Ludicrous Skyrim mod gives dragons 16K textures

A 16K dragon in Skyrim.
(Image credit: Bellyache / Bethesda)

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is over a decade old, but remains by a distance the most popular title on mod database NexusMods. The fact it's been out so long also means that most of the things you could think of doing with it have already happened, and so you get some slightly unusual stuff in these twilight years. My eyebrows raised a little when I saw tens of thousands of people downloading a mod to upgrade its cage models to 4K.

4K? Lol, says the group of modders behind one of Skyrim's latest mods, and lmao. Creators wrig675, XilaMonstrr and I2edShift are behind the snappily named 'Bellyaches 16K-8K Dragon Replacer Pack', which retextures all dragons in vanilla Skyrim, "now cleaned of compression artifacts and upscaled to a maximum of 8K resolution. Original textures were BC3 compression and a ix of 1K, 2K and 4K resolution. Now they're in 4K, 8K and 16K resolution, with BC3 compression and full mipmaps."

Now, this might seem like a tiny bit of overkill. 4K may be more widely adopted now, but plenty of folk still play in 1080p, and who plays in 16K? The mod team behind these 16K dragons, however, have their reasons.

"All resolutions specified are the maximum resolution, and most of the texture files are twice as long as they are wide. So the 16K version has files that are 8192x16384. Dragons are VERY large, and I would recommend that you think of this as two 8K files next to each other rather than full 8K.

"With 16K, a dragon wing is 7380x4020px, a head is 3320x2480px, and the entire rear body and legs is only 6080x4580px. If you are fighting a dragon up close and want to see it in 4K resolution, then you need the dragon to be in 16K."

So there you go: As the Dragonborn gets up in a dragon's armpit (wingpit?) and shoves a sword into the scales, you will be able to see that thing's carapace in incredible detail. The point about why you might want 16K is a good one, even if this is all a bit daft, because as the modders point out the 'standard' texture is the same size as one for a suit of armour.

Interestingly enough, the modders have been in communication with Jonah Lobe, the artist who originally designed the dragon textures, that the original assets were in 4K with much better meshes, but were downgraded several times for performance issues associated with the console versions.

The more I looked into this mod the more I came to like it. The modders' description reads more like a call-to-arms at points, and there's something undeniably PC about a gamer getting so annoyed with crappy dragon textures that they decide to make them super high resolution themselves.

"In all my time playing around with dragons I noticed a lot of minor nit-pick issues with the models & textures. Horns had mismatched colors, the eye textures were atrocious, everything looked too washed out, the details were blurry, there were seam issues all over the place, the translucent files were terribly small, and there is some strange "grease-like" effect applied to several of the meshes."

Some more of the changes this mod makes:

  • Coloring looks more natural and less desaturated than before. Many horns/spines were poorly colored or completely the wrong color.
  • Fixed/Reduced as many bad texture & mesh seams as possible.
  • Removed or significantly reduced the 'Grease-like' look on some dragon models, which exacerbated seam issues.
  • Odahviing's gotten a facelift. He was completely missing an eye texture, coloring was terrible (he was pink), and corrected several seams.
  • Blood Dragon was just plain ugly. Fixed the Alpha-channel, gave it eyes that don't look like a frog, and introduced some yellow coloring in the wings and membranes for added contrast & detail.
  • Alduin is slightly darker and completely grey-scale, enhancing his stylized theme that is inspired from volcanic rock & glass.
  • Completely new eye texture for most dragon types.
  • The Ancient Dragon never had a high-resolution texture, it does now.
  • Increased resolution of the translucent file for the various dragon wings, creating exponentially higher detail within the wing membranes.
  • Changed the color of the mouth/gums from purple to a more traditional pink, filled in some ugly holes where teeth apparently used to be.
  • We tried to fix up the Revered, Serpentine, and Legendary Dragons from DLC's... But they're bad, even after the final HD DLC update, it didn't help very much.

One thing I know for sure is that, if I installed this, my PC would keel over and die. But I'm glad it exists and maybe, when I have an RTX 12090 in a decade or two, I'll take a look at the 16K dragon scales.

You can grab the 16K dragons mod here (thanks, IGN). If you're looking for a tonne more Skyrim mod recommendations, here are our round-ups of the best:

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."