About Load Orders

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In general, Vortex will sort your plugin list based on LOOT automatically. LOOT (which is short for Load Order Optimisation Tool) is a load order management tool that is curated by the community, and it is designed to automatically sort your plugin list based on ever-evolving rules. The goal of LOOT is to provide you with an easy way to avoid conflicts between mods. As such it will notify you of issues such as incompatibilities between mods, missing requirements, or available patches. Vortex comes with LOOT integrated into it and will automatically sort your load order in a sensible fashion to avoid conflicts and achieve a stable setup.

That being said, with Vortex you are still able to define your own rules for both plugins as well as groups of plugins for more granular control of your load order. At times, you will need to specify rules yourself for plugins that are not covered by LOOT.

In this document we will go over what plugins and mods are, and why load orders and install orders are important. We will also take a look at how to resolve conflicts on the mod level, and at how Vortex automatic sorting will help you establish a stable load order for your plugins.

Plugins vs. Mods, and how to sort them

Plugins (which come in the form of "*.esp", "*.esm", and "*.esl" files) are files used in Bethesda games (The Elder Scrolls, and Fallout series) that are loaded by the game engine. They can modify data in the base game (e.g. changing an existing alchemy recipe), or introduce new data (e.g. add entirely new alchemy recipes).

Most plugins come in the form of an *.esp file and as such will depend on one or several master file(s) (*.esm files) such as "Skyrim.esm" that contains all the data for the base game. Some *.esp files will have different dependencies, for instance, *.esp files that reference data in the three Skyrim DLCs will depend on Skyrim.esm as well as one or several of the DLC master files: Dawnguard.esm, Dragonborn.esm, and HearthFires.esm.

Many mods consist of just a plugin, e.g. just an *.esp file, which contains data referencing the game. For example a new NPC that is using existing dialogue lines, existing clothes etc.

Other mods come with both a plugin file as well as other assets. That can include but is not limited to: voice files, textures, meshes, scripts etc. These assets can be bundled into game specific archives (*.bsa files, or *.ba2 files), or come as "loose files" (uncompressed folders containing the assets). Assets will be loaded along with the corresponding plugin.

Enabled plugins (plugins that you "turn on") are loaded by the game engine according to a specified sequence commonly referred to as "load order". The order in which your plugins are loaded is important because some plugins might depend on others, in which case they need to load after whichever plugin they depend on.

In other cases several mods (i.e. mods consisting of plugins and assets, or "pluginless mods", which consist of e.g. just a texture pack) might reference the same game files, in which case whichever mod is last in the "install order" will "win" the conflict and override the previous mod's changes.

The goal of sorting your plugin and mod lists is to keep changes to the minimum needed to have a working, stable game. Vortex can help you resolve these types of conflicts by allowing you to set rules affecting your load order for your plugins and your install order for your mods.


Determining the right Load Order and Install Order - an Example

To illustrate what this means in practice, and why both plugin load orders, as well as mod install orders, are important, we will take a look at three example mods for Skyrim.

SkyTEST - Realistic Animals and Predators

A mod that changes the behaviour of creatures in the game and adds a couple of new ones. Comes with a plugin (*.esp file) and assets (meshes, textures, and sounds packed inside a *.bsa file archive)

Hunterborn

A mod that changes the process of looting animals in the game to be more involved. Comes with a plugin (*.esp files) and assets (meshes, textures, and scripts as "loose files" i.e. files in unpacked folders).

Hunterborn SkyTEST Patch

This mod is considered a “patch” for the two aforementioned mods because it makes it so some of the creatures added by SkyTEST (geese, pigs, sheep, and young animals) will utilise Hunterborn’s looting system. Comes with a plugin (*.esp files) and assets (meshes, textures, and scripts as "loose files" i.e. files in unpacked folders).

In this example, we want to be able to use all three mods in conjunction and achieve a setup where Hunterborn's features will work with the creatures added by SkyTEST.

Without a mod manager, you could theoretically end up with a wrong plugin load order like this:

  1. Hunterborn-Skytest Patch.esp
  2. Hunterborn.esp
  3. SkyTEST-RealisticAnimals&Predators.esp

IMPORTANT: This is an example of a wrong plugin load order that will end up crashing the game on startup.

This plugin load order would not be functional and leave an inexperienced modder guessing as to what is wrong. The reason this load order would crash the game on startup is because Hunterborn-Skytest Patch.esp depends on the other two plugins. In other words, the other two plugins are "masters" of Hunterborn-Skytest Patch.esp and if the patch cannot find them in the load order, you will end up with a "missing masters" error.

Therefore, when it comes to how to sensibly order these three mods and their respective plugins, there are a couple of things to consider:

On the plugin level

Both Hunterborn and the Hunterborn SkyTEST Patch include identically named script files (_ds_hb_animals.pex and _ds_hb_animals.psc) which means the two mods are in conflict with one another.

This is because the patch modifies some of Hunterborn's scripts to make them compatible with SkyTEST. As they contain the same files, the two mods are in conflict with each other. When it comes to Bethesda games and install orders, the last mod to load "wins" a given conflict, as it will override the changes made by the mod loaded before. In our case we want the patch to win the conflict, as it contains the updated script files that are edited to work with SkyTEST.


On the mods level

Both Hunterborn and the Hunterborn SkyTEST Patch include identically named script files (_ds_hb_animals.pex and _ds_hb_animals.psc) which means the two mods are in conflict with one another.

This is because the patch modifies some of Hunterborn's scripts to make them compatible with SkyTEST. As they contain the same files, the two mods are in conflict with each other. When it comes to Bethesda games and install orders, the last mod to load "wins" a given conflict, as it will override the changes made by the mod loaded before. In our case we want the patch to win the conflict, as it contains the updated script files that are edited to work with SkyTEST.


To sum it up: the Hunterborn SkyTEST Patch (i.e. its plugin) needs to go last, and it needs to "win" the conflict with Hunterborn. Between SkyTEST and Hunterborn, it does not matter which mod (and plugin) goes first or second, all that matters is that they are both enabled and that the patch loads after both of them.


In the following, we will take a look at how to achieve this plugin load order, at how to resolve the mod conflict between Hunterborn and the Hunterborn SkyTEST Patch, and at the ways Vortex assists you in achieving your goal of a stable setup.

How to resolve a Mod Conflict with Vortex

There are several ways in which Vortex assists you in establishing the right install order for your mods. For example, Vortex is able to detect file conflicts and alert you to them.

The following will takthroughtrough the process of setting up the correct install order for Hunterborn, and Hunterborn SkyTEST Patch with Vortex's assistance.

Once you have downloaded the three mods, install them by e.g. clicking the button that says "Uninstalled". This will change the button label to "Disabled".

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Enable the three mods by clicking the grey box that says “Disabled” which will toggle their status to “Enabled”. This will make their respective plugins (*.esp files) appear in the plugin list where you can enable them.

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Hint: You can consolidate both steps into one by clicking on the arrow next to the button on the left and selecting "Enabled" from the drop-down menu.

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Once you have installed and enabled the three mods, Vortex will inform you of an "unsolved file conflict" via a notification in the top right corner.

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Clicking "More" will bring up the "unsolved file conflicts" dialogue informing you of a conflict between mods. In our case Vortex will identify the conflict between the Hunterborn SkyTEST Patch and Hunterborn.

Note: "Hunterborn SkyTEST (.esp) Patch v1.5 v1.5" and "Hunterborn v1.5" are the respective mod names (and version numbers), i.e. the conflict here is on the mod level.

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Click on "Show" in the bottom right to highlight the unsolved conflict in your mod list.

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Click on the red lightning bolt in the row for Hunterborn SkyTEST (.esp) Patch v1.5 to bring up the dialogue that will allow you to set a rule. From the drop-down on the left, select the rule that says "Load after" and confirm your choice by clicking "Save" in the bottom right corner. This will set the Hunterborn SkyTEST patch to load after Hunterborn.

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IMPORTANT: You need to make sure to hit the "Deploy Mods" button in the toolbar to apply your newly set rule.

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This rule is all we need to resolve the conflict on the mods level. Next, we will take a look at how Vortex helps you to sort your plugins in the right load order.

Vortex automatic Plugin Sorting - an Example

As we established above, when it comes to the three plugins of our example mods, all that matters is that the patch loads last, as it depends on the other two mods' plugin files. Therefore either of these example load orders would be functional.

Example Load Order A Example Load Order B
  1. SkyTEST-RealisticAnimals&Predators.esp
  2. Hunterborn.esp
  3. Hunterborn-Skytest Patch.esp
  1. Hunterborn.esp
  2. SkyTEST-RealisticAnimals&Predators.esp
  3. Hunterborn-Skytest Patch.esp

Because Vortex knows that the patch depends on the other two plugins, it will automatically sort the three plugins accordingly, as long as all three are enabled.


To enable your plugins, navigate to your plugin list by clicking "Plugins" in the navigation area on the side.

Enable SkyTEST-RealisticAnimals&Predators.esp, then Hunterborn.esp, and then Hunterborn-Skytest Patch.esp by clicking the grey "Disabled" button, or by clicking the arrow and selecting "Enabled" from the drop-down.

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If you have auto sorting disabled (indicated by the leftmost button in the top bar) you will need to click the "Sort now" button to prompt Vortex to arrange your plugins in the right order. After that is done, your plugin load order in our example should look like this:

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Depending on the amount of other plugins you have, the numbers in the load order column might be different for you. However, as far as our three example plugins are concerned, all that matters is that Hunterborn-Skytest Patch.esp loads after both Hunterborn.esp and SkyTEST-RealisticAnimals&Predators.esp. Note that if you add more plugins, it also does not matter whether these go in between e.g. Hunterborn.esp and the Hunterborn-SkyTEST Patch.esp or not. They do not have to directly follow each other as long as the patch loads last relative to the two plugins it depends on.

And that's it! With the three plugins in the right order, and the mod conflict resolved, you will get the new creatures from SkyTEST, Hunterborn's new looting, and Hunterborn's features working with the new creatures from SkyTEST thanks to the Hunterborn-SkyTEST Patch.