Skyrim turns ten years old this year, but a list of the best Skyrim mods remains as useful as ever. More useful, even, given that hundreds of new mods are still being released for the fantasy RPG every week. If you're planning on starting the game fresh, or just looking for something new to add to your existing mod mountain, you should find something worth your time below.
Almost every mod we've chosen will work with either the regular or Skyrim Special Edition, and we've provided links to both versions - or similar alternatives - where necessary. There's also undoubtedly many, many great mods that we've not included. If you think your favourite Skyrim mod is an essential install, then take to the comments and make your case. We love discovering new mods, too, and may include your suggestion in a future revision.
How to install Skyrim mods
Before you start turning dragons into 'Macho Man' Randy Savage, there are a few things you’ll want to install first. It’s also recommended to do a clean install of Skyrim and start a new game, especially if you’re going to be throwing a lot of mods into the mix. What I like to do is create a new, unmodified game, get somewhere like Riverwood and then create a save that I can use for testing. You don’t need to fire up the save after every mod, but it’s worth checking a few times during the process to make sure everything’s working. The fewer mods you’ve installed, the easier it will be to pinpoint any problems or conflicts.
Best Skyrim mods
We've only picked the very best Skyrim mods, but there are so many available that we've had to break them down by category. You can hop directly to the kind of mod you want via the links below.
Even if you’re just planning on using a few mods, grabbing a mod manager will skip so much hassle. There are several good ones, but Nexus Mod Manager is your best bet. It looks a bit intimidating at first, but once you’ve got it set up, you won’t need to worry about it at all. If you’ve modded Fallout 4, you’ll already be au fait with the manager, and you can use it for several other games, including The Witcher 3. Here’s a tutorial from mod guru Gopher to get you started.
A lot of the mods in this list can be used in tandem, but even compatible mods can have a falling out when they’re not put in the correct load order. LOOT solves this and myriad other problems, checking your load order, hunting for errors and directing you to naughty mods that aren’t playing nicely. Before you test anything in-game, run LOOT. It takes seconds.
Several important mods won’t work at all without the Skyrim Script Extender. When Skyrim Special Edition launched, the script extender’s absence meant that a lot of mods couldn’t be used or ported over, so the original Skyrim remained the best version for anyone looking to spice up their game. It’s been updated since then, thankfully, and now works with both editions. Note that, from now on, you’ll need to launch Skyrim with the script extender, not through Steam. You can launch it directly from the .EXE or by connecting it to the Nexus Mod Manager.
Even if you’re not planning on adding a single mod, you should get the Unofficial Skyrim Patch. It’s one giant bugfix that’s constantly being updated, and as with every massive Bethesda game, Skyrim sure has a lot of bugs.
Like the Unofficial Skyrim Patch, Cutting Room Floor is worth getting even if you just want the vanilla Skyrim experience. It’s a large compilation of cut content, adding villages, NPCs, quests and countless other bits and pieces that Bethesda created but never implemented. None of this has just been flung back in, of course, and has instead been tweaked to make sure it all fits with Bethesda’s final version of Skyrim.
In Skyrim Special Edition, achievements can’t be earned if you’re using mods. That’s obviously dumb, so here’s a mod that gets around that. If you’ve got regular Skyrim, you don’t need to do anything.
Best Skyrim mods - Graphics
It’s a terrible name for a mod that you absolutely need to get. Basically, it spruces up a huge pile of 3D models, making all of Skyrim look nicer in hundreds of tiny ways. You’ll probably not even notice it most of the time, but it works its magic everywhere. It’s also a key ingredient in several other mods, so it should be one of your first downloads.
Skyrim HD is a long-running texture mod that replaces over 600 textures. Everything from the sky and mountains to the interiors of ramshackle hovels has been done up. There are two complete versions, one of which is a 1K resolution ‘lite version’ for less powerful PCs. Optionally, you can download just the cities, landscapes, dungeons or miscelleanous packs. This is specifically for old Skyrim, but there are plenty of great alternatives for the Special Edition.
Another huge, broad texture mod, this time specifically for the Special Edition. The latest version of the mod only comes with one complete file, but the 2017 version is more modular. You can pick what you want retextured, whether it's just the roads, only mountains or all of Riften. The mod’s creator advises people with the old version to keep it, as it has some files that haven’t been added to the 2018 version yet.
More than most other mods, the lighting, post-processing and colour tweaks made by ENBs and Reshade mods are down to personal preference. In OG Skyrim, I was rather partial to RealVision ENB, and it still makes the seven-year-old game look absolutely gorgeous, though it does come at the cost of performance. You definitely won’t be able to use a PC that ran Skyrim in 2011.
When the Special Edition first launched, flashy post-processing options were limited while we waited for ENB to be updated. SkyrimSE Re-Engaged started out as a Reshade mod (it has since made the jump to ENB) and proved to be the best alternative, and while there’s now no dearth of competition, it continues to be my favourite. There are seven presets, not including vanilla, each dramatically different and designed with a specific weather mod in mind, and if there’s something you don’t like, you can adjust it.
If you don’t want to fiddle around with ENBs or take the inevitable performance hit that comes with the most impressive ones, Realistic Lighting Overhaul might be just your horn of mead. It’s a comprehensive lighting mod that doesn’t use any post-processing or screen injector tricks, so there’s no performance cost. It’s not as dramatic, either, but that’s the point. It aims to light up Skyrim realistically, based on actual light sources, whether it’s the sun or a candle.
Enhanced Lights and FX is similar to RLO, but it’s more dramatic and stylised. ELFX wants to make Skyrim pretty, not just realistically lit. Both mods are great, so it really depends on what kind of atmosphere you want to generate. You could always mix and match, and even throw in an ENB for good measure.
Since Skyrim is full of forests, Skyrim Flora Overhaul has a pretty dramatic effect. It includes lots of new, high-quality tree models, even more grasses and plants, and loads of visual tweaks that generally make forests look deeper and more imposing. There’s a grass-only and trees-only version, too, which obviously have less of a performance impact. This is one of those changes that’s worth sacrificing some frames over, mind.
Simply Bigger Trees does exactly what it says on the tin, giving Skyrim’s forests a growth spurt. It’s a surprisingly significant improvement, and though it’s only partially compatible, I like to pair it with SFO. Some of the trees get overwritten, but there’s still plenty of variety and the forests look considerably more striking.
Realistic Water makes the pools, coasts, rivers and lakes of Skyrim distinct, so it doesn’t look like they’re all full of the same murky bath water. If you see some H2O in the game, it’s probably been improved. There are so many tiny touches that make this mod brilliant, like curated sound effects and animated icebergs. The Special Edition introduced a new water flow system, which is nice and all, but it was applied to all bodies of water indiscriminately, which made less sense. Realistic Water also fixes that.
Better Roads makes Skyrim’s trails and highways more interesting, giving them a bit more character and adding some lore-specific touches. More walls and fences have been added - touches of civilisation - while bridges have been made a bit more diverse and in keeping with the architecture of the areas they’re built in. Generally, they’re just less drab. It’s a subtle improvement, but Skyrim’s a much better place to walk around with this in your mod library.
Climates of Tamriel is a massive weather and lighting mod that replaces all of Skyrim’s boring weather with hundreds of different weather variations, from sunny days to cataclysmic storms and everything in between. It’s predominantly a visual mod, but there are plenty of audio improvements to go along with it. Climates of Tamriel is at its best when paired with an ENB like SkyrimSE Re-Engaged ENB and Realistic Lighting Overhaul’s interior lighting.
Best Skyrim mods - NPCs and creatures
Interesting NPCs is packed with new characters scattered all over Skyrim, each with their own background, schedule and branching dialogue. There’s over 250 of them, including marriage prospects, followers and quest givers. Followers also have unique commentary, insights and questlines, so there’s plenty of reasons to ditch the largely forgettable vanilla cast and travel with some new pals.
Skyrim’s NPCs aren’t always the sharpest knives in the drawer, but Immersive Citizens alleviates some of that by delving into their empty heads and leaving something there. With these tweaks, NPCs respond in more realistic and diverse ways to things like weather, attacks and their day-to-day schedules, depending on who they are. Most important is the survival instinct feature, letting NPCs evaluate threats and act accordingly.
We’ve all killed our fair share of draugr and dragons (too many, probably), so thank goodness for Immersive Creatures and its long list of mostly lore-friendly monsters and creatures waiting to be battered. This throws in everything from warring goblin tribes to considerably more exotic and indescribable nightmares. The world a bit more deadly. It’s possible to tweak this mod to your liking, removing creatures and changing the difficulty via the menu.
Skyrim’s supposedly warring factions don’t really get up to very much, but Immersive Patrols thrusts them into conflict a bit more often. It creates patrols for not just the factions of the civil war, the Stormcloaks and Imperials, but also the Dawnguard and Thalmor. There are even some raider patrols, too. These warbands clash in specific areas, with forts and territory changing hands depending on the outcome of the battle. It makes Skyrim feel like a more mutable place, and importantly one that doesn’t need you to get involved for changes to happen.
Ever wanted to traipse around Skyrim with your very own supernatural band? Amazing Follower Tweaks is an extremely helpful follower management tool that lets you have multiple followers, organise their equipment and give them orders, but the best bit is being able to turn them into vampires and werewolves. The limit is five followers, but that’s much more impressive when it’s five deadly, magical monsters with a thirst for blood and flesh.
Speaking of deadly, magical monsters with a thirst for blood and flesh, this mod makes NPCs run away when one of them attacks. Dragons and vampires will scare off NPCs, making them run to their home or the nearest inn until the area is safe again. No more risking your life to save some idiot with a torch who’s decided they can fight a dragon. Guards and Warrior Guild members will, of course, still impotently flail at monsters, since it’s their job.
It’s pretty clear why most people in Skyrim travel by foot - their horses are terrible. Not with Convenient Horses, however. The name doesn’t paint the full picture. Sure, it makes horses a lot more convenient, letting you loot, harvest and interact with the world while you’re riding, along with other time-saving features, but it also makes horses deeper generally. You can train them, put all of your followers on them, get new equipment via faction quests and crafting, and there’s an encumbrance system.
Relationship Dialogue Overhaul makes Skyrim a chattier place. NPCs get a whopping 5,000 lines of new, reactive dialogue, all voiced. The mod’s creators used existing lines, adding them to new situations and, in some instances, creating new bits of dialogue by splicing lines together. NPCs react more realistically, letting you know what they think of you, while followers will take into account their relationship with you. If you’re travelling with your spouse, for instance, they’ll talk to you like a husband or wife rather than just another hired hand.
Simply Better Movement Speed tweaks how fast you move while walking, running and sneaking. Walking speed has been significantly boosted, while running is slower. The pace feels more natural, making it necessary to get a horse for long journeys, but making wandering around towns and villages much quicker. It also makes players the same speed as NPCs, so following people around is no longer a chore where you have to make constant adjustments.
Getting lycanthropy is a great way to shake things up, but as much fun as it is to stomp around Skyrim as a massive wolf, the system is pretty underdeveloped. Moonlight Tales, then, is essential if you plan on tearing people apart during a full moon. It completely overhauls werewolves, replacing the perk tree, introducing new abilities, forcing lunar transformations and, best of all, letting you become a werebear. Whichever beastie you pick, you’ll also get lots of different skin choices.
Best Skyrim mods - Weapons and Armour
There is a seemingly endless supply of user-created weapons on the Skyrim Nexus, but Immersive Weapons should always be at the top of your list. It’s an increasingly massive mod that adds over 250 weapons and 21 archetypes to the game that you can buy, loot or craft yourself. The benefit of using this instead of adding all your weapons piecemeal is that these weapons have been designed to co-exist, keeping balance and lore in mind. Unlike lightsabers.
If you’re grabbing Hothtrooper’s Immersive Weapons, you should pick up their Immersive Armors as well. Like the weapon mod, it introduces hundreds of new pieces of lore-appropriate armour and shields, allowing you to finally live out your dream of wearing a saber-toothed cat on your head. There are some nifty accessories, too, including eye patches and scarves. You’ll be prepared for anything.
If you’ve ever fancied dressing your Dragonborn up as a Rob Liefeld superhero, Bandoliers is the mod for you. It adds new item slots to your body and then provides a vast number of pouches, bags and bandoliers that you can strap onto yourself. If you’d prefer to look less like Cable and more like a wizard, there are also book and vial holders. They’re practical, too, letting you stuff your inventory full of junk.
If you don’t wear a cloak, how will anyone know that you’re an adventuring hero? Cloaks are an RPG necessity, so Cloaks of Skyrim provides an important public service. It summons a bounty of cloaks into the world, nearly 100 styles in all, ranging from faction-specific clobber to tattered, monstrous garments that only a Daedra would wear. NPCs will wear them, too, and they actually make guards look more authoritative. A nice cloak commands respect.
Only mugs hold their own lanterns. Wearable Lanterns is a mod for the adventurer who doesn’t have time for holding extra junk while they’re slaughtering their way through undead-infested dungeons. You can attach the lantern to your belt, or you can just give it to one of your followers; they can hold or wear it for you. Even handier! Honestly, is there any need for the sun now that we've got this sorted?
Throw a magical cabbage at your enemies. Go on.
Best Skyrim mods - Combat and magic
Phenderix’s Magic Evolved flings 400 new spells into your magical repertoire. You can expand your arcane arsenal with blood magic, druidic spells and all sorts of new stuff that can then be combined to create even more powerful results. Cast some lightning magic on someone you just soaked with water magic, for instance, and you're going to do a bit more harm. You can even clone enemies, turn them into chickens or break the laws of time and space. They’re customisable, too! You can change how they look, and while that has no practical benefit, being a wizard is at least 50% showmanship.
Apocalypse has fewer spells, but boy are they fun. And flashy! You can summon tornadoes and volcanoes, rip ghosts out of corpses and send them towards enemies or trap people in mystical prisons. The handiest, however, are often the more mundane spells, like being able to find gold veins or conjuring up spectral bridges that transport you across large gaps. OK, that's not mundane at all. The mod neatly slots into the game and feels like a natural extension of the existing magic system, but a lot more creative.
Wildcat and Smilodon are combat overhaul mods for Original Flavour Skyrim and Skyrim Special Edition respectively, both created by EnaiSiaion (they also made Apocalypse). There are some differences between the versions, but both improve combat AI and introduce attacks of opportunity and timed blocking. Generally, combat is faster and more deadly, with weapons dealing more damage. It’s designed to be tinkered with, however, so don’t just stick with the default settings if you’re finding them a bit too tricky.
VioLens lets you customise your killmoves, both melee and ranged, letting you decide how often they appear and what move each weapon triggers. You can create different profiles and tweak things like decapitations, slow motion, and what you see when you’re in first-person or third-person mode. If you want to give your fights some extra cinematic flair, this is a good way to go about it.
Swap out the boring vanilla idle weapon animations for something a bit fancier. Pretty Combat Animations lets you pick from full animation sets that change what your character looks like when they run, walk and sneak while armed (or unarmed, if you're just using your fists). You'll look dangerous even when you're just standing around.
Best Skyrim mods - Towns
Towns and Villages Enhanced is a series of mods from Aplestormy that gives several of Skyrim’s settlements stunning makeovers. There are maybe a few too many trees, though I am a fan of the overgrown look. They’re more cluttered and lively as a result of the tweaks and additions, and they make vanilla Skyrim look positively dead in comparison. Unfortunately, the mods haven’t been updated in years, and they’ve not been ported over to the new edition. The should still work with Special Edition anyway, but there might be some unforeseen issues.
They're not quite the dramatic visual overhaul that Towns and Villages Enhanced is, but together these two mods replace the vanilla textures with high-quality versions and add new bits and pieces. And unlike Towns and Villages Enhanced, they're designed for the Special Edition. If you’re looking for something that hews closer to Bethesda’s vision of Skyrim, these are perfect. The textures are much improved, but they otherwise maintain the original aesthetic, while the towns that have been expanded so far (Darkwater Crossing, Dawnstar and Riverwood) are familiar but busier.
Skyrim hides all of its cities behind gates and loading screens; Open Cities Skyrim smashes them down. This beefy mod moves the cities into the main Skyrim map, rather than the pocket dimension in which they existed, so you can seamlessly move between city and wilderness. All you’re really bypassing is a brief loading screen, but what a difference it makes. The world feels more cohesive, guards react to what’s going on beyond the walls and you can ride your horse into town.
Poor Helgen. It only got a few minutes of screentime before it got roasted, along with most of its inhabitants. Helgen Reborn, then, is a lovely mod that gives the town a second life. Not only does it let you bring Helgen back, there are six custom dungeons, loads of new NPCs, quests, feuds, a town guard to train, new sets of armour to discover - there’s a lot going on. It’s much better than leaving it a charred ruin, even if you still harbour a grudge for everyone standing by when you were about to get your head chopped off.
Similar to Helgen Reborn, this mod revitalises the gloomy town of Winterhold as you work through a quest. In the end, you’ll get yourself a new home, while Winterhold will get a bunch of new buildings and merchants. Those merchants, I should add, are very wealthy, so it's a great place to offload your inventory. Everyone wins!
Best Skyrim mods - Quests and overhauls
Alternate Start is the best way to start a new game of Skyrim. Instead of starting out on the prisoner wagon heading to Helgen, you’ll be able to pick from a multitude of very different origins. Maybe you’re just a hunter camping in the woods, a patron of the Riverwood Inn or a vampire hiding with your undead kin in a dark cave. What you pick doesn’t just determine your starting location, it also changes your inventory. If you want, you can easily pick up the main quest again, or you can just revel in your new life as a recently escaped necromancer’s thrall.
Falskaar is a total conversion mod created by Alexander Velicky to prove to Bethesda he could make something that rivalled their DLC, but with a fraction of their resources. He’s since landed a job at Bungie as a result. Adding approximately 20 hours to the base game, Falskaar is an impressive mod that adds a whole 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.
Another ambitious conversion, The Forgotten City won a national Writer’s Guild award, a first in the medium, for its clever murder mystery script. It’s an eight-hour investigative romp set in an ancient underground city that is, not surprisingly, thick with mysteries. It’s a proper detective story, full of interrogations and sniffing around for clues. Think Poirot, but with magic and ethical conundrums. It feels like a professional production that just happens to also be a mod for Skyrim. A standalone game based on the mod is also in the works.
Sick of chilly Skyrim? Hop on a wagon and take a trip to distant Elsweyr, the home of the fluffy Khajiit. The rainforest and desert makes a nice change of scene, and the Khajiit are far more interesting than the moody Nords. As well as a change in setting, there are plenty of entertaining quests, NPCs and, above all else, an airship of your very own. Moonpath to Elsweyr is almost as old as Skyrim and was a bit creaky as a result, but it started getting updated again last year. It’s the best time to take it for a spin.
With a main storyline alone that amounts to 30 hours of questing, Enderal is a titanic mod set in an entirely new land made up of tropical costs, frosty mountains and dense forests. There are countless new assets, running the gamut from photo-scanned rocks to new monsters. Perks, combat and animations have similarly been overhauled - it’s essentially a new game. And a great one, to boot. Unfortunately, it’s not compatible with the Special Edition; you’ll need to do a bit of faffing to get it to work, though it’s entirely worth the effort.
Best Skyrim mods - Character customisation
Total Character Makeover takes the best appearances from Skyrim Nexus, spruces them up even more and collects them in one convenient package. It doesn’t include new hairstyles, beards or body shapes, but it improves just about everything else for every race. It generally sticks close to the original style of Skyrim’s NPCs - you won’t see big anime eyes or uncanny dolls - but it’s still a meaty enhancement.
Worried your greasy hair is holding you back? Keep finding twigs in your mane right after a job interview? Get yourself Apachii’s Skyhair and replace your manky bird’s nest with silky smooth locks that a model would envy - adventurers can use conditioner too, you know. The mod offers up a ridiculous number of new styles. Remember to get the optional helmet wigs file to make sure your gorgeous hair can be shown off even when you’re wearing a hat.
Souls to Perks adds a ‘Dragon Stone’ to Guardian Stones which allows dragon souls to be swapped for perk points without the restrictions other mods have come with. No more souls gathering dust because you’ve had your fill of Dragon Shouts.
Ordinator completely overhauls Skyrim’s perk trees, introducing a ridiculous 400 new perks. They’re brilliant. It turns each perk tree into a cohesive class, though of course the perks are still all designed to be mixed and matched. Take Alchemy, for instance. The vanilla tree just gives you some resistances and lets you make more powerful potions. It’s rubbish. The Ordinator version, however, transforms you into a mad scientist, dripping horrible pools of magical (and explosive) oil and figuring out new ways to hurt people with poisons. Building your own unique class is infinitely more rewarding with all these exotic perks.
Best Skyrim mods - UI
SkyUI works magic with Skyrim’s interface, vastly improving everything from inventory management to crafting. There are search fields, you can make lists of favourites and everything is displayed clearly. It cuts out so much mucking around. It also includes the Mod Configuration Menu, an extremely handy tool that makes it easy to customise mods. It’s used by several on this list, making SkyUI even more essential. After a long wait, a Special Edition port appeared last year, but it’s still in alpha.
The best HUDs are the ones you don’t notice until you need them. Immersive HUD makes HUD elements like the crosshair and compass invisible until they're called for. The crosshair will only show up if you’re holding a ranged weapon or hovering over an item, you can toggle the compass with the press of a button and meters vanish when they’re at 100%. It’s customisable, too, so you can tweak the transparency of the compass and fiddle with other elements. Skyrim doesn’t have too much screen clutter, but there’s no need for any at all when you’re just exploring peacefully.
Skyrim’s map is pretty but largely indecipherable. It’s not the sort of map that you’d use if you were orienteering. You’ll get lost, stuck behind mountains, lose track of the road and curse the cartographer who made this unhelpful mess. A Quality World Map - With Roads is considerably more detailed, clear and, importantly, shows you where all the roads are. It’s essential for explorers.
A simple but effective mod that adds quest markers to all 24 Stones of Barenziah which feature in the ‘No Stone Unturned’ quest. It’s a massive pain in the arse to find them all without it.
Best Skyrim mods - Survival
Frostfall 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 – be sure to wrap up.
Campfire takes the camping system from Frostfall and spins it into an even more developed standalone mod. You can craft camping gear, make roaring hearths that give you bonuses and even become a tracker. There’s a perk tree attached to it, as well. It’s handy if you want to play around with other survival mods without giving up the comforts of your campsite. It’s also required if you want to use the latest version of Frostfall.
Nobody really needs to eat in Skyrim, which explains the abundance of food. It’s just sitting there, completely ignored. Imagine how miserable all the chefs must be, preparing food that nobody is remotely interested in. The best they can hope for is that an adventurer will scoff some as a last resort. Realistic Needs and Diseases returns food to its lofty status. If you don’t eat, you’ll starve. Drinking is similarly necessary. There are other negative effects before death, but also lots of positive ones for eating well. You need your rest, too, but watch out where you decide to take a nap - if it’s somewhere horrible you might contract a nasty disease.
Wet and Cold is a perfect accompaniment to Skyrim’s survival and weather mods. It mostly adds visual effects that complement the foul weather, but it also changes NPC behaviours. If it’s raining you’ll drip and, if you look up, you might get a raindrop in your eye. When it’s cold, you’ll see your breath (unless you’re a vampire, which is a fantastic touch) and, if it’s also snowing, your hair will get covered in it. During bad weather, NPCs will have different reactions depending on their race, age and job. Argonians, for instance, will stay outside when it’s raining because they can’t get enough of it, while children will flee because they have a deep, abiding fear of water.