Much like fellow Dragonborn Matthew Fick, I thoroughly enjoyed the original Skyrim. I probably put in well over a million hours (more or less) into my PS3 copy until it used the YOL TOOR SHUL shout on my console. I never really got back into it after that. But here I am, five years later, a devout PC fan, playing Skyrim Special Edition.
[Ed’s note: For the purposes of this article, Skyrim is Skyrim. Like, original Skyrim. Skyrim SE is Skyrim Special Edition. It’s not as confusing as it looks. Something something sweet rolls arrow to the knee FUS RO DAH.]
Now, I know I said that I didn’t get back into the game after my console died, but I did actually spend a few hours playing Skyrim on PC. It was a bit of a mess. To get the game running at a smooth 30 FPS, I had to turn down way more visual options than I was comfortable with. It got to such a point that I just abandoned the whole thing entirely. Which is why when I started downloading Skyrim SE, I was expecting similar, or even more debilitating compromises.
I haven’t been this happy to be wrong in ages.
Skyrim SE ran like an absolute dream at about the same settings that crippled my original game, and best of all, I had solid, smooth frames ranging from 45 to 60 throughout. I’d assume the same should hold true on consoles. But the remaster doesn’t just perform better, it also looks fantastic. I mean, it still looks like good old Skyrim, but the improved details and visual tweaks implemented by Bethesda have really paid off. Oh, and it includes all the DLC! Score!
But here’s the thing. I’ve seen modded versions of Skyrim running on certain rigs, and they easily outshine the remaster by a factor of like a thousand. But not everyone has a NASA-manufactured PC, and some of you are console gamers, so I’ll try to sum this all up as best I can.
If you’re running a boss-ass RIG capable of world domination, stick with modded Skyrim until all of the mods get ported to Skyrim SE. If you’ve got a more modest setup or one of the current consoles, don’t mind waiting for mods to get ported, and are able to upgrade to Skyrim SE for free, you should totally do it. You won’t be disappointed. But let’s just look at it this way – Skyrim bundled with all its DLC is currently listed on Steam for R434.32, while Skyrim Special Edition is going for R619.99. That’s a difference of about R200 for what’s essentially the same game, just a little better. Something to think about.
But hey, we’re not really here for that. On to the mods!
Skyrim SE doesn’t have nearly as many available mods as the original game yet, and probably won’t for a while, but there are more than a handful of mods already out there that are basically essential downloads for anyone looking to get more out of their game.
Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch (PC, XBO): Look, Bethesda isn’t infallible, and neither is this mod, but it comes damned close. Hundreds of eliminated bugs, it doesn’t screw around with critical files, and it just works. Simple.
Achievements Mods Enabler (PC): In case you were wondering whether using mods will prevent you from earning any achievements, you bet your sweet rolls they will. And if you’re on console, you’re just going to have to deal with it. But thanks to this mod, PC players can mod their game into Oblivion (lol) while still reaping those sweet, sweet rewards.
Static Mesh Improvement Mod (PC): Skyrim is an absolutely massive game, so we can forgive Bethesda for not spending an inordinate amount of time making boring things like pots and crates look their best, right? Well no. No, we can’t. Which is where this mod comes in. Get ready for the best-looking urns, chests, ropes, chains, and pretty much any other static object models you’ll ever see in Skyrim.
Enhance the enhanced visuals
As I’ve mentioned before, Skyrim SE looks great. Like, really great. But it can look a whole lot better.
Realistic Water Two (PC, XBO): No more rushing water in stagnant ponds, bigger waterfalls, boats bob up and down, lake, river, and ocean water moves and sounds more realistic, and icebergs friggin crackle! The mod also retextures every drop of water to make it look more realistic.
True Storms Special Edition (PC, XBO): Just watch the video, it’s glorious.
SSE Texture Pack (PC): The landscape textures in Skyrim SE have seen a major improvement over the ones in Skyrim, but they just don’t… I dunno, pop? Yes, pop. They don’t pop. This mod makes them pop. It’s not a finished work yet, and the popping won’t appeal to everyone, but you owe it to yourself to shop around for a landscape texture mod that works for you. You might also want to try Skyland (A landscape Texture Overhaul) (PC).
Darker Nights (PC): Nights that look more night-like. Defined by actual darkness.
Skyrim Flora Overhaul SE (PC): Back when I covered a few Fallout 4 mods, I didn’t really focus on any super-drastic flora overhauls, mostly because that particular game world was intentionally jacked up and lifeless. But this is Skyrim, and a lush, green, vibrant, tree-stuffed world is what it’s all about. Now, while Skyrim SE does a pretty admirable job of making the game’s flora seem more abundant and detailed, it’s still not enough. Which is where this mod comes in. New trees, grasses, plants, more plant variations, improved level of detail, and much more vivid textures guarantee a more realistic, gorgeous outdoors. Obvious frame rate loss is obvious, but totally worth it.
MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER
I endeavoured to keep this whole thing “brief and punchy,” but I’ve just realised I’ve done a miserable job of that so far. So, in order to fit in as many mods as possible while still being “punchy,” I’ll be limiting myself to three words per mod description. This should be fun.
Open Cities Skyrim (PC, XBO): Fewer loading screens.
SkyTEST Realistic Animals and Predators (PC): Smarter, hilarious animals.
Now look, there are thousands of other great mods out there, like this one, this one, definitely this one, oh and don’t forget this one, so it’s just a matter of browsing through the lists (PC here, consoles here) until you come across something truly exceptional.
Well, that’s it. I’m sure over the next few months and years we’ll be seeing even more amazing community-created content for the game. Especially considering Bethesda hasn’t even given modders total freedom to do what they do best yet, but the mods mentioned above should serve as a tantalising taste of what’s to come.