Skyrim Mods: Best Graphics, UI Tweaks And Gameplay Improvements
The Skyrim mods are already in their hundreds, so we’ve handpicked the best mods for your PC to get the very best experience out of Bethesda’s RPG.
Published on Dec 7, 2011
Skyrim modders have already been hard at work releasing mods, tweaks and updates to Bethesda’s epic RPG, and that’s even before Bethesda announced it would be releasing its Creation Kit for free in January.
So to help you figure out which Skyrim mods are worthwhile (and which you should ignore) we’ve listed the very best Skyrim mods currently available, improving the graphics, the interface or just your overall enjoyment of the game.
Skyrim Nexus Mod Manager
Before we start, it’s probably worth highlighting this mod manager. It’s currently in open beta, but it is still useful for tracking your favourite Skyrim mods, keeping them up-to-date or simply enabling and disabling mods at the touch of a button.
It ties into the Skyrim Nexus website, the major location for all modders of the game, and is therefore able to find details on your currently installed mods to detect whether or not they are out of date or incompatible with your current version of Skyrim.
As we’ve already mentioned, this download is currently in beta meaning you may well encounter the odd bug. For the most part, however, the tool is fantastic for keeping your mods up to date.
Graphics And Performance
FXAA Post Process Injector
Post processing is little more than adding an effect or overlay on top of a game’s geometry, in most cases improving the visuals through subtle tweaks to contrast or saturation. Without getting too technical, post processing can usually take up quite a lot of your PC’s clout – but not this mod.
By altering the post processing effects of sharpening, technicolour, sepia and bloom – or even adding in a vignette effect – FXAA Post Process Injector can make Skyrim a visual treat, especially as sunset. The mod is customisable too, albeit within the accompanying text file, so you can really alter the game to your personal preference.
Skyrim Enhanced Shaders
Some of the features of this mod overlap with the FXAA Post Process Injector above – the most prominent being the altering of bloom effects – but for a long list of visual upgrades to Skyrim there are few mods as packed as this one.
It’s most prominent feature, however, is the improved shaders – including high dynamic range lighting for better differentiating between lighter and darker scenes, high level shader language to improve sharpness and a custom sun glare effect.
If that all sounds like waffle, all you need to know is that using this mod makes the lighting in Skyrim considerably better, especially in low lighting environments.
Xenius Character Enhancement
This is a compilation of the modders’ (Xenius) work on character model improvements. Installing this mod increases the detail on the faces, body and eyes. Additionally the mod reduces the jagged edges of the lips, noses and chins by reducing compression on textures.
It is unfinished at the moment, but additional updates are expected. Some of these include teeth, eyebrows and hair, as well as any scars and warpaint your character might have. If you do install this mod, be sure to keep it up-to-date for the very best characters.
It may surprise you to hear, but all Bethesda games are limited to 2GB of your memory – and Skyrim is no different. If you’ve got more RAM than you know what to do with, then this mod is definitely for you – especially if you’re looking to combine some of the tasty visual upgrade mods.
It is worth noting, though, that this does alter your TESV.exe file – so be sure to keep a safe backup somewhere to prevent an entire reinstall.
Skyrim HD – 2K Textures
There’s always one mod for major games that stands out as an epic undertaking: this is that mod. Until someone recreates Game Of Thrones or The Lord Of Rings in Skyrim, this is by far and the way the most impressive task.
This mod takes the original textures throughout Skyrim and replaces them with high quality, high-resolution equivalents completely reworked from scratch. In most cases these textures are 2k x 2k in resolution (hence the mod name), increasing the resolution between 4 and 8 times the original texture.
As with so many of these current mods it’s not complete, but there’s already a wealth of improvements ready to see. Mostly this can be found among natural locations – mountainous locations, caves and landscapes for example – but the recent update upgraded Windhelm and Whiterun too. Not to mention the future updates that will improve the textures to the rest of Skyrim.
Note that you’ll probably want to use the 4GB Skyrim mod (above) to make this run a little smoother.
These are actually two separate mods that tweak very specific sections of the game: namely, blood splatter and flora. Enhanced Blood Textures improves each puddle of crimson to make them look a little more realistic and less like the comical ooze that is Skyrim’s original blood effect.
Vurts Skyrim Flora Overhaul covers a range of improvements, mostly taking leaves or the bark of trees and improving the textures to make them sharper and clearer. You can pick and choose which you want to improve too, if that’s what you prefer.
Skyrim’s original water is confusing, sometimes capable of looking beautiful and others resembling a ridiculous jelly-like substance. This mod fixes all of that by improving the specular reflection of water (i.e. the way light bounces off water) and smoothing out the textures of the water’s surface.
This is most noticeable throughout the varied locations and different bodies of water: meaning there’s a clear distinction between a flowing river and the smooth stillness of a marsh. Check it out in action with the video below.
Realistic Smoke And Embers
Another subtle tweak here but yet another worth including in your collection of visual upgrades. This mod improves the overall appearance of fires, as well as increasing the detail in embers and smoke.
There are a couple of options available between medium and high resolutions – but if you’re worrying too much about the variations in sizes for such a minute detail then perhaps Skyrim modding isn’t right for your PC.
Val’s Crafting Meltdown
Of all the crafting mods available (and there are many), this is by far the most useful. It’s built to work in conjunction with other mods but the biggest feature is the ability to melt down unneeded items into component raw materials.
Not only does this include spare weaponry and armour, but even useless miscellaneous items like lanterns, tankards and plates. Now there’s pretty much a craftable use for anything in-game.
To compliment Val’s Crafting Meltdown, this set of crafting mods increases your options and is great for those looking to get a little more out of their Smithing skill:
By being balanced and contained within the lore of Skyrim, the Lost Art of the Blacksmith is by far and away the best of the bunch here. Its use is to add far more recipes to craft, in many cases specific sets or items that you would otherwise have to collect.
This is likely to improve over the years to include considerably more, but it is still nonetheless an important addition here. It turns many existing items into craftable equivalents, as well as enabling many of those to be enchanted after creation.
Though these weapons use the same model as the Orcish set of weapons, they have been tweaked both aesthetically and statistically to create a new range of weaponry. These weapons are generally a little more powerful than Daedra equivalents, though crafting them won’t be an easy task.
Glowing Ore Veins
This mod is a simple addition, but for many a lifesaver. Regardless of the brightness setting you’re playing on, you may well miss some of the ore veins scattered throughout Skyrim. To solve this problem, this mod swaps out the normal textures of these veins for brighter versions, with a splattering of bright colours strewn throughout the stone.
Okay, so it’s a little bit like cheating, but how many of you can admit to spotting a rare ore vein by chance and being thankful you never missed it. It might break the realism of Skyrim a little, but it’s worth it for the additional ore, surely?
Arrowsmith – Simple Fletching
Val’s Crafting Meltdown does actually include arrow crafting, but this is an alternative fletching mod for those who don’t want to install Vals mod. Arrowsmith does arrow creation simply and ably, and is tied in to many of the Smithing perks to help make it balanced.
Yes, this is a bit of a silly one, but it’s no less important for those arachnophobics among you. You may laugh, but it was commonly requested from many of the community, especially since there are a lot of spiders in Skyrim.
Admittedly this is a ridiculous way of approaching it – by replacing the spider models entirely with static cave bears – but until the Creation Kit is released in January there is little else to help you overcome that fear of spiders.
Skip Bethesda Intro
If, like us, you’ve spent many a night returning to the world of Skyrim, then this mod will perhaps be the most treasured one on this list. As the title suggests, it’ll skip the Bethesda logo entirely and let you get straight to the action.
Okay, so it’s only saving a matter of seconds – but they all add up, and this way you needn’t click that mouse button several times in the hopes of speeding the loading process up.
The basic inventory menu of Skyrim can be frustrating at best, especially for PC gamers who have the addition of a mouse to overcome issues like spending too much time in a menu.
This mod drastically alters Skyrim’s menus by placing each of the categories along the top of the screen for quick switching, while the major statistics – such as weight, value and damage/armour – are displayed in a grid form for quick referencing.
The only problem is the font, which isn’t quite as pleasing as vanilla Skyrim’s basic font. Even so, this can be altered to a font of your choosing so, in theory, can be ignored in favour of Bethesda’s original design.
World Map in full 3D
It’s safe to say Skyrim’s world map isn’t the most useful tool in the game with its limited zoom, abundance of locations and the numerous clouds that often obscure the view. This map does away with most of that.
Its biggest feature is the ability to zoom in on any location within the 3D map, even enabling you to view the country of Skyrim in a view similar to Google StreetView. Additionally you can add or remove those irritating clouds that get in the way.
It’s not an installable mod like the rest on this list, requiring custom tweaking of Skyrim’s ini files, but impressive nonetheless.
KenMOD - Lockpick Pro
As enjoyable as lockpicking is, it quickly loses its novelty value. As such, you’ll likely want to pick up this mod at some point, which alters the lockpicking UI by adding in an indication of where each locks ‘sweet spot’ is as well as the current health of each lockpick.
Yes, it’s cheating, but can you honestly muster the energy to pick your way through every single lock in Skyrim, with or without the Skeleton Key?