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How to Make Skyrim Look and Feel Next Gen for Free

Who needs a PS4? Grab these great mods and make The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim look next-gen for free!

By Cassandra Khaw. Published 5 months ago

Being the Dragonborn isn't easy.

Not only do you have to contend with ravenous, house-sized lizards, you've also got to wrangle dubious physics, questionable A.I and mostly-okay-but-sometimes-meh textures. Still, that's what we do for love, we battle with Besthesda's bugs and Skyrim's inadequacies. No pains, no perks -- if you're running a console version of Skyrim, that is.

There are many reasons as to why PC people consider their platform the "master race". One of them is the presence of mods. If you've never downloaded a mod before, you really should start now. Mods can do everything. They can slather a new coat of paint onto an aging game, install entirely new locations, introduce fresh quests and even fresher faces, and even make your lady friends a little more curvier. Needless to say, Skyrim's home to entire nations of mods.

While lazily thumbing through Nexusmod's repository can be a weekend delight, not everyone can sink time into the process. For those of you who'd rather skip the hunt, we've got an exhaustive list of mods prepared. To kick things off, let's check out some of the best non-ENB environment-altering mods.

Audio Overhaul

We don't always notice the little things in life. The play of sunlight on a lover's hair, the red robin's song, the crunch of gravel under a dragon's feet as it barrels headlong for your intestines. Audio Overhaul is exactly what it sounds like: an impressive overhaul of Skyrim's ambient sounds. What's really awesome about this mod is that it isn't so much about introducing new elements as it is about refining the existing audio. Much of what it is does is subtle in nature: corrections in how sounds reflect across the environment, altered frequency content and a medley of more diverse footsteps. Best of all, the creator, who purportedly works in the triple-A industry during the day, has made it a point to ensure the mod consumes as little resources as possible.

Download the mod here

Footprints

Though an inconsequential issue for some, the lack of footprints in vanilla Skyrim was a point of aggravation for many. With the help of the aptly-named Footprints mod, however, those aggrieved by the lack of tracks in the snow need to feel sidelined no longer. Footprints will add, uh, footprints. (What? What else did you want me to say?)

Download the mod here.

Better Dynamic Snow

But why stop at just having footprints? Why not have better snow to go with the footprints? Once again, we have a mod that does exactly what it advertises: Better Dynamic Snow removes some of vanilla's flat, pure-white snow and replaces it with the game's default snow texture, making the overall look, well, better. Again, a straightforward but effective addition to your stable of tweaks.

(Bonus suggestion: I haven't used it personally but the developers recommend using Erik's HQ SnowTexture for maximum coolness. )

Download the mod here

Realistic Lighting Overhaul

"I used to look low-rez until I took a mod to the knee.."

It's true that Skyrim's modding community is all but crowded with lighting-related mods but Realistic Lighting continues to stand heads and hypothetical shoulders about the rest. Unlike so many of its brethren, Realistic Lighting Overhaul won't drive your CPU to its knees or make you feel like you're in a post-processed Hollywood extravaganza. Operating within the constraints of the game's engine, it focuses on making environments more realistic, eschewing grandiose blooms in favor of more discreet nuances.

Download the mod here

Climates of Tamriel

Climates of Tamriel is splendid in a way that just isn't fair. Customizable dungeon environments? Check. Ambient weather sounds? Check. Even better snow? Check. Staggeringly pretty sunsets the likes of which we will never see in the real world? Yup. S'all there, baby. Great on its own but totally out of this world when accompanied by the right mods, Climates of Tamriel includes everything from over 506 unique weather systems to thunderstorms to clouds shaped suspiciously like bunnies. (Okay, maybe not the last.)

Download the mod here.

Real Rain

Because everything else is fake rain. Real Rain is, yet again, one of those mods with an attenuated purpose. It doesn't want to change the world, it just wants to make the storm more spectacular. Which, if you think about it, is a pretty darn noble purpose.

Download the mod here

Unique Grasses

Do you know what makes grass grow? The bleeding, smoldering remnants of your machine, naturally. Water Skyrim with the tears of your PC and the land will flourish. Yeah. If it wasn't obvious already, Unique Grasses, which was designed to correct the arguably spartan landscape in Skyrim, will provide greater diversity to the local foliage and attach vegetation to meshes that lacked them before -- all in exchange for the still-beating heart of your computer's performance.

Download the mod here

Skyrim Flora Overhaul

At this point, it's pretty much safe to say that every mod in Skyrim's menagerie of mods is better with friends. Unique Grasses is awesome but it's way better when served as an accompaniment to the Skyrim Flora Overhaul mod. Why settle for furnishing the soil with better umbrage when you can use Skyrim Flora Overhaul to line the landscape with a wider array of trees and bushes. Make your friends envious of your invisible cosmic gardener. It'd be worth all the RAM you burn on it. (Maybe.) Fair warning, though, Skyrim Flora Overhaul is a bit cantankerous and may not play nice with the rest of your mods.

Download the mod here

Static Mesh Improvement

Took the words right out of my mouth. Fingers. Things.

You probably won't notice what the Static Mesh Improvement mod will do for you. Not unless you're the sort who likes sidling up to a wooden beam or peering deeply into woven baskets. But that's no excuse to not pick it up anyway. Even it might not actively dazzle you the way a gloriously rendered example of the Aurora Borealis might, the Static Mesh Improvement will help do wonders for the environment. Over 615 meshes were dramatically improved upon -- these include everything from torture tools to hardwood furniture to mountain flowers. Grab the mod. You owe it to your eyes. Don't let ugly polygons affect your life any longer. Act now.

Download the mod here.

Enhanced Night Skyrim

There comes a time in a writer's life when all they've got to say is -- look, it makes your evenings prettier, okay? Ahem. Enhanced Night Skyrim is quite straightforward but rather snazzily crafted. The high-resolution textures it is comprised of are, in fact, made from real astrophotography. The mod features customizable starfields and four nebula options but will not replace Tamriel constellations with Terran stars, an awesome decision on the developer's part given how difficult it would be to navigate the nights otherwise.

Download the mod here.

The best community comments so far 5 comments

  • metalangel 5 months ago

    Rather than waste your processor cycles on textures you have to stop and state closely at objects to see, why not make the world come alive?

    Crowded Cities and Adventurers & Travellers means I have a lot more people walking around the game world.

    This is always my big problem with so called next-gen stuff. Rather than using that poly-pushing-power to give us more activity, we're still having street scenes with five pedestrians, only now each one uses over 10,000 polys to render their nostrils, something it is impossible to manipulate the camera to actually see!

  • Widge 5 months ago

    I only do workshop mods as I want Steam to manage everything.

    If it shows, this favourites list is effectively what I have subscribed to.

    http://steamcommunity.com/workshop/browse?searchtext=Adventurers+%26+Travellers&childpublishedfileid=0§ion=items&appid=72850&browsesort=myfavorites&browsefilter=myfavorites&p=1

  • Widge 5 months ago

    Got adventurers and travellers based on the above suggestion. Crowded Cities looks incomplete though.

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