Update: For a total Skyrim graphics, mechanics, and content overhaul, view our newest guide!
Skyrim's only been out for a few weeks, but as soon as the game hit the shelves, enhancements propagated on TES websites worldwide. We've taken the time to sift through nearly every mod on Skyrim Nexus just so we can tell you what the best Skyrim mods are (and the most stable). Enjoy these graphical improvements to an already-beautiful game! Oh, and if you need to update your computer's hardware to take advantage of some of these, check out our Black Friday shopping guide for the best video card deals of the weekend.
This is a brand new mod (as of posting) and has set about retexturing the dragons to be, well, less gray and dull. They're more metallic -- as dragons of Dungeons & Dragons and DragonLance lore tend to be, making for more fantastical engagements with the beasts.
The mod is a simple texture pack and takes minimal effort and skill to install: extract the folder to the appropriate location in the Skyrim textures folder.
The mod adds green, blue, gold, purple, black, red, and mixed-color dragons to Skyrim -- believe us, Skyrim needs a color-boost, and this helps. If you combine this mod with one of the Anti-Alias/Sharpen mods (below), you'll see a drastic improvement to Skyrim's sepia and warmth.
Download Colorful Dragons here, by Luddemann.
Skyrim HD - 2048x2048 Textures
With over 100,000 downloads already (wow!), the NebuLa's HD texture pack for Skyrim brings us what, honestly, many of us were brought to expect initially: high-resolution, high-quality, high-fidelity textures. This pack is easy to install (just extract to the appropriate texture folder) and greatly enhances cities, some nature, mountains, rocks, and more.
This will hit FPS a little bit, so be careful here. Remember, the original Skyrim requirements were spec'd for textures which are, on average, 4x-8x smaller than the ones in this texture pack. If you want a much more detailed atmosphere, this is your bet.
Download Skyrim HD - 2K Textures here, by NebuLa.
Realistic Rain Ripples
This mod will appeal to two types of people: those who like alliteration and those who are sickened by how simplified the rivers, streams, water, and rain affects are in-game. Realistic Rain Ripples sets out to increase original rain resolution from 512x512 to 2048x2048, effectively multiplying the graphical effects several-fold. As with the mods above, simply extract and replace the existing texture files.
This mod currently fixes streams, the 'pulsating surface' bugs, and meshes extremely well with the other mods in the 'Realistic' series, to include Sun Glare, Water Textures, and Smoke & Embers (some included below).
Download Realistic Rain Ripples here, by isoku.
Realistic Water Textures
Spend a lot of time at the, err, 'beach' (if that's what you call an icy wasteland), on cruise ships, or otherwise pretending you're a pirate? Well, since you most likely answered "no" to all of those, you may still want to pay attention -- this mod will vastly improve on the specularity, wave smoothing (or otherwise "realism"), and even goes as far as updating the blacksmith's water trough. That's dedication.
Download Realistic Water Textures here, by isoku.
Xenius' Character Enhancement
This is a collection of mods produced by Xenius, the modder who first brought us the "no more blocky faces" mod (found here, and highly recommended). The modder plans to release a series of character and model improving features, currently with a focus on faces and heads. Other than the aforementioned smoother faces mod above, this Detailed Faces v2 pack seriously upgrades the somewhat-flattened appearance of our characters' identities.
Download Detailed Faces v2 here, by Xenius.
FXAA Post Process Injector
This is one of the greatest mods out there for Skyrim, unfortunately it has a tendency to be buggy -- you may have to do some tweaking if you have crashing issues (visit the download link to read more about these). When you do get it to work, though, it's one of the biggest leaps in graphics out there so far -- "some_dude" added bloom, vignettes, sharpening, technicolor, and plenty of other options with this mod.
Note: if you have glitches, try installing the mod manually and running the Skyrim launcher as administrator. Oh, and don't forget to push pause/break to toggle the mod. Fair warning, this one has had plenty of glitches. If you do experience crashes, simply uninstall it by deleting the relevant files (injFX_Shaders folder, d3d9.dll, injFX_Settings.h, shader.fx) from the Skyrim root folder (where TESV.exe is found) and then run a 'verify cache' on Steam (right click Skyrim -> properties -> local files -> verify).
Download FXAA Post Process Injector here, by some_dude.
Enhanced Night Skyrim
For those that like to venture out at night and ambush those damned Imperial patrols (as I did in my hardcore Skyrim journal), this mod's definitely a must. You have options to add distant galaxies, higher stars, colored galaxies, and more (sort of like those enhanced NASA images). The sky will give you a much more immersive atmosphere when traveling along the roads in the dark, and if you're the excitable type, you may even take some comfort in the above stars.
Download Enhanced Night Skyrim here, by CptJoker.
Well, that's the best-of-the-best graphical enhancements we've found thus far. If you have issues with any of these mods and their respective pages don't help you, comment below or post on our forums for support. We love helping our readers out.
What about you? Are there any mods you like? Post 'em below and we might give you a shout in our next article!
Speaking of which, stay tuned for our post on the best Skyrim utilities and crash-fixes.