Yes, you can play as a dragon in Skyrim. The bad news is that to do so, you require a couple of mods, it’s a bit buggy and you need to use the old version of Skyrim, not Special Edition. It’s Legendary Edition only, folks. The good news is that the modded version is far better than the pitiful excuse for dragon riding that Bethesda added, and you actually get to be a dragon, rather than sitting mindlessly on a dragon’s back, only allowed to use a handful of spells. The bad news is that playing as a dragon kinda means you can’t play as a human any more.
So what do you need? Firstly, you need Skyrim Script Extender (SKSE). This is available on Steam itself, you just install it and then run Skyrim Script Extender to run Skyrim. If you’re someone who uses more than basic texture mods and followers, then you’ll most likely have SKSE already. If not, then you just want to hop onto Steam and download it from there, as the Steam downloader automatically installs everything you need.
When you have SKSE installed, remember to always use it to start Skyrim. Never load Skyrim from Steam, load Skyrim by loading SKSE, which will run and then load Skyrim for you! Unless you need to activate a mod and aren’t using a mod organizer.
Okay, with SKSE out of the way, you want the actual mod itself. Burning Skies is basically the only working play-as-a-dragon mod that I’m aware of these days.
Now, there are two versions of the mod, Burning Skies itself and Playable Dragons Alpha. Burning Skies uses scripts and stuff and is a more ‘finished’ product. Playable Dragons Alpha is much more fluid, but because it’s an alpha, it’s only really good if you want to be a dragon all the time. To clear things up, here’s some pros and cons for each one.
Burning Skies Pros:
- You get to pick what dragon you are
- Everything is kinda all in one bundle
- Perch and roar animations
- Much more seamless changes between human and dragon
- Handful of extra spells for dragon-use only
Burning Skies Cons:
- Prone to crashing – crashes may come completely out of the blue
- Slow and occasionally laggy, not worth using if you’re already using a lot of mods with scripts
- No hovering or take off/landing animations
- Increasing/decreasing altitude sometimes takes forever
Playable Dragon Alpha Pros:
- More fluid flight
- Hover and take off/landing animations
- Faster and more responsive
- Faster switching between human and dragon
- Increasing/Decreasing altitude is easier
Playable Dragon Alpha Cons:
- Can’t choose your dragon easily (you always use Odahviing’s model)
- You can soft-lock yourself
- Flight carries over into your mortal form
- Unless you disable falling damage, you may die as your normal self from falling from a great height
You want to go to Nexus Mods and download either the Burning Skies main file ORRRRRRR the Playable Dragons Alpha under Optional Files and save the download somewhere on your computer that’s easy to access.
Burning Skies Normal Installation
If you want to use Burning Skies, then you can simply unzip the files and drop the Burning Skies files into your Skyrim/Data folder (i.e. wherever you have Skyrim installed, you drop the folder in there). Once that’s all copied over, you want to launch the Skyrim Launcher (not via SKSE), go to Data Files and activate Burning Skies. Close Skyrim and then launch Skyrim via SKSE and load your game. OR install it normally using whatever mod manager you are using.
Once your game has loaded, it will take a moment for Burning Skies to register. If you have SkyUI then you’ll have an MCM menu to pick what features you want, choose your dragon and change key bindings. If you don’t, then you’ll have both a configuration menu and the actual ability to turn into a dragon under Powers in the Magic menu.
The controls are a bit weird. By default, E is the key you use to land and take off, and Ctrl will make you either perch (if flying) or lay down (if on the ground). Space is used to increase altitude while X will decrease altitude. WASD are your basic movement controls. By default you can breathe fire by pressing Z but you can equip most shouts and use those instead.
Before you turn into a dragon, make sure you have no spells or weapons equipped, as these interfere with the melee attacks – the bite and tail slam.
Playable Dragons Alpha Installation
Now, if you want to use Playable Dragons Alpha, things are a little bit more complicated. You see, the download from Nexus Mods doesn’t work 100%, because the mod author forgot to package everything up properly. Luckily, I’ve got the missing files and packed them all up. You can download them by clicking here.
As before, you want to download the Playable Dragons Alpha, unzip it and drop it into a folder on its own. Don’t install the mod yet.
That zip folder you downloaded from here, you want to unzip it and drag the Meshes and SKSE folder and merge the files with the original files you downloaded from Nexus Mods, letting it overwrite anything if it needs to.
NOW you can install the mod into your Skyrim/Data folder, OR install it using whatever mod manager you are using.
Unlike Burning Skies, Playable Dragons Alpha doesn’t have a mod menu to choose any settings. You get a Power (in the Magic menu) and you use it like a shout to turn yourself to and from a dragon.
Controls are a bit simpler. WASD control basic movement as before. Jump lets you take off and increase altitude. You fall naturally over time and can use Ctrl to make yourself fall faster and to land. Hovering is automatic. You’ll have to manually select shouts to use.
When flying, make sure your crosshair is centered (by left-clicking) before you land, otherwise you get stuck in a hover animation and have to reload. Otherwise everything else kinda works fine. As with Burning Skies, before you turn into a dragon, make sure you have no spells or weapons equipped, as these interfere with the melee attacks.
Just so you know, because Playable Dragons Alpha is, well, an alpha, the increased jumping height from being a dragon carries over when you’re human, meaning you always have super jumps. Luckily there is a mod that stops you taking falling damage.
If you want some extra shouts to use, enter the following codes into the console (which can be accessed by pressing the ~ or ` key). Or just use one of the many shouts that buffs Fire and Frost Breath into actually useful shouts.
Hopefully this covers everything. Have fun being a dragon!