How to Download and Create Saved Games for Skyrim
If you own a PC version of Skyrim, you can download save games from the internet. You can also upload your saved games for other people to enjoy.
If you're looking for saved games, you already know why you want one, but if the whole concept is new to you, you might be wondering what the point is. It might surprise you just how useful a game save can be.
This hub takes a look at some of the different kinds of game saves that are available, and how to use them. I'll also give you a few pointers about creating your own.
How to Use Saved Games
Once you've downloaded a game save, you need to place it in your Skyrim save folder. On my computer, that's located in Libraries -> Documents -> My Games -> Skyrim -> Saves. Skyrim game saves have an .ess file extension, so you should see all of your other game saves in that folder.
Game saves appear in the order that they were created, not added to the folder, so when you boot up Skyrim, your downloaded game saves may not appear at the top of the list, and may actually appear very far down your list of saves. You can make these files easier to find by renaming them in your save game folder before starting Skyrim. (Just don't change the file extension.) I give all of my downloadable characters game saves with names like 'Aela.ess', etc.
One popular type of game save is the 'high level' save, where you just take over someone else's character late in the game. This can be interesting if they have high level gear or an interesting build you want to check out, or if you just feel like skipping past all the low-level grinding.
Players who have already 'beaten' the game often upload their save files so that others can enjoy the benefits of their labor. This is a great way for players with low-level characters to try out end game weapons and armor, and to play around with maxed out skills and perks, and a great way for uploaders to show off the fruits of their labor. High level saves can be for any level but are usually for at least 20th level characters, and I have seen character saves that go all the way up to the high 70's.
Xbox 360 and PS3 Users
I am not an expert on Xbox 360 or PS3 games, since I tend to play most of my games on the PC. To the best of my knowledge, however, there are currently no save game resources available for Skyrim for either of these consoles.
Xbox game saves are attached to gamertags and removing these ids can result in being banned from Xbox Live. I know a lot of Xbox users use Modio to edit their game saves, but I have no idea how it works or what kinds of limitations it has. I'm sure if you Google it, you'll come up with some answers.
Playstation 3 saves are encrypted and as Modio does not work for PS3 saves, I don't think there is currently a workaround for it. If you're looking for a game save editor and you come across a download that asks you to fill out a survey before using it, don't bother! It's just a scam to get your personal information.
!! Warning !! Using a shared save file on PS3 and Xbox 360 will generally prevent you from earning achievements based on that save. This applies to all game saves. If you do use a save game for any other game, I recommend you have a base save (the one you started with perhaps) that you use to earn achievements and use the borrowed save files for tooling around or working around bugs.
If Skyrim game saves do become available for either of these platforms in the future, a great place to look for them is gamefaqs.
God Mode or Cheat Saves
Other players, who are a little more savvy with the console, sometimes create 'cheat' saves or 'god mode' saves with characters who have been artificially assigned the maximum skill levels, given all the perks, and given the best weapons and armor in the game. They are sometimes given other advantages as well which more or less make them impossible to kill.
These kinds of game saves are made for people who might have a 'serious' save that they use for role-playing but who enjoy just goofing around every once in a while causing as much havoc and destruction as possible. It can be amusing watching the other characters in the game world scurry around like ants before the awesome might of your invincible character.
Another type of game save that is popular for many games is the bug workaround. Players who own a copy of a game that doesn't work properly on their system (perhaps owing to compatibility issues, bugs that were never resolved by the developer, or a defective copy of the game) can sometimes find game saves uploaded by users who don't experience the bug. These saves usually begin immediately after the section of the game that is causing the problems. Sometimes, this is the only way that players can finish a game and is often faster than waiting for the developers to issue a patch.
This kind of game save isn't very popular for open world RPGs like the Elder Scrolls games where there are often multiple ways around a particular bug, and where so much of the game depends on customizing your character, but it is something to keep in mind if you encounter a problem like this in another game.
Probably the most common reason for downloading a save game is to use a character that you haven't designed yourself. If you're no good at making attractive characters, players who are can provide a quick and convenient way for you to look good and at the same time avoid the hassle of sitting through long introductory sequences. This can save you a lot of time if you just want to get playing but don't want to be stuck with a character you regret. There are literally hundreds of different pre-made characters for you to choose from with more being added every day, so almost everybody can find something that appeals to them.
There are a couple different varieties of game saves so it's usually a good idea to check out the details before you download. They usually start out at level 1 and are saved either right before you decide which faction to follow (Stormcloaks or Imperials) or they are saved outside at the end of the tutorial dungeon. The first will require you to play through the remainder of the tutorial (it still shaves off up to about 10 minutes from the start of the game) but will give you full control over your character's experience and gear. The later will save you a lot more time, but you'll be stuck with the experience gains and loot that the saver accumulated (not usually a big deal in the grand scheme of things).
NPC Game Saves
Another very popular type of game save is a save that allows you to play as an NPC (non-player character) from the game. Eg. as Ancano or Alva.
These mods often just allow you to use the character's appearance, though some also include the clothing and other distinguishing items that the NPC possesses and may make other changes to the character so that you really feel like you are playing that character.
Owing to a number of requests from readers, I've started assembling Skyrim character game saves on my website. There are only a couple on there right now, but I plan on adding some of the more popular characters as I go. Feel free to make requests. I'll get to as many as I can.
Celebrity Game Saves
A related type of game save is the celebrity game save. Celebrity game saves are characters who have been painstakingly tweaked to look as much like real celebrities as possible, for example, Gerard Butler or Kate Beckinsale. If you are a fan of a particular celebrity, it can be fun to play the game as if it were a movie starring that person. Oblivion had tons of very well done celebrity face mods and I have no doubt that you'll start to see more of them for Skyrim as well.
Another popular form of character saves are fictional characters. Characters from George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones, etc.) are popular right now for Skyrim. This introduces an interesting cross-over, which is the game save depicting the celebrity playing a fictional character! (The SkyrimNexus has a game save of Sean Bean as Eddard Stark.)
What to Watch Out For When Downloading Game Saves
Game saves don't typically present any problems unless the person who made the save was using mods at the time they made the save. The game stores data from most types of mods in the save file. If that data is not available when you load a saved game (because you don't have the same mods installed and activated in your mod list) then the game won't be able to resolve those references and you'll get an error. Typically, that's just a message saying that some objects may no longer be available and the save will load fine but will be missing any extras that may have been added (eg. like extra clothes, hair, or eyes). Other times, the save will not load properly and you'll end up with a crash to desktop.
It's always a good idea to check the readme before downloading a mod so that you know beforehand whether or not you have everything you need to make the mod work properly. Mod authors will typically provide a list of mods that were used in the creation of a save. If a mod is required for a save to work, it will typically be listed as a requirement. If mods were simply used to enhance the appearance of a character without adding or changing anything about the game, then these mods are not typically required, but will usually be listed as recommended mods.
If you're having problems with a mod even though you've downloaded and installed all of the required mods, don't hesitate to send the author a polite email or pm requesting assistance. Most mod authors are happy to help someone enjoy one of their creations.
Things to Keep in Mind When Creating Game Saves
If you are creating a game save for upload to others, make sure you pay careful attention to what, exactly, is going into your save file. Personally, I recommend turning off all of your mods before creating a game save. You can leave things like model and texture replacers in, because they won't prevent a game save from working--the player will simply be using the vanilla version of these assets--but you need to give some thought to other types of mods.
If you don't want to disable one or more mods, make sure you mention which mods you are using so that downloaders will be forewarned of any potential problems. As I noted above, not having a mod will typically only result in a warning message being displayed to the player, but if you are aware of any real issues resulting from using your game save that could result in a crash or other annoying glitches, you really should list those mods as required mods in your readme. Fewer people may opt to use your mod, but they'll be much happier.
And did I mention that you should include a readme, even for a saved game? Don't assume that someone downloading your save will know what to do with it. Always assume that your user is doing this for the very first time.
(If you're looking for tips about creating better-looking characters, you can find some good information in one of my other hubs: How to Create Beautiful Characters in Skyrim.)
Where to Download (or Upload) Saved Games
The best place to find game saves is the Skyrim Nexus. The Nexus has hundreds of game saves already available, and, if Oblivion is any indicator, this number will grow to well over a thousand.
But one of the best places to get game saves is my web site. I have over a hundred game saves for popular NPCs from the game, like Serana, Aela, and Ulfric. I've also created saves for loading screen characters, celebrities, and completely original characters, so if you're looking for something new, I recommend you drop by and check it out.
Saved Games and Modding
If you've never played a modded game, or created any mods yourself, downloading and creating game saves can be a great way to get your feet wet in the fascinating world of modding.
They can also be a great source of interesting, ready-made characters if you're planning on starting a new game but hate messing around with the facegen sliders and sitting through long introductory sequences.
Game saves are not peculiar to Skyrim, but exist for many games and much of what I've said here will apply for those games as well.
Whatever you end up doing, remember to have fun doing it. The right way to play this game is the way you want to.