The Best Skyrim Mods That Actually Add Gameplay

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim remains a milestone game more than five years after its initial release. And since it doesn’t look like we’re getting another entry in Bethesda’s RPG series for a while longer (no, Elder Scrolls Online doesn’t count), even the most dedicated Skyrim player might be looking for ways to get some new life out of the original game.

Fortunately, modders have been making vanilla Skyrim better since the game came out. And we’re not just talking about improving the graphics, either (though graphics mods are awesome). At this point, there are mods that add new characters, questlines, enemies, spells, and even new areas to explore. If Skyrim was starting to feel a little dull after five years, these mods will make it feel fresh again.

What You’ll Need

This guide is for the original PC version of Skyrim, not the Special Edition. The original game has the best selection of mods. Some might be available for the Special Edition too (and a few are also on the Xbox One and PS4 versions), but the original PC game is still the way to go if you want to customize your experience.

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In addition, some of the more advanced mods can’t be found on the Steam Workshop, which is the de facto repository (and the easiest to use for beginners). For more complex fare, you’ll want to upgrade to the third-party Nexus Mod Manager, which we’ve shown you how to use here. You might want to start with Skyrim Script Extender (SKSE), a prerequisite for many advanced game mods. Lots of them need the Mod Configuration Menu as well.

A Better User Interface

The user interface in Skyrim is designed to be usable with both a mouse and keyboard and a standard console controller. Regrettably, that means it’s not particularly good at either of them, including a lot of tedious scrolling and no real options for organization. Enter SkyUI, the overhauled custom user interface. With this installed you can search your inventory by text, organize items by weight when you’re over encumbered, colored icons for item types, and integration across all shop and lootable menus, too.

New Followers

The follower system is a staple of Bethesda RPGs. But most of the companions you can recruit in Skyrim are either fairly limited characters designed to be battle companions, or tied to specific quests and unavailable for the longer game. There are a wide variety of add-on followers available as game mods that insert new characters specifically designed to be interesting or useful. Some of the best examples include custom-recorded voice lines from the community, full backstories and quests that flesh out the character, and unique equipment to make them stand out from the polygonal crowd. Inigo the good-natured Khajit wanderer and Vilja the generational warrior are good places to start.

Better Dragons

The massive dragon battles in Skyrim differentiate it from the rest of The Elder Scrolls, and they were a huge selling point before the game’s release. But after a few dozen hours, dragons cease to be any particular challenge, and there are only a handful of different types. To add some spice to Tamriel’s skies, try the Diverse Dragons Collection, an omnibus mod that combines custom dragons from a bunch of different creators. These souped-up beasts come with custom attacks and creature models, special effects, and lots of combat modifiers that can make them a real challenge. Speaking of which, if all you want is more epic dragon fights, you can try Deadly Dragons (which can be combined with Diverse Dragons Collection). If you want even more motivation to become a legendary dragon slayer, try a “souls for perks” mod, which lets you trade a leveled amount of dragon souls for skill improvements instead of the standard dragon shouts.

More Magic and Tougher Combat

Skyrim’s magic and combat aren’t its best features—games like Dark Souls  and Shadow of Mordor have it beaten dead to rights when it comes to the sheer mechanical joy of fighting. Modders, thankfully, have expanded both of these areas. Duel makes combat more deadly, making it more important to dodge attacks and find the right time to strike rather than simply tanking or blocking all damage. You’ll have to use actual tactics in each and every fight… something most Skyrim players probably haven’t done since they maxed out their Smithing score. There’s not much that can be done for Skyrim’s magic system except expand the spells and effects, but several mods do that to a spectacular degree, including Midas Magic Evolved and Apocalypse Magic.

Explore New Lands

Easily the most ambitious Skyrim mods are the ones that add entirely new areas to the game, or transform existing ones with a ton of new content. Falskaar is surely the biggest of the big, adding a whole new island to the land of Skyrim brimming with new characters, new quests, and a new storyline to follow. It’s full of dozens of custom voiced characters, new equipment, spells, and books, and even custom-made music. There’s also Enderal: The Shards of Order, a total conversion that essentially creates an original fantasy RPG using Skyrim as its backbone. With a completely customized continent and dozens of hours’ worth of quests and gameplay, you can think of this as a community-made companion game (that just happens to be free). A few other examples include Moonpath to Elsewyr, The Forgotten City, and The Cyrodiil Frontier.

…Or Just Change the Wallpaper

There are innumerable mods out there that are made and installed just for fun, like the one that replaces dragons with Thomas the Tank Engine or adds a custom “IKEA-born” race. But for a bit of fun that doesn’t actually change Skyrim‘s core gameplay, I recommend Uncle Sheogorath’s custom loading screens. This mod replaces the flavor text that appears whenever you go to a new area with sarcastic and goofy alternative descriptions. It’s a great way to get a quick chuckle without messing up the balance of the rest of the game.