Update: For a total Skyrim graphics, mechanics, and content overhaul, view our newest guide!
After posting our recent article about the best graphics mods out for Skyrim, we had to put together the best possible comparison to truly showcase the wondrous power of the modding community; this graphics comparison experiment uses a native PC copy of Skyrim set to the maximum graphics settings and an ultra-modded, heavily-tweaked version of Skyrim that is otherwise "beyond max." We'll let the pictures do the talking -- the mods used are described in depth below all of them. If you want to make Skyrim less gray, this is your ticket.
We kept all times, weather patterns, and locations identical (or nearly so). Images on the right are modded; left are native.
If you want to make your copy of Skyrim look remotely like this, it's relatively easy and most of the mods used were outlined in our previously-linked graphics mod list. You'll also need the Skyrim 4GB mod to fix inevitable crashing problems that are experienced with graphically enhanced iterations of Skyrim. Other crash fixes are also found in this article.
Lighting, Shading Effects, View Distance:
Texturing & Environs
Characters, Models, Items
Note that we do not take responsibility for any loss of failure or bugs that should arise as a result of your modding endeavors; however, if you do require help, feel free to post in our comments below or in our forums.
You should refer to our crash guide for more detailed support.
Note: Make backups of all files before attempting to install mods. You should back up all saved files just in case. These are typically stored in (C:\Users\[User]\My Documents\My Games\Skyrim).
Some of these mods may be conflicting in some form or other, but installation order will typically resolve conflicts as it will overwrite non-compatible files as they install.
These are the best graphics possible for Skyrim with the current mods, and we give our love to the modders that helped make it all possible. If you're looking to make the game look better than it natively did, these are the best graphics mods for Skyrim to do so.
For those wondering, the system specs of the modded version are as follows:
I run around ~40-65 FPS with the mods installed on maximum settings and 1920x1080 resolution. With 3D Vision activated (which we reviewed here), I average 15-30 FPS, depending on locale (I will no doubt need to lower my view distance to better work with 3D Vision).
~Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke and FJ "GT" Ybarra.
Big thanks to GT for putting up with my director's chair demands for screenshot positioning!