With thousands of Skyrim mods out there, I'm rather selective of what I choose to install. Seems like whenever I look through a list of "recently uploaded" mods, most of them are player homes, extra weapons, or things that just break the balance of the game. None of which really interest me. But I still found 29 mods (and counting) that have noticeably improved my Skyrim experience.
For anyone who's looking for a more personal take on mod recommendations, I'll be listing each one I've chosen to run with a brief description of what they all are and what I like about them. As well as others that I didn't really like and others that I'm currently keeping an eye on. As well as discussing my thoughts on the Steam Workshop versus the Skyrim Nexus. Since the list is rather long, with pictures and links and descriptions, I'll be posting this in two parts.
Steam Workshop vs Skyrim Nexus
The Nexus was around long before the Steam Workshop, so naturally there's a bigger community at the Nexus and more mods have been uploaded there. But the advantage to the Workshop is that it's streamlined directly into Steam, so that all it takes is a single click to subscribe to a mod and receive automatic updates. No manually extracting files and putting them into folders or dealing with extra tweaks or mandatory plug-ins, or having to track individual mods yourself looking for updates. The Workshop does it all for you.
Automatic updates are really a double-edged sword, however. There might be plenty of occasions when you wouldn't want to update to a newer version of a mod, but you'll be forced to do it anyway. In my experience, one graphics mod updated and added extra content that I wasn't a fan of, and would've preferred not to have at all, and another mod auto-updated to a completely new script that rendered it completely useless with any save file that had it running. With player houses, you might lose all the items you have stored there between updates. It's made me much more wary of automatically updating files, making me check each one of my subscriptions individually to see if there were any recent updates, and then reading up on them before running the launcher.
So if you don't want to update, the only way not to is to unsubscribe from it and back-up the files manually, which kind of defeats the entire purpose of the Workshop. In which case, you may as well just use the Nexus, which also has the advantage of more options and greater customization. With the Nexus Mod Manager, you get more control over the individual mods, and it can be really handy for overwriting conflicts between mods and making everything work. It's also easier to fiddle with the downloaded files yourself because you know exactly what they add (instead of having to dig around for it), and the Nexus allows users to upload different versions and archive older versions in the same page, which you don't get with the Workshop.
This makes the Nexus seem like the better source for mods, but I can't deny that the Workshop has been pretty convenient and easy to use, and has been improving since its launch about a week ago. Just the pictures and hover-over tooltip descriptions of the mods makes it quite a bit more appealing to browse through the mod lists, although there are still kinks with their sorting / categorization system. It ultimately comes down to personal preference between the two sites, and the availability of mods between them. You can use both without any problems. So my mods are split down the middle between the Workshop and the Nexus.
The Skyim Mods I'm Currently Using:
This list is in no way a comprehensive guide to all of the great mods out there. There are tons of other really well-made and useful mods that I haven't included here, just because they were of no use to my personal gaming experience. Midas Magic, for example, is phenomenal, but I'm not using it because I'm not a mage character. Others like Wars in Skyrim offer some really impressive content, but it seemed a little too much for my tastes. The following list only contains the mods that I actually use. I'll try to keep it updated it if I add any more significant / interesting ones.
This one is absolutely essential, since the default interface is so cramped and inefficient. SkyUI makes item lists longer and more visible, adds icons for easy differentiation, makes tabs quickly and easily accessible, and even has a filter option to search for specific items.
#2. Cinematic Lighting ENB | Nexus
This lighting mod has made my game a lot more vibrant and visually stimulating. It tweaks things like boosting the saturation of colors, adding more contrast, enhanced bloom, enabling SSAO, more glare, darker nights, and so forth. The difference has been night-and-day for me; I can't go back to vanilla.
The default weather system is not very noticeable, meaning that it doesn't rain or snow all that often. EDWS makes those unique weather patterns more frequent with a couple of different intensities. It also cycles between cloudy and clear skies. Not a huge "wow factor" but it does add to the immersion.
#4. Immersive Skyrim Thunder | Nexus
Continuing with the more immersive EDWS, Immersive Thunder enhances the audio component of thunderstorms by replacing the default sound effects with more dramatic and pronounced ones. Thunder claps are deep and booming, and rain really drizzles down.
Further continuing the more immersive weather trend, "More Rain" improves the rather pathetic visual effects of rain by adding a lot more rain drops to the screen and letting you actually see that it is, in fact, raining. The Nexus version allows you to further customize the quantity of rain drops and visibility variables.
#6. Aetherian Sky | Nexus
#7. Xenius Character Enhancement | Nexus
XCE improves the resolution and mapping of character faces and bodies, retaining the original look and style while making people look a lot better. Even with Bethesda's official High-Res Texture Pack DLC, XCE offers a noticeable improvement over default features.
Since we all love blood and violence, this one just improves the style and quality of the blood visuals. Normally not a big deal, but this one really makes a difference. It also makes the the blood splatter on your screen from taking damage look better.
#9. Gender & Race Heights | Workshop
I got tired of being the same height as every woman in the game, especially since the camera placement in first-person made women actually look taller than me. This mod properly scales races and genders to be far more typical. It adds some nice variety and immersion, and retains the lore of the series.
I thought it was pretty ridiculous how people's bodies would get sent flying across the room when I got a stealth kill with a bow, and how people would turn into spaghetti noodles on death, collapsing on top of themselves in absolutely absurd ways. This mod fixes both issues.
#11. Better Werewolves LITE Edition | Workshop
The default statistics for werewolves are kind of disappointing, considering that you can get to a point fairly early in the game where your basic weapons and armor made you more effective in combat than the werewolf form, rendering it completely useless. This mod buffs werewolves to make them a little more useful without making them over-powered.
Specialized Followers adds unique traits and characteristics to each follower, so that each one gives a unique buff to the player (with their own unique combat skills). It doesn't break the lore or the game balancing and gives you a reason to want to pick specific followers. Exactly what the followers were lacking.
This makes it so that merchants' gold reserves increase the more business you do with them. It was pretty ridiculous that merchants would sell items worth 7,000 gold, but only have 1,000 gold to buy stuff from you. This one borders on breaking the in-game economy, but it's more realistic this way and makes selling loot less of a nuisance.
These are completely original models and textures for three new dragon bone weapons: sword, warhammer, and bow. They're lore-friendly, and the base statistics for them seem to be relatively well-balanced (slightly less damage than Daedric, with higher crit rate and attack speed). Hopefully there will be more packs with these great weapons.
#15. Crown Helmets | Nexus
A nice mod that lets players craft crown-style helmets for both male and female characters that match the original helmet style, while showing characters' faces and hair. These have the same statistics as the regular helmets, while adding a very nice cosmetic touch.
#16. Torch of Everlasting | Nexus
Most lighting mods make nights a lot darker, so you need to carry a torch around. Except that torches only last four minutes and cast a pathetically useless glow. ToE gives torches an infinite lifespan with higher brightness and glow radius. I got the "warm glow" version.
#17. Soultrap Sound Edit - Calm Winds | Nexus
I put a "fiery soul trap" enchantment on my sword and quickly got annoyed by the loud, scorching lightning bolt / shock sound effect that played every time I killed something. This replaces that horribly obnoxious sound with calm, soothing wind effects.