While Skyrim may be over a decade old, it’s still one of the best role-playing games on PC, especially if you download some of the excellent mods that fans have created for it over the years. Modding has traditionally been a bit unstable in Bethesda titles, but thanks to the engine improvements that Bethesda made to the game with Skyrim Special Edition in 2016, modding Skyrim: Special Edition is surprisingly stable.
Here’s an in-depth overview of everything you’ll need to start adding mods to your game, as well as a comprehensive list of some of the best Skyrim SE mods available.
Best Skyrim SE mods: What you’ll need
Source: Bethesda Game Studios
Since Skyrim SE is an updated version of Skyrim with more modern tech under the hood than the original game, preparing to mod it is easier than it is for older Bethesda games. That being said, there are still a few tools, engine improvement mods, and more that you’ll need before you can start modding.
The first thing you need is a Nexus Mods account, the website where most mods are posted. Secondly, you’ll want a mod manager. These tools automatically handle most mods’ installation, so you don’t have to dig around in-game files — simply drag-and-drop compressed mod files, and the mod manager will do the rest. I highly recommend Vortex since it has a great UI and built-in tools to easily manage mod file conflicts. After installing it, log in with your Nexus account, and select Skyrim: SE as the game you’re modding. Note that not all mods can be handled by mod managers, and some will require manual installation (these mods almost always include manual installation instructions).
A great (arguably necessary) tool to pair with your mod manager is the Load Order Optimization Tool, or LOOT. This program automatically reorganizes your load order to make it as stable as possible. If desired or needed (based on mod instructions), you can override LOOT’s optimization to make manual tweaks to your load order yourself.
Next up, you’ll want the newest version of the Skyrim SE Script Extender, or SKSE64. This mod extends the scripting capabilities of the vanilla game, which is necessary for making many popular mods work. The download page has installation instructions.
NOTE: For SKSE64 to take effect, you’ll need to launch Skyrim SE with the skse64_loader.exe file that comes with this mod. I recommend making a shortcut of this file and putting it on your desktop. You’ll also need to fire up Skyrim SE through Steam or GOG the regular way once for the SKSE64 loader to work.
Source: Windows Central Here’s what the Vortex interface looks like.
Finally, there’s SkyUI. This mod adds in a new UI for Skyrim SE that looks nicer than the vanilla UI and also makes it possible for mods to show the player custom dialogue boxes, which can often be important for mods to work properly. SkyUI also comes with a mod configuration menu that allows you to tweak the settings for many mods. As a result, a large number of mods list SkyUI as a requirement.
Keep in mind that some mods may require more than what we’ve mentioned here, so always make sure to read mod descriptions and requirements!
Best Skyrim SE mods: Performance mods
These mods fix bugs or make tweaks to the game’s code so that things run smoother and that crashes are much, much rarer. They’re particularly useful for heavily modded setups, so use them to ensure maximum in-game performance.
Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch
The Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch fixes thousands of bugs, both big and small, that are present in the vanilla version of Skyrim SE. Aside from making the game run better, this mod will also help create a bug-free gameplay experience as well.
Skyrim Priority SE
Skyrim Priority SE ensures that your system always puts Skyrim SE at the top of its priority list, meaning that while it’s running, the majority of your CPU power will always be dedicated to the game. It’s a great way to boost your FPS and overall performance if you have lots of script-heavy mods.
SSE Display Tweaks
SSE Display Tweaks makes a lot of under-the-hood changes to make Skyrim SE run much smoother, especially if you’re playing in borderless fullscreen mode. With this mod, you’ll get the most out of your GPU, and that’s important if you’re planning on installing lots of graphics mods.
This mod doesn’t necessarily add anything, but rather it makes it significantly easier to tweak your Skyrim SE configuration .INI files by giving you access to all of them in one simple program. Tweaking these files is one of the best ways to improve performance, so being able to do so is very valuable. BethINI also automatically fixes common .INI errors if it detects any, which is a sweet bonus.
Best Skyrim SE mods: Graphics mods
These mods will make Skyrim SE look absolutely gorgeous, and we highly recommend downloading them if you want your Skyrim to feel like a game that just came out.
Static Mesh Improvement Mod
The Static Mesh Improvement Mod, or SMIM, replaces a ton of static vanilla objects with brand-new models and textures that look incredibly sharp. If you want Skyrim’s architecture, clutter, furniture, and landscaping to look like what you’d find in a 2021 game, look no further than SMIM.
Skyrim 2018 and Skyrim 2020 Parallax
Skyrim 2018 and Skyrim 2020 Parallax are a pair of mods that are designed to overhaul the textures of everything that SMIM doesn’t touch. Together with SMIM, these two mods will instantly make your entire Skyrim SE look jaw-dropping. Also, make sure you get the SSE Parallax Shader Fix.
Enhanced Lights and FX
The Enhanced Lights and FX mod significantly overhauls the lighting in Skyrim SE and makes it much more realistic, complete with lots of new impressive visual effects.
Natural and Atmospheric Tamriel ENB 2.0
The Natural and Atmospheric Tamriel ENB 2.0 mod adds in beautiful new weather effects as well as an ENB (a post-processing injector that adds in advanced visual effects) that’s designed to work with them. Installation is a bit more complicated than most mods, so make sure to read the instructions. You’ll also need the ENB Helper SE mod for everything to work properly, so make sure you install it.
The ENB Light mod makes it so that light sources and magic spells realistically light up the area around them while you’re using an ENB. The mod’s effects look especially cool at during the night when things are dark.
Water for ENB
This water mod goes excellently with NAT ENB 2.0, as it’s specifically designed to be paired with an ENB. Even without one, though, the water is incredibly realistic and is much better than vanilla Skyrim’s dated water appearance.
Folkvangr Grass and Landscape Overhaul
Folkvangr adds in stunning new forms of dense grass all over Skyrim, instantly making it look like a natural paradise. Make sure you install Landscape Fixes for Grass Mods, No Grassias, No Grass In Objects, and the Grass FPS Booster so your performance stays stable and so you won’t find grass in strange places.
3D Trees and Plants
3D Trees and Plants adds in over 300 high-quality 3D replacer models for Skyrim’s trees and forest plants. Together with Folkvangr, you can use this game to make Skyrim look and feel more lush than ever before. And also get the 3D Trees and Plants Parallax mod if you want the new trees and plants to look even better.
The Aspens Ablaze mod essentially does the same thing as 3D Trees and Plants, but adds in new aspen trees instead (these are mainly located in The Rift). Notably, the mod’s trees are much more colorful and sharp than the vanilla trees. If you’re also using 3D Trees and Plants, install this 3D patch.
Vitruvia and UNP
These two mods vastly improve the textures of both male and female skin. Get Vitruvia if you want better textures for male skin, and get the UNP Female Body Renewal if you want better female skin (be aware that some of the images on the UNP page are NSFW).
High Poly Vanilla Hair
The High Poly Vanilla Hair mod significantly improves the textures of vanilla hairstyles, elevating them to a more modern look.
aMidianBorn Book of Silence SE
Source: The AMB Team
You wouldn’t be able to tell by the name, but the aMidianBorn Book of Silence SE mod upgrades the textures for all of the game’s weapons, armors, creatures, and unique items. There are more advanced and complicated replacers available on the Nexus, but we think this mod will be the best choice for most people when it comes to improving item textures.
The DynDOLOD tool allows you to generate brand new LOD textures for Skyrim after you’ve installed all of your texture mods, allowing you to significantly improve how good faraway landscapes, terrain, and trees look. Using it is fairly complicated, but this tutorial video by YouTuber GamerPoets is a fantastic resource I recommend.
Best Skyrim SE mods: Sound mods
These mods add brand new sounds to Skyrim’s soundscape and enhance how the game sounds when wearing headphones.
Immersive Sounds Compendium
The massive Immersive Sounds Compendium mod adds thousands of new sounds into Skyrim to vastly expand its audio. Everything from new combat sound effects to various forms of ambient audio have been added to make the world of Skyrim sound more alive.
Sounds of Skyrim SE
The Sounds of Skyrim SE mod adds a ton of ambient sound effects to towns, cities, dungeons, and forests. It pairs excellently with Immersive Sounds Compendium, and you can use SkyUI’s mod configuration menu to adjust which sounds play if you want to fine-tune your experience.
True 3D Sound for Headphones
If you want spatial audio in Skyrim, the True 3D Sound for Headphones mod is a fantastic way to get it if you use headphones. It’s very useful for when you need to figure out where enemies are coming from.
Best Skyrim SE mods: Gameplay mods
If you’re looking to freshen up the Skyrim experience with some changes to the gameplay, these mods will be right up your alley. They add more depth to the game’s mechanics and systems, and they bring more overall roleplaying potential to Skyrim. All of the additions are reasonable and lore-friendly as well, so they’ll fit into Skyrim naturally and won’t break your immersion.
Alternate Start — Live Another Life
If you want to quickly start a new character and set up a specific roleplaying scenario without having to get through Skyrim’s intro, the Alternate Start — Live Another Life mod is for you. In less than a minute after creating your character, you can choose to start the game as a bandit, a hunter, an inn patron, and more and then be teleported to a suitable location to start your adventure.
Character Creation Overhaul
The Character Creation Overhaul mod adds a ton of depth to Skyrim’s character creation systems to bring them in-line with previous Elder Scrolls games. On top of your starting race attributes, you’ll also be able to pick a birthsign, a class, and a handful of specialized skills. Using this mod is an excellent way to tweak your characters towards a specific build you’re planning on using right from the start.
Ordinator — Perks of Skyrim
The Ordinator — Perks of Skyrim mod massively overhauls Skyrim’s perk by tweaking existing ones while also adding in a ton of new ones, too. Skyrim’s default build potential was already excellent, but this incredible mod makes it even better.
Apocalypse — Magic of Skyrim
Apocalypse is more or less the mage-focused version of Ordinator that adds in over a hundred brand-new spells to the game, complete with custom visual effects. If you like to use magic a lot, this mod is a must-have. It’s also a great mod to pair with ENB Light, as all of the spells are compatible with that mod’s visual effects.
Wildcat — Combat of Skyrim
The Wildcat — Combat of Skyrim mod freshens up Skyrim’s combat experience by making it less arcadey and more strategic. Both you and your enemies use a lot more stamina when attacking and defending, attacks do more damage and can cause injuries that alter stats, and enemy AI is considerably smarter.
Immersive Speechcraft SE
Hate how useless the speech skill is in vanilla Skyrim? Immersive Speechcraft SE is the mod for you then, as it adds in brand new dialogue options for the player to use that require having a relatively high speech skill. You can convince NPCs to surrender, give you their items, follow you into combat, trade with you, and more.
The NPCs Travel mod adds over 150 NPCs that travel to and from Skyrim’s various cities and towns, helping make the roads feel more active and alive. There are merchants, mercenaries, faction members, bandits, and more included in the mod. They respawn eventually if they’re killed, too.
Skyrim at War
Not a fan of how small the Civil War between the Imperials and Stormcloaks feels in-game? The Skyrim at War mod solves that problem by adding in tons of dynamic Imperial and Stormcloak patrols, battalions, and armies that battle each other all across the map as you play. With this mod, the Civil War will immediately feel more front-and-center.
OBIS SE and More Bandit Camps
If you want the areas between settlements in Skyrim to feel more dangerous, these two mods used in-tandem are an excellent option. Organized Bandits in Skyrim (OBIS) adds in seven different unique bandit gangs you can encounter across the map, while More Bandit Camps introduces tons of new small generic bandit groups.
iNeed — Food, Water, and Sleep
If you want more of a reason to seek out food, drink, and beds in Skyrim, the iNeed — Food, Water, and Sleep mod will be perfect for you. iNeed adds in basic survival needs that negatively impact your health and stamina if you ignore them for too long, and you can even die if you go too long without water or nourishment. Now you’ll have a reason to pick up those cheese wheels!
Movement Behavior Overhaul
In vanilla Skyrim, movement looks and feels pretty stiff, which can be jarring to deal with if you’re used to more modern games. The Movement Behavior Overhaul mod adds in several new animations that help fix this issue by making the movement more fluid and natural, which in turn makes gameplay feel much smoother.
Best Skyrim SE mods: Quest mods
Quests dictate nearly everything we do in Skyrim. If you’re looking to embark on a brand-new adventure, why not try out some of the incredible quest mods that talented modders have created over the years? These projects add new stories, big and small, and many of them feature professional voice acting, new worldspaces, and more.
The Forgotten City
The Forgotten City is arguably the best quest mod in existence in terms of writing, as it won a National Writers’ Guild award for its script. In this 8-hour long adventure, players will work to uncover the truth behind a murder mystery in an ancient underground city. The mod’s voice acting is stellar, and the fact there are multiple endings means that the quest has lots of replayability as well.
Project AHO takes players to Sadrith Kegran, a hidden settlement owned by Great House Telvanni and built over the ruins of an ancient Dwarven city. As they play through this DLC-sized adventure, players will uncover the secrets of an extremely advanced Dwemeri invention: the Aetherium Hyperspace Observatory.
Made by the same team behind Project AHO, Carved Brink is centered around exploring a Daedric plane of Oblivion controlled by goblins. Over the course of this quest mod, you’ll find new treasures, meet new characters, and eventually you’ll be tested by the trial of the Daedra.
Unlike the previous mods we mentioned, Missives is aimed towards players looking for short, repeatable adventures. At every city or town you will find notice boards where NPCs have posted jobs for adventurers like you to complete. These jobs typically entail clearing out bandit camps, delivering secret messages, saving captured civilians, killing beasts, going hunting, and more.
Did we miss any of your favorite mods? Have you got one you think should be on the list? Let us know in the comments below! Also, make sure you check out our list of the best Skyrim Special Edition Xbox One mods if you’re an Xbox player. More of a Fallout fan? Don’t miss our roundups of the best mods for Fallout 4 on PC, the best Fallout 4 Xbox One mods you must try, and the best Fallout: New Vegas PC mods.
We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn more.