Want to know what Skyrim looks like when you install 200 mods at random? Find out in our eye-opening, eye-bleaching diary: Skyrim: Week of Madness.)
Skyrim mods are amazing. In the two months since release, thousands of mods have been released, some of them quite spectacular. It’s not like Skyrim was an ugly game to begin with, but with new high resolution textures and post processing it becomes truly stunning. Then there are the new items, expanded crafting and full UI overhauls.
With so many mods available, choosing them can be a little daunting, which is why we’ve rounded up the 25 best here for you to enjoy.
We’ve picked the best mods we can find from both the Steam Workshop and Skyrim Nexus, but the best results come from combining the two. To do that we recommend downloading the Nexus Mod Manager, which helps to keep your non-steam mod up to date, and BOSS, which re-arranges your mods to load in the most stable order.
If you’re the tweaking type, you’ll also want to check our personalised picks of the Steam Workshop. Or maybe you’d like to create your own mod. Thanks to the Skyrim Creation Kit it’s a lot easier than you think. Our Skyrim Creation Kit Video Tutorial is all you need to get started.
Oh, and don’t worry if you’d rather sit back and read about someone else’s Skyrim adventures. Christopher Livingston’s Elder Strolls diary will see you right.
The ENBSeries mods are famous for adding improved post processing and lighting effects to make games like GTA4 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution look amazing. The Skyrim version is one of the best. Not only has ENB creator Boris Vorontsov done his usual fantastic work, but various other modders have tweaked and adjusted the program to come up with their own presets. There are many different kinds of ENB available, from Boris’ own colourful version to more muted and realistic tones. Personally I use Cinematic Lighting ENB, which comes recommended by famous screenshotmancer Duncan ‘Dead End Thrills‘ Harris.
Realistic Lighting is sits alongside ENB as one of the best graphical upgrades you can make to Skyrim, and you can combine the two for even better effect. Realistic Lighting makes Skyrim’s shadows starker and more pronounced, and re-arranges in game lights for a darker, more realistic look, including some pitch black nights. Although this mod is on both Nexus and Steam Workshop, I recommend using the Nexus version, which is more frequently updated and has more customisation options.
There are a lot of excellent retexture mods available for Skyrim, but the sad thing is that you can only ever use one at a time. Automatic Variants exists to correct that problem. It allows Skyrim to randomly choose different skins from a pool of variants, so each animal looks unique. Right now it only works on creatures, but there are plans to expand it to items later on. Because of the nature of this mod, it’s a little complicated to install. First download Automatic Variants, then download any texture packs you want to use (I recommend Bellyache’s animals). Drop the texture pack into the folder, then run the AutomaticVariants.jar file to build the mod, which goes last in your load order. If you’re adding new skins, make sure you build the mod again.
Get Snowy is simple, but beautiful. It allows snow to land on creatures and NPCs, covering them with a light dusting of icing sugar. That’s all it does, but it has an amazing effect on your game, making the winter wonderland of Skyrim’s colder regions seem even frostier and more unforgiving. Take a trip to the Winterhold to see it at its best.
Ask any PC gamer what Skyrim’s biggest flaw is and you’ll get one answer: the inventory. The default UI is inelegant, slow and features far too much scrolling. Which is why Sky UI is so essential. It doesn’t merely fix the problems with Bethesda’s interface, it improves it on every level. Icons are now used to easily distinguish items while using less space. Additional information, such as if an item is stolen or poisoned, is clearly displayed. The inventory can even be sorted by value and weight, while a text search lets you find the correct item in a hurry. There is simply no reason not to install Sky UI, even those few who don’t mind the original interface will find their Skyrim experience improved immeasurably as a result.
Xenius Character Enhancement
Xenius has rapidly carved himself a niche as Skyrim’s premier character enhancement modder, producing a whole series of texture improving mods at a tremendous rate before packaging them together as Xenius Character Enhancement. While so many other modders have spent their time making characters that look more like fashion models than medieval peasants, Xenius stays true to the original art style of Skyrim, and for that we salute him.