The Wonderful World of Skyrim Modding
Released in the distant past of November 2011, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was received with praise from critics and gamers alike — earning a 94% on Metacritic at the time. However, over the years, this beloved game has shown its age in the extreme, from bugs that Bethesda never bothered to fix, to the now lacklustre graphics and animations. Skyrim has been released a total of six times since 2011, on a massive 16 different platforms. But the underlying issues of the game have never been addressed.
Fortunately, like most Bethesda titles, Skyrim is highly moddable. This vast modding community has been going strong since the game’s launch, having produced 69,863 mods for the original game (Oldrim), and 64,283 for the Special Edition/Anniversary Edition. That does not include the content that authors have tucked away on their Patreon sites. The overwhelming amount of mods are for PC versions of the game, but a limited amount is available for Xbox and PlayStation users.
The variety of what you can download is quite large, spanning from bug fixes and graphical overhauls to new animations and DLC-size expansions — the Skyrim Script Extender is a must-have. Having so many choices allows you to improve the world in immersive lore-friendly ways, or turn Skyrim into a wacky comical nightmare — something worthy of Sheogorath himself.
By now, I am sure most gamers have seen screenshots on reddit or elsewhere over the years of people showing off their beautiful next-gen-looking Skyrim. It is all well and good to have your game look nice, but you also need to actually be able to play it without getting a CTD (crash to desktop) every few minutes. I currently have 456 active mods, with 361 hours played on Steam. So let's talk about how that can be done.
There are several tools you will need to effectively mod your game on PC; the first is a utility to manage said mods. I recommend using Mod Organizer 2 (MO2), this program has a lot of functionality and allows the player to quickly install and organise their mod loadout. The next thing you’ll need is the Load Order Optimisation Tool (LOOT), having your mods in the correct load order is very important to avoid conflicts and other unwanted behaviour. LOOT scans your installed mods and determines where they should be placed in the order, it is also capable of informing you about missing dependencies. XEdit (TES5Edit, SSEEdit) is the next logical tool to discuss. LOOT will inform you if a plugin is “dirty”, meaning that it has repetitive files and bloat, even Skyrim’s own official DLCs are flagged with this stuff. The quick auto-clean feature provided by xEdit allows the ability to correct these issues.
The golden rule of modding a Bethesda game is not to remove a mod mid-game. This is due to possible save file corruption as a result. However, if you are going to remove mods during your playthrough then you will be wanting ReSaver/FallrimTools. This handy utility allows you to select a save file from your chosen game, it will then show you if that save contains “unattached instances” or “undefined elements” from you removing a mod. If it does, you can clean these up and overwrite the save with the cleaned version (always be sure to back up your saves).
You may be wondering at this point, just how many mods can you install before the game simply cannot handle it anymore? In truth around 250, but this next tool helps us break that limit. You see, mods that install a .esm or .esp file contribute to that 250 limit. Whilst mods that are adding a .esl file do not, ESLify scans your mod list and determines what is suitable for it to flag as a .esl. Basically, you are tricking the system into thinking a .esp is a .esl. This allows you to break that limit without many consequences.
Finally, do not forget to check your crash logs if you do suffer a CTD. A crash log can be found in your files (Documents\My Games\Skyrim Special Edition\SKSE) after you download a mod such as the aptly named Crash Logger. Looking for what is causing a problem and dealing with it will help eliminate your frustrations.
Once you play around with these tools and understand how to use them (it is not as hard as you think), modding the world of Skyrim becomes easy. There are many unique and well-crafted pieces of content for you to experience. Authors have put countless hours into intricate designs for new weapons and armours, or upscaled textures to 4k, in some cases even completely redesigning elements of the base game. Don’t forget to look into stability mods, too, such as SSE Engine Fixes, Powerofthree’s Tweaks, and VanillaScript MicroOptimatizations.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim may have been released on 16 different platforms with a 94% on Metacritic, but it is the modders who have made the game last these past 12 years. Do you agree? Tell us what you think in the comments section.