The best mods for Skyrim Special Edition

Skyrim's Special Edition may not have as many mods as the original—yet—but here's our list of the most essential.

Original Flavor

Looking for mods for the original version of Skyrim? We've selected over 100 of the best mods for improved visuals and optimization, new quests and locations, roleplaying and immersion, creatures and NPCs, and much more. Our list is here.

If you're looking for the best mods for Skyrim Special Edition, look no further. While the Special Edition arrived with improved visuals and some other useful changes, there was something important missing: namely, the 50,000 existing mods for the original Skyrim. These mods couldn't simply be transferred over to the Special Edition by the players, nor could modded saves: modders had to create duplicates of their mods to be used with the SE.

Many modders have been quick to answer the call, making Special Edition versions of their mods available, and we have no doubt that entirely new mods are on the way as well. Many of these mods can be found on Bethesda's site and downloaded while in-game, but the links I'll be posting will all point to the repository at Nexus Mods.

Until SkyUI and the Skyrim Script Extender are updated to support the Special Edition—and the latter may be along soon—a lot of our favorite mods currently don't have full functionality, so we'll be revisiting and updating this list in the future. In the meantime, here's our list of the essential mods available right now for Skyrim Special Edition. Mods added in the latest update of this list have been marked with a ⭐.


Unofficial Skyrim Patch

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Since Bethesda didn't make any fixes to the Skyrim Special Edition—they just improved its graphics—it's still got all of the problems the original game shipped with. That makes this mod more or less critical: it's a compendium of hundreds of fixes for bugs, text, objects, items, quests, and gameplay elements assembled by prolific modder Arthmoor. 

The patch is designed to be as compatible as possible with other mods. If you've got a few hours, you can read through the patch notes.

Opening Scene Overhaul ⭐

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This mod, by elderscrolliangamer, changes and enhances Skyrim's opening sequence by restoring dialogue that Bethesda chose to cut, but which is still present in the game files. With that content restored, you'll learn more about the world you're preparing to inhabit by listening in on additional conversations and seeing full sequences that were snipped before release. Best of all, if you choose to side with the Stormcloaks, you'll actually be able to escape Helgen with Ulfric himself at your side.

Open Cities ⭐

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It's more than a little immersion-breaking in Skyrim to enter a city through a gate and encounter a loading screen. Open Cities, by Arthmoor, aims for more of a Morrowind feel: the cities aren't instances, they're part of the larger world. Stroll right in—or ride in on horseback—without a break in your experience, and these cities will feel more like real places than loaded-in maps.

Phenderix Magic World ⭐

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This impressively robust magic mod adds new locations like The School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the magical town of Manantis, and even a new magical dimension to explore. It also adds hundreds of new spells from all schools of magic, plus lots of magic weapons, over a dozen new followers, and a quest to get you started.

Alternate Start—Live Another Life ⭐

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If you're playing Special Edition, you're starting from scratch whether you're a newcomer to Skyrim or a veteran. Why not start your new game as someone other than the Dragonborn? Alternate Start—again, by Arthmoor—is a roleplaying mod that gives you choices on how you'd like to begin your next playthrough. Are you a patron at in inn, a visitor arriving by boat, a prisoner in a jail cell, or the member of a guild? You can start as a soldier, an outlaw, a hunter, or even a vampire. It's a great way to re-experience Skyrim from a different perspective.

Relationship Dialogue Overhaul ⭐

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This mod by cloudedtruth adds thousands of lines of voiced dialogue for NPCs, directed at making you feel as if you have a closer and more personal relationship with followers and friends. Your spouse, if you have one, will no longer sound like a random follower, but address you in a more personal manner, and those you've angered will have a host of new insults to hurl your way.

Diverse Dragons Collection ⭐

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Despite the Special Edition's visual overhaul, its dragons are still a bit ho-hum. This mod, contributed to by a large collection of modders, adds 28 new and unique dragons with different models and textures, and capable of over a dozen new breath attacks and abilities. The dragons come in different ranks as well, to ensure you have a challenge no matter what your level.

Achievements Mod Enabler

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Just because you're modding doesn't mean you're cheating (necessarily). So why does the SSE disable achievements if you've got mods running? Stick it to 'em by using this plugin from xSHADOWMANx that allows you to earn achievements even while using mods. Note: this mod needs to be manually installed—you can't use the Nexus Mod Manager. Make sure you read the instructions carefully.

Static Mesh Improvements

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While the SSE adds plenty of enhanced visuals, it doesn't do a thing to improve the original game's low-poly meshes. This mod edits hundreds of 3D models placed in thousands of different locations for items like furniture, clutter, architectural elements, and landscape objects to make them look nicer and more realistic.

Total Character Makeover

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Skyrim's NPCs already looked dated when the game was first released, and they certainly haven't aged well. The SSE might improve the looks of the world, but it doesn't touch its citizens, so this mod from Scaria should be on your list. It gives everyone in the game (including your avatar) a facelift with more detailed textures that won't kneecap your framerate, and without making characters look out of place.

True 3D Sound for Headphones

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"This mod enables true 3D sound for Skyrim SE by using a so called HRTF to simulate binaural hearing using normal stereo headphones. You will hear exactly from which direction a sound is coming from." I don't know exactly what that first sentence means, but I understand the second one. Make the SSE more realistic for your ears with this mod from CptYouaredead.

You also might want to check out Immersive Sounds.

Frostfall and Campfire

Download link (Frostfall)
Download link (Campfire)

Looking to turn SSE into a survival experience? Then bundle up and look no further. These mods from Chesko make the frosty world of Skyrim more dangerous yet more immersive and enjoyable with a system that makes you manage your temperature in the cold climate. Hypothermia is an issue, especially if you swim through icy water, so you'll have to dress warmly, and  camping elements include craftable tents, torches, and other gear. There's even a crafting skill system.

Also, check out Wet and Cold, which adds weather-dependent visual effects and sounds.

Cutting Room Floor

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Another big mod from Arthmoor restores loads of content that exists in SSE's data files but wasn't implemented in the game. Numerous locations, NPCs, dialogue, quests, and items have been brought into the light, and the game is richer for it.

The Forgotten City

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Skyrim's got lots of adventure, but here's about 10 hours more courtesy of writer and developer Nick Pearce. Play detective and solve a murder mystery while exploring a massive, ancient city. It's got excellent, award-winning writing, a non-linear story, fantastic voice acting by a large cast, an enjoyable original soundtrack, and even a touch of time travel.

Ars Metallica—Smithing Enhancement

Unless you're playing as a metal-plated tank who swings an enormous two-handed sword around, there's not a lot of use for smithing. Archers, thieves, and other stealthy characters have no issues finding light armor on their adventures, so there's never been much reason to make it themselves. This mod by Arthmoor gives slippery sorts reasons to learn smithing, by letting them forge arrows, lockpicks, and guild-specific armor, as well as melt down bulkier armor they'd never actually wear into ingots.

Nexus Mod Manager

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For downloading, installing, and managing these mods and others, we recommend the Nexus Mod Manager. It's an extremely useful utility, and it works with a number of other games like Fallout 3 and 4, The Witcher series, the Darks Souls games, XCOM 2, and lots more.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The first PC game Chris owned was Choplifter in 1982, and since then our staff writer has played at least three other games. He has a love/hate relationship with Early Access survival games and an odd fascination with the lives of NPCs.
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