The 9 Best Mods For Skyrim Special Edition
Skyrim came out in late 2011, but a strong modding community and dedicated fanbase have kept the game alive and fresh for all this time. We initially did an article on the best Skyrim mods about a month after the game came out, but it's high time that list was updated with more than the simple, low-level quality of life mods that existed at the time.
In the intervening years, Skyrim mods have grown more complex and exciting, in large part thanks to the development of the Skyrim Script Extender (SKSE) allowing things that couldn't even be dreamed of when our first article came out.
The Special Edition of the game had a rocky start with modding, but with the settling of the Creation Club update schedule allowing SKSE to function for longer periods of time without emergency updates, the Special Edition version of the game has most of the same mods as the original, and far more stability at higher mod counts.
My priority with this list will be mods that significantly change or improve the gameplay of Skyrim or add quality of life features that are must haves to improve your enjoyment of the game. Let's face it; an eight-year-old game isn't going to draw you back in time after time with minor tweaks, you want something that changes your entire experience.
Best Mods For Skyrim Special Edition
To that end, let's get started with an honorable mention:
Skyrim Special Edition Script Extender
This is an honorable mention not because it's not good enough to make the list, but because calling it a simple mod does SKSE a disservice. It is not an exaggeration to say that the modding scene for Skyrim would probably be dead without this software. To put it in simple terms, SKSE vastly increases the number of things modders can do to affect the game, and most (if not all) of the mods on this list would not exist without SKSE's creation.
Ordinator is my preferred perk overhaul for Skyrim. I've played with a few others, primarily T3ndo's Perkus Maximus (a follow up to his popular Skyrim Redone, or SkyRe) but I keep coming back to Enai Siaion's Ordinator. It allows far more build diversity and interesting character archetypes than the game's vanilla perk system.
Let's face it; most of Skyrim's perks are boring. +X% to damage or efficiency is the name of the game for almost every perk. Ordinator fixes this by baking the necessary damage boosts largely into a single scaling perk, with any further damage boosts coming from actually performing actions in combat that will have special effects. As an example, a person who uses maces from the One-Handed Weapons tree will want to do a lot of standing power attacks; by standing in place and using a charged hit you will always deal an automatic critical hit (that is increased against Undead, for all you Paladin players out there!), emphasizing the slower, powerhouse gameplay that maces imply.
Conversely, daggers in the same skill encourage you to attack quickly (inflicting bleeding damage with consecutive hits) and move to the sides of your opponents (sideways power attacks have a chance to Paralyze the target), creating a more mobile gameplay style.
This achieves something the base game does not: making different weapons feel like a completely different playstyle.
All of the other skills are similarly tweaked, such as Alteration's "metamagic" approach (many Alteration perks don't affect Alteration spells directly, but apply different properties to ALL spells). Similarly, Pickpocket's "silent assassin" perk tree (you get a magical coin that, when placed in someone's inventory, provides several effects like making everyone within a certain area go berserk and attack them).
Ordinator is one of the mods I never turn off on any playthrough.
Apocalypse: Magic of Skyrim
This is another mod from Enai Siaion. I could probably make a list like this with just his mods; most are that good. From Andromeda (his standing stone overhaul) to Sacrosanct (the vampire overhaul) to the new Wintersun (a religion mod that rewards worship) and more, there's a reason why "Enairim" is a semi-common term in the fandom. But all of those have one thing in common: they're fairly niche mods. I don't use all of them in every playthrough, so I feel they don't quite make the cut in an overall best list of this type even though they are all excellent (save Magic of the Magna Ge, in my opinion).
But Apocalypse? I never uninstall this mod. It fixes another massive issue with Skyrim: spells are boring. And weak, a lot of the time.
There is a small number of simple effects that are repeated throughout the game. For Destruction, damage (in the fire, ice, and electricity flavors) is all you get. Calm, Frenzy, and Fear are the only Illusion spells. And so on.
Apocalypse adds a huge number of new spells, many being either playstyle defining or quality of life magic stuff that should have been in the game from the start. A zone that nullifies falling damage, a spell that summons a number of useful items (Enchanting Tables, beds, even a bridge), increased movement speed while channeling (essentially draining Magicka for a "magic sprint" instead of Stamina), and that's just a small sample fo the spells from one discipline: Alteration.
Every other school has something similar and makes each spellcasting specialist different and interesting. A must-have for most players.
Similar to Enai Siaion, Arthmoor is a very prolific modder who gets to occupy three spots on this list. Open Cities is the lesser of the three, but I think it adds a lot to the game in very subtle ways.
In simple terms, Open Cities moves every city in Skyrim directly into the world space. No more loading through doors just to get into Whiterun, you open the door, it swings open, and you walk through. Or hop the wall if you're capable, it doesn't matter.
This ups immersion in a huge way, and cuts the number of loading screens you need to see by a huge amount. It's not an impact you'll ever consciously notice which is the point. It just makes the game better in little ways.
Alternate Start: Live Another Life
Skyrim's start is so iconic that it's become a meme. That doesn't mean you can't get tired of seeing it.
ASLAL lets you skip the opening sequence with Ralof and your near-miss execution, make your character right off the bat, and jump into any number of starts. From a wealthy merchant, poor homeowner, or just starting directly in one of the guilds around Skyrim (including the Dawnguard or Volkihar Vampires!) you can get straight to the stuff you want to do far faster, and never hear "You're not gonna kill meee! HURK!" ever again if you don't want to.
The Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch
Not strictly an Arthmoor jam, but he's a prominent contributor to it. The manifesto of this mod is simple: crush all the bugs in Skyrim. Which there are a lot of.
This is a must-have mod unless you like broken questlines and nonstandard game overs in your experience. Oblivion had a lot of fun bugs that I didn't mind leaving in, but Skyrim's bugs were never so benign as its predecessor. This mod (and the distinct versions for each of the DLC) make the game a less frustrating experience in every way.
This mod is so simple and yet changes the game by so much.
All it does is make enemies turn slow, and have smaller cones to their weapon swings. It sounds like a small change, but the impact is huge.
Moving around your enemy is now a viable tactic. They don't instantly swivel to face you, and can't hit you while you're far off to the side or behind them. This makes dodging attacks possible, and hugely increases your tactical options in combat. It is also a recommended mod for the next one:
Exactly what it says on the tin. You hit a button and dodge in the direction you're currently moving. Kind of worthless by itself, since enemies have such large swings and perfect tracking. But with Mortal Enemies and the final mod below, you get the ability to play a slightly more action Skyrim. Plus it's fun to see enemies somersault or backflip to avoid your attacks, too.
Ultimate Combat is a mod with emphasis on increasing options in combat and the actions enemies take. AI tactics are improved (enemies will protect fallen allies, heal more frequently, etc.) and positional and movement factors are taken into account.
The list of features is long, but suffice it to say it makes a lot of small, needed changes to Skyrim's combat system that stop it from being a simple "smack the bad guy, get smacked back, tank damage until I win" fight. Lethality is higher, there is positional damage (hitting an enemy in the arm does less damage but debilitates, and similar effects for every part of the body), and strafing backward to kite the enemy is a good way to take a charging power attack to the face for 150% extra damage and die instantly.
And that's it for now. These are my most frequently used mods, and some of the best around. I have 169 mods on my list and counting so that I couldn't name all of them, but installing these will give you a good idea of what my version of Skyrim looks like. Now get out there and slay some dragons!