I'm still huge into Skyrim, and have been floating around the Nexus and its accompanying modding forums for over a year now. I'm pretty passionate about Skyrim as a whole, so this is going to be one hell of a post - I may not even finish it tonight, I just want to get it started or I'll never bother. I apologise in advance. But not really.
You'll want to lay the groundwork first. Download and install the Nexus Mod Manager if you haven't already. Though any mod manager will work, I find NMM far better than the likes of Mod Organizer. You'll also need BOSS
. There's also LOOT, which is still very much an in-testing program and not recommended for active load orders. Then you'll want SKSE
for a wider script framework that a lot of the best mods out there depend on. There are two versions: the stable 1.6.16, and the 1.7.0 alpha build. The former is more stable, obviously, while the alpha version has a few new features, not the least of which the incorporation of the Skyrim Startup Memory Editor
. I personally recommend you go with v1.6.16 for now, and install SSME separately. It's dead easy, and far more stable than SKSE 1.7.0 in my experience. Also be sure to grab Wrye Bash
for creating a bashed patch once you've got all your mods installed.
Now. You definitely want the Unofficial Skyrim Patch
. It's an invaluable mod that repairs literally HUNDREDS of issues with the vanilla game. You'll also want the unofficial patch for Dawnguard
, and the High Resolution Pack
. You'll also want to install Better Dialogue Controls
and Better MessageBox Controls
- though if you play with a controller then those two are unnecessary. Those are all absolute musts for any PC playthrough, objectively speaking. No one should be without them. Unless you enjoy a fundamentally broken gameplay experience, of course.
I strongly endorse the Static Mesh Improvement Mod
. It replaces many meshes from the vanilla game - too many to list, frankly - with higher poly versions that look far more natural and realistic. Install it first, and let other mods listed below overwrite it - most of them use SMIM meshes anyway. In the same vein, I'd point you towards Gemling Queen Jewelry
, which combines with SMIM to vastly improve Skyrim's default jewelry. Fantastic pair of mods. I also strongly recommend The Choice is Yours
, which prevents quests from being added to your journal until you specifically agree to them - no more "join the Stormcloaks" kicking around in your journal for the entire playthrough; and the Enchantment Reload Fix
, which addresses an obnoxious bug that the Unofficial Patch doesn't cover due to the fact that it requires SKSE and is thus beyond the scope of their work.
The next thing you'll likely want to tackle is the lighting and weather systems. There are four "popular" lighting/weather mods on the Nexus, all of which have their strong points and their weaknesses. The one most would recommend, I think, is Climates of Tamriel
. It's quite extensive, and overhauls not just the weather systems but also night brightness, indoor lighting tones, and the audioscape. I personally find the way it approaches darker nights to be rather lackluster in comparison with the rest of the project, almost like the player is just wearing sunglasses - everything is made that much less vibrant at night, including light sources. The second one I'll mention is my personal choice, Realistic Lighting Overhaul
. It makes the game much more atmospheric by eliminating generic unsourced/ambient light and making existing light sources much more noticeable and appreciable. Its weathers module is a little basic, and is more focused on making the lighting from vanilla weathers more appropriate than adjusting the weathers themselves. Nights are much more realistically darkened, with light sources maintaining their worth while areas without a light source are much harder to see in. This one can actually be used in tandem with Climates of Tamriel if you want, so long as you forgo its weathers module(s) in favour of CoT's - which many people do in fact choose to do. The third mod is similar to RLO in many ways, but takes a slightly different artistic approach - Enhanced Light and FX
, or ELFX. It adds a number of effects beyond simple lighting that RLO doesn't have, like candle smoke. ELFX can also be combined with CoT for some rather incredible visuals. The fourth mod is also the most recent, and that's Pure Weather
. I have little experience with this one personally, as it doesn't currently cover DLC locations. But the screenshots look pretty damned great and it's become quite popular rather quickly regardless.
Once you have a weather/lighting setup you like you need to tackle water. Because water in vanilla Skyrim looks really bad - Gopher once likened it to saliva in a rather vivid but not inaccurate overview of several water mods in his Mod Sanctuary series. Again there are several popular choices. The first and oldest is WATER
. It replaces the water meshes and textures for every type of water with its own unique style, as well as those for wet rocks. And it adds several peripherals as well, such as new water plants in and along lakes and rivers, a new alchemy ingredient (frog spawn), and a few other optional tweaks to water behaviour as well. The second is sort of a spiritual successor to the first, and that's Realistic Water Two
. RW2 not only adds adjustments and variation to water meshes and textures, but also makes changes to the sound of water as well. Lakes have a soft and serene wave effect added at the shores, the ocean roars along the northern coast, and waterfalls can be heard from the opposite end of a cell. RW2 is my personal favourite for the sound edits. The third is Pure Waters
, from the same author as Pure Weather mentioned above. It's a little less extensive than the other two, but what it does it does beautifully. Waters are clear and pristine, like water in the north should be. Regardless of which of the three you choose, you should use SkyFalls along with it to animate waterfalls at a distance instead of the default solid whitish blue blocks.
Now for the game interface and HUD. One of the most common and beloved of such mods is SkyUI
, which overhauls the inventory, magic, barter, and map screens to be much more keyboard+mouse friendly. Immersive HUD
lets you hide the HUD at the press of a hotkey, as well as adjust their transparency for when they are displayed. Then there's moreHUD
, which adds several new HUD elements that contain a whole wealth of information you'd normally have to open the inventory menu for. But you can also hide moreHUD's elements with iHUD if you want. Then there's A Quality World Map
, which despite being a very old and no longer updated mod lets you remove cloud cover from the map and add roads to it, which makes navigating Skyrim so much simpler and more immersive. Best of all it works just fine with the search function that SkyUI adds to the map, which makes finding discovered locations a snap.
There are so many more I'd like to cover, but it's horrifyingly late and I need to be up in a few hours. I'll likely post again tomorrow evening with the rest of my recommendations, but those are the fundamentals for enhancing the look
of the game IMO. The rest will focus on the environment and how it sounds and behaves, how NPCs behave, and lore friendly extensions to the rather limited equipment available in the vanilla game. Also skill and gameplay overhauls, combat enhancements, city and location improvements/additions, playerhomes, followers/companions (there are really only two actually good ones, IMO), faction improvements, new quests... There's just so much to cover. XD Tomorrow!