The Must-Have Mods of Skyrim - HotHardware

The Must-Have Mods of Skyrim

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Graphics mods for Skyrim can be split into two categories. The first class of graphics mods are post-processing and shader modifications. These change Skyrim's visual style but don't alter the meshes and textures of objects and effects. There are a huge number of post-processing mods for Skyrim -- this is one area where it's much more a question of what you, the player prefer rather than an issue of better vs. worse.

With that said, we've got an easy favorite.

Skyrim Enhanced Shaders FX - By Tapioks



What it is
: A shader/post-processor mod for Skyrim
What it does: Changes game lighting, offers FXAA, additional effects
Does it change game balance? No.
Performance Impact: Minimal
Download Location: Not Available On Steam / Skyrim Nexus

We've picked Skyrim Enhanced Shaders (SKES) out of all the available shader mods because we genuinely like it best -- but also because it offers superb documentation. This makes it a great post-processing modification for those new to the idea who want information on what various effects do and how they can be adjusted.

In the screenshots below, default Skyrim is on the left, Skyrim Enhanced Shaders ENB mode is on the right.



The mod is distributed in two forms, the default modifications (and the one we recommend) and a "Vanilla Plus" mode that's a more modest variation on Skyrim's standard visuals. It also includes a series of optional effects, including a DOS Game "8-bit style" that renders the game in a manner reminiscent of pre-3D accelerated Might and Magic titles, as well as an FXAA injector and a texture sharpening option. The entire mod can be toggled on and off via Shift-F12 without restarting the game. It's also distributed in a 'Performance Friendly' version for those with more modest computers.

 
 

We've played the game in all day/night modes and in a variety of dungeons. We prefer the color balance and special effects of the Skyrim Enhanced Shader mod in all cases.

Skyrim HD - 4K/2K Textures - By Nebula



What it is: A replacement project for the majority of Skyrim's textures.
What it does: Updates the game to look like something built for modern PCs
Does it change game balance? No
Performance Impact:  Varies
Download Location: Not Available On Steam / Skyrim Nexus


Bethesda's HRTP textures are on the left; the Skyrim HD versions are on the right

Skyrim HD (SHD) is a comprehensive update for game textures that improves enormously on the 256x256 and 512x512 textures Bethesda used in the original game. SHD's textures are noticeably more detailed than even Bethesda's official High Resolution Texture Pack (HRTP) and there's more of them.

This last is more important than you might think. While Bethesda's HRTP did improve on the original game, adding better textures in some areas but neglecting others makes the contrast between the two even more jarring. We've put together several comparisons between the HRTP and SHD below -- in all screenshots, the HRTP is on the left, SHD is on the right.



The HD Skyrim mod also uses normal maps to add the illusion of height

The one caveat to using SHD is that there's a performance hit for doing so. The mod is offered in two formats; a 4K maximum resolution and a 2K 'Lite' version. Bethesda's average texture size is ~1K, so even the Lite variant offers twice the detail. It's also possible to use both the SHD and HRTP together

Static Mesh Improvement ModBy Brumbek



What it is: An improvement pack for many of the game's smaller objects
What it does: Makes said objects look better -- often by making them round
Does it change game balance? No
Performance Impact:  None
Download Location: Steam / Skyrim Nexus



This mod might look like small potatoes -- but it actually does a lot more than just fix the ugly spuds. Here's a few more comparison screen shots; the overlaid comments are the work of the mod's author, Brumbek. Click to enlarge.







This mod is compatible with the Skyrim HD project and the Enhanced Shader mods discussed earlier this section.

Specialized Smaller Mods Worth Your Time:


The "Improved NPC Clothing Mod" can be used to further enhance game clothing. Left is the HD version, right is the mod

If you're looking for smaller projects that focus on more specific targets, we've got some recommendations there as well. There's a few too many of them to break out for individual discussion, but all of them are useful.

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I'm lmfao at that video!!!! I just picked this game up, can't wait to play it!

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From now on, any time anyone asks me what Skyrim is, I'm just going to point them to the Pinkie Pie video.

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3vi1:

From now on, any time anyone asks me what Skyrim is, I'm just going to point them to the Pinkie Pie video.

Bronies?   

 

Thanks for not posting any of the nude mods/texture packs. 

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I considered some of the mods that added geometry and allowed for a wider range of body types. Such work isn't automatically a bad thing. Ultimately, I decided not to include it for two reasons: 

1)  Nudity is enabled by default. While I don't have a problem with that, it changes Skyrim's rating and could thereby create problems with parents who are unhappy with such content. 

2)  The mods, without exception that I could find, are exclusively female. Combined with #1, this was enough to tilt my verdict on the merits of including such work. There are mods available that improve character geometry or allow for taller/heavier/curvier women than the vanilla models. Players who want such mods can find them. They are not just "nude" patches of the sort that existed for classic Tomb Raider games. Ultimately, however, they are aimed more at providing sexual eye candy than a more generic mod that seeks to improve the rendering of in-game content. 

If there was a mod that included such options for both male and female characters, and kept to the ESRB's rating, I'd have recommended it (assuming it was worth recommending).

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when my daughter goes back to middle school and start playing Skyrim i'll use Pinkie Pie

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This is one of my favorite ones:

http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/downloads/file.php?id=13268

It improves the water, turning it from the weird gel of the original into...water.

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Sackyhack, 

 

I also looked at that mod, but ran into a few too many issues with other mods that impact water textures to feel comfortable recommending it. I've also had a problem recently with water rendering on the NV card I used while writing the article (specifically, with water turning opaque). 

Still, it's a good project. Thanks for contributing. :) 

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I must get a copy of this game :P

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Been awhile since I played. Going to get back in when school slows down abit.

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I applied a majority of all these mods over the weekend in combination with the recommended mods from Kotaku on how to get its looking as best as visually possible.

That combined with the gameplay fixes and improvements from this have resulted in a refreshed Skyrim experience (I left out harder dragons and the difficulty adjustment mods as I'm low level and at the moment haven't felt things to be too easy)

This is an awesome post, thanks for taking such an in depth review and analysis of not only a game but its mods and troubleshooting the ones that work best together.

Earlier in the year when the game first out I dabbled in modding and screwed up my save games from incompatible mods.

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