Did you know that you could overhaul Skyrim SE graphics (pretty much) completely with only 7 (or less) mods? Of course, there are many more mods out there that I’m also using in my full modded build, but if I were to boil it down to just 7 mods that deal with textures & ambience, this would be it.
Noble Skyrim Mod HD-2K
First mod on our list, a complete texture overhaul. Noble Skyrim features slightly different architecture than vanilla game, and it also comes with two editions. Standard & Performance.
If you have more than 4 GBs of vRAM, go with standard. Otherwise consider performance pack if you plan to install a lot of other texture mods.
The good thing about this mod is that it also covers a ton of different landscape textures, as well as small objects & clutter. With that being said, it is compatible with SMIM and there’s a patch that you should install (asset install order doesn’t matter).
This mod alone will change the way your game looks completely.
Vivid Weathers Definitive Edition
Weathers & visual effects are important. Textures are only one part of the overall visual overhaul. Lighting and atmosphere plays an equally important role.
To overhaul weather in Skyrim (as well as install a custom shader) we will use Vivid Weathers. You will notice that the game becomes a bit more bleaker and darker, as well as a lot more intense when there’s storms and rain. I personally like the classic shader (you will see all of this in the installer).
Just don’t forget to enable it, it’s a separate plugin!
There’s also an MCM menu where you can change all kinds of stuff, so play around with it.
Enhanced Lights and FX
Hands down the best lighting mod out there and probably my top 5 favorite mods of all time. It comes with 3 different options. First one simply fixes up and improves lighting in Skyrim. At least get that one.
Second is called enhancer and it also darkens interiors significantly (I personally love it). Third is hardcore and it does everything the other two do, but also makes dungeons and uninhabited areas really dark (almost pitch black). So you’ll need a light source of your own!
I find this perfect for a high difficulty modded build.
Skyrim Flora Overhaul SE
This mod deals with everything tree & grass related. It affects the whole world of Skyrim. It’s performance friendly (unlike other ones) and it doesn’t require a lot of vRAM either.
However, if you notice any significant performance issues, remove it.
Mountains are everywhere. This mod will give you 3 different options. All of them look phenomenal. I personally can’t really decide which option looks best, so take a look at all screenshots on the mod’s page.
Realistic Water Two SE
Water is a big part of the game. You ‘can‘ skip on this mod if you want to, but I would say get it because it does help to improve the overall ambience of the game and vanilla water is plain ugly.
This mod will overhaul rivers, lakes and seas (even ponds), so basically anything water related. There’s also some additional options in the installer, so pick what you like.
Make sure to load this mod last since it can be a bit problematic with other mods (none from this list).
Total Character Makeover
Finally, this mod will improve the way NPCs in the game look, in some cases quite drastically. What I like about Total Character Makeover is that it’s completely compatible with other NPC related mods like for example custom armors & weapons, and it also doesn’t have a plugin.
So you can easily merge it with other graphics mods you install and keep things tidy in your mod manager.