The 50 best Skyrim mods
28th Oct 2012 | 17:00
Skyrim mods are amazing. For a year and a half the community has been beavering away at every aspect of Bethesda's grand RPG, tinkering with the combat, improving the UI, adding new monsters, quests, followers NPCs and new places to explore. Skyrim was hardly an ugly or short game to begin with, but a few carefully chosen high resolution texture packs, post-processing wrappers and content mods make Skyrim a beautiful and endless adventure.
There are thousands of mods out there, which can make choosing them can be a little daunting. We're here to help. Below you'll find 50 of the very finest mods for you to enjoy, divided into categories so you can skip straight to the updates you want. Happy modding!
To help keep track of all the mods you're installing, I'd heartily recommend the Nexus Mod Manager. It's worth casting an eye over the Steam/Nexus descriptions, as some mods will require the Skyrim Script Extender to work.
For more tweaking, you’ll also want to check our personalised picks of the Steam Workshop. Or maybe you’d like to create your own mod. Thanks to the Skyrim Creation Kit it’s a lot easier than you think. Our Skyrim Creation Kit Video Tutorial is all you need to get started. Want to know what Skyrim looks like when you install 200 mods at random? Find out in our eye-opening, eye-bleaching diary: Skyrim: Week of Madness. For more Skyrim adventures Chris Livingston’s Elder Strolls diary will see you right.
Here's your table of contents:
Lighting and Weather - Get your sunbeams, thunderstorms and post processing here.
Fixes, Optimisation and UI - Anything that makes Skyrim run better and crash less.
Improved Combat and Useful Tweaks - Better fighting, better followers, better horse riding.
Textures and Meshes - Prettier landscapes, objects and equipment.
NPCs - Anything that adds to or alters the residents of Skyrim.
Monsters - Anything that adds to or alters the nasty beasties that want Dovakin dead.
New Equipment - New armour, new weapons and some fancy accessories.
Player Homes - Castles, mansions, airships and caravans. Wherever you hang your helm, that's home.
Quests and New Lands - Visit Elsweyr, Falskaar, the plane of dreams and er... Helgen again.
Lore Unfriendly - Mods of dubious canonicity and/or sanity.
Head to the next page to explore the best lighting and weather mods!
Lighting and Weather
The ENBSeries mods are famous for adding improved post processing and lighting effects to make games like GTA4 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution look amazing. The Skyrim version is one of the best. Not only has ENB creator Boris Vorontsov done his usual fantastic work, but various other modders have tweaked and adjusted the program to come up with their own presets. There are many different kinds of ENB available, from Boris’ own colourful version to more muted and realistic tones. Personally I heartily recommend Seasons of Skyrim and Project ENB.
Climates of Tamriel
Climates of Tamriel is a massive overhaul of Skyrim’s weather systems. Rain and snow, thunder and lighting, sunshine and clouds, all are improved immeasurably with CoT installed. Highlights include some lovely skyboxes, seriously punishing thunderstorms and an optional ‘Winter Edition’ that blankets the whole world in snow. For added drama I recommend installing Minty’s Lightning Add On, which gives CoT’s storms real lightning strikes that hit with the force of a thunderbolt spell. Because the only thing more awesome than watching a dragon fighting a giant is seeing them both struck by lightning.
Realistic Lighting Overhaul
Realistic Lighting Overhaul is one of the simplest and least processor-intensive ways to maximise your Skyrim's looks. Instead of using any fancy post processing effects the mod adjusts and repositions all the light sources in Skyrim. All of them. It must've taken ages. The result of this ambitious bit of digital cinematography is the entire game boasts prettier, more natural lighting. Shadows flicker and sway against the wall and windows grow steadily darker as nighttime approaches. It's beautiful and authentic.
Some people just aren't happy unless a game tries to murder them at every possible opportunity, and for those people the chance to freeze to death in Skyrim must be mana from heaven. Frostfall is a sophisticated hypothermia simulator, forcing you to wrap up warm if you venture into Skyrim’s frozen north. The amount of detail is amazing, every piece of clothing, including some from other mods, has a different level of warmth. Even the rising steam from a dwemer pipe can keep you alive. Just don’t go swimming in Winterhold, it’s a death sentence.
Wet and Cold
The Dovakin might have to wrap up warm when the snow starts falling, but the citizens of Skyrim seem happy to amble about wearing next to nothing even in a raging blizzard. With Wet and Cold installed NPCs will put on hoods and cloaks whenever the weather turns bad, shielding themselves from the snow that now settles realistically on their clothes. Appropriate equipment from other mods is incorporated, including gear from Frostfall and Immersive Armours. There’s also a Dragonborn version, which makes Morrowind’s residents equip face scarves and goggles during ash storms.
Fixes, Optimisation and UI
If you ask any seasoned Skyrim player what the game's greatest flaw is you’ll hear one answer above all others: The Menu screens. Skyrim’s UI is slow, inelegant and quite frankly a pain in the arse to use. Which is why Sky UI has been top of our mods list ever since it came out. Sky UI not only fixes the problem’s with Bethesda’s interface, it improves it immeasurably. Simple icons let you know if an item is poisoned or stolen. The inventory can be sorted by value and weight or searched by text. Finally and most importantly it boasts a Mod Configuration Menu, letting you tweak and adjust any compatible mod (including several on this list) from inside the game.
Unofficial Skyrim Patches
This mod does exactly what you’d expect it to do. Modders realised they could patch the game faster than Bethesda, so they banded together to fix whatever bugs they could. The mod is being constantly updated, fixing new bugs as they emerge and updating the patch whenever Bethesda themselves release an official fix. There’s also a variety of subtle tweaks, like making sure Brand Shei (above) eventually gets out of prison after you frame him to join the Thieves Guild, so you aren’t robbed of his services forever. There's one for every piece of official DLC, including the official High Resolution textures.
Skyrim Project Optimisation
Originally a part of Realistic Lighting Overhaul, Project Optimisation improves Skyrim performance by occlusion culling: which means not rendering things you can’t see. If you use a lot of serious lighting mods, like ENB and Realistic Lighting, then Project Optimisation can save you several frames a second. If you’re installing anything from the Weather and Lighting section of this guide I heartily recommend it.
Categorised Favourites Menu
Skyrim’s favourites menu is a neat idea, but it’s painfully obvious it was made with console controls in mind. This mod expands it from the corner of the screen and groups it into categories, letting you make full use of your mouse instead of scrolling endlessly. It’s also fully customisable, so you can edit the config files to emphasise whatever areas of the game you specialise in, be it magic, potions, or stabbing people in the face.
Better Dialogue Controls and Better Messagebox Controls
It seems like a small thing, but Skyrim’s dialogue and message controls are very strange. Often when you go to select a dialogue option you’ll accidentally say something completely different by mistake. These two mods help fix this and make sure you’ll always select the option you want. It’s a tiny change, but one that will save you hours of frustration.
Improved Combat and Useful Tweaks
Magic Duel Reborn
Melee fighters in Skyrim can block, parry, shield bash and counter, but mages are limited to mostly spraying each other with destruction spells until one of them falls over. Magic Duel aims to fix that. When you and another mage fire spells at each other, there is a chance you’ll be locked into a duel, putting the world around you into slow motion as you try and push back your opponent with your magic death beam. It’s essentially the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire turned into a minigame, and serves to really spice up mage on mage combat.
Amazing Follower Tweaks
There are several follower overhauls vying for your attention in Skyrim, but Amazing Follower Tweaks is the most up to date and comprehensive. With it installed you’ll find yourself able to manage followers’ gear and spells, read their stats, level them up and change their fighting style, depending how in depth you want to go. It even has its own mounted follower system, although I recommend using Convenient Horses for that aspect instead.
The Dance of Death
Like Skyrim’s bloody bashy kill move system? Then you want The Dance of Death. Bethesda left several unassigned kill moves lurking in Skyrim’s code when the game was released, including some very cool shield bash kills. The Dance of Death re-enables these moves and lets offers them to you as a reward for combat perks. It also includes a full menu that lets you control the rate of kill moves. You can even set everything to 100% if you fancy blowing off some steam by instantly decapitating everyone you meet.
There are an awful lot of horse mods for Skyrim, but this is the best. Once installed you can adjust your horse’s speed, summon your it from a distance, gather ingredients while riding, have mounted conversations and quickly dismount in combat. More importantly it’s also the best mod for getting your followers to ride with you, especially for Serana, who gains a burning undead demon horse that freaks me the hell out every single time she uses it.
Duel - Combat Realism
Duel is a testament to how a well thought out series of small tweaks can change a game drastically. By making a series of individually minor adjustments to damage ratios, stamina expenditure and enemy AI, modder LogRaam has managed to make Skyrim's combat keep its deadly feel, even up into the highest levels. The brutal damage encourages you to block and dodge, but doing so will cost you precious stamina, not something you can easily afford. Being unable to charge in recklessly or defend indefinitely means that fights become a series of quick fire parries and ripostes, each combatant cautiously waiting for a potential opening before exploding into a limb severing frenzy.
Textures and Meshes
aMidianBorn Book of Silence
Cabal is one of the best texture artists in the Skyrim community, and the unusually named Book of Silence is his most ambitious work. It's an ongoing attempt to retexture all the armour and weapons in Skyrim, no less. Right now he's finished all the major armours except for dragonbone and dragonscale, and he’s starting work on the weapons and faction armours. All of his retextures so far look great, but my favourite has to be the Thalmor style black and gold Elven armour, pictured above.
Skyrim Flora Overhaul
Skyrim has always had pretty foliage, but Skyrim Flora Overhaul makes things even better. Vurt has been obsessively upgrading Skyrim's flora since release, and that dedication has really paid off. The trees are more luxurious, the grass is longer and the flowers are prettier. Beware though, it can be rather processor intensive. Those of you playing on low spec PCs may want to grab the ‘basic’ version, or skip it altogether.
The splendidly acronymed Water And Terrain Enhancement Redux does exactly what you’d expect from a mod called W.A.T.E.R. in which the W also stands for water. Once installed rivers flow more realistically, waterfalls spray and bubble and ocean waves crash against the shore. Waterside terrain is also improved, with wetter, more slippery rocks, underwater plants and other goodies. Install it, then try and resist the urge to drown yourself just to get a better look.
S.M.I.M. is a mod about the little things. Little things like potatoes, benches, plates and barrels. When Bethesda created Skyrim they created a truly enormous world, but they understandably had to skimp on some of the fine detail. As a result a lot of the minor clutter objects in Skyrim are a little blocky and rough. Thankfully in the last two years modders have had time to try and fix some of those flaws. S.M.I.M. replaces the meshes and textures for these objects, smoothing them out, upping the resolution and helping them to fit into the world.
HD Enhanced Terrain
After you’ve installed a few visual improvements in Skyrim the gulf in detail between nearby and distant landscapes can become jarring. Thankfully the HD Enhanced Terrain mod can solve those problems. It upgrades the long distance textures to much larger and more detailed versions, and ups the noise level. The result is that distant plains actually look like grass, rather than smooth slabs of painted-on green.
Interesting NPCs adds over 140 new NPCs to Skyrim, 130 of them with full voice acting. Some of them are regular citizens with a few simple dialogue trees while others are fully fledged followers with deep characters and personal questlines. Amazingly, most of the voice acting is actually good, unlike the majority of Skyrim mods, although there are some exceptions. If you’re interested, I recommend checking out the official mod website, which has character backgrounds for several of the new NPCs. It really shows how much effort has gone into writing every single one.
Xenius Character Enhancement
Xenius has carved out a niche as Skyrim’s premier character enhancement modder, producing a whole series of texture improving mods at a tremendous rate before packaging them together as Xenius Character Enhancement. While so many other modders have spent their time making characters that look more like fashion models than medieval peasants, Xenius stays true to the original art style of Skyrim.
Guard Dialogue Overhaul
Guards in Skyrim are total arseholes. They constantly belittle you, even when you’ve saved the world several times over. This mod helps fix that. It seems Bethesda recorded a lot more dialogue for the guards than most players will ever hear. High level compliments are only rarely used. Guard Dialogue Overhaul rejigs this whole system. Rarer comments become more common, while those you’re sick to death of gradually phase out as you level up. Soon the 'arrow to the knee' joke will be but a distant memory.
I usually shy away from custom Skyrim followers because their voice acting is often jarringly awful. Hoth defies this expectation with some excellent (if rather American sounding) voice work that really sells the idea of a grizzled bounty hunter. He also sports an incredibly cool set of custom bone armour and can even offer you radiant ‘bounty’ quests as he follows you around.
Immersive Patrols aims to inject a little life into Skyrim’s great outdoors. There are a several plugins available, each of which adds a different faction to patrol the wilderness, several of whom really don’t get along. Wandering Stormcloaks will clash with randomly generated imperials, while groups of Dawnguard hunt down vampire protagonists. The result is a hell of a lot more random fights to stumble into, and that is always a good thing.
There are a lot of excellent retexture mods available for Skyrim, but the sad thing is that you can only ever use one at a time. Automatic Variants exists to correct that problem. It allows Skyrim to randomly choose different skins from a pool of variants, so each animal looks unique. Because of the nature of this mod, it’s a little complicated to install. First download Automatic Variants, then download any texture packs you want to use (I recommend Bellyache’s animals). Drop the texture pack into the folder, then run the AutomaticVariants.jar file to build the mod, which goes last in your load order. Every time you add new mods or skins, be sure to build the mod again.
Bellyache's New Dragon Species
Bellyache is well known for creating some of the loveliest animal textures in Skyrim, but this mod represents something a little more comprehensive. Not only has Bellyache designed several new species of dragon, each with distinctive markings and colouring, but care has also been taken to place them throughout the world. Unlike Bethesda's random dragons, these new fire breathers each have a specific piece of territory to control, which should hopefully stop them from ever overwhelming you.
Armoured Skeletons and the Walking Dead
You spend an awful lot of time in Skyrim fighting draugr, so any mod that adds more undead can have a big impact. This one adds several new draugr and skeleton types of wearing bits and pieces of tattered armour. Each enemy type has a different fighting style and level of toughness based on what they were in life, whether they’re skeletal knights or undead Thalmor in tattered elven armour. There's even some powerful Lich enemies to give high level Dovakins a run for their money.
Dragon Combat Overhaul
Dragon Combat Overhaul is the brainchild of the eccentric Apollodown, and its purpose is to make Skyrim's dragons smarter and more challenging foes, or as he puts it: "TLDR: Mod good. Make dragons big bad. Og like." With this installed, dragons will take off and land more unpredictably, work together to keep you cornered, and knock you flying with potent physics based tail and wing attacks. It's not all bad news however, because the Dovakin also has a higher chance of pulling off a lucky shot and sending even a perfectly healthy dragon tumbling into the ground. This is a must have mod for those bored with endlessly circling dragons.
Isn't it strange how Skyrim contains bones for Orcs, Argonians and Khajit, but only human skeletons? Modder Prometheus thought so, and responded by putting together these excellent beast skeletons, hidden throughout the world in lore friendly locations. They're hard to find, but if you go adventuring around Yngol Barrow you'll be sure to run into at least a couple.
There are a lot of excellent new armour mods available on the Skyrim Nexus, but it can be hard to track down and find them all amongst the skimpy outfits and over the top gleaming spikefests. Immersive Armours collects some of the best lore friendly armours available for Skyrim, including modmaker Hothtrooper44's own amazing creations, and distributes them around the world. One download and for over twenty sets of quality armour. A must have.
The companion to Immersive Armours, Immersive Weapons vastly expands the number of sharp objects you can stab into your enemies. There’s more new swords than you can count, from japanese wakizashis to german Zweihanders, plus axes, bows, hammers, maces and all new spear and polearm type weapons. The variety is impressive and, like Immersive Armours, all the new weapons are added to levelled lists. This means you’ll find them carried by random bandits, who’ll be all to happy to give you a nice close look while they stick them in your ribcage.
If you’re using Realistic Lighting you’ll notice that nighttime is Skyrim has gotten much darker. Spells and torches can help, but warriors who want to use their off-hand are out of luck. Chesko’s Wearable Lantern mod sorts out this problem, letting you clip a light source to your belt, front or rear. Companions can also carry the lanterns, and will automatically douse them when you enter sneak mode, acting as your own portable night light
Fancy installing some extra storage on your plate mail? Then Bandoliers is the mod for you. It adds a whole range of pouches, belts, potion holders and water bottles that can be stuck on top of whatever clothes you’re wearing in several configurations, boosting the variety of armours no end and giving you the look of a serious adventurer equipped for a long journey.
Skyrim is full of unique items with fascinating lore behind them, but unfortunately very few of them have the looks to go with their backstory. InsanitySorrow’s Unique Uniques adds new textures and meshes for several of the game’s most characterful weapons, giving you a great excuse to bust out out Dragonbane again.
For the Dragonborn that has everything, we have the most ostentatious Skyrim home possible. The Asteria is an enormous floating Dwemer airship that hovers near Riverwood. As you can see it looks magnificent from the outside, but the interior is also meticulously designed and stocked everything a budding Dragonborn could need. There are smithing facilities and archery targets on deck and an on board hydroponics facility for all your alchemical needs. There’s even a book on the bedside table detailing the history of the vessel.
Build your own home
Who needs Hearthfire when you have mods? Supernastypants' Build Your Own Home mod actually came before Bethesda's official add on, and offers many of the same features. There's only one plot of land, just outside the Abandoned Prison, but you can build a wide variety of homes there. It's all modular, so you can create anything from a simple shack to a towering fortress, with a four different themes for the interior that can be mixed and matched throughout. Add the Adopt Children mod and you've basically recreated Hearthfire, only for free.
Dragon Falls Manor
If you find The Asteria a tad over the top, modder Mattcm919 has also produced a more lore friendly alternative in Dragon Falls Manor. This luxorious mansion house is perched on the edge of a waterfall, and is ever bit as detailed and comprehensive as its airborne counterpart. There's a smithy, mannequins, weapon plaques, gardens, alchemy tables and fully stocked bookshelves. It really feels like the fully functioning home of an accomplished adventurer.
Deus Mons is one of the biggest and most spectacular Skyrim homes available. It's a huge Dwemer castle built into a mountain peak just south of the Throat of the World. It's epic, you have to defeat a Dragon just to get the front door key. Conquer the beast and you'll have a castle fit for a Dovaking. Of course having such an enormous building to yourself can be lonely, which is why Deus Mons' creators have included the option to populate it with cooks, blacksmiths, bards and other NPC servants, as befits a player of your station.
Gypsy Eyes Caravan
The Gypsy Eyes Caravan is a novel concept, it’s a home that journeys with you. When packed up, the caravan acts as a cart pulled by your horse, allowing you to ride it to your destination without needing to fast travel. When you decided to turn in for the night, however, the caravan gradually unpacks into a fully functional bedroom and campsite, complete with pull out forge for the blacksmith on the go.
Quests and New Lands
Moonpath to Elsweyr
For those who are getting a little sick of snowy mountains, Moonpath to Elsweyr offers two brand new environments, lush jungle and barren desert. This quest mod takes you to the Khajit homeland of Elsweyr, making a strong case for setting the next Elder Scrolls game there. Unlike Falskaar the Elswyr added by this mod isn’t a fully explorable continent, but rather a series of locations you can visit in your airship. Did I mention you get an airship? You get an airship. Plus you can install an add on mod to get a talking tiger for a follower. Best mod ever.
Falskaar is the brainchild of Alexander J. Velicky, a young first time Skyrim modder who decided to create a massive ‘DLC sized’ continent as an audition piece for Bethesda. Although it may lack the exotic locations of Moonpath to Elsweyr, Falksaar is certainly impressive. It’s comparable in size to Dragonborn’s Solstheim and, unlike Elsweyr, all that content is in the form of one seamless continent. For more information, check out our interview with Velicky.
Descent into Madness
Descent into Madness was one of the highlights of Richard Cobbett’s Week of Madness diary. Take a nap in your bed in Breezehome and you’ll be transported into the realm of Sheogorath, where two nations called Madness and Dementia are engaged in an eternal clash of the crazies. Each side offers a different, hour long questline full of puzzles and riddles, all set within a bizarre, dreamlike landscape.
Here be Monsters
You know what Skyrim doesn't have enough of? Giant monsters. Oh sure there's some big dragons and giants, but where are the fifty foot tall mudcrabs? In this mod obviously. Here Be Monsters gives you the opportunity to hunt down and fight giant sea monster versions of some of Skyrim's nastiest beasties. Each constitutes a single 'boss battle' complete with shipwreck strewn lair. Just head out to the docks and hunt down the nearest traumatised looking sailor and you too could have a giant Horker head to adorn your trophy room.
Helgen Reborn is a huge quest mod that centres around rebuilding and ruling the town of Helgen, also known as “That place that got burnt down at the start of the game. You know, the one you immediately forgot about afterwards". Following the quest will lead you to creating a ragtag bunch of misfits to act as the town guard, while the city itself slowly expands around you. You can find out more by reading Chris’ Mod of the Week article on it.
Bored of snow? Seen every chilly mountaintop you can handle? Want something completely and utterly different? Then Tropical Skyrim might just be for you. This unusual mod changes the entire climate and landscape of Skyrim into a tropical wilderness. Glaciers are now beaches, plains are savannas and forests dense jungles. Of course although the mod changes the buildings and wildlife to fit the new theme, Skyrim will still be full of fur covered Nords stomping around complaining about the cold, which is sure to make for an unusual playthrough.
Question: What is cooler than having your own airship (which two of the mods in this list give you). Answer: having your own rocket ship. The Dwemer have always had some pretty advanced steampunk technology but Aethernautics takes that ball and runs with it all the way into outer space. Recover an ancient spaceship! Journey to the moon! Shudder at the reckless disregard for established continuity!
Gifts of the Outsider
Hey look! Dishonored's annoying floating goth has made his way into Skyrim! Thankfully he's brought with him a selection of Dishonored's coolest super powers, including teleportation and possession, and all he asks is that you make a mockery of Elder Scrolls canon. If only all crossover fan fiction gave you the ability to teleport.
Back when the Steam Workshop was first announced for Skyrim, Valve and Bethesda announced the unlikeliest of crossovers. The first mod on the workshop saw Portal 2's space core crash land on Skyrim, finally fixing (in their words) the bug where Skyrim was the only 2011 release without Nolan North in it. The core lands just west of Whiterun, and will jabber about space up until you inevitably stick horns on it and turn it into a helmet.
I do not feel I need to explain the inclusion of this mod.