfire, Dawnguard and Dragonborn). Unfortunately Skyrim Special Edition owners will need to make a few adjustments before playing: as suggested by Zeridian in the mod's forum, it can be converted using "SSE Asstes Optimizer/SSE Nif Optimizer and the Creation Kit to resave the plugin", along with using xedit 4.0.2 to manually give it a clean.
Older versions of the mod have been given SSE conversions by other Nexusmods users, so if you don't fancy that process, I'm sure ports for the Redone version will pop up shortly.
Although Maldaran isn't planning on adding further areas to The Elder Scrolls V Middle Earth Redone, other modders are welcome to create their own versions - and potentially add quests and new locations (given they ask Maldaran's permission first). Maybe we'll see some epic quests added in, although this mod is already fantastic. My precious.