ENCOUNTER ZONES & DIFFICULTY
Encounter Zones are specific areas - dungeons, for example - that contain settings to determine the level of creatures that spawn within. They have their own category in xEdit - see here. In that example picture we can see Ironbind Barrow, a dungeon featuring a quest, unique loot and a named boss.
Now let's take a look at its settings. First up, it has the flag NEVER RESET added - meaning after completing the initial quest and slaying the boss, the dungeon will be permanently empty - no respawning enemies. Then we can see that MIN LEVEL is set to 6 and MAX LEVEL to 0. What does that mean?
The MIN LEVEL is used in calculating the levels of enemies inside (although it is not the only factor) and it is pathetically low here. You can march in there at level 6 with no problem in vanilla. Since the MAX LEVEL is set to 0, the dungeon will always scale to your level. If you enter at level 50, the highest-level variants of enemies are chosen. In vanilla, that will result in lvl 40 draugr - there are no draugr above that level.
How does this change in a 'static' or 'deleveled' world?
Quite a few mods intent on increasing the difficulty tweak MIN and MAX level of Encounter Zones. In a static world they are usually set to the same - and usually very high - value. Morrowloot Ultimate's Encounter Zones do that for example - with it, Ironbind Barrow's MIN and MAX LEVEL are at a whopping 32.
Alternatively, some EZ overhauls leave the MAX LEVEL at 0 (like in vanilla) meaning they'll continue to scale with you. This way, the challenge is preserved for the late game where you might have leveled beyond the MAX LEVEL otherwise.
What do I get with the mods in this guide?
You get a choice between five options - neither of which are optimal in my opinion.
So what would be optimal?
- Encounter Zones in Whiterun and Falkreath should have comparatively low MIN LEVELS.
- Encounter Zones for certain enemy types - such as bandit camps or bear caves - should be capped with a MAX LEVEL and not scale endlessly with you.
- Encounter Zones for endgame areas / enemy types - like Vampires, Dragon Priest temples or Dwemer ruins - should always scale with the player.
- To make all this meaningful, new and higher-level enemy types must be added.
Properly balanced, this should not make the game that much harder. The intent is to make you notice the difference between fighting a bunch of bandits and taking on a Vampire lord. In the late game, bandits should be more of a nuisance than a threat while the Dragonborn should still encounter challenges when facing ancient Dwemer automatrons.
This requires a rebalance of EZ levels and NPC levels plus adding new variants. I am looking into creating one such overhaul specifically for the guide, but that will take a while.
For the time being, you have the options listed above to choose from.