A Quality World Map - With Roads
The map in Skyrim is pretty amazing. At first glance, it seems like I'm on the back of a luck dragon, skimming around the entire game world, and taking in the peaks and valleys of frozen north. But when you actually spend time trying to complete tasks for random dudes in Rorikstead, you realize the default Skyrim map is a duller tool than Donald Trump. It's easy to get lost, and even with tweaking your Skyrim.ini file (or installing Improve Maps) to remove the clouds and the blur, there's just not enough detail.
That's where Quality World Map comes in. Mod author IcePenguin has completely replaced the default textures of the world map with his own cartography, and it makes the map much easier to use without losing any of its 3D glory. The best part is the accurate demarkation of every road in Skyrim; having each path marked on the map give you a great frame of reference when you're adventuring. You can opt for a more basic view with only main roads on the map, but I prefer the complete Rand McNally's atlas of Skyrim.
IcePenguin also offers a "classic" map that replaces the realistic textures with a parchment style drawn map, while still being in 3d. I'd probably prefer it - gives you the immersive feeling that you're glancing at a map your character has with you wrather than looking at Skyrim in a snowglobe - but that version is a little buggy right now. Install at your own risk.
Quick Protip: I had a bitch of a time figuring out Quality World Map doesn't work if you have the "uLockedTerrainLOD" value in your Skyrim.ini file. Remove that line from your .ini and Quality Road Map works like a charm.
Real Ice - Dull Edition
This mod fixes a minor pet peeve of mine. I haven't spent much time on the northern coast of Skyrim, but while I was checking out the smuggler grottoes up there the ice just looked horrible. I understand that textures need to be compressed into a deliverable package by Bethesda, but so many of the textures in Skyrim just don't hold up to scrutiny. While I have mods like Skyrim HD - 2K Textures installed, it doesn't replace everything in the game so I was left to either hating the way ice looked or grabbing Real Ice.
From the maker of Lush Grass, Real Ice works as the title suggests - the icebergs and floating ice just look more real. Light glints off them in a way that appears normal - which is why I chose the "dull" edition over other ice mods. There are a couple of different options, such as a darker version or one with a parallax effect that adds a bit more crystallization to the ice. The parallax one is tasty, that's all I'm saying.
TESV Acceleration Layer
If you already have SKSE installed for SkyUI to work, you might as well pick up this mod. The Acceleration Layer basically uses scripts to shortcut some of the CPU-intensive tasks the game code has to do, effectively improving framerate in areas with a lot of moving parts like population centers and waterfalls.Don't ask me how it works, ask one of the developers of SKSE - ianpatt:
[TESV Acceleration Layer] replaces many calls to functions that would have been inlined if the compiler optimizer settings were set to something higher than 'off' with actual inline code that nicely fits in the five bytes the jump instruction was previously taking up. It also overwrites several functions, replacing them with SSE implementations instead of the very painfully slow original x87 implementations.
If you're like me, then most of that was technical mumbo-jumbo, but it doesn't really matter. All I know is that after installing this plugin, the game just runs faster. Users - including the guys at Skyrim Mod Sanctuary in the video below - report their framerate going up at least 2 FPS while still others say their Skyrim is 20 FPS faster after installing this mod.
What more endorsement do you need?
That's all the mods I've kept in my collection the last two weeks. As long as The Old Republic doesn't suck up too much of my time, I'll continue reporting on all the developments in the Skyrim mod scene. If something cool comes up, or if you're a mod author yourself and want to pimp your mod, feel free to send me private message in the forums.
If it's good, and doesn't turn all ebony swords into huge black dildos, I might showcase it here.