NOTEThis Guide is out of date as of 01/25/2013 with the release of Realistic Lighting Overhaul (previously known as RLwC) and will not likely be updated anytime soon. With the release of RLO and COT (March 30th) combined with additional lighting mods such as Relighting Skyrim; there is simply too much work to do and not enough time (or patience) to do it.
A guide to popular lighting mods for newcomers and gurus alike -- by TechAngel85, the S.T.E.P. Team, and S.T.E.P Community
- Updated: 18:57:32 23 June 2021 (UTC)
This guide is designed to provide information about different lighting mods that are safe to use with STEP and will provide more realistic lighting for a more immersive gaming experience. Please note this guide is only provided as a general overview of these mods. When seeking answers related to a particular mod please contact the mod's author.
The mods that will be covered by this guide are:
- Project Reality - Climates Of Tamriel (CoT)
- Realistic Colors and Real Nights (RCRN)
- Realistic Lighting with Customization (RLwC) (Now Realistic Lighting Overhaul)
What is a lighting mod?
Without getting technical, a lighting mod changes either individual lighting aspects of a game, such as interiors and dungeons, or the the overall lighting of a game; often called overhauls. The above mods are overhauls; but are compatible with most other mods including ENBs to further enhance the ENB effects which is covered in the ENB Guide. They are not; however, compatible with each other at this time. You can use only one lighting mod above. (Realistic Lighting Overhaul and COT will be compatible with the release of COT v3.0)
Below is a basic comparison of the three lighting mods against vanilla. Please note that your results may vary based on the options you choose and the settings of your hardware and software. For a more complete comparison visit each mod's nexus page and view the images uploaded by users.
Frame Rate Comparison
The frame rates below are very subjective as they are based off a specific hardware setup. Please note that frame rates vary from system to system. This comparison is provided for a general idea of the performance impact only; therefore, if your frames rate do not match that is perfectly normal. Frame rates were gathered from various areas around Skyrim to provide diversity.
NOTEThese numbers are out-of-date. Realistic Lighting Overhaul will most likely cause some performance loss.
The same results can been see at the other eight areas tested around Skyrim. With only a variation of 1 FPS or none at all, these lighting mods provide no noticeable impact on performance.
These screen shots were taken during the day at the same location and time.
These screen shots were taking at dusk (sun setting) at the same location and time.
These screen shots were taken during the night at the same location and time.
These screen shots were taken in a semi-dungeon environment at the same location and time.
These screen shots were taken inside an interior at the same location and time.
Additional Lighting Comparison - Fire Glow
These screen shots were taken inside a cave environment at the same location and time.
As you can see there is very little difference between Vanilla and CoT unless the optional presets are used for dungeons and interiors. The rest of the lighting remains very similar to Vanilla. RCRN livens up the colors and lighting to a more realistic tone. RCRN is easily one of the most popular lighting mods for this reason. Standing right next to RCRN on popularity is RLwC (now Realistic Lighting Overhaul). RLwC - Hardcore is a brilliant piece of art as is it's lighter version, Vision. The Hardcore version provides vibrant colors and lighting with very dark nights. The Vision version is lighter and closer to RCRN lighting, but still providing most of the lighting present in the Hardcore version such as darker nights.
Note: All screen shots were taken with no AA and default game settings in order to generalize performance across all mods.
The instructions below are only general and are not intended to be a step-by-step guide. Modders are highly encouraged to review the Readme file included in each of the mods. It will include the most up-to-date information about the installation of each individual mod.
- Calibrate your monitor. There are many free online tools for this.
- Make sure your graphic card drivers are up to date.
- Back up your game saves. This is good modding practice before using any new mod.
Installation of these mods is just like any other mod.
- Download and extract the mod file
- Copy the extracted files to your Skyrim folder and/or Data folder
- Active the esm/esp files using your mod manager or Skyrim Launcher
- Run BOSS to properly sort the load order of the mods
- Play Skyrim with your new lighting mod and enjoy!
There are limited ways in which to customize a lighting mod. Some mods contain optional presets such as darker dungeons, warmer interiors, brighter nights, etc. Use these at your own discretion for your own personal tastes.
Climates of Tameriel (CoT)
CoT is not just a lighting overhaul but also a complete weather overhaul as well. CoT provides many options for customization using presets. You can customize nights with 4 different options, dungeons and caves with 2 different options, and interiors with 2 different options as well. The night options start at the default level and goes to up level 3. Default is the darkest and most natural night lighting; each level up the nights get slightly brighter. Dungeons and cave have the presets, Hardcore and Hazardous. Hardcore is recommended for the darkest dungeon experience and Hazardous for slightly darker dungeons than from the default. Finally, the two interior options are Cold and Warm. Cold provides a slightly darken vanilla interior where as Warm provides a similar darken interior but with warmer lighting.
Realistic Colors and Real Nights (RCRN)
Like CoT, RCRN is more than just a lighting mod. It includes dynamic weathers, FXAA, and HDR as well. RCRN includes three optional night lighting levels to choose from; Legacy, Classic, and Pure. Legacy provides lesser contrast and slightly brighter nights and dungeons; torches will not be needed. Classic provides balanced colors and dark nights and dungeons; suggest you utilize your torch. Finally, Pure provides the ultimate experience with very dark nights and pitch black dungeons; torches are required if you wish to see. You can see an example of each on their Web site.
Realistic Lighting with Customization (RLwC)
You can customize RLwC with three different presets; Hardcore, Vanilla with Customization, and Vision Lighting. RLwC also includes an INI file for greater control and tweaking of the entire mod. However, RLwC is moving towards a modular design with 4.0 which will allow for even greater control and compatibility. Please visit their page on nexus for the most up-to-date information.
Imaginator is a powerful, yet easy to use in-game tool which allows individual control over visual elements such as: brightness, contrast, saturation, sunlight output, bloom, and tint. It is utilized in-game by the use of a "helper spell". This is a great tool to use as a first choice when tweaking lighting and one of the only ways to tweak these mods besides using their presets.
The best experience in lighting, without using an ENB, is objective to the player's own personal likes and tastes. Climates of Tamriel doesn't provide much improved in overall lighting without using the optional files. Realistic Colors and Real Nights provides a very natural lighting overhaul and vamps up the colors to boot without overdoing it. Realistic Lighting with Customization using the Hardcore option gives you amazing lighting, vibrant colors, and very dark nights; a great game-play experience. Their Vision option provides the same experience with slightly less dark nights and slightly less vibrant colors.
If you are planning on using an ENB in combination with a lighting mod, please review the ENB Guide. As always, this guide is provided only for general information. The choice of which mods are chosen or not is a personal choice for each person to decide themselves.