Skyrim is arguably one of the best open-world games of all time. The fact that it’s one generation away from being ported onto a toaster is a testament to its lasting appeal. What makes it a mainstay in PC gaming, though, is the modding scene. The love and dedication modders have for Bethesda’s magnum opus is nothing short of staggering. From disturbing Thomas the Tank Engine replacement mods to entire foundational overhauls, mods allow you to take your Skyrim experience to the next level. This includes texture upscaling and improvement mods. Though it doesn’t look bad for a decade-old game, Skyrim is beginning to show its age by today’s standards. If this is something that’s starting to grate at you as you trudge along in your 100th playthrough, read on to find out how we here at Glitchtech Gaming give Skyrim a true next-gen title look.
Before we dive into our graphics mods picks, there’s one point to keep in mind, and that’s compatibility. Modders are a tightly knit community, to be sure. However, they’re not working together on every project, meaning a lot of mods will clash when you attempt to run them together, creating all sorts of technical issues. For example, if you’re using a grass texture mod, you shouldn’t install another mod that does the same thing. If you’re expecting to try out different mods, be sure to check compatibility notes and uninstall instructions on their respective pages.
Skyrim Mod Managers
Installing and managing mods is possible to be done manually. However, it’s a pain keeping track of them all, especially when you’re experimenting with various mods. Especially if you’re new to the world of Skyrim modding, you should use a mod manager. These apps allow you to keep all your mods organized and help you install and uninstall mods as needed. Recommended mod managers include the following:
- Mod Organizer 2 - Many community members swear by this app as working perfectly most of the time.
- Nexus Mod Manager - This is the community version of NexusMods’s official Vortex app.
For further detail of mod managers, why not check out our Beginners Guide to Skyrim Modding!
Give the Architecture a Facelift
Skyrim’s world design is absolutely stunning. Whether you’re gawking at the architecture of its cities, taking in its dungeon layouts, or simply admiring character armour and clothing, you quickly get a sense of awe with its design variety. All of this can be made even better by installing mods that upscale the textures and/or improve the underlying 3D meshes.
PFuscher’s Skyrim 2020 Parallax mod takes the game’s architecture and models to the next level. It contains over 2000 files worth of high res textures that smooth out even the most minute clutter element. The most significant upgrade this version of the mod has received since its 2018 version is the addition of a parallax effect, which adds a whole new dimension to Skyrim’s vistas. Combined with Blended Roads, it’s a great all-in-one option for a quick next-gen Skyrim experience.
Skyrim 2020 Parallax is split into three parts to make the installation size as small as possible. It’s recommended that you use a mod manager as the developer doesn’t support manual installation. Even if you don’t have a gaming rig that’s powerful enough to handle the 4K and 8K texture versions of this mod, PFuscher also has an All In One 2K Potato Low Quality version that’ll significantly improve the game’s overall appearance. After the installation of the 3 parts, it’s also important to download and install the file for the most recent update (8.4.7). There are even optional files to upgrade the roads and walls of one of Skyrim’s most fabled cities, Whiterun, as well as optional files to add parallax features to the Mines of Skyrim.
Modder Shutt3r describes his architecture re-texturing mod as giving Skyrim a “younger and cleaner” look, and that shows. Noble Skyrim achieves a highly detailed look by replacing the game’s original textures with custom ones. Throughout its development, this mod has reached the point where it covers all cities, towns, villages, dungeons and even includes ships and boats across the base game and its DLCs.
This mod is compatible with the Static Mesh Improvement Mod by way of a patch. If you are running SMIM, you’ll want to first make sure you install the SMIM-Patch before the rest of Noble Skyrim. Getting this added to Skyrim is best done via a mod manager like Vortex. If your rig doesn’t have a graphics card with over 2GB of VRAM, you can install the Full Pack Performance Edition instead, which still looks gorgeous.
Meshes are the foundations of all 3D models. They dictate every object's shape, size, and form rendered in a computer before textures are applied to them. With that in mind, when attempting to give Skyrim a next-gen look, it’s essential to install Brumbek’s Static Mesh Improvement Mod (SMIM). This mod overhauls over 900 models in the game by upping their polygon count and giving them a smoother, more detailed form.
As with most mods, it’s recommended that you install SMIM via a mod manager such as the Nexus Mod Manager. Brumbek also recommends installing the Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch. Once you have SMIM installed, you can start adding all of your re-texturing mods, such as Noble Skyrim. Be sure also to install any patches those mods may include for improved compatibility with SMIM.
While Skyrim’s roads are perfectly serviceable, they do lack some realism. Enter Blended Roads by winedave, a complete overhaul of the game’s various pathways. The mod explicitly gives the road stones their own mesh and blends them with the ground mesh to make them look more realistic. Blended Roads Redone 8k does require Blended Roads to run. We also suggest to use the Really Really Blended Roads option when installing this mod.
Blended Roads is compatible with SMIM. What you’ll need to be careful with is texture packs, as compatibility will vary. Skyrim 2020, for example, can be installed together with this mod for the ultimate next-gen look and feel.
Dial the Landscape’s Epicness Up
Skyrim’s inhabited locales are amazing but what makes its world truly epic are the landscapes. Venturing out into the wild is a breath-taking experience that draws you in and makes you want to explore every nook and cranny in sight. So, if you’re on a quest to turn Skyrim into a next-gen game, you’ll want to dial up the look of the outside areas as well. This includes re-texturing the forests, flora, mountains, and shores. Below are some of the best mods to help you accomplish that.
Snow is a prevalent part of the Skyrim wilds, and you can make it look incredibly realistic with winedave’s high-resolution textures. They have all been made using 3D scan technology, which allows for the generation of hyper-realistic 3D materials based on real-life materials.
Hyperborean Snow includes textures in 2K, 4K, and 8K, so you can choose which ones work best for your own gaming rig. To ensure that the snow that appears on roads looks as crisp and realistic as possible, be sure also to install the Blended Roads mod. You can use these textures without it, but there’ll be noticeable seams.
The shores and beaches of Skyrim are amazing places to visit and look even better when you mod them with winedave’s incredible Northern Shores. Apart from beaches and coasts, these high-resolution textures are also applied to the game’s ocean floor. The end result is crisp, realistic, and incredibly breath-taking that’ll make Skyrim feel like it was made merely a few years ago.
Like with Hyperborean Snow, Northern Shores has 2K, 4K, and 8K versions of its textures so that you can mod according to your PC’s relative power.
To round off the collective of Skyrim’s landscape’s ground elements, Septentrional Landscapes adds high-resolution textures for grass and mud. Used in combination with Northern Shores and Hyperborean Snow will significantly improve almost every aspect you walk on across Skyrim, giving you the ultimate next-gen look.
Bear in mind you’ll still need to add other elements, such as mountain and flora mods, to overhaul the wilderness of the game’s open world completely. As the mod only includes ground cover grass, you’ll still need to add another for rendered grass elements.
Mountains are some of the most majestic elements of Skyrim’s impressive vistas. Therefore, it stands to reason that a mod as brilliant as this one be called Majestic Mountains. It’s a complete overhaul of the game’s impressive peaks that takes advantage of unused pre-existing textures and adapts their lighting to fit better with the game’s environmental changes. Through some parallax work, the mod also increases the variety of mountains, transforming the landscape into a living, breathing land.
Majestic Mountains comes with a Complementary Pack that gives Skyrim’s landscapes a matching facelift. As it includes its own snow and ground textures, you’ll want to ensure it doesn’t clash with other ones. However, Majestic Mountains is compatible with major texture mods like the ones in this guide made by winedave. Be sure also to install Blended Roads for the full realistic effect.
Delving into Skyrim’s ice caves and exploring glacier locations is a treat on its own. Adding the Norther Ice mod takes them to a whole new level. Apart from retexturing every ice element in the game, it also improves their meshes to add additional polygons for more detail. The result is a stunning spectacle that’ll significantly improve your cave delving experience.
Be warned that this mod will not work with other mods that remesh and retexture ice elements in Skyrim.
The Nordic Ruins are arguably some of the best places to visit in Skyrim as they represent the history of the land and its culture. You’ll feel even doubly so once you install this mod. It significantly improves the look via a series of high-quality retextures and the improvement of meshes for minor elements, such as candles. The resulting look is crisp and highly detailed, especially when you look at the clutter elements and stonework.
One thing to note is that some of the textures in Rudy’s mod are 4K, but most are 2K, which was probably done for performance reasons.
To further enhance the look of your next-gen version of Skyrim, you’ll need to use a replacer mod for the trees and plants. Enter mathy79’s mod with its 300 high-quality 3D models for all of Skyrim’s flora. Apart from having a staggering amount of plant and tree variety, the mod also includes weight-painted foliage, which dramatically enhances the realism of wind animations. After installing this mod, you’ll find that the modder has also made a few landscaping tweaks to further improve the way the landscape comes together.
Generally speaking, this mod isn’t compatible with any other mods that replace tree and plant models. If you’re using a mod that adds more trees to the world, mathy79’s replacer should work just fine, though. Finally, you can also use this with other grass mods, like the one in the last part of our list.
To finish the enhancements of Skyrim's Greenery, you’ll need a mod that changes the grass elements of the game. While we covered the less detailed ground cover grass with another mod, the Folkvangr Grass and Landscape Overhaul takes care of the modelled greenery of Skyrim’s world. It includes entirely new textures for grass and adds elements like sticks, pinecones, needles, and more. Combined with the rest of the landscape mods in this list, the result is nothing short of breath-taking.
As with most replacer mods like this one, be sure to uninstall any other grass mods you may be using.
As a final piece of your next-gen Skyrim puzzle, you'll need a mod that changes, improves and adds multiple different shades to Skyrim's various waters. Not only does this mod changes the colours of Skyrim's waters, but it also adds several new features that werent originally supported by the Skyrim Game. This mod adds support for Water Displacement along with eliminating the majority of the issues with water seams as well as semi-realistic water transparency. It also fixes a common issue users have had with glowing waterfalls as well as bring in all new and improved 4k textures.
The mod also does not require any scripts meaning it does not need SKSE making it safe to use and completely safe to uninstall throughout your Skyrim playthrough.
Skyrim’s World is truly amazing. But it’s outdated lighting doesn’t give it enough justice. With this one mod, we can fix and improve Skyrim’s lighting to bring forth a truly amazing next-gen feel to this old classic.
The last mod in our list is Enhanced Lights and FX which improves and fixes the lighting elements of the game. With this mod, every light source in the game emits lights including the sun whining through windows when inside interiors. It adds a new water flection coupled with new candle smoke effects as well as generally improve upon the shadows throughout the gigantic landscape of Skyrim, all without causing a single issue to the player’s FPS.
The Finished Product
And voila! After a bit of modding work, you now have a next-gen version of Skyrim to enjoy that has been fully tested by us at Glitchtech, so you need not worry about any incompatibles or random crashes when using these mods. One important thing to note is that rendering order is essential when adding mods that overhaul the game’s look and feel. Be sure to check notes for each of these mods on their relevant pages, as they will give you a general idea if they need to be loaded in a specific order to work correctly or read up on our Beginners Guide to Skyrim Modding which goes into detail about the Load Order Optimization Tool. If you feel you are struggling with performance, try installing lower-resolution versions of each mod where available. Alternatively, try uninstalling a few modules for less pronounced elements of the game.
If you wish to play Skyrim with the highest available textures and your PC just isn't good enough. Why not check out some of our all-time greatest PC builds here!