How To Get Old Skyrim Saves Working In The Skyrim Special Edition
How to fix Skyrim SE save crashes
It has been an odyssey. My most recent Skyrim save is three years old. I cannot in good conscience pretend to recall what my motivations were the last time I played it - what quests I cared about, what guild or weapon or house I was pursuing. But, for reasons that are part bloody-mindedness and part wincing at the prospect of having to redo so much armour crafting from the start, I have been absolutely determined to get my old saves and characters working in last week's The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition [official site].
It has been a long and tiresome job, but I have achieved it. Here's how you can do it too.
As we noted last week, the Skyrim Special Edition will load up Skyrim saves, via the simple act of copying the files from
My Documents - My Games - Skyrim - Saves to
My Documents - My Games - Skyrim Special Edition - Saves.
However, if you ran Skyrim with mods, there is a very strong likelihood that the saves will not work. Some folk have been lucky and gotten away with nothing more than a missing content warning message, but others have been completely locked out, usually in the form of a crash to desktop when Skyrim Special Edition tries to load the save.
In time, more mods will be rejiggered to work 100% comfortably with the Special Edition, and that will, in theory, iron out quite a few of the savegame incompatibilities - although it may be some time before popular mod loader SKSE gets ported, and the creators of the damn-near essential user interface mod SkyUI say they have no current plans to adapt it. (However, third party attempts have got some of its features working already, so there is hope yet).
In the meantime, it's a lottery as to whether your saves will work. The good news is, there is a fix. The bad news is that it took me bloody ages to get it working, but the extra good news is that, by telling you what I did, you should be able to achieve it far more quickly.
It turned out that I had two separate problems. One was a heavy reliance on SKSE-based mods, which by and large are far more problematic for Skyrim SE than ones simply loaded directly by the game. The second was uGrids.
Change Skyrim Special Edition uGrids
I'm going to cover uGrids first, because it might well be the only issue you face, and will spare you from the more complicated savegame editing I had to do.
If you ever fiddled with uGrids in Skyrim you surely know what they are already, but I'll summarise quickly in case you blindly used some tool to do it for you without fully understanding what was happening.
uGridsToLoad" is a line that can be added to the Skyrim.ini file, and which governs how much of Skyrim's world is loaded into memory and therefore visible at any one time. Many of us whacked the number up from its default 5 to 7, 9 or even 11, in order to avoid distant scenery pop-in as we walked around, and lend a great sense of detail to Skyrim's then-sumptuous environments. (It can also have the knock-on effect of making more of Skyrim's AI active at any one time, which can result in all manner of weird behaviours, but that's its own problem).
The thing about uGrids is that raising it affects the make-up of your Skyrim save's world so profoundly that you will not be able to load said save in a copy of Skyrim that is running default uGrids (or indeed any uGrids value lower than the one used by the save).
So if, like a great many of us, you were running at the stable 7 or EVER SO RISKY 9 (or even the near-suicidal 11), keep in mind that Skyrim SE is back to the default 5. This means insta-crash for your uGrids-modded save. In my case, I simply forgot that I'd been running uGrids 7 for years, coupled with a naive arrogance that the Special Edition would magically have fixed any wobbly parts of Skyrim. I spent hours deep in the savegame editing I'll go into a bit later, and though the result is a perfectly clean save, the final part of the puzzle was uGrids.
Here's what you need to do, if you don't remember or used a tool to do it for you. Browse to
My Documents - My Games - Skyrim Special Edition and open up
Skyrim.ini in Notepad or similar. At the bottom of the section marked
[General], add the following line:
If you can remember what you had uGrids set to in Skyrim (it's worth checking to see if an old ini exist in My Documents - My Games - Skyrim, in fact), change the '7' to suit. Otherwise, experiment until you find the magic number and your save loads. It was 9 for me.
Now, at this point you can either stick with the raised uGrids number, which means a better-looking game, or if you're concerned about things going wrong, reset it to the default 5. To do this, load up your savegame in Skyrim SE, then alt-tab out and open up Skyrim.ini again. Change uGrids back to 5, save, then return to the game. Bring up the command console by pressing tilde or ` (YMMV may vary depending on your keyboard layout), then type
refreshini and hit enter.
You'll see a small line of text saying that settings have been refreshed, and may notice a decrease in distant scenery detail. You should then make a brand new save. And there you go, one totally clean and in theory problem-free Skyrim Special Edition savefile.
On the other hand, the Special Edition's move to 64 bit means that, again in theory, you can push uGrids far higher than in Skyrim classic. Some reckon even as high as 19. Using the above methods, you should be able to safely experiment, but I very, very strongly recommend keeping one backup uGrids 5 save that you can go back to in case of emergencies.
Fix modded Skyrim saves
If it turns out that uGrids wasn't your only problem, or that you never changed that setting and in fact it's one or more of the many mods you installed that's preventing the save from loading, you need to turn to a third-party savegame cleaning tool.
There are two major alternatives, Savegame Script Scalpel and Save Game Script Cleaner. The latter is easier and faster to use and does most of the same job as the more involved former, so I'm only going to discuss it here. If Script Cleaner doesn't work for you, try Scalpel and follow the tips it gives you when you load it.
Extract and open the download, then head to '
open' on the top right. Browse to the Skyrim save you've been trying to load in SE - which you made a backup of already, right? If not, make a backup first. The save cleaner can make backups too, but let's play it safe.
The window on the left will probably announce that it's found hundreds of 'orphan script insances', but don't panic. Most don't mean anything in practice, and in any case this tool should nobble anything that's trying to call up a mod that no longer exists in your Skyrim install.
You want to hit these buttons to give your save a good scrub:
Fix Script Instances
Del. broken actives
You'll see it mention that bloody hundreds of things have been deleted. Yes, there's a chance this might result in a broken or reset quest or lost item, but mostly it should just stop Skyrim SE from trying to load missing mod content. Then head back over to top-right, check the 'Auto Backup' box then click Save. Your problematic save will be overwtitten with a scrubbed copy, but an non-fiddled backup should be created too.
Go try loading the save in Skyrim SE (doing the uGrids tweak as above if you ever fiddled with uGrids in Skyrim classic) and it should work. You'll still likely see a 'missing content' message when you load it, but that does not guarantee a crash. If the save does work, save again from within the game and then, when you load that one, you won't get the error message any more.
if it doesn't, there's one more thing you can try. Load up the Save Game Script Cleaner again as before, then click
Advanced (the button's sort of top-centre). Click
Remove scripts attached to nonexistent created forms and
Remove a scripts having invalid variables (sic). It's then worth repeating the whole process, from
Fix Script Instances on. Don't forget to save.
That should do it. It really should. If it doesn't, you can try Savegame Script Scalpel, which can scour logs to identify specific causes - but this can take a while, and first you need to make Skyrim create those logs. The tool itself can talk you through this, so I won't take up even more space going through it now.
Between uGrids and Script Cleaner I'm extremely confident that you'll sort things out. It certainly worked for me, and it's both relief and treat to see my old level 48 Khajiit stealth-warrior-wizard-demigod traipsing the ever-so-slightly-prettier mountains of Nu-Skyrim.