Best Skyrim Special Edition mods

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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37 Comments

  1. TillEulenspiegel says:

    I managed to ruin my first character by rushing to become a Dawnguard vampire, and discovered that the whole Vampire Lord thing was overpowered and boring. So I’m looking for something else to do.

    I’m seriously considering Frostfall, though I don’t think a survival mod makes a lot of sense in such a high-fantasy setting, unlike in Fallout: New Vegas.

    • Mr_Quirky says:

      Frostfall was my single favorite Skyrim mod and it completely changed the game experience into a truly great immersive sim. The mod breaks the world of Skyrim into several different climate zones (cold in the north, moderate in the south). It also keeps track of what you are wearing (fur armor is best), including whether your clothes are wet or not. It uses all of these factors to determine how quickly your body gets cold. If your body temperature gets too cold your dexterity skills like archery and lockpicking start to drop to represent your frozen fingers. Every campfire and brazier becomes a heat source to warm yourself up. If you accidentally fall in the water you may only have seconds to live. The mod makes the environment the most deadliest thing in Skyrim and it forces you to rethink you strategy when facing quests especially outdoor ones.

      Once I had to escape some Forsworn by jumping off a cliff into a river below. I survived, but with my clothes now soaked and the sun going down I had to flee into a nearby cave and spend the night fighting off Falmer who were attracted to the new campfire I built to warm up. Combined with some good hunger and sleep mods, Skyrim became the greatest survival game I ever played.

    • ThricebornPhoenix says:

      I say give it a shot. ‘Survival’ may be a more fitting theme for New Vegas, but Frostfall does a lot more for immersion than FNV’s hardcore mode. It probably helps that Skyrim’s defining feature in its world is the cold, but the vanilla game does so little to make you feel it.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      Frostfall adds a lot of immersion. In default setting it’s not even very dangerous but you’re reminded not to dive in the polar ocean. Even that useless fur armor starts to make sense finally.
      You’ll try to do your travelling during the day and it’s a relief to find a hut by nightfall.
      You start carrying torches around and use bridges like any real person would.
      Also get a mod for darker nights and caves.
      It’s a pain to get to Boethia’s altar at night and such things but the gain outweighs the pain.

  2. LexW1 says:

    You should really have had one entry with the three-mod set of:

    Ordinator, Apocalypse Spells and Smilodon.

    They’re all by the same guy, Enai Siaion, and they massively improve the perks, spells, and combat of Skyrim without requiring SKSE or running a ton of scripts. I haven’t tried Phenderix’s Magic Evolved – it may be great – but Apocalypse Spells is also great.

    The best thing is that all three work together pretty much perfectly. If you haven’t tried them, I strongly recommend them. Skyrim’s default Perks, magic and combat are pretty dire.

    Also Live Another Life being consigned so far down the list and to just a block of three is sad. It’s probably the best mod ever made for Skyrim, simple as it is.

    • Elric666 says:

      I really like those perks, and I’m also a fan of deadlier combat. I used Requiem for my last all-mods-in playthrough and was overall quite happy with it, but the mods you mention look so interesting, I think I will give them a go if I ever dare another Skyrim playthrough.

    • Kelaris says:

      I agree with LexW1. When thinking of mods that I consider essential, Enai Siaion’s are at the top of my list. They run smoothly with minimal fuss, feel relatively balanced to me, and are frequently updated and added to.

      Ordinator makes significant improvements to the perk tree, and adds a lot of options for building a character. It rewards specialization, allowing you to make a powerful character that isn’t a master-of-everything. As a result, every game I play with it feels quite different. It also plays nicely with other mods, with little to no patching, unlike the majority of other perk overhaul mods.

      Apocalypse makes magic feel far more interesting and varied. I often like to play as specialist mages that don’t use destruction, and Apocalypse gives you some really fun spells to use that aren’t just reskinned destruction spells.

      I wouldn’t consider these as essential, but for non-magic or low-magic characters especially, I really like having Thunderchild (new and interesting shouts), Aurora (new standing stone effects), and Imperious (new racial abilities).

  3. Premium User Badge

    magogjack says:

    At least two of the links are wrong. The clear map links took me to nexus Skyrim, not Special Edition…

  4. Sulpher says:

    Q: Is S.E. compatible with my stomach-churning collection of sex mods?

  5. satan says:

    I’m almost afraid to ask… but does anybody know (and have you tried) a good, realistic body mod compatible with total character makeover that just adds detail/pixels without venturing into giant-shiny-boob territory?

    Really don’t want to mess around trying too many different mods because I’ve finally got Skyrim running with a heap of mods without any conflicts or problems, something I wasn’t able to achieve before now.

    • A Wanderer says:

      I remember that there are some nice body replacer that do not venture into the porn star territory. I mostly play female characters in Skyrim, and I wanted my character to have a more realistic body, and I found a surprisingly large amount of body replacers (at least for female characters, but they do exist for males) that are quite realistic. A small research on the Nexus with the NSFW box unticked should show them, because I completely forgot their names. But they do exist. (Be weary of nudity for most of them, male and female, though)

      • PsychoWedge says:

        Well, there is also a tool called bodyslide. It allows you to create a body shape (or rather a 0 zero weight and a 100 weight shape and everything in between will be calculated automatically) and then convert armors (even the vanilla ones, additionally mods provided) to that shape-set. apart from there being a multitude of premade shapes (of course ^^) you can also just modify one you like directly in bodyslide. it’s quite possible to create normal female humanoid bodies in bodyslide.

        and depending on how far you are willing to go you can also combine bs with mods like racemenu and thusly create your body-shape as a world shape for all female characters with whatever part of the wight scale they might be on. But you then can create your own character during character creation the exact same way you would in bodyslide itself to make it a tad different or whatever. and THEN all the armors/clothes/robes in the game would not only fit the “special” shape of your characters but also all the world-shapes of all the other females. takes a lot of hhd space though (we’re talking gigabytes here)

        regrettably there is nothing of the like for males as far as I know…

  6. drinniol says:

    For shame! You say the best mods, but neglect to mention the one that won an Australian Screen Writers’ Guild Award?

    The Forgotten City. Get it. Play it.

    link to nexusmods.com

    • Targaff says:

      Oh yes, Forgotten City! Nick Pearce’s Forgotten City! Nick Pearce’s Forgotten City that’s discussed in the article, even mentioning its script award, and linked to the very same page you linked to! How could they forget that Forgotten City? For shame!

      • drinniol says:

        Well, I’m deeply embarrassed.

        On the other hand, it’s wedged in with Falskaar and Live Another Life when it should have its own glorious section (I just played it for the first time, can you tell?)

  7. scooter47 says:

    The link for “A Quality World Map and Solstheim Map – With Roads” is for “classic” Skyrim, not Skyrim SE. Hint – it will work on Skyrim SE though if you install it manually. Since it is this simple to get it to work, I have no idea why guy who took over the mod from the original author has not yet converted it to Skyrim SE.

  8. Caiman says:

    I initially installed Open Cities, but removed it and backtracked to an earlier save when I read that it broke a number of questlines because certain NPCs would fail to spawn as they should by the load transition.

    Some of these mods are available through Bethesda’s in-game browser, but a bunch are not. What’s the best way of installing them without breaking the whole thing? I didn’t have much luck modding the original Skyrim back in the day because the tool I used didn’t seem to be working very well. Although the Bethesda browser is pretty basic, at least it makes installing and updating mods very easy. I’m sure there’s a better way though.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      Did you try the nexus mod installer? Seems to be the primary source of Skyrim mods.

      • Caiman says:

        I did with the original, but not sure if it’s still the recommended way with the SE. It seems there are mods available on the Nexus, Steam Workshop and now Bethesda’s in-game browser, but I get the feeling that combining different methods will end badly! Don’t want to risk breaking my current playthrough, but perhaps I’ll experiment later.

        • LexW1 says:

          I would say just use the Nexus mod manager. It’s straightforward and reliable, especially if you’re not modding a lot, and lets you do stuff like load in functional-but-not-updated mods for Skyrim SE.

          For example, the default Chitin armour in Dragonborn is strangely low-quality texture-wise, so I wanted a better one – problem is, there aren’t any are official for SE. But things which are just texture/model mods generally work anyway – with NMM, I can just do “manual download” of the mod from normal Skyrim, then use NMM to “load mod from file”, and boom, I have the mod in and playing nicely with SE – Ashland Apparel is the specific one I chose.

  9. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Thanks for the recommendations. Played Skyrim for so long I can’t stand it without mods any more.
    Frostfall is great for replaying esp. traveling to Labyrinthian was a greater inconvenience and no swimming through ice rivers any more.
    Forgotten City – everyone should play this, why can’t Bethesda come up with that?
    Hope SkyUI was also ported?

    • Caiman says:

      SkyUI hasn’t been ported (yet) but version 2.2 works just fine. It’s missing some of the features of later versions, but it’s certainly much better than the stock UI.

      You can get a slightly modified version without the warning (that SKSE is missing) here: link to steamcommunity.com (and possibly elsewhere, but this is the link I used, or Google it).

  10. thekelvingreen says:

    What? Why would you want your companions to have horses? Part of the fun is riding off at speed and looking back to see the poor sap trying to catch up.

    • Otterley says:

      Some of us like to send our companions ahead into the fray. We then lounge (jarl style) on our summoned chairs and snigger at their mishaps :)

  11. ziffel says:

    Quality World Map does not appear in the SSE Nexus. Your link even goes to the wrong Nexus.

    • neotruth says:

      Exactly.

      Not only that, but attempting to install manually is rife with inconsistencies as well.

      ReadMe says to take the “Data” folder out of the extracted download for clear maps. There is no “Data” folder in the extracted download…

      I gave up… Good luck!

  12. waltC says:

    Speaking of coincidences, last night I got tired of the default SE map so I pulled “A quality Map” from my 32-bit Skyrim installation just to see if it works–and it does, I was pleased to note! Then I read this this morning…;) Good timing! Nice article–timely, helpful!

  13. thinkforaminute says:

    Don’t forget the Achievements Enabler mod, now that Skyrim SE prevents you from getting achievements when you use mods.

  14. CyranoJ says:

    For some reason I was unable to find a couple of the recomended mods on the Nexus web sight.The ones I could not locate are A Quality Map and Solstheim Map with Roads, Town and village Enhancements. When I clicked on your links I received an error message. I am not sure if this is the proper place to post this comment.

  15. Premium User Badge

    Alpha1Dash1 says:

    “Ordinator” & “Apocalypse Magic” as mentioned above are excellent game enhancing mods. It really is like a whole new game.

    Two other very useful mods worth mentioning are “Run for your lives” & “When vampires attack”. They help the townspeople & traders survive dragons & vampires, which is very useful when you want to sell loot etc!

  16. Wagrid says:

    Magic Evolved apparently turns Skyrim into Life is Strange, based on that screenshot.

    Which sounds alright, actually.

  17. Kala says:

    I got a cloak mod :p
    though apparently Frostfall comes with cloaks too.

  18. Prometheus_ts says:

    Hi I am the author of Conan the Hyborian Age mod and its not cheremy16 to have done it , why you wronged my name?

    my name is Prometheus_ts and its me to have done that mod!

    You have linked to a Translation page , this is the correct link :

    link to nexusmods.com?

  19. Kala says:

    Couldn’t find Convenient Horses on Skyrim Enhanced, only Skyrim.

    But! I did find ‘Horse Whistle’ by Iskariot (which does exactly wot it says on the tin, and calls back your roving steed) link to nexusmods.com?

    Works like a charm :)

  20. Twirrim says:

    “leaf through he or she’s creations” *wince* that should be “leaf through his or her creations” :)

    It’s increasingly acceptable to use the singular “their” where gender is unknown, with many newspapers having switched already (although the AP Style Guide is yet to agree with the change), so you could have had that as “leaf through their creations”

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