Kickstart Guide to Skyrim Mods – March’s ENB Edition
Previous editions of our Kickstart Guide for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim have focused on a wide range of improvements, from bug fixes to quest mods. This edition has a very narrow focus. While texture replacements and lighting mods go a long way toward improving the look of the game, people with beefy machines can go much further through the aid of ENB mods and other injectors like SweetFX.
The ENB Series is a robust set of post-processing effects developed by Boris Voronstov that can add many graphical effects, such as Ambient Occlusion, Depth of Field, Film Grain, as well as completely overhaul the lighting and color balance of a title. In the case of Skyrim, the core ENB’s progress has been followed by numerous modders with their own unique take on the graphics overhaul. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of iterations of ENB for Skyrim available – and the code is left exposed for users who want to develop their own. SweetFX is a similarly flexible, if less robust, post-processing mod.
Some General Advice
All ENBs require turning Anisotropic Filtering (AF) off in the Skyrim launcher. The ENB .dll handles this function. Many require also disabling Anti-Aliasing (regardless of whether it is FXAA or not).
While ENB configurations for Skyrim number in the hundreds and are obviously subject to personal preference, even the lightest of them incurs around a 20fps performance penalty in outdoor scenes. In my experience at 1080p resolution, don’t bother trying ENB mods unless you have a graphics card equivalent or better than a GTX 660 or Radeon HD 7850. If you’re willing to drop resolution to gain effects, this specification changes. Experimentation is often the order of the day.
There is absolutely, positively, no right ENB configuration for every system and mod list. What I offer here is a guide that works for me and I’ve tested on several different hardware configurations, but it presumes you use most of the mods listed in the Kickstart Guide, particularly Climates of Tamriel.
No matter which ENB configuration you use from Skyrim Nexus, it’s critical you read which version of the binary it’s meant to be paired with. Boris Vorontsov, the developer of the ENB series, requires that the core files of ENB are hosted on his site. You must match the version number of the binary to the version your ENB preset is designed for or weird things will happen. Unfortunately, some presets get orphaned when the required binary is pulled down, though most of the key legacy versions are kept alive.
After testing many ENB configurations, my absolute favorite is Project ENB, which offers several versions specifically designed to work with Climates of Tamriel. Even if you don’t use this lighting mod, Project ENB is a very nice preset.
One of my issues with most ENBs is the use of very stylized color and bloom settings, though color palette is obviously subject to personal preference. A far more serious issue is the use of depth-of-field effects that go way overboard. DoF is a technique that puts certain parts of the screen in focus, while putting others out of focus, creating a very cinematic feel. It hurts my eyes, especially when overdone, because I start squinting to get the blurry parts back in focus. Moreover, I like the incredibly long draw distances of Skyrim and DoF gets in the way because even mild blurring kills the horizon. Yes, many ENBs are simply toggled on to take screenshots and toggled off during gameplay, but I prefer an “everyday” ENB that enhances the entire experience.
Project ENB is designed to work with v.119 of the ENB binary, so download that version from the link above. Extract the .zip file. There are two versions: wrapper and injector. Start with the wrapper folder. All you need out of that is the d3d9.dll file, which you place in the same folder as your TESV.exe (typically C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\Steamapps\common\skyrim\). If, later, the wrapper version doesn’t work, place the contents of the injector folder in your Skyrim directory and re-copy the Project ENB files.
Once you have the core .dll, download the Project ENB files from Skyrim Nexus at the link above. Extract the .zip. Project ENB offers two versions: Cinematic and Realistic. Cinematic (pictured above) has strong saturation, bloom, and godray effects whereas Realistic is a bit more subdued. Copy the “main files” folder from your chosen preset into the Skyrim directory.
By default, SSAO and DoF are enabled. As stated above, I don’t care for DoF, so go ahead and open enbseries.ini and under [Effect] change “EnableDepthOfField=true” to “false”. Depending on your specs, you may also need to change “EnableAmbientOcclusion=true” to “false” because SSAO is a very expensive effect to produce. After each change it’s worth booting Skyrim up and testing performance.
I recently invested in a very beefy graphics card (Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition) and have been experimenting with just how far I can push ENBs. Some of the most demanding presets still cripple my system but Project ENB runs close to 60fps in all situations.
Unlike many ENB presets, Project ENB does not include any form of AA. The mod’s author recommends leaving Skyrim’s AA enabled. Alternatively, you can use driver-based AA (either AMD’s Catalyst or NVIDIA’s Control Center), or keep reading for a third option.
If you can’t run ENB mods, a nice alternative is the SweetFX Shader Suite. This injector can do many things, but the default configuration only injects SMAA anti-aliasing, which is a particularly efficient AA method. Installation is identical to ENB unless you want to use both together (see below). Copy the contents of the folder (including the SweetFX folder) to your Skyrim directory. If you want some extra sharpening, open SweetFX_Settings.ini and change “#define USE_LUMASHARPEN 0 //[0 or 1]” to “#define USE_LUMASHARPEN 1 //[0 or 1]”.
Project ENB and SweetFX together
I get the best results by using SweetFX in parallel with Project ENB. The default binary for SweetFX has the same name as ENB’s (d3d9.dll) but ENB allows for what are called “proxy libraries”. Place the necessary Project ENB files in your Skyrim folder. Before copying SweetFX, change the name of d3d9.dll to d3d9injFX.dll (this is the default proxy library name for Project ENB). If you use both of these, the only effects you want enabled in SweetFX are SMAA and LumaSharpen.
My core system specs currently are an i5-2500K at 4.0Ghz and a Radeon HD 7970 Ghz Edition. At 1080p, my performance varies from 40-50fps outdoors and stays a solid 60fps indoors. I’ve played with this particular configuration for several hours, and before that tried many of the most popular ENB presets on Nexus (so you don’t have to).
Related Mod News
A new version of Vurt’s Skyrim Flora Overhaul was released that adds some extra variety to the landscape. This is particularly true if you use his optional “Punish your Machine” patch, which adds a lot of variety to groundcovers by allowing the engine to select up to six different textures when drawing the landscape. Think of it as “Automatic Variants, but for grass”. If you use this patch, it requires adding “iMaxGrassTypesPerTexure=6” under [grass] in your skyrim.ini (documents\my games\skyrim\). In the picture above you can see the effect it has.
If your machine can handle this, it’s an amazing experience both for actual gameplay as well as some killer screenshots, as I’ve included in the article. Skyrim Nexus has many far more knowledgeable ENB tweakers in the forums but if people have any questions or troubleshooting concerns I will answer to the best of my ability here.