Why you should downgrade Skyrim Anniversary Edition to 1.5.97, and how to do it

Skyrim Anniversary Edition was released in November 2021 (image via Bethesda Softworks)
Skyrim Anniversary Edition was released in November 2021 (image via Bethesda Softworks)

Skyrim still continues to exert its presence on the wider gaming landscape, thanks largely to its modding community. With recent massive developments in new animation mods, modded Skyrim is closer than it ever was to becoming your dream role-playing game.

In 2023, Skyrim is still a fixer-upper in terms of combat, as the new wave of combat modding suites still has jank to iron out. But in the visuals department, it can give current-gen games a run for their money. The game, however, has a bit of a re-releasing problem, a phenomenon that has elevated to the level of memes.

Making the game accessible to owners of different platforms is a good thing, but its ripples deter the modding community on PC. Specifically, the game version changes with each update, which spells out doom for many modders. Each new update in the game's executable can potentially break many mods, as explained below.

How to use the Skyrim Downgrade patcher to downgrade the executable to Special Edition


Modding the game while staying up-to-date on your Skyrim version poses a number of problems. The nature of the issue becomes clear if you just look at the game version mismatch on different digital storefronts. When writing this article, the Skyrim executable version (SkyrimSE.exe) on the Steam release of the game is 1.6.640, while the GOG release is 1.6.659. This is on the same Skyrim Anniversary Edition build, 2.2.3.

Why is the executable version important?


Many essential Skyrim mods hinge on SKSE64, an unofficial engine-level tool that enhances the game's scripting functions. SKSE-dependent mods include Skyrim Engine Fixes and Display Tweaks, which are crucial to improving game stability and frame-timing.

The SKSE64 version is tailor-made to suit a particular version of the Skyrim executable. At the moment, it supports three versions - the latest Steam build (1.6.640), the GOG build (1.6.659), and the Special Edition build (1.5.97). Consequently, the SKSE-dependent mods also tend to work best with the version of SKSE64 they were developed for.

The plight of SKSE-dependent mods

Bethesda's sudden nightly build releases cause the game to auto-update to a new version of the executable. The SKSE team itself is very efficient in scaling with the official runtime, releasing a new compatible build of SKSE64. On the other hand, the mods that depend on it are left trying to play catch.

Projects like CharmedBaryon's CommonLibSSE attempt to breach this gap and provide a one-for-all solution, but not all of the mod author community falls under its umbrella.

A big example is Dynamic Animation Replacer or DAR. DAR is used as a baseline for almost all of the game's latest animation mods. Yet, it only has support for versions up to 1.6.353 thus far. If you have the latest build of the game and install the last DAR version, DAR-dependent mods like Comprehensive First Person Animation Overhaul will bug out often.

The solution: why you should go back to 1.5.97


It is a common understanding between modders to have support for version 1.5.97 (Special Edition build 2.0.2). This was the stable version of Skyrim for over three years, and all of the big SKSE mods, including DAR and SSE Engine Fixes, were developed on this. Almost all the newer releases, including those based on CommonLibSSE, have either out-of-the-box support or a backport patch.

Before you downgrade to this version, the first step is to disable automatic updates for the game.

Using Downgrade Patcher


A handy tool called the downgrade patcher lets you return to a stable 1.5.97 build in a failsafe and harmless way. For this, you need to create a Nexusmods profile. There are two versions available: the Full Patcher and Best of Both Worlds.

The Full Patcher, available as the main file, strips all the Anniversary Edition-related code and assets and recreates a one-to-one copy of Special Edition build 2.0.2.

The 'Best of Both Worlds' patcher, available in the optional files section, only downgrades the game code and executable back to 1.5.97. It is recommended that you use the Best of Both Worlds patcher, as the Full Patcher will also remove the relatively innocuous free creation club content (Survival Mode, Rare Curios, Fishing, and Saints and Seducers), which are hard requirements for the latest version of USSEP.

If you use the Best of Both Worlds version, the patcher verifies the installed game files and then rewrites them with the 1.5.97 code in less than a minute. After this, you have the 1.5.97 version ready to play. All you have to do is remember to install the 1.5.97 or SE version of SKSE mods when the prompts come up on your mod manager of choice.

Note: Mods must be used at the reader's own discretion

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Edited by Adarsh J Kumar
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