The Elder Scrolls games are the most user moddable PC games series since the release of Morrowind largely thanks to the excellent editors as well as the by now well documented file formats. Admittedly, they usually need to be since there are bugs as well as other game play issues even after the final patches.
Even though the Skyrim editor (Creation Kit) has not been released publicly, there are already numerous mods available. Most of them are texture mods which do not require the Creation Kit, but there is already a significant number of modders using third party tools to produce mod files.
With the imminent release of the Creation Kit (some time in January 2012), I thought I’d just list some of the mods I have been using.
First off, you’ll probably want the main stays of any serious PC Elder Scrolls player, Nexus Mod Manager (NMM), Wrye Bash and BOSS. NMM is meant to be the successor of OBMM, is closely integrated with the Nexus Network and can manage Obivion, Skyrim, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. I prefer the UI of OBMM, but the integration with the Nexus Network is excellent. Wrye Bash is a complex tool, but is well worth learning and will be essential when juggling any significant number of mods. BOSS manages your load order automatically.
You’ll want SKSE. As of now it is used by very few mods, but I wouldn’t bet against it being as essential for Skyrim as OBSE was for Oblivion.
There’s a “competitor” to SKSE in the form of Script Dragon. Personally I’m not using any mods that requires Script Dragon yet, but from all accounts SKSE and Script Dragon co-exists fine.
Basically, modder Arisu discovered that the Skyrim executable is compiled without certain optimisation flags set. He then created a SKSE plugin proof of concept that replaces some of the inefficient code with handcrafted SSE2 calls. It has been released as the TESV Acceleration Layer. Alexander Blade (author of Script Dragon) took the concept and expanded upon it, releasing the result as SkyBoost (doesn’t require SKSE).
Personally I’m using SkyBoost as I’m getting just that bit more FPS out of it, but some have reported that the TESVAL runs at a lower FPS but smoother. Probably a good idea to try both to see which works for you. It’ll probably be most useful to users who have beefy GPUs and decent CPUs. If your GPU sits on the lower end, these probably won’t be that useful to you as you’ll probably not be CPU bound.
On a side note, what the hell Bethesda? According to Alexander, “Beth have no interest in boosting pc version of Skyrim”. For fuck’s sake, what’s up with that?
Edit (January 21, 2012): Seems Bethesda will be using proper compiler settings for patch 1.4. Hopefully that will obsolete TESVAL and SkyBoost.
You’ll want SkyUI. Goes some way to de-nerf that terrible consolitis interface. This mod shouldn’t even be necessary (did the play testers spend any time on the game with keyboard and mouse?) but the SkyUI team is doing some great stuff so far.
Texture replacer mods were the first type of mods to arrive in force as they did not require the Creation Kit. Some of the ones I use:
The 4GB Skyrim tool used to be essential for texture mods but since BethSoft enabled LAA by default it has been redundant. In any case, for optimal experience you should have more than 4 GB of RAM, and running a 64 bit OS.
One of my priorities when selecting mods is lore friendliness (no Buster Swords in my Elder Scrolls!). Two lore friendly but very high quality weapons mods are JaySuS Swords and Weapons of the Third Era. Both are highly recommended.
Trinkets, odds and ends, that sort of thing
Stuff that don’t fit in anywhere else:
A Quality World Map – With Roads
Midas Magic – Spells in Skyrim
Morokei Mask Enchantment Fix
Talos Shrine Fix
Better Sorting OR Valdacil’s Item Sorting