If you’re still waiting for more news on Elder Scrolls VI and find that Elder Scrolls Online doesn’t really scratch your itch, you may be wondering if it’s time to dive into Skyrim again – or for the first time, for new fans. One of the first bits of advice you’ll get is adding a mod or two to improve the game. Some Skyrim mods have even become memes, like the early Macho Man dragons. But at their best, Skyrim mods introduce new ways to play, entirely new skill trees, new lands to explore, and excellent storylines to enjoy…while also fixing some of the pernicious problems the base game has.
Of course, now we have well over 10 years of Skyrim modding to explore, including stupendous efforts to expand the game and provide extras or DLC on par with any Bethesda-related release — or better. That’s a whole lot of content to sift through, even if you narrow mods down to specific categories. We’re making things a whole lot easier for those jumping back into Skyrim for one last (well, maybe last) playthrough, especially if it’s been a few years: Here are the top Skyrim mods with the best results and most awesome experiences.
Handy tip: If it’s been a very long time since you’ve played Skyrim, note that you can indeed browse and install mods on console version of the game, although your catalog may be limited compared to PC players and they will disable achievements. We can’t assure everyone one of our picks is available on console, but it’s always worth a look. We can’t promise the same for the Switch.
Nexus Mod Manager and LOOT
If you want to spend time installing mods and experimenting with mod switches later on, something that’s very easy to fall into when playing Skyrim, then you really need the Nexus Mod Manager, which is an interface specifically designed to help manage your current mods and add or remove them. It’s invaluable for any kind of advanced mod management.
In addition to the Manager, you also need to download the LOOT mod. Don’t be fooled by the name, LOOT is actually an automatic troubleshooter for your mods that reviews the mods you’re installing, makes sure they work together, and installs them in the correct order to prevent bugs or crashes. It’s a necessity for those who are entering the mod world in Skyrim and similar games.
Skyrim Script Extender
It’s no surprise that some ambitious mods have far outstripped Skyrim’s ability to run them, even if you have a powerful gaming rig. The Special Edition doesn’t help very much here, either. That’s why the Skyrim Script Extender should be another first stop on the mod list. It works behind the scenes, enabling Skyrim to run the more complicated mods that would otherwise give it serious constipation. The further down our mod list you go, the more important the Script Extender will be for your experiences.
Unofficial Skyrim Patch
Bethesda has patched a few Skyrim bugs over the years, but far from all of them. Some players enjoy the random, infamous bugs and don’t mind encountering them, but others hate how they ruin immersion. If you’re in the latter group, you’ll love the Unofficial Skyrim Patch, a regularly updated mod that tackles all the problems that the official devs didn’t get around to. That includes hundreds of patches for objects, quests, and gameplay – we really suggest you take it along for the ride before diving into some of the more complex mods.
The Skyrim interface created a lot of controversy when the game first dropped. Many players, especially PC players, found the UI weird and annoying. It devotes a ton of space to objects themselves and only a small menu to actually and select things. Gamers wanted more options than this, in a package that’s a lot easier to use with a mouse, so eventually SkyUI was created. SkyUI completely overhauls the old UI, map, HUD, and other elements of Skyrim to create something more friendly for serious gamers. If you quickly tire of Skyrim’s menus, put this mod on the top of your list.
There are a lot of texture and resolution mods for Skyrim, and the top versions are all very popular and optimized to work with the game. However, we’re picking out 2K Textures for a couple of special reasons. First, it has one of the higher resolution ceilings of popular mods at 4K, which is a big upgrade for all things Skyrim-related (the Special Edition only went up to HD in most cases).
Second, it applies better textures throughout Skyrim to make things look richer and more realistic, no matter if you’re staring up at the beautiful sky or looking down at a little plant you just picked. Warning: This is a very complete upgrade, so it’s also going to take a ton of resources compared to the base game. You’ll need a PC with the RAM and GPU to handle it.
Realistic Lighting Overhaul
As with textures, there are also a plethora of lighting mods to play with in Skyrim, adding a variety of effects and changes. Realistic Lighting Overhaul provides a very good balance between them all. It adds more natural lighting effects in multiple scenarios without making settings look too weird or fantastic. Plus, it does so with high efficiency so you don’t need extra resources to manage the whole thing.
Climates of Tamriel
Skyrim has a little weather. Sometimes things get misty or rainy, and sometimes skies are clear or cloudy. That’s about it. Climates of Tamriel completely reinvents the weather system and adds literally hundreds of weather effects as you’re exploring the reaches of the Nord’s country. You’ll get bigger, better storms, brighter sunlight, and more realistic snowy mountaintop weather to play around in. Pure Weather is another option, but it’s not as detailed as Climates.
Towns and Villages Enhanced
Upgrade mods exist for almost every part of Skyrim. You can remake the roads into more vibrant travel lanes, turn the trees in giant species, change how water works, and lots more. But our top upgrade pick is for towns and villages, where players spend tons of time and where detail really matters.
The Towns and Villages Enhanced mod adds lots of plants and trees to the often lifeless corners of the major Skyrim cities, other with animals and other details. Some people don’t really like the additions, but we encourage you to at least try it out and see if the villages feel more lived-in and less like staging areas. Detailed Cities is a milder version you may prefer if you also liked how the old versions of the cities looked.
Total Character Makeover
There are a lot of off-the-wall character mods for Skyrim that throw all kinds of bodies and art styles at the NPCs to achieve different effects. However, the result doesn’t have much to do with the base game. For those who want to stay purer to the source material and don’t care about skimpy clothing, Total Character Makeover offers a perfect solution. It upgrades all characters for all races without adding anything new, generally making NPCs (and your character) look prettier and more realistic without jumping into weird territory.
Skyrim’s base NPCs are…fine. They do stuff, have set schedules, react to things, and yell at you until you put a bucket over their head. The usual stuff. But if that isn’t enough for you and Skyrim feels too barren, Interesting NPCs adds a lot more. There are over 250 new characters to help fill up the villages and cities around the world. They not only have their own unique dialogue, but many of the offer quest opportunities or relationship options to expand your choices while roleplaying.
Run For Your Lives
If you’ve played Skyrim for any significant length of time before, you may have noticed a big problem. When dragons or vampires attack cities (they’re two enemy types that will directly target the cities of Skyrim), the NPCs will stand their ground. They act aggressively, even when they have no chance of winning, and are instantly killed. That means you can lose important shopkeepers or characters in a future questline, sometimes without even knowing it.
Run For Your Lives is a small but meaningful mod that makes NPCs actually run when enemies attack their villages. It’s just so nice.
Alternate Start is a very fun RPG mod that’s especially beneficial for long-term Skyrim players. In the base version, the only beginning is the famous, “Hey you. You’re finally awake,” version in a wagon of prisoners. Alternate Start adds a bunch of starting places (including a randomized version) that puts you in the place of all kinds of characters. Sometimes you’re a starving survivor of a shipwreck, sometimes you’re a lone hunter in the woods, sometimes you’re even a prisoner in a castle or a vampire in a bloody den. Some starts are far more challenging than others, but they all give you an unprecedented way to customize your roleplaying experience.
One (mostly) new thing Skyrim added to the Elder Scrolls experience was the ability to transform into a werewolf, including a skill tree of power-ups you could use. However, the lycanthropy left many players unsatisfied with its rules and limitations. Moonlight Tales revamps the whole werewolf option with new features, including mandatory full-moon transformations every month, a new perk tree with more abilities, and even an option to turn into a werebear.
Immersive Weapons and Armors
There are many “Immersive” mods for Skyrim, but out of the whole series our two favorites are weapons and armors, which greatly extend the available weapon and armor choices you have in the game. This experience makes looting and loot progression much more fun and gives you so many more options for outfitting your players. If you really enjoy it, you can also try the other Immersive modes which add similar levels of detail to other systems in the game.
Are Skyrim’s perk trees leaving you with a feeling of disappointment? Overcome your dissatisfaction with the popular Ordinator overhaul. Ordinator adds an amazing 400 new perks to the system, essentially completely reinventing every archetype in the game. The mod gives you hundreds of different ways to play, no matter what you want to try. It’s very, very different from the original version, but it’s also a guaranteed boredom killer when you’re making your next character.
Apocalypse — Magic of Skyrim
If you love being a mage and are only interested in magic expansions, you’re likely disappointed with Skyrim’s limited system, even with the newer add-ons. Apocalypse adds a whole system of magic to experiment with, complete with incredible powers like creating tornados and meteors. It may be overpowered, but it sure is fun to play with and find new synergies with spells you like.
VioLens — A Killmove Mod
One of the primary features keeping Skyrim’s combat from becoming too repetitive is the kill-move animations, which add fancy takedowns when you defeat human opponents. Unfortunately, there are not many of them and they’re limited to certain kinds of weapons, quickly becoming boring. This mod fixes that by adding a bunch of new takedown animations and letting you adjust their settings to adapt takedowns to the kind of character you are building.
Now we’re getting into some really meaty mods for those that have explored the base game and DLCs, and are ready for much more! Falskaar is another world within Skyrim created by Alexander Velicky. Think of it like a whole DLC similar to Dragonborn, one that transports you to a magical island that’s filled with a little bit of everything – new quests, new dragon Shouts, new items, all the delicious content that fans want.
The Forgotten City
The Forgotten City is a very different kind of DLC, a winner of writing rewards and an interesting dive into a massive Dwemer city filled with secrets. There are tons of places to explore, ancient technology and abilities to find, and a mystery storyline that actually requires some real investigation to piece together (many players may not even discover the final truths involved). It’s also fairly short compared to other DLC’s (around 8 hours,) so you don’t have to set aside too much time to explore it.
Enderal is a massive story that offers a new land to explore and a new…well, a new everything, including character-building options. It’s basically a new game on the Skyrim engine, for those who want something that’s truly different from everything else.
Plenty of mods add survival aspects to Skyrim. Some, like the Campfire and Frostfall mods, add specific aspects like cooking at camps or taking damage from weather elements. But if you are looking for a complete survival addition, Wildlander combines more than 500 mods to make living life in the northern outdoors a real challenge. You’ll have to deal with hunger, the possibility of freezing, catching more diseases, and lots more hardcore elements that put some extra challenge in the game. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it will definitely add flavor to your next Skyrim adventure.
Last Bit of Advice
If you’ve installed mods on a Bethesda game before, you’ll know that they can introduce compatibility problems of their own. There’s an immense amount of advice online about how to deal with it. It’s difficult to summarize all of it, but if you’re planning on installing multiple mods at once, it’s a good idea to look up the best order to do it. Mods like LOOT are a major help but don’t always make things perfect. When in doubt (or in crashes), ask for some advice in the modding community. If you’re only downloading one or two big mods, you probably don’t have much to worry about.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Nexus Mods.