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 new ones. Comes with a plugin (*.esp file) and assets (meshes, textures, and sounds packed inside a *.bsa file archive)


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.