Ever wonder why your buddy insists that playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on PC is the only way to play Skyrim? Well, aside from the fact that it just looks better on a decent gaming rig, PC players also have access to user-created mods that enhance the game in a myriad of ways. For instance, ever wish there was more to see after you've completed every single quest in the game? Dozens of content mods make it so. Or maybe you think the default textures for things like blood and clothing look like garbage. Guess what--there's a mod for making them look more detailed.
Pretty much anything you could dream up has already been dreamt up and created in the form of mods. In fact, head over to Skyrim Nexus, and you'll find thousands of them to download and try. But how do you know which ones are actually worth checking out and installing? Don't worry, we've got you covered.
User interface mods
Alright, first up on the list are some mods meant to "enhance the user experience"--in other words, ones that transform Skyrim's menus from a practically unusable nightmare into an easily digestible directory.
Okay, so this isn't a visual enhancement, per se, but SkyUI turns Skyrim's god-awful interface into something a bit more user friendly. We'd love to think that if Bethesda were to re-release Skyrim with a next-gen makeover, it'd take a note from this mod and redesign the UI. Oh, and while you're at it, you might as well grab the Unofficial Skyrim Patch, which fixes hundreds of bugs that you'll still encounter in Skyrim's most recent (official) version.
A Quality World Map - With Roads
Open up the world map in Skyrim and what you'll get is a very vague overview of the landscape. This is great for those of you who just want to explore the vast setting without ever knowing where you're headed. But, if you kind of wish the map displayed basic things like, I don't know, roads, then be sure to check out the A Quality World Map - With Roads mod. It doesn't unveil any undiscovered locations, but it does at least show where each road is located.
Better quest objectives
The time is nigh. You've spent hours tracking down a quest chain to get a super badass weapon that'll make destroying every living being in Skyrim a simple endeavor. But first, you must perform one simple task: destroy a special monster. "Easy," you think to yourself. "I'll just load up the quest log to see where it is and wait a minute. I have no goddamn clue where this thing is located." Welcome to Skyrim's quest log system, which doesn't give a shit about context. Here's a simple fix: download and install the Better Quest Objectives mod, which adds a helpful bit of extra explanation to each quest.
Categorised Favourites Menu
Skyrim's vanilla menus aren't the best. Sometimes you can end up clicking on something you don't want to, other times you could be scrolling down a seemingly infinite list of items until you find the one you want. If you've already downloaded the SkyUI mod, you may also want to grab the Categorised Favourites Menu mod by favmenumodder as well. This gives you several favorites menus that are broken down into subcategories, so you'll have access to whatever items you need with a quick click.
Better Dialogue Controls and Better Messagebox Controls
We're sure there's been a few times in which you pissed off a NPC in Skyrim because you accidentally selected the wrong dialogue option with the wonky selection controls. Better Dialogue Controls keeps the mouse and keyboard controls from conflicting, so you'll know exactly what option you are choosing. Also, with the Better Messagebox Controls mod your mouse clicks will feel more accurate and you'll have keyboard functionality for all message boxes in the Skyrim interface. They're small changes, but they definitely make a difference.
Ever wish your character's face or clothes looked a little more realistic? These mods exist to give Skyrim an ultra-pretty makeover.
Want to instantly make Skyrim look a billion times prettier? Just install one of the various ENB mods out there, which add post processing and lighting effects to enhance the game's visuals. There are various flavors available, each with their own style of graphical tweaks, so you'll want to take a peek at what's available before choosing one. Our recommendation? RealVision ENB, which provides a lot of the benefits of visual ENB without sacrificing your frame rates quite as hard as some other options.
Pure Waters makes Skyrim's many rivers, streams, and swamps look unbelievably real. How? By tampering with the transparency, reflections, and colors of the water while HD foam and shoreline textures are icing on the cake.
Realistic Lighting Overhaul
Skyrim's lighting doesn't look all that bad--that is, until you compare it to the likes of the Realistic Lighting Overhaul mod. After installing it, dungeons that had once been magically lit by a mysterious, unseen light source are now just as dark as the horrors that reside within them, while sunlight filters through the trees almost like it does in the real world. Best of all, all of these lighting enhancements are made by optimizing the capabilities of the engine rather than doing so through post processing effects, which means your frame rates should remain intact.
Improved NPC Clothing
While we're on a retexturing spree, why not make it so NPCs look like they're wearing actual clothes instead of skin paint? The Improved NPC Clothing mod does just that, turning merchant rags into slightly prettier merchant rags. Obviously, this one's by no means a game changer, but its subtle changes will certainly help your immersion factor.
Now it's time to make Skyrim look ultra pretty by installing a series of high-resolution texture updates via Nebula's Skyrim HD mods. This affects more than 600 textures throughout the game, including landscapes, towns, dungeons, and miscellaneous things such as clothing, the sky, water, and more. You're looking at a hefty download size, though, as each of the updated texture resolutions are four to eight times larger than the default ones.
Skyrim Floral Overhaul
While you'll undoubtedly do plenty of indoor looting, you'll also spend a lot of time just wandering around the outside world of Skyrim, so now it's time to make its plants and grass look just as pretty as those HD-ified dungeons. Skyrim Floral Overhaul is a great start, as it not only makes vegetation look a bit better, it also adds a ton of variety in how it looks. Now you won't have to wander through the vast lands of Skyrim only to see the same eight types of plants over and over again!
With a majority of Skyrim's plantlife taken care of, there's just one final improvement to be made: grass. There are several grass enhancement mods out there, but if you're looking for maximum prettiness, Dat Grass is the one to go with (just know that it will murder your performance, so check to see if your rig can handle it). Alternatively, you could install Grass on Steroids, which will increase the density of grass without sacrificing frame rates.
Realistic Smoke and Embers
So, Skyrim's fire effects. Sure, they're by no means awful in their default form, but seeing as we took the time to make plants look prettier, we may as well keep going. Realistic Smoke and Embers, as its name suggests, makes smoke and embers look a tad better. Considering you'll come across about a billion torches and bonfires, you might as well.
Enhanced Blood Textures
This one's pretty self-explanatory. It makes blood look more... real, we guess? We've (thankfully) never actually been in a sword fight, so we're going on an assumption here. Still, you'll be fighting lots of nasty monsters and people, and Enhanced Blood Textures makes the results a bit more gruesome.
Static Mesh Improvement Mod
Ever wish Skyrim's signposts looked less like 2D doodles drawn in MS Paint and more like actual, 3D sign posts? Then this mod's for you. The Static Mesh Improvement Mod offers a staggering amount of 3D makeovers for many objects in the game, doing away with the ugly models ported over from Skyrim's console release almost entirely. We always thought it odd walking around in a world where characters and buildings were incredibly detailed while the objects within them looked like they were designed by your annoying co-worker's five-year-old.
Ruins Clutter Improved
This retexturing mod adds a substantial number of subtle improvements to the many environmental objects you'll find sitting around in dungeons and catacombs. Candles, pots, doors, and just about everything else will look significantly better once Ruins Clutter Improved is installed, and it's totally compatible with pretty much all of the other retexturing add-ons out there.
Immersion enhancement mods
Maybe the only mods you're interested in are the ones that help make Skyrim a more immersive game. Well, here you go.
Climates of Tamriel - Weather, Lighting, Audio
In Skyrim, it often snows. It gets dark. The sun rises. Sometimes it rains. And... that's about it. But the Climates of Tamriel mod completely overhauls the game's lighting and weather systems, adding a ton of variety to storms, sunrises, sunsets and the like, while adding a slew of ambient outdoor sounds in addition to high-resolution cloud textures, turning sky boxes into honest-to-goodness skies.
Sounds of Skyrim
After a few hours of exploring dungeons, checking out towns, and hunting in the wilds, you'll have heard just about every sound effect there is to hear. Which makes their repeated use all the more noticeable once you dump 100+ hours into Skyrim. The Sounds of Skyrim series adds hundreds of new effects and noises to the game, transforming it into an aural delight and spares you the repetition.
Skyrim might feature tons of NPCs (and a grand total of four voice actors), but talk to them long enough and you'll start to notice a trend. Most are content to repeat the same line of dialogue over and over and over again, which gets a bit tedious after a while, Enter the Interesting NPCs mod, which not only introduces dozens of new NPCs throughout the world, but grants them fascinating backstories and extensive dialogue options.
Wet and Cold
In the real world, people seek shelter when it starts raining or snowing. In Skyrim, people stand around in their T-shirts like it's no big deal. The Wet and Cold mod aims to make folks react more realistically to unfavorable weather: some will don cloaks and hoods, others will return to their homes, and whenever you get wet, water will drip from your clothes until they dry. A small touch, really, but c'mon--who just stands there with a smile on their face during a torrential downpour?
The first few dragons you fight in Skyrim are terrifying. They come screeching out of the heavens, intent on lighting you ablaze just for fun, and only after a lengthy battle of attrition can they be killed. 60 hours later, you'll fight four of 'em at once, and laugh when a group of bandits takes one down when it decides to assault their camp. Suddenly dragons aren't so scary anymore. Want to make them more challenging? As in, way more challenging? Check out Deadly Dragons--but do so at your own risk.
Wish Skyrim had more weapons, armor, enemies, and quests? These mods are your ticket to a better loot stash.
Adding more than 20 new sets of lore-friendly armor to the world of Skyrim, Immersive Armors is an excellent mod for those looking to protect themselves with a new suit of defensive gear. Each of these sets is crazy detailed, and they're spread throughout the game to make it so you'll be finding new equipment throughout the entirety of your journey.
Similarly, if you're looking for a ton of new weapons that don't feel out of place in Skyrim's world (no sci-fi laser swords to be found here), Immersive Weapons adds a bunch of new items with which to kill your enemies.
Finally, the Immersive Creatures mod adds dozens of living critters to the game, including entirely new designs, as well as variations on already-existing animals. Necessary? No, but it adds a bit more diversity to the massive world of Skyrim.
The Dance of Death
Who doesn't like to see gruesome (and at the same time super awesome) kill moves as you wipe out an entire group of bandits? The Dance of Death mod makes killing blows happen more often, which turns each of your battles into a cinematic massacre. Not only does the frequency of the killing blows increase, the mode also adds even more moves to your repertoire. If you're tired of just watching your enemies flop over like a wet noodle you should definitely check out The Dance of Death mod and vanquish your foes with style.
Amazing Follower Tweaks
The thing about NPC followers in Skyrim is they really just have a mind of their own. They only put on the best clothes, equip the best weapons, and sometimes just run off and do whatever they want. But all of that can be fixed with this fantastic mod. Amazing Follower Tweaks by Dheuster lets you customize almost any aspect of your (up to 5) followers through a comprehensive menu system. You can choose the gear they equip, their combat style, assign spells, and even determine when they to transform into werewolves and vampires.
Apocalypse Spell Package
This one's for all the mages out there. Apocalypse Spell Package adds more than one hundred new spells to game, giving you tons of variety when playing as a caster. Best of all, they've been (mostly) balanced, so none of them will create a game-breaking experience.
Now that you're done turning a vanilla PC version of Skyrim into a full-blown next-gen experience, why not treat yourself to a mod that's offers just as much new content as official Skyrim DLC? Falksaar features a new area to explore, and is full of new quests, items, NPCs, and more. Best of all? It's totally free (and pretty damn stable).
A player-made content mod, Wyrmstooth introduces a new series of quests to the game in addition to new items, spells, and fully-voiced NPCs. Like Falskaar, think of this as a totally free mini-expansion that'll add hours of playtime to your already-lengthy experience.
See you in Skyrim
These mods practically transform Skyrim into a whole new experience--that's the beauty of PC gaming. What mods do you enjoy? Are there ones blatantly missing from this list? And would you buy a next-gen console re-release of the game of Bethesda made one? Let us know in the comments below.