This is the guide I wish I had when I was first starting out. It’s not going to be the most definitive or comprehensive. But it is going to step you very carefuly and clearly through the process of installing a modest number of mods that will significantly improve the graphics of Skyrim SE and leave you empowered to add a whole bunch more and experiment to your heart’s content.
Disclaimer: Make sure to back up any saves before starting to mod your game, and be aware that it is possiblie to make mistakes during modding that will require you to completely reinstall Skyrim. You could also corrupt save files. I haven’t had that experience myself and you should be fine, but it can happen.
Table Of Contents
(Click the links below to jump further down the article to the relevant section)
- How To Install Skyrim Special Edition Mods
- How To Setup Vortex Mod Manager For Skyrim Special Edition
- How To Install Skyrim Script Extender 64 (SKSE64)
- How To Download Mods Using Vortex
- Good Skyrim Graphics Mods Starting List + Load Order
How To Install Skyrim Special Edition Mods
- You can install from the mods menu in game, which allows you to mod on some consoles but is limited.
- To get access to all available mods on PC you can use mods from Nexus Mods: https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/. When you download mods from Nexus Mods, you can install them into the mods folder manually and manage their load order manually. But this can be difficult, especially as you add more and need to worry about load order. The much safer and easier way is to use a mod manager.
There are a few different ways to install mods. Which method you use is going to partly depend on what platform you’re on. If you’re on a console then you can only use the first method above.
If you’re on a PC the best way to download mods is with a mod manager. We’re going to use the second method above, utilising Nexus Mods and the associated Mod Manager named Vortex (previously called Nexus Mod Manager).
How To Setup Vortex Mod Manager For Skyrim Special Edition
It can seem quite daunting at first to setup and begin using a mod manager, but Vortex makes it easier than it has been before. If you follow the steps below you should be able to get up and running without any hassle.
- Create a Nexus Mods account here: https://users.nexusmods.com/register.
- Log in with your new account and go to: https://www.nexusmods.com/about/vortex/
- Download the latest version of Vortex.
- If this is a fresh install of Skyrim on your computer make sure to run the game in vanilla at least once so that it sets up it’s initial files.
- To allow Vortex access to your Nexus Mods account, click the “Login or Register” at the top of the Vortex screen under the heading that says “REGISTER OR LOG IN”.
- This should open a browser window and take you to Nexus Mods where it will ask you to confirm the authorisation. Click the ‘Authorise’ button.
- Go back to the Vortex app and click ‘Dashboard’ at the top on the left hand side bar.
- Under the heading that says “Let’s get you setup” click the tile that says “Select a game to manage”. You can also just click in the “Games” tab in the left hand sidebar.
- Scroll down and look for the Skyrim Special Edition tile under the heading Unmanaged. Or else search for it in the searchbar at the top of the page. When you find it click on it and you should see a Skyrim Special Edition image in the top left of the Vortex Window, to show that Vortex is managing the mods for your game.
- If you have a hard drive partition or two hard drives with your Skyrim SE game installed on a separate partition or harddrive to Windows you’ll need to follow these instructions from the Nexus Mods installation tutorial:
“If you have installed your games to a different partition or storage device than Windows, you will need to reconfigure Vortex to ensure that mods can be properly deployed. To do so, navigate to settings and click the ‘mods’ tab. There, set your base path to a folder that is located on the same partition as your game and ensure that the Deployment Method option is set to “Hardlink deployment”.” ~ source.
How To Install Skyrim Script Extender 64 (SKSE64)
Most if not all of the popular mods from Nexus Mods that you’ll want to be downloading are going to rely on a piece of software called the Skyrim Script Extender 64. It’s not hard to install if you have instructions, but can be a bit tricky if you’re trying to figure it out yourself. Follow the step-by-step instructions below and you should be able to get it setup easily.
- Install SKSE64 by going to https://skse.silverlock.org/ and downloading the 7zip archive for the current SE build. If you don’t already have Winrar or 7zip installed on your computer, download 7zip here: https://www.7-zip.org/download.html.
- Extract the 7zip file somewhere easy to find, like onto your desktop. Open the folder that’s extracted. inside of which you’ll see two other folders and a bunch of files. It should look something like this:
- Select all the files (not the “Data” and “src” folder, leave them unselected) and drag them into your Skyrim directory. For me, with SKyrim Special Edition installed via Steam that directory is here: C:\ > Program Files (x86) > Steam > steamapps > common > Skyrim Special Edition. See pic below of the files that were dragged into the game directory.
- You’re nearly there! Now you’ve just got to install the script files that are back in the “Data” folder that was left behind in that unzipped archive. We’re going to do that via the Vortex manager.
- To do so, right hand click on the data folder and select “add to an archive…”.
- Change the name of the archive to SKSE Scripts.7z or something else more relevant than just ‘Data’. Then click “Ok” at the bottom of the screen to zip up the archive.
- Open Vortex again, click on “Mods” in the lefthand side bar. And then click the option at the top left of the screen “Install From File”. Navigate to where you put the SKSE Scripts.7z archive and open it.
- You should now see a little notification pop up in the top right hand corner of the screen letting you know that SKSE has been installed. Awesome! Click “enable” on that notification to enable the script extender.
- You can now see that you’ve got SKSE enabled by looking in your Mods tab!
How To Download Mods Using Vortex
Now that you’ve got Vortex installed and SKSE enabled it’s time to actually download some mods. This part is pretty easy. Simply go to https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/ and click on the mod you want to download. A good place to start is in the most popular mods of all time tab. If you want to get setup with a good starting mod load order, you can try out the mod order from this article by searching for the mods listed in the below section: Good Skyrim Graphics Mods Starting List + Load Order. If installing the recommended list from this article, start with the first mod in the list and work your way down.
- Find the mod you want to install from Nexus Mods. If using the mods from this article just click the link in the list below. Then click the Files tab. It’s a good idea to read the requirements on the description tab before moving to the files tab, but if you install the mods from this article in the order listed you will have the requirements for all mods.
- Click the option “Mod Manager Download”.
Note: When downloading Ruins Clutter Improved pick the second NMM option.
- If you’re not already a paid member of Nexus Mods you’ll get a prompt now to choose whether or not to become a premium member. It’s only roughly $5 a month and gives you much faster download speeds, plus supports the community – so definitely worth doing if you can afford it. If not, you can pick the free download option, you’ll just be waiting a bit longer for your mods to download.
- Your mod should now start downloading, if you don’t see anything happen, switch back to your Vortex app and check the downloads tab. If you can’t see anything in there, click the download button back in your browser.
- Once the file has downloaded in Vortex (go to the Downloads tab to see it’s progress) you can then go to the mods tab and you’ll see the mod you just downloaded listed, with a blue icon. Click the blue icon that says “Never Installed”.
- You’ll now see an installer window for the mod pop up. This is going to be different for every mod but generally will be pretty easy and you can just click through it with the default options selected.
- Once the installation is finished, you’ll see a green notification pop-up in the top right hand of your screen. Click enable in this notification.
- What happens next might look like something’s gone wrong at first. But it’s totally normal and to be expected. After you install and enable your third mod (if you’re following the mods shown below) you’ll get a warning that there’s an unresolved file conflict. What this means is that you’ve enabled two (or more) mods that both try to change the same part of the game, and the system doesn’t know which change to prioritise. This is why people share mod load orders. Which is what is included below. The order is important as the each mod you add replaces the work of previous mods for file conflicts, if you choose to place the new mod after the old mod.
- In this example, we’ve tried to install Ruins Clutter Improved, which is a graphical enchancemnment mod, after SMIM – also a graphical enchancement mod. As Ruins Clutter Improved is further down our mod order list we choose the drop down option to have it come after SMIM.
- Once you’ve saved this load order decision, a blue notification bar will pop up at the top right. Click Deploy in this pop up.
- If you check your Plugins tab you’ll see all your enabled mods listed. The only exception to that is mods that are actually just collections of textures without a .esp file. You’ll notice, for example, after installing SMIM and Ruins Clutter Improved, that only SMIM will show up in the Plugins folder and not RCI. You can confirm if a mod is one of these textures-only setups by right-hand clicking on the enabled mod in the mods list and choosing “open in file manager”. If the window that opens only has folders and no .esp files then this is why it’s not showing up in the load order in the plugins tab. But it’s still loaded into the game if it says enabled.
Good Skyrim Graphics Mods Starting List + Load Order
As explained in the section above, you can install the mods below one after the other in the order listed, starting at one and installing through to numer 7. For any file conflict that arises, choose to put the new mod after the one before it.
- Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch (USSEP): This is pretty much a must have mod that a lot of other mods rely on. It fixes a ton of bugs in Skyrim SE.
- Static Mesh Improvement Mod (SMIM): This makes a great improvement to a wide variety of meshes throughout the game and is the basis that a lot of other graphical mods build on.
- Ruins Clutter Improved (RCI): Like SMIM this mod improves textures throughout the game, but RCI focusses more on dungeons.
- High Poly Project: Improves the quality of heaps of objects throughought Skyrim and is a prerequisite for the Pfuscher mods.
- Pfuscher 2018 + 1.5 and 1.6 bugfixes: Pfuscher has perhaps done more for the community in terms of graphics improvements for Skyrim than any other modder. To get the most out of the 2020 version of the mod, it’s best to also install the 2018 and 2019 versions first. Install the base mod first for 2018 and then install the 1.5 and then the 1.6 bugfixes one after the other with each file going after the previous in the load order.
- Pfuscher 2019: see above.
- Pfuscher 2020: Download all three of the full 8k files. This doesn’t mean 8k screen resolution, it means that the resolution quality of the textures is 8k. It will work great on a regular 1080p or 4k resolution.
I could go on and include another 30-50 mods. But what I really wanted this guide to do was step through the basics of setting up your modding environment and helping people new to modding feel more comfortable downloading and experimenting with mods. With the foundation of the above to start with, you can head over to the popular tab in Nexus Mods and pick a whole range of other mods to add on that appeal to you. Have fun modding guys!