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How to Manually Install and use Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mods Downloaded From Nexus or Other Websites for Beginners

Updated on February 16, 2017

How to manually install, partially install, use and test Skyrim mods downloaded from Nexus or other locations

Welcome to my latest hub on Skyrim, the fifth game in my favourite series the Elder Scrolls. Today, I am going to look at how to best install mods manually. Mods allow you to enhance the original game, fixing bugs, add new content and upgrade the graphics. You can add new land masses, quests, in fact pretty much anything you could possibly think of can be added, changed or tweaked using mods. You can see an example of how mods can improve the look of Skyrim in the picture below.

The Elderscrolls V Skyrim with mods installed is a beautiful and vibrant game. This screenshot is courtesy of the RealVision ENB mod page on Skyrim Nexus
The Elderscrolls V Skyrim with mods installed is a beautiful and vibrant game. This screenshot is courtesy of the RealVision ENB mod page on Skyrim Nexus | Source

Manually installing mods gives you a number of advantages over using Mod Management tools:

  • Using my system, it is more accurate
  • You can install parts of mods rather than the entire mod (you may for example, really like the iron armour from an armour replacement mod but not like the rest)
  • You can pick and choose what you use from mods, installing just the parts you want to use
  • You become more familiar with how mods work by installing them manually

The best place to find mods is the Skyrim Nexus website which can be found here: http://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim. A good place to start is the Top Files section which can be found by clicking on the Files button and select Top Files. It will give you an idea of what is popular and also show you some of the best mods made.

Preparing your Skyrim mods for installation

Before you install mods, it is a good idea to organise the mods that you have and any that you download. This is true whether you use Mod Management tools or choose to install your mods manually.

  • Ensure that the mods are renamed if the original zip file has a name that doesn’t match the mod itself. So for example, Sounds of Skyrim has patches for popular mods. The zip file is called Compatibility Patches-20193-1-02 so I renamed it Sounds of Skyrim – Compatibility patches. Otherwise in a few months time you may have no idea what the mod is
  • Next, create a folder and copy all your correctly named mods into it. Also create a folder called Installed and a folder called New. We will use the folders during the mod installation process.
  • If you are using Skyrim Nexus, it is also a good idea to mirror their categories to make mods easier to sort and also to find
  • Finally, and most importantly copy your entire Skyrim folder so that you have a backup. That way if something goes wrong you can roll back without re-installing the game.

How to check mods for patches, dependencies and conflicts when installing Skyrim mods to make your game more stable

Now that we have all our mods appropriately named and tidied into one folder, we need to check for any conflicts, dependencies or patches for our mods. Again, this is a step that you should perform for all mods regardless of the installation method. First:

  • On Skyrim Nexus, read the mods description (Desc) tab thoroughly for any installation advice from the modder.

The Description tab for a mod hosted by Skyrim Nexus is a very important source of information about patches, conflicts and also other mods by the same author.
The Description tab for a mod hosted by Skyrim Nexus is a very important source of information about patches, conflicts and also other mods by the same author. | Source
  • Next, on the Files tab, check for any patches that the modder has created to allow the mod to run well alongside other mods that may conflict with it
  • You can also message the mod creator and also talk to other gamers playing Skyrim and discuss or ask questions about the mod on the Posts tab
  • Finally, check the readme files that come with the mod, looking for conflicts, installation recommendations and also where in the load order the mod should go

It is important to always read the instructions closely. Even mods that you wouldn't expect to cause issues can and will cause problems, including the dreaded Crash to Desktop (CTD).

An example is ApachiiSkyHair by the talented modder Apachii. This mod can cause CTDs when you change hair, sex or race when selecting your character at the beginning of the game. The modder on the Description tab in Skyrim Nexus tells you exactly how to fix this problem (install Show Race Menu Options by MojoDaJojo and voila, no more issues with this mod).

How to Manually install Skyrim mods

Installing mods manually once you have checked the installation instructions and downloaded any patches is fairly straightforward. Even if you use a Mod Manager, installing mods manually gives you a greater understanding of how the files fit together and what they do.

  • Cut and Paste the zip file into the New folder we created above
  • Open the zip file of the mod you are about to install (I have expanded the folders so you can see the folders in the mod structure below)

Example of how the files and folders that make up a Skyrim mod are organised.
Example of how the files and folders that make up a Skyrim mod are organised. | Source
  • Now open your Skyrim game folder and have the Data folder so you can see it

The folder structure inside your Skyrim game folder.
The folder structure inside your Skyrim game folder. | Source
  • Collapse the tree view and drag the folder (or folders) below the Data folder from the zip to Data folder in your game installation folder.

How to manually copy a mod to your Skyrim game folder.
How to manually copy a mod to your Skyrim game folder. | Source

Typically, you will copy one or all of three folders:

  • Textures - add detail and surface texture to all objects you see in game
  • Meshes - control the shape of all the objects in game
  • Scripts - changes how things behave in the game

There may also be other files .bsa, .esp in the Data folder. Copy all of these to your Data folder. Windows may ask you to overwrite files in the game directory, typically you would say yes, unless there is a reason that you don’t want a specific file overwritten (for example, overwrite a larger (and more detailed) texture file with a smaller one).

Once you have installed the mod, continue to install mods until you have installed five to ten mods (depending on the type of mod). If you are installing texture replacers or mods that add small amounts of new content such as new weapons or armour, you can install more mods at once. If the change game play or make more significant changes to balance or objects in the game then install fewer.

How to test your installed Skyrim mods to reduce bugs, glitches and crashes

The next and most important phase is testing. You need to make sure that the mods you have just added have not introduced bugs, crashes or other problems. The reason that you install them in small batches is that this way it is easier to determine which mod is causing the problem. If you look at my load order below, imagine if I had installed them all at once and then I found there was a problem! I would never be able to figure out which mod was causing it.

An example of a Skyrim mod load order.
An example of a Skyrim mod load order. | Source

If I only installed five to ten mods, it is much simpler to find that out. If you do introduce a bug to your game, deselect all the mods you just added and add them back one at a time (testing the game before adding another mod) until you come to the one that causes the issue.

Important: If you find a mod that causes issues, immediately install it and move the mod to another folder so you don’t accidentally install it again later on.

Testing itself is simple enough.

First, load up BOSS. If you don’t have this tool installed or are unsure how to use it, check out my hub that introduces this excellent tool:

http://robbiecwilson.hubpages.com/hub/Using-BOSS-and-Tes5Edit-to-optimise-your-Skyrim-load-order-to-improve-game-stability-and-reduce-game-crashes

BOSS does a number of things that are crucial to keeping your game stable

  • It checks mods for any missing dependencies
  • BOSS ensures that you don’t have the problems with the mods you have installed
  • You will be advised if you need to clean any mods using TES5edit (also introduced in my hub on BOSS)

Most importantly, it fixes your load order to ensure that the mods are loaded in the optimal order

BOSS is an excellent tool that helps identify problems with Skyrim  mods and also sets up a correct load order for you
BOSS is an excellent tool that helps identify problems with Skyrim mods and also sets up a correct load order for you | Source

Most game crashes occur on loading new areas into the game (or when the game starts). So to test this, start a new game in a city and go to some shops and fast travel a few times. Also check out how the mods you just installed look in game. If you just replaced all the armour sets in Skyrim, go to a place with lots of soldiers and check out how the armour looks. If you are happy and the game is stable it is time to install some more mods!

Before you do; some final steps.

  • First, empty the New folder you created moving the mods into the Installed folder
  • Now, copy the Skyrim game folder so that you have a backup of your current stable game

How to partially install Skyrim mods

Suppose you are surfing a website looking at mods and you see a screen shot of a particularly cool object that you really want see in your game. The trouble is, the rest of the objects included in the mod you really don’t like. If you are using a Mod Manager, this is a problem as you can only install the whole mod. You could try to removing the parts that you don’t like, but this could cause instability or game crashes.

To manually install specific parts of a mod, you need to identify where they are in the mod itself. To do this:

  • Down load XnView from www.xnview.com
  • Install using the simple installer
  • Click OK on the Configuration Menu (below)

The initial configuration screen for XnView, click OK to accept the default values.
The initial configuration screen for XnView, click OK to accept the default values. | Source

The main application window looks quite complicated, but never fear, we are not going to use any of the buttons or options

The main XnView interface.
The main XnView interface. | Source

Before beginning, a couple of limitations with XnView

  • First, the mod needs to be extracted (use WinZip or WinRar)
  • Second, XnView cannot look inside .bsa or .esp files (this is not an issue as it is not recommended to split these)

Click File and then Open and browse to the location of the mod. Choose the Textures folder you are interested in, select all the textures and click OK

XnView will load each texture and display it on screen

To view them, you can either click through them, or click on the Browser button on the left hand end of the tool bar to see them all in tiles

XnView showing the contents of a texture file in Skyrim from the mod VictoriaG Load Screens.
XnView showing the contents of a texture file in Skyrim from the mod VictoriaG Load Screens. | Source

When you click the Browser button, you see all the files in the directory as small tiled icons (below). You can see a small preview in the bottom grey pane. To see this full size, double click on the icon.

XnView showing all the textures in a particular folder to allow you to identify specific textures from a Skyrim mod.
XnView showing all the textures in a particular folder to allow you to identify specific textures from a Skyrim mod. | Source

Now I know the name of the texture file that corresponds to the plant I like (load_49), I can copy this from the mod into my Skyrim textures folder enabling this beautiful loading screen to be seen in game.

Note: Pay particular attention to the folder structure of the mod. You can see from the screenshot below that the Load Screen textures from the VictoriaG Load Screens Skyrim mod go into the folder:

/Textures/interface\LoadScreen_Textures

So ensure that you mirror the folder structure in your Skyrim game folder to ensure that they install correctly. If you are installing new content such as this mod, install any .esp files contained in the mod folder.

Always check the folder structure when installing new mods in Skyrim.
Always check the folder structure when installing new mods in Skyrim. | Source

Conclusion

Mods are synonymous with the Elder Scrolls series. The best decision that Bethesda made when making the Elder Scrolls III Morrowind, was including the Construction Set which was used to create the game itself. This gave modders unparalleled access to the game and allowed them to make mods to change literally anything in game as well as adding tonnes and tonnes of new content.

In my hub today, I looked at installing mods manually. We covered:

Preparing mods for installation

Checking the readme documents and the Skyrim Nexus site for information on load order advice, installation instructions, dependencies and also mod conflicts

We then looked at how best to manually install mods

Then we examined mod testing

Finally, we looked at partially installing mods using XnView to identify individual textures

Following through my system, you will be able to install all the mods you like (I currently run 250+) and the game should be stable and perform well. Of course, manually installing mods is not for everyone. I review two excellent Mod Organiser tools, Nexus Mod Manager (designed for beginners to modding with a simple to use interface and one click mod installation) and Mod Organiser (a more advanced tool with features such as profiles and a more granular installation process).

My hub on Nexus Mod Manager can be found here: http://hubpages.com/hub/How-to-use-Nexus-Mod-Manager-to-download-install-uninstall-and-manage-Skyrim-Oblivion-Morrowind-and-Witcher-2-mods

My hub on Mod Organiser can be found here: http://robbiecwilson.hubpages.com/hub/Mod-Organizer-an-advanced-Skyrim-utility-to-manage-install-detect-and-fix-mod-conflicts-and-update-all-your-mods

Many thanks for reading, I do hope that you have found this hub useful and informative and you are enjoying your heavily modded but stable Skyrim game!

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