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The best Skyrim Special Edition mods

One of the best Skyrim Special Edition mods - Vilja
(Image credit: Emma)

Several years into its life, the best Skyrim Special Edition mods have caught up to the best in Oldrim modding. Many of our favorites from the original have been ported across, so you may recognize some of those on this list. But there are plenty of new mods as well—nearly a decade into its life, Skyrim and this better-performing Special Edition are still fertile ground for new creations. Boot up your mod manager of choice, because Skyrim modding hasn't slowed down in 2021.

Oldrim Modding

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. These are the best Skyrim mods.

Skyrim Script Extender wasn't compatible with Skyrim: Special Edition at launch, but has been for a while now (it'll be labelled "Current SE build" at that link). Once it's installed, go into Skyrim Special Edition's properties in Steam and set it to "Only update this game when I launch it" and launch Skyrim with skse64_loader.exe,  as otherwise every update to the creation club will break the Script Extender and you'll have to download a new version.

Thanks to the Script Extender, essentials like SkyUI are now available in this slightly prettier (it does have nicer shadows), and more stable (you can alt-tab as much as you like, and weigh it down with more mods) version of Skyrim. To be fair, there were other changes as well

Some of the following Skyrim Special Edition mods can be found on Bethesda's site, but the links we'll post all point to our go-to, NexusMods.

Mods added in recent updates of this list have been marked with a ⭐. And if you're looking to have even more fun in Skyrim, check out our list of Skyrim console commands.

The best Skyrim Special Edition mods

Mod managing

It's easy to get carried away modding Skyrim Special Edition very quickly. To help you keep track of all your various additions, be sure to use a mod manager of some sort. Here are the ones we suggest you try out.

Vortex 

For downloading, installing, and managing these Skyrim Special Edition mods and others, we recommend Vortex. It's an extremely useful utility, and it works with a number of other games like the Fallout series, the Witcher series, Darks Souls, XCOM 2, and lots more.

Mod Organizer 2

As an alternative to Vortex, Mod Organizer 2 is meant for modders who plan to do a lot of experimenting with installing and uninstalling various mods. It handles a bunch of Bethesda games, so you can use it to manage things other than just Skyrim SE if you'd like.

Patches, UI, and cheats

We all know the reputation Bethesda's games have. Plenty of fans have taken it upon themselves to fix bugs, optimize systems, and make user interface more to their liking. 

SkyUI

The heavens parted, golden saints sang, and SkyUI was finally supported by Skyrim Special Edition. This interface replacer makes Skyrim feel like it was designed for mouse controls, and lets you filter and sort inventory based on weight, value, damage and the like. Also adds an in-game mod configuration menu several other mods rely on.

Better MessageBox Controls

Increases the clickable areas of menu items so they're the actual width of the item rather than just an absurd little square in the middle of it. You have no idea how much better this tiny quality-of-life tweak makes things. It also improves the keyboard controls in a few ways. For instance, tab will always take you back a stage and enter will let you select an option even when you're crafting and would normally have to mouse back over it.

A Quality World Map 

Skyrim's map is functional but boring. A Quality World Map offers multiple ways to fix it. It can replace the map with a much more detailed world texture, with colors that help delineate the separate areas much more obviously, but there's also an option to have a paper map, with a more Oblivion look, if that's your thing. 

Achievements Mod Enabler

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 lets you earn achievements even while using mods.

Project Proteus

(Image credit: phenderix)

While you could switch to another savegame to play your Khajiit archer for a while, Project Proteus lets you import your characters into an existing world state—meaning you can switch to a character with their own items, skills, and spells, but keep your current quest progression. NPCs who have died remain dead, items left in storage can be retrieved, and so on. It also lets you edit NPCs and items, even the weather. Some of what Project Proteus makes possible is already doable with Skyrim's console commands and existing mods, but this brings it all together in a single pop-up menu. 

Racemenu

An improved character creation menu, with numeric displays for all sliders, and the ability to choose any color for your hair, skin, or other tints rather than being limited based on race. There's a sculpt mode if you want to get right into messing with the geometry of your head, and you can turn the light illuminating your face on and off to see how your features will look in different situations, which is a blessing

Unofficial Skyrim Patch

This mod is 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.

Binaural 3D Surround Sound for Headphones - HRTF

"HRTF (Head Related Transfer Functions) refers to the way that the curvature of one's ears are used to localize sound in 3D space." I don't know exactly what that first sentence means, but I understand the second one. Make SSE more realistic for your ears with this mod, though note it only works if you play exclusively in first-person. You may also want to check out Immersive Sounds for a huge overhaul of Skyrim's sound effects.

Quests and Locations

Skyrim may be a huge place, but modders are always finding ways to make it bigger. We've collected some really impressive location overhauls to expand your Skyrim experience along with some huge quest mods to take you on new adventures.

The Forgotten City

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. Here's our write-up of the Forgotten City Skyrim mod. It's also been adapted into a standalone game set in ancient Rome.

Legacy of the Dragonborn 

Adds a gallery you can fill with unique items, a museum to your achievements that is also a library, a storage facility, a questline of its own, and a place to learn archaeology complete with its own perks. While there is a version of Legacy of the Dragonborn for Oldrim, the v5 update specifically for Special Edition remaps the building to make it larger and more like a real museum.

Enderal: Forgotten Stories (Special Edition)

(Image credit: Bethesda, modded by SureAI)

This total conversion creates an entirely new world, very nearly the size of Skyrim itself, and populates it with new dungeons, quests, monsters, and fully voiced NPCs. Some of Skyrim's systems have also been tweaked, there's a new custom story to enjoy, and a good 50+ hours of new adventures to be hard. You can read about the opening hours of Enderal here

Vigilant SE

Vigilant is a four-part quest mod that adds some Dark Souls flair to Tamriel. After getting stuck in Oblivion, you'll face off against otherworldly monsters and big, Souls-style bosses while exploring areas filled with special items and keys. Beyond that, the 'Anvil of Zenithar' allows players to craft their own wares after finishing objectives, besting bosses and reaching new areas. Vigilant Voiced adds voice-acting.

You can also snag the same modder's Bloodborne-themed adventure called Glenmoril.

Moonpath to Elsweyr

Moonpath to Elsweyr was one of the first quest mods for Oldrim back in the day. It's made its way to SSE now with its two new regions and custom quests. In Jody's Moonpath spotlight he talks to its original creator.

Helgen Reborn

(Image credit: Mike Hancho)

Who's going to rebuild Helgen after it got toasted by a dragon at the beginning of the game? You are, of course. It's a huge, fully voiced quest mod where you'll restore the town, choose a faction, and fight in the new arena. Chris wrote about Helgen Reborn years ago for Oldrim, so we're psyched to replay it in SSE.

Cutting Room Floor

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 back into the light, and Skyrim is richer for it.

JK's Skyrim

Skyrim Special Edition mod - JK's Windhelm

(Image credit: Bethesda, modded by Jkrojmal and Teabag86)

This big construction overhaul mod redesigns all of Skyrim's major cities and some settlements as well. Every city has been reimagined to more distinctly fit its own theme with new buildings and vendors. It doubles as an immersion mod as well, with local banners and guards changing allegiance as Skyrim's civil war develops.

The Asteria Dwemer Airship

There are player home mods to suit all tastes, but the Asteria is a particularly nice one—a flying ship with all mod cons, by which I mean storage space and crafting tables. It's permanently docked, however, and can't be moved around, though it does have a teleporter for a more immersive alternative to fast-travel. If you want a flyable skyship, try the Dev Aveza.

Visual mods

Even with Skyrim Special Edition, there's still plenty of room to make Tamriel prettier. Modders have updated how characters look and added higher resolution textures, among other things, to put a new shine on the game.

Climates of Tamriel

(Image credit: JJC71)

Climates of Tamriel is a huge overhaul adding new weather types, new lighting, and clouds. It can make night-time darker as well for a more immersive adventuring experience. There's even a winter version that covers even more of Skyrim in snow.

Realistic Water Two

(Image credit: Isoku)

Realistic Water Two, drawing and expanding on the work of some earlier water mods, adds better ripples, larger splashes, re-textured foam and faster water flow in streams, bobbing chunks of ice, and even murky, stagnant-looking water in dungeons. For all your extremely realistic screenshot-taking needs.

Total Character Makeover

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, without making characters look out of place.

Vanilla Hair Replacer

(Image credit: Bethesda, modded by preeum)

We can all agree Bethesda's RPGs aren't often stunners in the hair department. So many hair mods get carried away turning characters into models, though. Vanilla Hair Replacer aims for more lore-friendly changes for Skyrim's default hair choices so NPCs look a less scraggly but still like they hail from Skyrim. Be sure to check the "recommended mods" section of the page to get your characters looking exactly like the ones in the screenshots.

Static Mesh Improvements

While Skyrim Special Edition 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.

Glorious Doors of Skyrim

(Image credit: Bethesda, modded by Hype1)

Hear me out. Aside from NPC's faces, what are you going to have your nose up against in Skyrim most often? Well yeah, enemies, but also doors! Modder "Hype1" has created lots of new door meshes with glorious 4k textures so you'll never be stuck picking the lock on a low-res door again. While you're at it, Book Covers is a mod that will make books as beautiful as they deserve to be.

Companions and Creatures

Skyrim is an even more beautiful place thanks to the visual mods and new locations on this list, but you'll want to populate it with interesting people too. These mods add some of our favorite companion characters, and some cool creatures for them to fight too.

Shirley

(Image credit: Modder The Circantolius)

This companion mod is a particularly sweet one, based on popular octogenarian YouTuber Shirley Curry, otherwise known as the "Skyrim Grandma". Created by fans and voiced by Curry herself, the Shirley companion shares Curry's likeness. Tamriel's Shirley has her own lore-appropriate backstory too. After you've completed her recruitment quest, Shirley will join you, fighting alongside you as a barbarian warrior—Curry's preferred combat style. Curry has already started playing with the mod herself, which you can catch the beginning of in her new video series

Inigo

(Image credit: Bethesda, modded by Smartbluecat)

Maybe you don't think a blue Khajiit who follows you around commenting on everything and being sarcastic about Lydia is what Skyrim needs, but trust us on this. Inigo has tons of dialogue, some tied to his own questline and more that crops up at appropriate times depending on the location you're at. He can be told where to go and what to do by whistling, and will follow you even if you've got an existing companion, chatting away with them thanks to skilfully repurposed voice lines.

Vilja in Skyrim

(Image credit: Emma Amgepo Lycanthrops)

A sequel to a much-loved Oblivion mod (which Terry Pratchett contributed to), Vilja in Skyrim adds the great-granddaughter of the original Vilja as a follower. She's an alchemist with her own questline to follow and a unique system to give her orders—essentially spells bound to hotkeys that can be used to co-ordinate attacks. Like Inigo she doesn't count toward your follower limit, and if introduced to each other Inigo and Vilja will even chat among themselves. 

Yennefer of Vengerberg

(Image credit: Modded by Levionte | Image by IINoshikuII )

Will we ever tire of crossovers between our favorite big RPGs? No, we definitely will not. This follower mod adds a custom-made Yennefer that re-purposes her lines of dialogue from The Witcher 3. She dual wields magic, of course. Sadly, she isn't eligible for marriage. The same modder has also made a Ciri follower mod and contributed to mods for Geralt and Triss followers all based on their Wild Hunt selves.

Amazing Follower Tweaks

This extremely popular mod for Oldrim is one you'll want to grab the Special Edition version of too. It lets you micromanage a lot of details about your companions like their gear, how to fight, and which of your many houses to live in.

Convenient Horses

(Image credit: Modded by Alek | Image by DokQZ)

This mod makes having a horse much less of a headache. You can have conversations from horseback. You can loot and gather herbs while mounted. Your followers can even buy and ride their own horses instead of sprinting helplessly behind you. 

Diverse Dragons Collection

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.

Strigoi - Enhanced Vampire Encounters

(Image credit: Tx12001)

With Strigoi installed, whenever vampires spawn there's a chance to meet some of its new varieties of bloodsucker. These powered-up undead might turn into bats, throw you around, or just generally be a lot tougher than regular vampires.

Insects Begone

(Image credit: Chesko)

Why is it always spiders in RPGs? Well, it doesn't have to be. Insects Begone replaces all the spiders and chaurus insects with bears and skeevers instead. It also removes decorative spiderwebs and other spider-related decor. If you can't deal with all the giant spiders plaguing Skyrim, this mod will squash them.

Magic, combat, and skills

If being the Dragonborn isn't enough, these mods give you new abilities to tinker with. Some are mundane skills like additional crafting abilities, others are new shouts and spells to play with.

Arcanum: A New Age of Magic

Skyrim: Special Edition mod - Arcanum

(Image credit: Kosorsomesaykosm)

Arcanum is a huge addition to Skyrim's magic system. It lets you summon tornados and meteors among many other feats. It doesn't just throw all these new skills at you as soon as it's installed, though. Arcanum is great for starting a new playthrough of Skyrim with because unlocking spells is a more lore-friendly journey of custom quests, crafting, and adventuring. 

Combat Gameplay Overhaul

CGO strikes a great balance for those wanting a bit more out of Skyrim's combat without turning it into too much of a fast-paced action game. It adds the ability to dodge roll, which surprisingly looks pretty decent in first-person. There's also the ability to switch between one- and two-handed grips to change how attacks land. Oh, and you can attack in midair, along with lots of other smaller tweaks.

Modder "DServant" also created the Archery Gameplay Overhaul which takes a similarly even-handed approach to improving bow use.

Wildcat - Combat of Skyrim

Wildcat is a much heavier combat overhaul, and an extremely popular one. It makes combat more deadly with increased damage and stamina use, but that's not all. It also adds an injury system where taking enough damage has a chance to give you a serious injury that could knock you down, unequip your weapon, or give you other dangerous effects. It rewards you for properly timed blocks and for attacks of opportunity while enemies are performing other actions too. 

Sneak Tools SE

(Image credit: Haytur)

For the Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood members among us, Sneak Tools adds extra functionality to being good at hiding. Instead of just a damage bonus, you can kill NPCs from behind with daggers, knock them out with fists, and assassinate them while they're sleeping. You can douse torches and arrows to better sneak through the shadows and use a bunch of new arrow types with sneaky benefits.

Ars Metallica - Smithing Enhancement

When you're not playing a metal-plated tank, there's less 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.

Roleplaying, survival, and immersion

Roleplaying and immersion mods are all aimed at making Skyrim Special Edition feel just a bit more real. 

No NPC Greetings - Reduced Range Greetings

Sick of NPCs repeating the same catchphrase from across the street every time they see you? Sick of guards commenting on your best skills, which they somehow know all about just by looking at you—even Sneak? This mod has a few options for fixing the issue, whether you want to reduce the distance these barks trigger at, or get rid of them altogether.

Simply Knock SE

(Image credit: Chesko)

Sometimes you don't want to break into someone's home and have the local guard after you. Instead of lockpicking, this mod gives you the option to just, you know, knock on the door. If someone is home they might answer, giving you the option to earn entry with your speech abilities. If they don't answer, then get your lockpicks out.

Skyrim Fishing SE

(Image credit: RichWebster)

Hear us out, fishing in Skyrim is good. It's a great addition for survival playthroughs. No more fishing with your hands—there are fishing poles, nets, bait, and even Dwarven "explosive" fishing. You can even catch some junk to sell.

Alternate Start - Live Another Life

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 a member of a guild? You can start as a soldier, an outlaw, a hunter, even a vampire. It's a great way to re-experience Skyrim from a different perspective, and skip the tutorial while you're at it.

Open Cities

It's a little immersion-breaking to enter a city through a gate and encounter a loading screen. Open Cities 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.

Opening Scene Overhaul

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.

Relationship Dialogue Overhaul

This mod by cloudedtruth adds thousands of lines of voiced dialogue for NPCs to make you feel like you have a closer and more personal relationship with followers and friends. Your spouse 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.

Frostfall and Campfire

Skyrim Console Commands

Skyrim Mod: Santa

(Image credit: Bethesda)

There's no need to play Skyrim as a humble warrior. Become a giant, fly, walk through walls, spawn any item you want, and even become Santa Claus with Skyrim console commands, and give yourself every item in the game with Skyrim item codes.

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 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.

Positive Undressed Reactions

What could possibly be more immersive than walking around in your underclothes and being lavished with compliments by strangers? OK, maybe it's not that immersive but it is a fun one. On top of that, this mod also uses a very cool new AI-based voice synthesis tool called SKVA Synth to create some of its voice lines.