The 50 best Skyrim mods
Skyrim mods are amazing. It’s been three years since Bethesda's huge wintry RPG was released. Three years that I’ve been browsing, downloading and curating the best Skryim mods here at PC Gamer. I’ve downloaded hundreds of different mods, trying them in new and varied combinations that make my game unrecognisable from the one Bethesda launched. Over the year since my last update I’ve seen new mods released and old ones become obsolete. I’ve fallen out of love with some of my old favourites and discovered hidden gems. Three years! Three years this game has been out, and I’m still discovering new and cool mods every week.
The perfect mod list is a tricky business. There’s no way to appeal equally to those who enjoy dressing like an anime character and those who like gritty realism. What I’ve tried to do is assemble something that largely sticks to the tone and setting of vanilla Skyrim, while improving and expanding it any way I can. I don’t use all fifty of these mods myself (I’m not really into survival for example, so I don’t use Frostfall) but the vast majority of them are part of my current install. Where there are a couple of competing mods I’ve tried to offer you the choice and explain the pros and cons of each one.
So let’s get modding!
First things first, I do not recommend using the Steam Workshop. I had high hopes for it back in 2011, but it hasn’t worked out. Valve’s hard limit on file size has forced many of the biggest and most important mods away from the Workshop, and the inbuilt mod organiser is nowhere near as good as the fan made ones.
Instead you’re going to want to use Skyrim Nexus. To do that you’ll need to download either Nexus Mod Manager or Mod Organiser. Nexus Mod Manager is slightly easier to use, but gives you less control over your mods and can be tricky if you have multiple clashing mods affecting the same files. Mod Organiser handles this much better. If you’re only downloading a handful of mods, go for NMM, but if you’re downloading a lot it's worth learning to use MO.
You’ll also be wanting Skyrim Script Extender (SKSE). This is a utility that is required for some of the more complex mods to work. Not every mod on this list requires it, but many do, including the essential SkyUI, so you’re best of just installing it up front. Drop it into your Skyrim folder, and be sure to launch the game from the SKSE launcher instead of the usual Skyrim Launcher (you can do this from inside both NMM and Mod Organiser).
If you’re installing a bunch of mods, you’ll also want to look into LOOT (the replacement for BOSS, I love acronyms). Which helps sort your mods into a sensible order. You can do this from within Mod Organiser.
Now, onto the list! I’ve broken them down into categories for you.
Lighting and Weather - Dramatic thunderstorms, cool skyboxes and stunning shinies.
Fixes, Optimisation and UI - A grab bag of small but useful improvements.
New followers - New followers and improved follower behaviour.
Smarter NPCs - Anything that improves or changes NPC behaviour.
Textures and Meshes - Shinier armour, nicer water, lush trees and rounder apples.
Monsters - Anything that adds to or alters the nasty beasties that want Dovakin dead.
New Equipment - New armour, new weapons and some fancy accessories.
Quests and new lands - Two new islands and a whole bunch of new quests and areas.
More magic - Cosmic power!
New animations and combat mods - More elegant facestabs.
If you’re interested in expanding your mod collection beyond this list, here are some useful resources:
Skyrim Nexus – The Nexus top downloads list is a little outdated, but useful. Their monthly hot files can uncover some gems, but include some very NOT SAFE FOR WORK material. Schlongs of Skyrim was on the front page once. You’ve been warned.
S.T.E.P—stands for Skyrim Total Enhancement Project. This exhaustive wiki includes some very useful technical tips, and links to lots of small useful bugfixes and such I didn’t include here. It’s heavily slanted towards enhancing vanilla Skyrim, with an eye toward realism.
Skyrim G.E.M.S.—stands for Skyrim Gameplay Enhancement Mods for Skyrim (yes they said Skyrim twice). This resource is more about expanding Skyrim by adding cool new stuff than enhancing vanilla. It’s a good place to start looking for interesting extras.