The perfect mod list is a tricky business. There's no way to appeal equally to those who enjoy dressing like an anime character and those who like gritty realism. What we've tried to do is assemble something that largely sticks to the tone and setting of vanilla Skyrim, while improving and expanding it any way I can. I don't use all fifty of these mods myself (I'm not really into survival for example, so I don't use Frostfall) but the vast majority of them are part of my current install. Where there are a couple of competing mods I've tried to offer you the choice and explain the pros and cons of each one.
Table of contents
- Visual overhauls and tweaks - Shinier armour, nicer water, lush trees and rounder apples.
- Fixes, optimisation and UI - A grab bag of small but useful improvements.
- Quests and new lands - New adventures and new locations.
- Monsters - Anything that adds to or alters the nasty beasties that want Dovakin dead.
- New equipment - New armour, new weapons and some fancy accessories.
- New followers - New followers and improved follower behaviour.
- Smarter NPCs - Anything that improves or changes NPC behaviour.
- Lighting and Weather - Dramatic thunderstorms, cool skyboxes and stunning shinies.
- More magic - Cosmic power!
- New animations and combat mods - More elegant facestabs.
You're going to want to use Skyrim Nexus. To do that you'll need to download either Nexus Mod Manager or Mod Organiser. Nexus Mod Manager is slightly easier to use, but gives you less control over your mods and can be tricky if you have multiple clashing mods affecting the same files. Mod Organiser handles this much better. If you're only downloading a handful of mods, go for NMM, but if you're downloading a lot it's worth learning to use MO.
You'll also want Skyrim Script Extender (SKSE). This is a utility that is required for some of the more complex mods to work. Not every mod on this list requires it, but many do, including the essential SkyUI, so you're best of just installing it up front. Drop it into your Skyrim folder, and be sure to launch the game from the SKSE launcher instead of the usual Skyrim Launcher (you can do this from inside both NMM and Mod Organiser).
If you're installing a bunch of mods, you'll also want to look into LOOT (the replacement for BOSS, I love acronyms). Which helps sort your mods into a sensible order. You can do this from within Mod Organiser.