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Best Skyrim Special Edition mods

Graphics tweaks, total conversions & crafting overhauls

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As I’m sure is the case with many of you, returning to Skyrim years after letting it go has been a strange experience at times. Assuming you applied mods to the original, which I’m sure most of you did, the newly released Special Edition has likely been a touch underwhelming in that much of its stock visual ‘improvements’ present a step down from most modded games. Alec devised a way to transfer old saves to the latest variation, however many older mods remain incompatible – even if you’ve been lucky enough to avoid crashes in the process.

SkyUI, for example, hasn’t made the jump yet in the absence of the SKSE (Skryim Script Extender) and while there are other options out there, they’re far less sophisticated and thus feel more like stopgap measures. The mods on this list have made the jump, however, and should help make your transition into New Skyrim easier, prettier and more enjoyable.

Moving forward, support for mods old and new will almost certainly befall Skyrim’s Special Edition – so we’ll be sure to revisit this list at some point down the line. Until then, enjoy!

How to install Skyrim Special Edition mods

Skyrim’s Special Edition mods live on the game’s designated corner of Nexus Mods. If you’ve tuned into any of our Best Mods lists in the past, you probably already have the Nexus Mod Manager installed, but if you don’t details on how to do that can be found this way. I find it the easiest way to keep track of mods and any subsequent updates, however the mods listed below offer their own instructions regarding manual installation – please do whatever works best for you.

Unofficial Skyrim Patch

By Unofficial Patch Project Team

Arguably the most important of the lot, the Unofficial Skyrim Patch fixes a huge number of bugs that exist in the standard game. Skyrim’s Special Edition may be an improvement over the 2011 original, however all the shonky quest glitches, unwelcomed NPC quirks, text errors and object placement (or lack thereof) bugs were unfortunately retained in the switchover – something the Unofficial Patch mod addresses directly.

The mod’s creators advise you start off with this installed from the outset so as to avoid running into problems down the line, however also ask that any issues be reported via its bespoke bug-tracker. In short: forget Whiterun, this ‘un should be your first port of call.

A Quality World Map and Solstheim Map – With Roads and Town and Village Enhancements

By By IcePenguin and aplestormy respectively

Skyrim is now (somehow) five years old, which means you’ve almost certainly got your own personal favourite shaders, ENBs, and graphics adjuster-ers by now. Again, Skyrim’s Special Edition in its unmodified state may not match your finely tuned original, but both IcePenguin and aplestormy’s adjustments are ones I’ve decided I can’t do without.

Speaking to the latter, aplestormy’s list of Town and Village Enhancements transform the game’s largest cities and smallest towns with performance enhancements, deeper shadows, more vibrant lighting effects and denser colours. I’ve linked aplestormy’s Nexus user page above so it’s easier to leaf through he or she’s creations individually as you please (scroll down for the SE-compatible mods).

Overlooking its ungainly title, A Quality World Map and Solstheim Map – With Roads is essential for those of you averse to fast travelling. My absence made me forget how much I enjoy meandering around the realm’s lakes, rifts and ruins against the game’s storming orchestral score – however I’d also forgotten how illegible Skyrim’s in-game map can be. How the bloody hell do I get there from here? What do you mean I can’t bunnyhop my way over that mountain? WHERE IS THE FLIPPING ROAD? IcePenguin understands the plight of the disoriented traveller and in turn offers maps with better textures and more detailed roads.

Convenient Horses and Open Cities

By Alek and Arthmoor

While it must be said that Skyrim was an influence to many of them, the intervening five year period has seen a number of open world games further the standard set by Bethesda’s 2011 fantasy role-player. CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3 is a great example of open worlds done well, and, having spent so many hours wandering Novigrad and beyond, returning to Skyrim can feel lacking given how far the genre has since come.

Two mods which help bridge that gap are simple but effective in rebuilding Skyrim’s credibility. Similar to The Witcher 3’s Roach, Convenient Horses lets you whistle for your roving steed and also tweaks its AI, meaning it can fully engage in mounted combat and also follow you around after you dismount. This mod also grants companions their own horses, and includes an invulnerability setting.

Open Cities is a superficial tinkering that removes load screen gates from cities and towns. Besides the obvious appeal of more seamless journeying, city guards will now chip in should you wind up battling a dragon in and around their grounds.

Phenderix Magic Evolved, Immersive Weapons Crafting and Balanced Disable Fast Travel And Increase Carry Weight

By phenderix, GovnoWriter and Mechtechnal respectively

Should you get caught on the backfoot during said dragon encounters, these mods should keep you right. Listen, no matter what anyone says, the best Skyrim builds are the ones which incorporate magic. Phenderix’s Magic Evolved introduces over 370 new spells that can be unearthed as loot, in chests, and via vendors throughout the world. New variations such as blood magic, druid magic, and skeletal magic allow for new offensive combinations; while customisable effects and shaders make your newfound spellcasting look ultra cool. You can also “replicate enemies, turn them into chickens, or pull them through space-time,” says the mod’s creator.

If you must rely on weaponry, Immersive Weapons Crafting lets you craft 67 additional weapons that are otherwise non-craftable – such as the Champion’s Cudgel and the Akaviri Sword. With the extra load, you might then want to consider the Balanced Disable Fast Travel And Increase Carry Weight mod. As you might have guessed from the title, this mod boosts your carrying capacity however also prevents fast travel. Installing this one equips you with a ‘Ring of Sightful Travel’, though, which means you can slip it on and off should you wish to hop somewhere else on the map at speed.

Frostfall, Campfire and Conan Hyborian Age

By Chesko and Prometheus_ts respectively

Of course, granting yourself access to more spells and weapons arguably makes Skyrim easier. What’s out there for those who desire more challenging expeditions? Frostfall, for one, which in essence turns Skyrim into a survival game. It implements a system that tracks your location, the weather, the time of day, and your worn clothing among other things and, combined with the Campfire mod, adds a range of craftable camping equipment which you’ll need to combat hypothermia. Trekking through Winterhold wearing the wrong gear, or taking a dip in an ice water lake can prove fatal – so be sure to wrap up.

Conan Hyborian Age, on the other hand, offers a challenge tied to the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian. Here’s the blurb from the mod’s creator:

“Conan Hyborian Age contains a large dungeon with a quest. It was designed to add to the game, in the most consistent way possible, the Conan the Barbarian objects of the 1982 film by John Milius and Oliver Stone. This mod also has a large number of new innovative features as well as innovative and unique scripts. An incredible number of high-level accessories [from] Conan the Barbarian are reproduced in this mod as a tribute to this great film.”

All of which grants players an hour-long quest in a new level 3 dungeon – which the creator recommends players tackle on level 10 or higher. Crom!

Falskaar, The Forgotten City and Live Another Life

By AlexanderJVelicky, Nick Pearce and Arthmoor respectively

Falskaar is a total conversion mod created by Alexander Velicky – aged 19 at the time – to prove to Bethesda he could make something that rivals their DLC, but with a fraction of their resources. He’s since landed a job at Bungie as a result, and it’s now made the jump to Skyrim’s Special Edition. Adding approximately 20 hours to the base game, Falskaar is a wonderful achievement that adds a new land independent of Tamriel, accessible by portal and later by boat. It boasts new items and shouts, and adds 26 new quests – which includes nine main story ventures and 17 side quests. If you’re looking to push more mileage from Skyrim, they don’t come much better than Falskaar.

Similarly, Nick Pearce’s Forgotten City ups playtime by around ten hours or so as it guides players around a murder mystery investigation. Set in an ancient underground city, you’re tasked with interrogating suspects, uncovering secrets and navigating “challenging moral dilemmas”. Interestingly, Forgotten City is the first mod to win a national Writers’ Guild award for its script.

Live Another Life isn’t as sophisticated as the above, however it does grant players a more taiolred introduction to Tamriel via Skyrim. In lieu of the lengthy Helgen dragon attack intro sequence, Live Another Life lets players choose a different entrance. “What you choose will have a lasting impact,” warns the mod’s creator. “So choose carefully or the gods may forsake you again.”

Relationship Dialogue Overhaul and Total Character Makeover

By cloudedtruth and scarla respectively

Beyond loading gates pre-existing bugs, restrictive NPC dialogue is perhaps the most telling sign of Skyrim’s age. Go on, I dare you to tell me you took an arrow to the knee one more time. Anyway, Relationship Dialogue Overhaul adds over 5,000 lines of voiced NPC dialogue across 50 different voice types. Friends talk to you more like friends, says the mod’s creator, while followers engage players in more fluent conversation. Should your follower in fact be your spouse, they’ll address you in such a way that befits the relationship, as opposed to that of a generic companion. Likewise, those whose path you may have crossed will insult you and may, depending on who much you’ve rattled their cage, completely ignore you.

While Skyrim’s Special Edition overhauls its world, it’s hardly touched its citizens. Total Character Makeover changes this by giving all NPCs and the player a facelift – improving textures, meshes, resolution and effects, such as dirt, scars and face markings. Lovely.

Cutting Room Floor

By Arthmoor

Although not essential, Cutting Room Floor is perhaps the game’s most interesting mod. A “content restoration mod”, it restores loads of features that reside in the Special Edition’s data files, such as villages and villagers that were supposed to exist, quests that were partially implemented but never completed and items that, for one reason or another, didn’t make it into the final game.

Full details of what’s been re/introduced can be found via the mod’s page, but this one is perhaps best experienced first hand.

Honourable Mentions

Stones of Barenziah Quest Markers
By toaDime

Simple but effective mod that adds quest markers to all 24 Stones of Barenziah which feature in the ‘No Stone Unturned’ quest.

Better Dogs – Silence
By Degrelecence

Listen, I love dogs and, better yet, dog companions – this mod just turns their yapping down a wee touch.

Ish’s Souls to Perks
By ishmaeltheforsaken and Oscar Wilde

Adds a ‘Dragon Stone’ to Guardian Stone groupings which allows idle dragon souls to be swapped for perk points.

Enderal: The Shards of Order
By SureAI

Okay, so this one’s a bit of a cheat in that it’s not actually compatible with Skyrim’s Special Edition. If you own the SE, though, you might already own the original Skyrim – which means you absolutely must try this total conversion that matches its source material in size and quality. Five years in the making, it’s great and it’s free.

And so brings us to the end of our best Skyrim Special Edition mods list, dear Dragonborn. There’s plenty to explore above, however which of your favourites have we missed? Thu’um, rather, shout at us in the comments below.

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