The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is nothing short of legendary. It managed to win over 200 awards and sold more than 30 million copies from its initial release. This would only be amplified by not one but two re-releases, a 2016 launch that saw a cool 939,000 copies sold in the first week, in addition to the Nintendo Switch port that following year.
Emblematic as the experience may be, Bethesda’s lore-riddled fantasy RPG wouldn’t be one of the greatest open-world games without its dedicated modding community. From simple graphical touchups to complete out-of-universe transformations, Skyrim mods have evolved alongside the iconic title. Whether it’s home to more immersive NPCs or becomes a nightmarish version of the Mushroom Kingdom, Tamriel can now practically become anything a player desires.
Despite the immense setlist of Skyrim mods, which averaged at 10,000 back in 2012, not all of them can work in tandem, nor is it smart to gorge on mod downloads. Some of these mods, specifically those altering graphics and world overhauls, can have significant effects on your game performance. Running parallel to that list of modifications is a similarly unending stream of Skyrim modding horror stories, so be extra careful and vigilant when exploring their reach.
The following mods are quintessential for improving upon the vanilla Skyrim experience. Do keep in mind a large portion of them are unavailable on PS4, due to the console’s 1GB limit on external asset imports.
Unofficial Skyrim DLC mods
Hearthstone, Dawnguard, and Dragonborn are three incredible expansions that gave players many more hours’ worth of story and exploration following the main questline. With the advent of full-fledged modded content, however, hours can literally become days. Community-developed DLC expansions, like those mentioned below, invite players to breathtaking new areas underscored by compelling and lore-driven narratives. While not official Bethesda content, they are infused at their core with the heart and soul of die-hard Skyrim fans.
Among many testaments to the power of video game mods, Voyage to the Dreamborne Isles is one avid Skyrim fan’s dream project turned full-fledged experience. It takes the Dragonborn on a tour of Moonshadow, wherein the sudden disappearance of a sage has incited disarray. Complete with powerful new gear, intense archer battles, and the uncovering of a lost civilization, Voyage to the Dreamborne Isles is a unique experience only made possible through the talented creators and dedicated fans among Skyrim‘s modding community.
While some of the most fascinating moments in Skyrim occur when delving deep into the ancient ruins of the Dwemer, their intriguing backstory remains relatively minuscule. The Dwemertech mod seeks to shine a more compelling light on the elven dwarves through the portrayal of their planned return to Nir. Despite lasting only around three hours, Dwemertech is still worth the journey, rewarding players with 14 bionic upgrades, 42 staves, and an assortment of spells upon completion.
Falskaar feels more like a fully developed DLC rather than a community-made mod. It adds over 20 hours of new content to the base game, including 26 new quests, fully voiced NPC characters, and unique spells. Falskaar even has its own original score. If you’re a grizzled Skyrim veteran with multiple completions of the main story and DLC quests, Falskaar is a must-play Skyrim mod.
Where Falskaar resembles a traditional piece of Bethesda DLC, The Forgotten City is more linear and story-driven. Adding roughly eight hours of new gameplay, the now-iconic Skyrim mod follows a murder mystery set in, as the title suggests, a forgotten city. Upon the discovery of an underground Dwemer ruin resplendent with equal parts nightmare and intrigue, the Dragonborn must travel through time to solve the investigation. Mod creator Nick Pearce even earned a national Writer’s Guild Award for the script, while the expansion itself has been acclaimed by gamers and reviewers alike.
Less of a mod and more of a new game built with the same engine and assets from Skyrim, Enderal features close to 100 hours of new content, including an original narrative and voice acting from industry veterans. Diverse new locales, such as the forested Heartland, the tropical Powder Desert, and the frozen Frostcliff Mountains, along with an overhauled skill and talent system, make Enderal a one-stop mod for near-endless post-main-questline content.
Breathtaking as they are intriguing, the jungles of Elsweyr welcome few travelers but for the Khajiit. Their enhanced sight under darkness affords them safe and unobstructed traversal through the Mane into the verdant world beyond. Moonpath to Elsweyr, initially released in 2012, is one of the first major Skyrim mods of its kind. Much like Dwemertech, Elsweyr is a modded quest that examines an interesting race in Skyrim that doesn’t often garner too much attention during the base story of the game.
Performance optimization mods
Like many Bethesda titles, The Elder Scrolls V isn’t without its multitude of bugs and glitches. In an effort to further develop and polish off the experience, an assortment of various modifications have been made that even put the remake to shame. Some are intended to fix those notorious Bethesda bugs, while others offer a more streamlined interface. Most of them were not built to interact with one another and may require the installation of extra files, like the Skyrim Script Extender, or removal of other mods before working properly.
Bethesda is renowned for crafting multilayered open-world sandbox games, wherein player choice reigns supreme and a laundry list of glitchy bugs inundate the experience. The Unofficial Skyrim Patch looks to amend these issues, from invisible quest items to misplaced NPCs. Unless you’re among the few that believe these bugs are part of Skyrim’s charm, you’ll want to download this mod immediately.
The fifth installment of SkyUI features a fully rebuilt interface, giving Skyrim’s in-game menus easier and more convenient navigation schemes. Among other improvements, SkyUI features a redesigned inventory menu, a “favorites” list that’s easier to manage, and a streamlined crafting menu. The mod also uses Skyrim‘s black-and-white design scheme and adds several new tools, helping to instill all-around ease when sorting through various gear and quests.
Skyrim is heralded for the epic adventures and exploration of its vast world, yet the title would still be nothing without the many detailed and gorgeous interiors. Project Optimization is a complex package that boosts frame rate performances when occupying Skyrim’s inner locations. The mod basically makes scenes while inside pop using tweaks on illumination. Although subtle, Project Optimization is subtle yet superb for those seeking a bit more graphical immersion.
Visual and audio enhancement mods
Experience the beauty of Skyrim like never before. These mods will make the in-game world even more wondrous and serene, altering everything from HD textures to more ambient music. The remastered edition included several graphical upgrades to Bethesda’s Creation Engine, specifically improvements on snow and water shaders. Still, the modding community will stop at nothing to make Tamriel’s northernmost province a photorealistic paradise, even at the expense of precious frame rates.
It’s difficult to feel immersed when a menacing stormcloud rolls through Winterhold, consisting of a mere 10 droplets of water and maybe a few measly snowflakes. The Vivid Weathers mod corrects these issues by adding a ton of new weather effects to Skyrim, complete with both visual and aural cues to let you know when a fierce thunderstorm or a blanket of fog is on the horizon. The mod also replaces the game’s default snow and cloud textures, the latter of which makes for some truly spectacular sunsets.
Where most graphics-based mods zig, Surreal Lighting zags. Instead of enhancing textures or reshading drops of water, the mod aims to make Skyrim feel more like a fantasy world than some ancient version of Canada. The mod alters brightness, contrast, and colors in outdoor settings, resulting in gorgeous skyboxes filled with shades of pink and blue. Surreal Lighting isn’t a dramatic add-on by any means, but it helps to add a bit more vibrancy to Tamriel’s often dreary landscapes.
The Immersive HUD mod, often shortened to simply “iHUD,” eliminates the in-game Heads Up Display and reticle for a more immersive Elder Scrolls experience. Not only does it punctuate every moment in photographic realism, but it also makes Skyrim a touch more difficult.
Aptly coined Skyrim HD, the 2K Textures mod envelopes the game in surreal clarity. No gamer needs a history of 3D texturing in video games to understand these tools have come a long way since the 2011 release of The Elder Scrolls V. While the 2016 next-gen remake does offer some improvements to the base experience, like volumetric god rays and dynamic depth of field, new texturing wasn’t one of them. What Skyrim HD basically does is comb over most of the in-game world’s textures, from landscapes to dungeons, and replaces them with HD renders. It comes in two different packages, a Lite and Full version, with the Lite version enhancing texture resolutions at 50% of the Full version.
Players continue to find random oddities and secret spots throughout the map still to this day. Not a single Skyrim player will denounce this insanely detailed open world, but given the myriad of off-the-beaten-path locales that have gone easily missed, its representation in the player menu could do with some improvements. Enter the Quality World Map mod, which rids the player’s map of the foggy cloud effect and adds more accurate, hand-drawn representations of Skyrim’s various footpaths and roads. It even includes a variety of viewing styles akin to the everyday GPS, such as Vivid, Classic, and Paper, the latter of which makes for the most immersive experience.
Making lighting effects crisper and more realistic, True Vision ENB washes Skyrim in a pristine coat of paint. It gives off the impression of a dream world, wherein colors are as close to lifelike as possible. From the open plains at sunrise to the ebon dark caverns below the map, True Vision ENB coats every inch of the map with realism, making it a must-have mod for all Skyrim fans.
While the original music of Skyrim is epic, adding twofold to an already well-equipped story and setting, there are no extra audio-based effects that give locations any diversity. The Sounds of Skyrim mod makes up for that by adding a ton of different effects placed at specific parts of the map, breathing life into the wilds, the dungeons, and cities. The estimated 445 newly added sounds include everything from the occasional barking dog at night to the daytime laughter of children playing in city streets.
Perks, equipment, and combat mods
From available magic capabilities to A.I. swordplay, modders have found every conceivable angle of enhancing Skyrim’s combat mechanics. Additional improvements to the leveling system have also been made, alongside a multitude of weapons and equipment mods.
Many Skyrim fans complain that the game doesn’t balance its various play-styles particularly well. Stealth-focused archers, for example, can grow so powerful that most enemies become mere trivial obstacles, thanks to the overpowered damage bonuses attributed to stealth attacks. Magic-based characters, by contrast, can feel underpowered and boring, due to the severe lack of unique in-game spells. Apocalypse: Magic of Skyrim is an enormous mod that introduces a total of 155 new spells (31 per school) all built to satisfy every magical desire. Teleportation spells? Yep. Volcanic eruptions? Check. Summon chair? You get the idea.
The Ordinator mod completely augments the game’s base perk system with hundreds of points to the existing skill trees to create a deeper, more customizable experience. For example, players with an archery skill of 80 or above can upgrade their arrows at a blacksmithing station to deal elemental damage (in addition to the bow’s enchantment), and players with a light armor skill of 70 or above can activate elemental shockwaves to accompany unarmed attacks. Ordinator does a great job of balancing perk trees that were unbalanced in the base title, making viable some character builds that would be all but useless in vanilla Skyrim.
Skyrim’s assorted A.I. often feel like pushovers even when playing on legendary. When stacked against more modern games, specifically The Forest and its well-designed A.I. mechanics, Skyrim is simply no match, unless the Better Combat AI mod is installed. Players won’t have to worry about tangling with a lone horker or sabre cat anymore, as creatures will have raised confidence and aggressiveness only when in groups. The only downside is this Skyrim mod is only available on PC.
The Warmonger Armory mod is, as the description reads, “made with compatibility in mind.” It includes a multitude of clothes, weapons, and armor all based upon classic Elder Scrolls lore, intended to uproot the base game and DLC with the flavor of years past. Categorized by race, the varied selections of outfits and gear make Skyrim an all-around experience mainly for those Elder Scrolls junkies.
Like most aspects of this nearly decade-old game, kill moves have now become extraordinarily redundant. Before it was the Dance of Death mod, which gave players more control and a better variety of kill moves, yet with VioLens, Skyrim is an entirely new game. The new question: How many rampages does it take to find the most killer animation?
Skyrim has no shortage of weapon variety, yet what it does lack is a particular focus on the inverse of magical staffs, the defense-based stave. The Staves of Skyrim mod captures this potential with all-new staves, models, and textures. There’s also an additional perk on the Block tree that enhances the staff, allowing magic-based characters to use these weapons in a variety of different tactics.
NPC and creature mods
Ditching horses for monster mounts and giving companions actually reliable combat options, the following mods instill the wildlife and social circles of Skyrim with all-new intrigue.
Skyrim‘s dragons always felt a bit half-baked. The first few encounters felt appropriately epic, but the fun soon fades after hours of dragon-slaying. Most of these terrifying creatures appear relatively identical, with the exception of color being an identifying factor only part of the time. The Diverse Dragons Collection amends this issue, accumulating content from several different artists and modders to bring forth a more engaging and varied stable of dragons. In addition to 23 unique dragon models, each of which tuned to seven different difficulty levels, 15 unique breath attacks make up one of Skyrim’s hottest mods.
Not only does the Amazing Follower Tweaks mod give players the option to have multiple followers (up to five at one time), it also broadens the mechanic’s overall functionality in Skyrim. Players can now manage their leveling, combat style, outfits, spells, and even turn their companions into any one of the transformation-based Beasts, whether it be a werewolf or vampire lord. Along with improved A.I. are a ton of options that can be toggled at any time, like invincible followers, horse riding, 1000 weight companion carry weight, and a handy catch-up mechanic that teleports a player’s party to their side with but a simple press of the draw button.
Barring the crazier, more world-rending potential changes, most Skyrim mods are projects initially founded upon the enhancement of the game’s immersion. Though it does as its name implies, the Immersive Creatures mod also injects its own wild sense of imagination and horror. An assortment of new creatures, like the menacing Dreugh pictured above, on top of the updated variations on already-existing wildlife, makes this Skyrim mod a dreadful, yet must-see experience.
Interesting NPCs takes care of the opposite world of Skyrim, improving upon the dialogue options and role-play choices of every random oddball in the game. If the included 250 fully voiced NPCs, 25 followers, and 15 marriage options just weren’t enough, the mod also has over 50 unique quests that will satiate every fan’s desire for more and more Skyrim.
Complete world-overhaul mods
Introducing comic book superheroes and cartoon trains to a fantasy RPG, this final category is most prevalent among the Grand Theft Auto modding communities, wherein an AK-touting Goofy and sun-blotting spacecraft from Star Wars are the everyday. These types of overhaul mods go against the grain, scrapping a more immersive Skyrim experience for near-limitless possibilities, like replacing Frostbite Spiders with Marvel’s Spider-Man, dragons with Thomas the Tank Engine, or the entire in-game world with a Super Mario Bros lookalike. No matter what craziness the mind can come up with, chances are it’s already a Skyrim mod.
Sure, Tamriel’s northernmost province is home to its fair share of princesses and castles, but a true Nintendo fan wouldn’t be satisfied until gold coins were littering the landscape. Thankfully, you’ll only need to install one mod to make these dreams a reality, coined Super Skyrim Bros. While obviously intended for goofs and giggles, the creators of this Skyrim mod went all in and layered it with several Super Mario-themed worlds to explore, each loaded with their own variety of enemies to jump on. It hardly qualifies as Skyrim, but it’s close enough, right?
EA’s Fallen Order, which was recently updated to include an assortment of new modes, may well be the best interactive Star Wars title on modern consoles. However, no padawan ascends the rank without first conquering their Jedi training in Skyrim. This mod uses the best of both franchises, not simply retexturing weapons in the guise of lightsabers but imbuing them into the lore as Magicka Sabers. Their integration into the perk system also allows for improving upon and customizing a player’s own personal ways of the Jedi.
While most Skyrim mods aim to make the game more interesting or immersive, Uncle Sheogorath’s Helpful Hints and Tips is the complete opposite. Picking at the mind of Sheogorath, Skyrim’s Daedric Prince of Madness, this mod seeks to replace all loading screen texts with the Daedra’s thoughts. The excerpts range in ample variety, adapting old ones while adding even more, all of which border on the hilarious and absurd. Punctuating the necessity of this Skyrim mod are blurbs like the example pictured above and those cited below:
“Wood Elves fizz when dipped in lemon juice.”
“The best thing to do with deer is to train them in smithing. You’ll never look back.”
“Reading can take you places. It took me to Riften once! It was awful.”
Who would have ever thought to catch them all and be the best there ever was could extend even into The Elder Scrolls? Clearly, DJSuperGenius, whose Pokémon in Skyrim mod not only alters creatures into the aspect of iconic Pocket Monsters but also transforms the game into the classic handheld experience. It exploded into popularity via a 2013 Kotaku feature penned by industry journalist Brian Ashcraft, who concludes the article by admitting, “This mod looks so bad, it’s good.”
Kid-friendly locomotive Thomas the Tank Engine finds an all-new breadth of wonder through the equal parts hilarious and terrifying Really Useful Dragons mod. Although The Elder Scrolls V might be renowned for its inclusion of fierce and mighty dragons, replacing them with Thomas & Friends characters from The Railyway book series just feels like a more useful portrayal.
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