Skyrim: Beginner’s Guide To Modding On PC And Console
Bethesda games are known for many things: great open-worlds, accessible design, and a plethora of bugs. Ever since the Special Edition of Skyrim was released, one more addition can be added to that list: modding.
PC players have modded Bethesda games ever since Morrowind was released back in 2002, but now console players can experience that same degree of freedom. User-created modifications, usually called mods, can radically change a game to suit your preferences. With how many mods exist for Skyrim, learning how to mod can turn Skyrim into a whole new game. Whether you play on a console or PC, this guide will cover most of the basics. This guide will not cover Creation Club addons.
Why Mod Skyrim?
User-created mods are much more than armor packs or silly texture replacements. Some mods fix critical bugs that Bethesda never had the chance to patch, while others add as much content as an official DLC. If there’s something about Skyrim you want to change, there’s usually a mod for that.
Does magic not feel exciting enough? Install a spell pack. Do you want to roleplay as a non-Dragonborn character? There are mods available just for that. Do you want to replace every dragon with Thomas the Tank Engine trains? Well, a mod exists for that too. Mods allow you to bend and break Skyrim in any way you see fit.
Modding a video game for the first time can seem rather confusing. Most Skyrim modders use short-hand terminology to discuss certain aspects of modding. Here are some common terms:
- CTD: Crash to desktop.
- Directory: The place Skyrim is installed to. Your “root” Skyrim directory is where your Skyrim.exe file is located.
- ENB: Short for Enhanced Natural Beauty, an external piece of software that injects post-processing effects into Skyrim. We won’t cover ENBs in this guide, but S.T.E.P. has a great guide covering them in great detail. You can read it here.
- LOOT: An app that manages the load order of mods for you.
- Oldrim: The 2011 edition of Skyrim.
- SKSE: Short for Skyrim Script Extender. Explained in the “Useful Modding Tools” section.
- SSE: Short for Skyrim: Special Edition.
- MO2: Mod Organizer 2, a popular mod manager used by PC players.
- Mod Manager: A piece of software that installs, maintains, and manages mods for you. These are covered in more detail in the “Mod Managers” section.
- Vortex: A popular mod manager used by PC players.
Where To Get Mods
While there are hundreds of websites that provide mods for Skyrim, only a few of them are used by most modders. Here are two websites most fans get their mods from:
- Nexus Mods: The definitive space to find mods for PC Skyrim fans. Both the original and Special Edition versions of Skyrim have mods on this website.
- Bethesda.net: Console players get their mods from here, although PC players can use it as well. Skyrim: Special Edition’s in-game mod menu pulls its content from here.
More websites than these two provide Skyrim mods, but these two are the most popular. Both websites have search bars and tags you can use to find mods that interest you.
How To Install Mods On Console
Installing mods on a console is extremely easy. Once you find a mod you wish to install, select the “install” button. If done in-game, Skyrim will automatically download and install the mod for you. Should you use the website, you can click on “add to library” to install the mod on any console linked to your Bethesda.net account.
How To Install Mods On PC
PC users have multiple ways they can install mods:
- Use Bethesda.net: the same process console players use.
- Use Nexus Mods: download mods from the Nexus to a mod manager. The mod manager will install and manage mods for you.
- Use Wabbajack: this installs entire mod lists created by the community while minimizing compatibility issues. You can download it here.
- Manual installation: placing mod files into your Skyrim directory by hand. This is not recommended.
Most PC users pick the second option. Before you go on an installing spree, let’s go over how to manage your mods and why that’s so important.
When you install a mod for Skyrim, it gets added to a list of data the game needs to load. This is typically referred to as your “load order.” Skyrim’s engine has a hard limit of 255 master and plugin files it can load at once. Modders have found ways around this limit, something we’ll go over in the “Useful Modding Tools” section. For now, keep this limit in mind.
Load orders become important when multiple mods are being used. Skyrim loads its data sequentially, meaning mods lower on your load order take precedence over files placed higher on your list. This can be problematic if you have two mods that override the same thing. For example, if you have two mods that modify a town, the town mod lowest in your load order will always be applied. This conflict could result in quests breaking, objects clipping through each other, or crashing.
To make sure your mods are working as intended, it’s important to make sure your mod load order is correct. There are three common ways to adjust your load order:
- Use Skyrim: Special Edition’s built-in load order manager.
- Use LOOT.
- Use a mod manager (covered in the next section).
This can be accessed from the main menu. While browsing mods, an option will be present to display your load order. You can move mods up or down on this list as you see fit, disable mods you don’t wish to uninstall, or uninstall mods in their entirety.
LOOT is a free application that will automatically manage your load order. This is only available for PC. A tutorial on how to use LOOT can be found here.
PC players will want to install a mod manager as soon as possible. Mod managers can install and maintain mods for you. More importantly, most mod managers use a virtual file system to apply their changes. This means compatibility errors and modding mishaps won’t break your Skyrim installation.
The two most popular Mod Managers are:
- Mod Organizer 2: The gold standard. It’s highly stable, uses a profile system to allow for multiple mod configurations, and has well-documented tutorials on using it.
- Vortex: Nexus’ take on a mod manager. It is easier to use than Mod Organizer 2, but it is still in development.
We recommend using Mod Organizer 2 for your modding needs. YouTuber GamerPoets has excellent tutorials on how to use MO2 that you can watch here.
Some mods have incompatibilities with other mods or require tweaking to work. Since mod compatibility issues vary wildly, it is critical to read mod page descriptions. Mod authors will state which mods are incompatible with theirs. A little bit of reading ahead of time can save hours of tinkering.
If no such information exists, consider the following technique:
- Disable half of your currently enabled mods.
- Boot Skyrim up.
- See if the issue persists.
- If so, repeat this process until the problem goes away.
This will help you quickly narrow down which mod is causing issues. Checking for compatibility patches between mods is also a good idea.
Useful Modding Tools
This section is for PC modders.
Once you start getting more comfortable modding your game, there are a few advanced modding concepts and programs you can start using. We won’t go into detail on how to use each program in this guide, but these tools are worth looking into.
- BethINI: Optimizes your Skyrim .ini files for you. This can dramatically improve performance and game stability.
- Skyrim Script Extender (SKSE): A modified executable that’s needed to run most Skyrim mods.
- xEdit: This allows you to create bashed patches, merging multiple mods into a single file. This bypasses Skyrim’s 255 plugin limit. It can also “clean” mods with duplicate data entries, increasing game stability.
Next: Skyrim: 10 Must Have Mods For Better Gameplay
Charles Burgar is an expert on all things tech and gaming. Graduating from Pikes Peak Community College in 2018 with an Associate of Science, Charles has spent his time dissecting popular video games, movies, and technology. With an understanding of games for as long as he can remember, Charles has a large interest in understanding what makes things fun. He is currently a Freelance writer for TheGamer and Game Rant.
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