I've been having a go at a mod called Sim Settlements, created by kinggath, (which I previously wrote about here). It's a mod that gives you a completely new way to create and manage settlements, and: 1) it does a much better and more interesting job with settlements than the base game does, and 2) it still lets you build them the old-fashioned way, if you like. It's one of the most creative and well-thought out mods I've seen yet. I think Bethesda should hire kinggaff or buy the mod or something to make it part of Fallout 4 officially, because it's great and everyone should use it.
The idea behind Sim Settlements, if the title wasn't enough of a clue, is that rather than building every last house and placing last piece of furniture yourself, you can zone your settlement for development instead (like a city-building sim). You place plots for residential, commercial, agricultural, and industrial areas, and then watch (or leave and come back) as your settlers build their own houses, plant their own crops, and erect and work at their own stores. There's still things for you to do: place generators, water pumps, defenses, and so on, but your settlers won't just stand around waiting for you to micromanage them: they'll pitch in and build things too.
It's a great idea for a mod, and this is important so I'm going to mention it again: even with the mod installed, you can still build your own custom structures and stores and everything else as you normally do. NPCs will only build on the zoned plots you place, so it doesn't have to be an entirely hands-off experience. You can zone some settlements, custom build others, or do a bit of both on the same settlement. The mod doesn't replace the original settlement system in any way whatsoever, it just gives you an entirely new option for how to plan and create your communities.
The buildings your settlers construct aren't cookie-cutter affairs: they're all a bit different, right down to the clutter that eventually appears inside them. This means just about every house and store your NPCs build will look unique. I was oddly pleased to see my companion Curie build herself a home out of a trailer rather than a wood or tin shack like everyone else had done:
The trailer was pretty barebones inside, with just a small table, a chair (actually a toilet covered with a plank of wood), and mattress on the floor. But with Sim Settlements, NPCs gradually improve their homes. Curie later upgraded her trailer by hangings lights, moving furniture around, putting up shelves, and decorating a bit, including giving herself a place to relax outside (she even brought the toilet-chair outside and used it as a place to store a beverage):
Looking for more ways to customize, tweak, improve, and enhance your game? Check out our list of the best mods for Fallout 4.
I think that's my favorite thing about the mod—seeing what the settlers build for themselves, and how it changes over time. Sort of like, y'know, a real settlement would. This is why the mod should become an official part of the game: it makes your settlements feel alive, far more than the original game does. Your settlers feel more like real people and less like nameless, corn-shucking automations.
Plots for homes, stores, and industrial buildings come with an electrical pole attached, so you just hook up one power line to each, connected to a generator, and you're set as far as electricity goes. Settlers will start with a rudimentary shack, dark and dingy, but eventually (if your settlement is safe and has enough power, water, food, and defenses) add their own lights to the interior. No more farting around with interior powerlines! They'll do it for you.
Once you set up a settlement with zones, you're free to wander off. I was away attending to other business (killing things), and I'd get a notification that someone had improved their house, store, or farm, and I'd rush back to see what they'd done. Below is one settler's home that had essentially just been a mattress on a floor and a few random items on a table. When I returned, it was looking a lot cozier (despite the mattress still being on the floor) and even had some working lamps.
Same goes for shops. Stores won't be built right away: they're dependent on population count or number of homes in your settlement. Once my population began to grow, I was very pleased to see Nick Valentine (I pretty much dragged all my followers with me to live in this one town) open a bar on one of the commercial plots. Soon, he'd added a chemistry table inside and would chill out in there most of the day. Another NPC opened a tailor's shop, and even hung a painting inside. My industrial zone, staffed by a nameless settler, eventually turned from simple mound of junk she would gather scrap from into a proper garage, complete with a busted-up car inside. Cool. Even farming plots get upgraded, as those working on them will add scarecrows (mannequins).
All these little details are wonderful, and the items placed on shelves and left on tables and counters in the buildings' interiors make the homes and shops feel lived in, and real. Far more real than if you personally dictate what each settler has on their nightstand or dinner table. It's nice to return to a settlement not just because I want to craft something or defend it from raiders, but because I'm genuinely curious what my settlers have been up to while I've been away.
There's a lot of customization options, too. By default, your settlers pay you a small tax in exchange for living in your town, though you can raise, lower, or turn off the taxes completely. If you're looking to be a bit more hands-on, you can manually assign settlers to zones rather than letting them become auto-assigned. These, and many more options, are available to tweak through the holotape you use to get started with the mod: see this video on where to find the tape.
Even more good news: it's super easy to install since there's just a few files that need to be plopped into your Fallout 4 data folder. You can—and definitely should—grab Sim Settlements from Nexus Mods and give it a try.