I think most of us can agree, X-Plane is an amazing flight simulation application. It allows for "open world" exploration via flight as well as walking and driving in some instances. That being said, the basic X-Plane environment can sustain the generalist, but when it comes to truly emerging oneself into an aircraft environment, no matter how small, we all begin dropping add-ons into the simulation. Here are a few of my favorites.
Of course, from the aircraft point of view, the Zibo 737 is one of my favorite. Based on the "stock" Laminar Research aircraft, the group at Zibo have just raised the bar. Whether it is the integration of the tablet on the side, the basic flight dynamics or the realism within the flight deck, Zibo is the first add-on anyone should try. Some of my other favorites are the 737-200 series by FlyJSIM and the IXEG 737-400 "Classic" by X-Aviation. These are both payware aircraft, but well worth it in my book.
There are so many other added plugins I would suggest. First, I would download X-Organizer. It will keep all of your plugins, scenery, aircraft, etc. straight in your file structure. Then I would take a look at some of the most popular. Avitab, Better Pushback and Autogate are three I would suggest immediately. All free, or with free versions, these are add instant realism to your experience. Although a monthly subscription, also look at Navigraph. A highly accurate charting system that integrates directly into Avitab (and the Zibo integration)
Then I would look at some scenery. Both paid and free, there are so many. If you have the hard drive space, computing power and extra hours, I would start downloading the Orthos torrents and start plugging those into your game. While we are on the subject of environment, I have downloaded the full SAM environment, XTerra and X-Enviro for X-Plane 11. All of these paid programs have advantages and disadvantages. By far, my favorite is X-Enviro, but let me tell you, it will kill you frame rates if you don't have a monster machine. This is what I run:
Intel Core i9-10900K 3.7 GHz 10-Core Processor
Corsair H100i RGB PLATINUM 75 CFM Liquid CPU Cooler
Asus ROG STRIX Z490-A GAMING ATX LGA1200 Motherboard
Corsair Vengeance RGB Pro 32 GB (2 x 16 GB) DDR4-3200 CL16 (Two of these)
Seagate BarraCuda 8TB Internal Hard Drive HDD – 3.5 Inch Sata 6 Gb/s 5400 RPM 256MB Cache (Two of these)
Samsung 970 Evo 1 TB M.2-2280 NVME Solid State Drive (Four of these)
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti 11 GB Founders Edition Video Card
Corsair Air 540 ATX Mid Tower Case
Corsair RMx (2018) 850 W 80+ Gold Certified Fully Modular ATX Power Supply
Even with this power, my frame rates will drop to 25 fps from 150 fps on a 65" 60MHZ 4K TV/Monitor. You may have some better results with a more aggressive monitor. All being said, look at XTerra. It is a good middle ground and offers a variety of great options. the cloud effects are not as good, but other than that, it is comparable.
Finally, if we are chatting about add-ons, we have to address the actual look and feel of the basic X-Plane environment. It is ok, but a bit too "cartoony" for me. Use programs like re-shade or reshader 2.0 to create a more cinematic look to enhance realism during flights.
I am always interested in what everyone else is using. Comment or send me your best-of-the-best and we can compare notes!