Note: this is an updated version of the original post I created for vanilla Skyrim.
Why should I bother?
Skyrim is an amazing game, but if you’re like me and have spent hundreds of hours playing the original version (or special edition), then Skyrim VR will be repetitive despite the added immersion of virtual reality. The mods I share below (and in the original post) serve to create a new experience with as minimal effort as possible. The goal being to create disposable and lethal narratives.
How do I setup mods for Skyrim VR?
Here is the best Reddit article I found covering Skyrim VR mods. If you’re like me, I wasn’t able to get the Nexus Mod Manager to automatically download and install my mods (check the “Manually installing” section). There has also been an update to the article about Vortex, but I haven’t tried that method personally.
Here are a few additional tips to know before installing mods for Skyrim VR:
- WARNING: installing mods for Skyrim VR disables achievements! If you care about Steam achievements, then you need to play the base game first.
- After manually downloading a mod, extract the contents to your Skyrim data folder here: \Steam\steamapps\common\SkyrimVR\Data. It’s ok to overwrite files as long as that’s what you want the mod to do. For example, I am using the “Static Mesh Improvement Mod” (SMIM) and many of the mesh/texture files require an overwrite. Since I want the improved textures, I overwrote all the files it asked and achieved the mods full functionality. If you’re really worried about it, copy your original data folder as a backup and restore it later if there’s a problem.
- Many mods, like SMIM for example, are structured like: 00 Core, 01 Thing A, 02 Thing B, 02 Thing C, 03 Thing D. These are sequential installs with 00 Core being the main files for the mod and 02 Thing B vs 02 Thing C being options. Start by extracting and copying over 00 Core. Then figure out which version of 02 you want to install (if either of them). You can usually find out the differences on the mod page on Nexus. For some mods, you might not even want most of the additional items besides core. For instance, I installed the Vivid Weathers mod, but only used the Core files because I didn’t want the other options it provided. Everything will function properly as long as you installed the Core files first.
- Once you’ve picked out all your mods and installed them, download LOOT and sort them. To do this, you need to open the LOOT settings screen, find Skyrim Special Edition, and paste in the full install path: C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\SkyrimVR. Close that screen and select Skyrim Special Edition from the games drop-down and it should load in all the mods you just installed. Click the little sort icon in the top right corner and wait for it to run. Once complete, it will have optimally sorted your mods, BUT because this is Skyrim VR, you will probably need to manually sort the plugins.txt file to match. When I tried clicking Apply, it generated a new plugins.txt file in a different folder and didn’t appear to work properly.
Realistic Damage and Immersion Mods
All the mods recommended below have been personally tested by me and stable on my computer after about 20 hours of play. The only two issues I’ve experienced are noted below on the particular mods (No Essential NPCs and Random Alternate Start). Here are my recommendations to create a new lethal and fresh experience for Skyrim VR:
- Here is a brief list of standard mods with high endorsement ratings on Nexus that immediately improve the visual immersion of Skyrim VR: Total Character Makeover, Skyrim Flora Overhaul, Static Mesh Improvement Mod, Realistic Water Two, and Vivid Weathers.
- Another high endorsement mod that most everyone considers critical is the: Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch.
- Next up is Enhanced Blood Textures SE which make combat and death much more visceral.
- Amazing Follower Tweaks allows you to entrance the innocent citizens of Skyrim into joining your party. Be sure to adjust their settings after taking control. I recommend turning OFF post-combat recovery, combat regen boost, and boost follower stats. I also set them so they can permanently die. These settings make your followers fragile and boosts the immersion of raiding bandit camps and exploring dungeons. Here is the mod readme so you can better understand what each setting does.
- No Essential NPCs theoretically allows everyone in Skyrim to die. I have run into a few here and there that still recover though. Not sure what the issue is exactly, but at minimum it allows 99.9% of NPCs to be killable. This is especially fun when testing your combat skills by killing entire towns of people with your party of 5 via Amazing Follower Tweaks. One WARNING though: turn this plugin on AFTER the opening beheading sequence because there is a possibility your cart will run over an essential NPC which traps everyone in an infinite loop.
- Realistic AI Detection 2 SE is another great little mod that alters the detection of enemies and NPCs. A great example is at the beginning when you’re making your way through Helgen keep and encounter the bear in the tunnels below. Normally you can sneak by the bear without alerting it, but with this mod on it will definitely wake up. You can still safely get by before it fully detects you, but it adds to the immersion in my opinion. What bear would allow you to get within 20-30 feet of it without waking up? This is especially apparent in VR.
- Smilodon with Realistic Damage add-on + increased difficulty – this setup is what makes every encounter lethal and challenging. Even wild beast like wolves can do some serious damage and archery feels very satisfying. I recommend both the main Smilodon mod with the Realistic Damage add-on (available via the files tab). After both are installed, bump up the in-game difficulty to Expert or Master and prepare to feel the anxiety of truly intense battles. You’ll need to master timing and movement to survive, dodge arrows that would immediately spell your death, and watch allies cut down or be cut down in a realistic fashion. It’s spectacular!
- Lastly is Random Alternate Start Reborn SE which allows you to skip the opening beheading sequence and start a new character randomly in the world. This is the mod that allows you to experience Skyrim from a totally new perspective. If you’re a Dungeons & Dragons fan like myself, this mod allows you to define your character’s narrative and purpose in the world. Maybe you wake up in a cave full of bears because you’re a hunter or a poacher. Maybe you wake up on the edge of a dark town because you’re an assassin sent to take out a prominent figure. This mod allows you to explore Skyrim in a totally new and fresh way. Part of the fun too is that you never know where you’ll wake up in the world and it’s fun to develop the narrative as you go. The only WARNING here is that the mod does NOT work by default. You need to add: bLoadVRPlayroom=0 to the SkyrimPrefs.ini under the [VR] header otherwise you’ll start the game with two overlapping menus that are not clickable.
VR Settings and Reversed Audio
For those inclined to do the research, you can add some additional immersion by researching “Skyrim VR INI settings” on Google. There are some great tweaks that can’t be made via the in-game settings like removing enemy health bars.
Another problem I had (and saw elsewhere on the net) was reversed audio. For example, NPCs speaking on my left were coming out the right speaker which severely broke immersion. Some people were claiming that our headphones were backwards! This of course is ridiculous because other games work perfectly fine. Instead, completely unplug the VR base station (not just the HMD side), plug everything back in, and restart Steam VR and Skyrim. This should permanently fix the issue.
That’s it, thanks for reading! If you want, check out my YouTube channel where I’m uploading some of my Skyrim VR gameplay.