Nothing speaks to the power and flexibility of the PC platform quite like game modding. Dedicated groups of hardcore fans toil for months on end to bring us a massive offering of new gameplay modes, tweaks, rebalances, texture packs, content packs, and total conversions that improve, expand, and transform the games we love.
Ok, so 90% of mods are still about furries, 3d porn, and sticking Mario's head on Darth Vader's body. But when not about lust or rampant copyright infringement, mods offer some of the most unique and interesting content in gaming. Here are some of our favorite mods from recent gaming history.
Have a favorite mod/tweak/total conversion you'd like to share? Let us know in the comments!
Skyrim - FXAA Injector
We'll start off the list with a few entries from Skyrim. Despite the game being out for just a week and no official modding tools being released yet, modders have gone to town. The FXAA Injector is a nice little mod that tweaks FXAA settings for better shading and post-processing effects with minimal performance drop.
Skyrim - Vurts Skyrim Flora Overhaul
Sure, Skyrim has its share of great characters, but the real character of Skyrim is the world itself, punctuated by its (supposedly) lush, sprawling forests. Vurt's Flora mod seems subtle at first, but the added detail, shading, and fullness of the trees really makes the forests come alive.
Oblivion - DarNified UI
We included this mod mainly to make current Skyrim players salivate in desire. This much beloved UI mod totally revamps Oblivion's unfortunately consolized UI system and Skyrim players are pacing the snowy tundra impatiently waiting for DarN's Skyrim revision.
Oblivion - Nehrim
For Elder Scrolls players who've milked all they can out of Oblivion and don't yet have Skyrim, total conversion Nehrim is the next best -rim, er, thing. Taking place in an huge, original open world, Nehrim impresses with top-notch writing, voice acting, graphics, and music.
Skyrim - No More Blocky Faces and Detailed Faces
You spend the majority of your time in Skyrim alone, wandering the rugged wilderness—and by rugged wilderness we're referring to the rugged mess of NPC facial models. These two mods don't make Skyrim's citizens any prettier (there are other mods for that) but it does make their gritty ugliness far more crisp and realistic.
Dragon Age Redesigned
Speaking of characters, Dragon Age Redesigned is a massive redesign and retexture mod that addresses just about every NPC in Dragon Age. The mod does a great job of curing both depressed octagonal-shaped horse face syndrome and NPC cloning syndrome by creating realistic facial architecture with tons more variation.
Dragon Age - Improved Atmosphere
Atmosphere's important. Just like you wouldn't take your date to a colorless concrete box with great food, you don't want your content-rich epic RPG trapped in a bland, lifeless setting. Improved Atmosphere gives Dragon Age a total attitude adjustment, making your companions chattier, environments more dynamic, and NPC's more like people and less like quest-giving mannequins.
GTA IV - iCEnhancer ENB Graphic Mod
GTA V eat your heart out; the real hotness (or should we say iceness) in the GTA community is the iCEnhancer graphical mod. This unbelievable see-it-to-believe-it mod makes fantastic use of lighting, reflection, depth of field, and motion blur to create some of the most photorealistic visuals this side of Battlefield 3.
Dead Island - Director's Cut
As far as Director's Cuts go, this isn't your silly 2 minutes of extra footage type. This is a Highlander 2 style, total game changing Director's Cut. Every aspect of Dead Island's mechanics is altered in some meaningful way to create a game more about kill or be killed and less about long strings of nonsensical damage numbers.
Fallout New Vegas - Project Nevada
A modular overhaul mod, Project Nevada does its best to ensure that whatever happens in New Vegas stays awesome. With various improvements to the gunplay, battle perks, and weapons, Project Nevada makes New Vegas feel more like the seamless shooter it was supposed to feel like and less of a hybridized mess.
Fallout New Vegas - FOOK
The New Vegas version of the massively popular Fallout Overhaul Kit from Fallout 3 is another giant uber-mod project. With everything from bugfixes to improved textures, to new equipment, to new and improved perks, FOOK is FOOKing great.
Civilization V - CIVILIZATION NiGHTS
In the NiGHTS, in my dreams I'm in love with Civ, cause it talks to me like…nevermind. Horrible '90s techno-pop aside, CIVILIZATION NiGHTS is the Real McCoy for those who prefer Civ4's more complex mechanics over Civ5. Constantly updated, NiGHTS is an ever-evolving love-letter to hardcore, number-crunching, upgrade tree loving old school Civ fans.
Civilization V - Unofficial Patch & Vanilla Enhanced
Exactly what it says on the tin—Unofficial Patch & Vanilla Enhanced is all about improving balance and AI, without adding new content or making drastic changes to the original ("vanilla") game. Updated frequently to keep up with unofficial patches, C5UP&VE aims to dot the i's and cross the t in Civilization.
Half-Life 2 / Source Engine - Garry's Mod
While now a veritable platform on its own, GMod is the ultimate sandbox. Somewhere between a physics simulator, a map editor, and all out madness, Garry's Mod is now a great tool for level editing, machinima, and all-around jackassery (as seen above). Heavies within medics, mods within mods, the multiple Inception-style meta layers are just the kind of mindscrew GMod is all about.
Minecraft - Minerraria
People have made the claim that Terraria is like a 2d Minecraft. Guess that makes Minerraria a 3d, 2d Minecraft. Only in Minecraft could a game be emulating itself.
Minecraft - YogBox
In the words of the YogBox hosting thread, "The YogBox is a work-in-progress compilation pack of the best mods out there… The mods are carefully chosen, like the finest cutlets of sliced chicken, bacon, lettuce and tomato to make a magnificent sandwich of awesome." Sounds awesomely delicious.
Minecraft - InudstrialCraft
No, you're not looking at needlepoint designs or an 8-bit map editor. You're looking at a layer by layer schematic of a recycling plant. A mod that all DIY MaxPCers should appreciate, IndustrialCraft makes use of some of Minecraft's more intricate programmable mechanics to let you create complex and impressive industrial machinery.
Mount & Blade - The Last Days (of the Third Age of Middle-Earth)
Not to make any generalizations, but if you're into the methodical medieval goodness of Mount & Blade, there's a pretty good chance you're a fan of Lord of the Rings. Now you can mount up alongside the horse-lords of Rohan and put the blade to some foul orcs in this total conversion Middle Earth masterpiece.
Fallout 3 - Fellout and Enhanced Weather
Sometimes it's the little things that make all the difference. Fallout 3 was criticized for being unrealistically gray. Of course, anyone criticizing the reality of the Fallout Universe might want to focus more on the giant mutants and vacuum tube ray guns… Anyway, these mods make the Wasteland a tad less wasted by adding blue skies, rain, and even some grass here and there.
Total War: Shogun 2 - DarthMod
Don't let the name fool you, this isn't a Star Wars themed mod for Shogun 2 (although Nobunaga vs. Darth Vader would be interesting). While the Total War series gets many of the broad strokes right about the feel and pacing of battle, DarthMod seeks to further refine the realism of Shogun 2's combat. Maybe now they can feature the engine on History Channel without it being so cringe inducing.
Sins of a Solar Empire - Star Wars: Requiem
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there was an unfortunately overlooked game called Sins of a Solar Empire. The game's 4x/RTS engine and playstyle are a natural fit for the Star Wars Universe and create the large-scope, cerebral tactical experience Star Wars fans have always dreamed about.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Shadow of Chernobyl - STALKER Complete 2012
While based on the original STALKER game engine, STALKER Complete's graphical overhaul, as well as extensive changes to the game's scripting and gameplay, allow the modded game to match and exceed the sequels. The uber-mod for the STALKER series, STALKER Complete provides the ultimate STALKER experience outside of a restraining order.
Battlefield 2 / ARMA 2 - Project Reality
A long-running mod project, PR started as a Battlefield 2 project and now has versions for both BF2 and ARMA 2. The multiplayer mod overhauls the graphics engine, adds several new factions and focuses on improved and realistic physics and ballistics. We also chuckle at any clueless fashionistas who accidentally landed at the Project Reality homepage while looking for reality show Project Runway.
Crisis - MechWarrior: Living Legends
Though still a work in progress, this is one of the most impressive looking and ambitious mods around. A much-awaited return to MechWarrior action, this game answers a serious question: can a mech run Crysis?
Warcraft II - Defense of the Ancients
Ok, not really modern, but DotA is so influential it still deserved mention. How many games have essentially created an entirely new genre? In this case the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) genre, or as many still call it DotA-clone. While most players have moved on to League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth, there are plenty of stalwarts who still enjoy the original DotA community.