10 great PC games made awesome with mods

We should stop kidding ourselves with all this “PC gaming master race” bullshit; there are two main reasons anyone owns a gaming PC.  The first is so that we can bore the living arse off people by talking about FPS,  FXAA and refresh rates as though they actually matter for shit.  The second is motherfucking mods.  Oh, how we love mods.  Ostensibly, they’re for enhancing the enjoyment of the game in question, and perhaps it’s advisable that you treat a selection of mods rather like a buffet in a classy restaurant.  You pick up one, maybe two, and you savour it before realising that enough is enough and moving on.      

Fuck.  That.  Shit.  We’d rather treat mods like a shitty back-street all-you-can-eat place.  We’ll stuff as many as we can in, and hope to Odin most-high that they don’t start leaking out the bottom of our coat pockets.  Mods can make great games even better, shitty games great and half-finished games – well – finished.

So sit back, relax and set your sperg-o-meter to ‘pitiable’ as we drop our spaghetti all over 10 great PC games made awesome with mods.

 

Gamers are so strange.  Ask any one of them what they want from life, and a remake of Final Fantasy VII is always in the top five, usually ranking just above a stable, loving relationship and just below a Bowser costume to fit an adult pug.  Tell them that the mods needed to CREATE a Final Fantasy VII that’s as good as a remake exist (and require damn-near zero technical skill to install) and it’s all blank faces, shrugs and mumblings of “yeah, maybe I’ll just wait”.  It’s like being given Aladdin’s Lamp and refusing to use the fucking thing because all that rubbing might aggravate your carpal-tunnel syndrome.

As long as you’ve already bought the PC version of Final Fantasy VII (though pirated versions do work, but you didn’t do that because you’re not a miscreant and you love games and wouldn’t steal a car or whatever), then you’re good to go for installing the bootleg FFVII mod. If you’re a particularly lazy scumbag like me, you’ll want to download Tifa’s Package (haha, TITS) which contains the best of the best of the FFVII mods and tweaks available to the general public.  It even comes with useful  step-by-step tutorials.

As well as being able to customise character portraits, weapons, difficulty and drop rates, it comes with a wealth of mods that upgrade the graphics of the pre-rendered backgrounds, FMV cutscenes and character sprites.  This is especially good news for those who are turned off by having to stare at those horrible fucking LEGO voodoo doll things.  Several soundtracks can be switched in and out at will, and you can even replace in-game music with your own.  Ever wish that the battle theme was the Black Mages version?  Or that the chocobo racing theme be replaced with Cotton-Eye Joe?  Don’t lie.  Of course you have.

On top of all that, you can choose to remove Cait Sith completely, something we’ve only ever found to be possible by consuming large amounts of industrial-strength drain cleaner, and you can revive Aeris Aerith Earith Cetra McDead once she gets her guts examined by a falling Sephiroth.

One of the more exciting (and successful) kickstarter stories, Shadowrun Returns finally brought the grimy, dangerous penury of the Shadowrunner out of the SNES and megadrive era into the present.  It was a great game, and the same could be said of the DLC expansion Dragonfall, but for many players, it was the welcoming attitude toward the modding community that really persuaded them to part with their nuyen, and get to work on some really stellar mods. 

While Shadowrun Returns is a great game, it’s very story-driven, and utterly linear.  The plot of Dead Man’s Switch works great as a single story campaign, but there are some who missed the ability to truly step into the worn combat boots of a shadowrunner, and all the risk that entails.  Shadowrun Unlimited  allows for just that.  Thrown into what is, essentially, the world of Shadowrun, it’s up to you to take on suitable runs from a large pool of replayable missions, and to earn the cash to upgrade your character.  The missions contain just enough of a surprise element to keep from feeling too samey, and to keep the player on their toes.  Complete a mission successfully, and you’ll gain some nuyen, some Karma and street cred, but also gain heat and notoriety and pretty soon, Lone Star is going to be on your ass.  Safe houses reduce the heat you gain, but come at a price.  And that’s half the fun.  Everything is going to cost you, and as a novice runner, you’re going to have to make some difficult choices.  Get that spiffy new weapon, pay for a safe house or buy a DocWagon contract for a little life insurance?  It really brings the world of Shadowrun Returns to life and offers a gruelling (if as-yet incomplete) career in the shadows that will satisfy any fan of the pen and paper RPG.

If you’re in the market for something with the structure of the main game, then the Antumbra Saga might be more your style.  Previously released as separate chapters, Antumbra has been collected together as a mod for the Dragonfall DLC.  It gives the player exactly what they want from a story-driven campaign: the chance to build a character from humble beginnings into a powerful and respected shadowrunner, along with all the choices and allegiances that brings.  Sadly missing from the original game, the player in Antumbra will make decisions and judgement calls that effect the storyline around them and ultimately, the way the campaign concludes.  Be warned though, it’s a hard one.  The Johnson will rip you off, hiring companion runners is expensive and the combat will have you screaming from cover to cover.  It comes with a great storyline, however, and there are plenty of pleasing twists.

For something a little less intense, there’s Better Dayz.  In it, you play as that rarest of creatures; the successful shadowrunner.  Having found yourself at the end of your career with all your limbs, you have finally been able to put life in the shadows behind you with the help of a healthy credstick and a swanky apartment.  Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story if that didn’t change in a heartbeat, and after being targeted by the enigmatic Mr.  Kool, our hero loses everything and vows to go back to his roots and take Kool down.  It’s rare to come across a mod that mixes humour and lore so well, and in a way that doesn’t sacrifice either of them, but Better Dayz does just that.       

WASDuk may know a little about history (with Fanta running a blog about it, no less) but as far as I’m concerned, I don’t know shit.  To me, Dead Snow might as well have been a documentary, with my knowledge of European history extending about as far as the Transylvanian countryside of 1792, and I’m starting to think that might have been a fiction, too.  But if Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag can teach me about pirates and Caribbean ports, then Mount and Blade: Warband has given me a passing knowledge of European military tactics.

Many of the best mods, as you might expect, stick as rigidly as possible to the minutiae of their chosen time periods, with Brytenwalda being a personal favourite.  There aren’t many opportunities to sandbox the hell out of the Saxon Invasion of Britain, but Brytenwalda fits the bill nicely, offering up a British Isles teeming with Angry Welshmen, Angrier Irish and bat-shit insane Picts, all with a keen eye toward historical accuracy.  You can build ships, engage in naval battles, or just do what I did and hide in the forest, plundering helpless Welsh villages.  The makers of the mod even offer up a novella and a tabletop game, too.  Now that's dedication.

For those who couldn’t give a fuck about the finer points of pre-united UK history, there’s Anno Domini 1257, a massive mod that spans the entirety of Europe and the Middle East.  Any mod that allows the player to start their own crusade is alright by me, and Anno Domini lets us do just that.  In addition, the game is completely re-balanced for the 13th century, with accurate weapons and armour for the time, the ability to build your own castles and even take control of one of your own soldiers in the event that your lead character bite it on the battlefield. 

For those who were disappointed by the lack of scale in the original game’s multiplayer, there’s cRPG, which allows for a constantly evolving persistent world in which you can gain levels, buy equipment, siege castles and get your fancy new plate helm smashed in by people who actually know how to play properly.  

     

While we all hunker down and wait for Starcraft Universe to scratch our MMO Starcraft II itch, there are a ton of other mods we can load up that are available right now.  Starcraft II has a mass of brilliant modifications available, but the original Starcraft still holds a far dearer place in our hearts.  While the game itself is top-notch, and one of the best RTS games available, mods can turn a very satisfying experience into a slightly different kind of very satisfying experience.  The game has been out almost 20 years now, and if you’ve never taken to modding it before, prepare to add a fresh coat of paint to this seminal experience.

Firstly, there’s SC Revolution, which takes the main game, and expands upon it immensely, without breaking the balance or the pacing of the main base game.  New units and abilities are added for each race, and though they are useful, none of them give players too much of an edge. Among other upgrades and tweaks and improvements, Terran players get the stormraven ground unit, which plays somewhere between a marine and a ghost, with the upgrade option to slow ground units around them.  Zerg players get suicidal baneling units, and a roach unit which acts as a great ground attack damage sponge.  Protoss get the sentry, effective as a ground-based support unit.  However for me, it’s the little improvements that make the game.  Supply depots are upgradeable via engineering bays, and can burrow to keep them from trapping units or taking up space.  Nydus canals don’t have to exit onto the creep, erupting out of the ground wherever you please, and Protoss bases can chrono boost buildings to improve the painfully-slow build times by 50%.  Rally points can also be set to gather points, allowing workers to head straight out of base to grab up minerals or gas.  These additions serve as perfect decoration to an already fuck-awesome game.

Simplistic but incredibly enjoyable, the zero population mod lets a player pump out as many units as they wish, leading to some incredibly large-scale battles.  It’s a really simple idea, but when you see a properly-sized zerg rush, the main game’s squad sizes will start to look pretty anaemic by comparison.  There’s something immensely thrilling about setting up lines of zealots with dragoon support and mowing them through an advancing tide of marines.  Zero population mod also increases the holding capacity of transports, giving them weapons with which to defend your cannon fodder before they spill out over an enemy base.

If you’d like less troops to worry about rather than more, then Life of a Marine might be for you.  More Cannon Fodder than Starcraft in many ways, it tells the tale (exceptionally well, I might add) of Lieutenant Jack Sherall, a sheriff in the Koprulu sector, who totally isn’t Raynor.  Along with his misfit compatriots Craig, Katherine and Vertigo, Sherall is dropped into the very worst that the Terran Dominion has to offer.  Featuring seven playable missions, a ton of great dialogue and the absolutely horrifying realisation that you can’t just build more units, Life of a Marine is a quirky, enjoyable Starcraft RPG experience. 

Obvious similarities to Terraria notwithstanding, Starbound takes the whole genreless (open world survival? pissing-about simulator?) one giant leap forward by finally giving fans of the do-whatever-‘em-up genre what they need.  A whole universe to fuck with.  It’s still in Beta, and has been for a while, but it’s being constantly updated with new mechanics, new races and new items.  However, even in these relatively-early stages of development, the mod community is bursting at the seams with goodies for those who know how to unzip a file into the right folder.

Madtulip’s Spaceship Mod is definitely the cream of the crop right now, allowing the player to redesign their spaceship brick by 2D brick.  One of the main concerns we had with Starbound was the lack of customisation of shipboard mechanics, but with this mod we’re free to bore holes all over the thing and stick a bunch of skulls to the outside of the hull so that other players know not to fuck with us.  As long as all other players have the files required, it’s fully multiplayer-friendly too.  Not only can you fully rebuild the ship, but it offers a load of other features too, like the ability to send landing pods down to the planet’s surface and even land your entire ship.  There’s no satisfaction quite like patching together a spaceship from tar and bones, before landing it on top of a peaceful Floran village.

For those of us who aren’t certified psychopaths acting out their revenge fantasies through video games, there’s Frackin’ Universe, a full-scale mod that offers up a shit-ton of new items, recipes techs and exploration opportunities.  On the face of it, the idea of becoming the Universe’s best botanist isn’t exactly appealing, but it’s more about SCIENCE! Than science.   After a few hours of trekking across the creepy-as-hell flesh-and-bone biome and crafting poisonous grenades out of our own unholy plant creations, we’re just about ready to send out a CV to interflora.

Augmentation Cores lets you keep your insane plans for playing God strictly personal, and allows for the creation of handy augmentations that can be stuck to (or inserted into) the player’s back.  These offer specific bonuses, such as doubling speed at the cost of halving jump height, and becoming invisible to enemies at the cost of…well, not being able to see where the fuck you are.  It’s great little downsides like this that keep us from feeling as though we’re cheat, while also allowing us to basically cheat.  If you’re starting to find life among the stars a little too lonely, Your Starbound Crew lets you enlist a group of nine (completely multi-species) crew members, each with their own roles and backstories.  They level up, they sell unique stuff, offer quests and when you’re bored with them, you can flush them out of the airlock.  Because space is a harsh, harsh mistress.

The Civilization series is another one of those semi-historical video games.  Before playing, we had no idea who Catherine the Great even was, other than she was some Russian woman who used to fuck horses, or something.  Thanks to Civilization Revolution, we now know that she was some smoking hot Russian woman who used to fuck horses.  Civilization V  has been around for a while now, and has a wealth of mods and DLC to play around with, and a lot of these mods have versions available for the fifth instalment, but we’re going with IV for this one, because playing a Civ game without Leonard Nimoy (tribute!) at the mic feels like sacrilege.

Rhye’s and Fall of Civilization is about the best mod we’ve ever come across for making your game an accurate(ish) representation of Earth’s history.   There are only so many laughs that we can get from having Hammurabi smash the shit out of Washington with heat-seeking missiles before we get a very specific hankering.  The desire to take off the training wheels, if you will.  Rhye’s and Fall of Civilization puts in place some pretty specific scenarios based on real-world events, with specific goals for each race.  Will you grow the might of ancient Rome to its full power?  Will you surpass it?  Will you fuck it all off and hop into the sandals of another civilization instead?  The Earth that the mod creates is about as close a true historical representation we have played.

Ever find yourself hankering for the glory days of the Third Reich?  We know we do.  Maybe it’s the fantastic uniforms, or the well-timed marching or the memorable speeches that gets us.  Seriously though, it’s a shame that the man who, for better or worse, defined the second half of twentieth century Western history can’t be included, and for that reason, a number of modders have stepped up to the plate, and the Hitler mod pops the Nazi regime in Civ IV, as well as the iconic units and leaders of the impressive imperialist fledgling empire.  A must have for anyone who is interested in 20th century militaria in video games, or who just want to see Franz Von Papen engaged in ferocious zeppelin battles with Hatshepsut.  History’s coming alive! 

If world history isn’t your thing, Fall from Heaven II is the definitive go-to mod for fantasy-esque strategy warfare.  With a fully-integrated magic system, fascinating religions, powerhouse hero units and a rich and fascinating lore, every game feels like a long conversation with a Tolkien nerd about their 5000 page follow-on novel.  In a good way.   The races are distinct, interesting and a complete blast to play, from the vampiric noblemen of the Calabim to the righteous crusaders of the Bannor.  It may take a little while to get into, but once you do, it’ll suck you in so completely that you’ll wonder how you ever got by without the guidance of the Octopus overlords.

For some, the precursor of the Bioshock series is still the better option.  There were a lot of features that players rather expected to see in Bioshock that were taken out in favour of a moronic and underwhelming morality system.  RPG elements in Bioshock were negligible, and there was no real reason to dive straight back into the game for a second playthrough because nothing was going to be different.  Bioshock Infinite became the logical conclusion of these changes, as utterly distinct from System Shock 2 as a McDonalds burger is to food.  It has its moments, though.  The game allowed for a very limited range of multi-dimensional shenanigans, even if they were all just variations on how to win a gunfight, and if you’ve never read a comic book before, the multiverse idea is probably quite impressive. 

System Shock: Infinite takes all the good ideas from Bioshock: Infinite, leaving the slurry behind.  The intro section explains the premise.  SHODAN, not happy about getting her shit slapped by a wrench-wielding meat-puppet, uses her control over some quantum probability magic to back-up the entire ship to a previous point; one where she hadn’t been defragged.  Remembering this, you can use the shaky probability of reality to create your own tears in reality, changing events of the past so that an alternate course is taken.  The beauty of this over Bioshock: Infinite is that the game is oddly non-linear.  If you think you can get away with taking on a boss out of order, you can.  It’s a lot more advanced and open-ended that Bioshock, and shows just how good this gameplay mechanic can be if you can do more than make turrets appear out of thin air.

You can choose to favour different factions over each other, using the tears to further their goals, and if you really want to, you can side with The Many, in an effort to bring down SHODAN for them.  There are numerous different endings due to the numerous factions, and the lauded cyberspace sections from the first game have been re-introduced.  Nothing about this mod feels tacked-on or unimportant.  The quests are diverse and meaningful, combat has been reworked, companions implemented and psi powers are now more than a novelty.  It plays more like an unofficial sequel than anything, and it’s absolutely great.

If you’re in the mood for something a little more traditional, then Christine’s Ponterbee Station is a great fan mission that links in to the ending of the main game.  You play as officially “just some guy”, who has the bright idea of joining the military and getting stationed on the titular Ponterbee just as the distressed refugees of the Von Braun limp in.  The attention to detail is key in this one, and you start the mod in your shitty apartment on the other side of town, informed by your now ex-girlfriend (by audio log, no less – callous bitch) that you’re an idiot for joining up, and she’s better off without you.  Then you take a trek across the city to get to your new post, where you’re treated like crap because you’re the new guy, and ferried off to certain doom.  It’s so good, it’s considered by many to be System Shock 3, and if you haven’t played it yet, you’re in for a fucking treat. 

If there’s something that Frictional Games is good at, it’s making us scared of everything.  The developers of the Penumbra series and the Amnesia series seem to have retained one of the lost arts of videogaming:  don’t show, imply.  There were probably a handful of enemies in Penumbra, but we had no idea where the fuck they were, and had no way of fighting them, so we’d spend what seemed like a lifetime, dragging ourselves grudgingly around corners because there might be something there.  Penumbra: Requiem might have been a bit of a let-down (best described as creepy Portal), but Amnesia made up for all of that.  There was one enemy type overall, and we still get a little shiver whenever we think about it.  Mods for this game take the form of custom stories, and some of the best ones are good enough to be considered rivals to the full game.

Penumbra: Necrologue works as a total conversion to Amnesia, transforming it into a penumbra game in its own right.  It manages not only to replicate damn-near everything about the series, but includes monster encounters AND puzzles, which is something that Penumbra: Requiem never did.  The dialogue and atmosphere are spot-on, quite an achievement, considering how hard actual survival horror is to pull off these days.  It revisits the locations of all three previous games in a way that makes sense, and the level design is superb.  Not a single location is wasted, and it never sinks to feeling boring, or padded out.  It’s a genuinely balls-to-the-wall experience, and the difficulty has been ramped-up to show that.   

As far as custom stories go, The Great Work stands out as the best of a pretty awesome bunch, and not just because it’s so obviously a labour of love, but because that labour ends up being a masterpiece of a mod that really should be a game in its own right.  Even the premise is perfect.  The Great Work tells a sinister tale based around a hidden war between rival alchemical schools that  threatens to consume anyone who gets in the way.  The Alchemists are based on real alchemists, the alchemy is based on real alchemy, and the mythology and culture that surrounds the game and its story are top-notch and accurate. Be ready for some mind-bending puzzles though.  For all their originality and intelligence, this is one mod that will have most of us crying to the internet because we can’t perform serious alchemical preparations.

And if you’re tired of gloomy European castles and eerie 19th century Gothica, there’s always Amnesia Hill, which takes inspiration from (or rather, rips almost-entirely from) the Silent Hill, Resident Evil and project Zero series of games.   It’s nowhere near as deep as the other offerings, but works as an excellent detox session for some of the heavier mods.  That’s not to say it isn’t creepy, but the creepiness is mitigated by a combat system which works fairly well, most things becoming a weapon with which to cave in the heads of the things that mortal men must fear.

Every time it’s mentioned, someone reinstalls it, and for good reason.  It’s an absolute classic of a game, even if you have zero prior knowledge of the pen and paper RPG.  A vaguely open-world FPS romp through the turbulent early life of a newly-turned vampire, Vampire The Masquerade:Bloodlines blends together action and RPG in a way that hasn’t (unfortunately) really been copied since.  However, there were many aspects of the game that just couldn’t be as fleshed-out as we would have liked before release.  Modders to the rescue!

VtM: The Final Nights adds a lot to an already near-perfect game, so much so that the makers claim it should be viewed as an expansion pack.  There are a ton of new playable clans, each of them tailor-made to fit within the source game, and coming packed with new disciplines and powers to bend the shady citizens of the World of Darkness to your will.  There are new shops, new quests and weapons and items have been reworked almost completely.   Gone are the days when you could play through the entire game without even bothering to pick up a gun.  The inspection system does more than just highlight items, and they won’t even appear to you if your level isn’t high enough.  The world now feels a lot more populated with interesting characters who serve an actual purpose.

VtM:B – Clan Quest doesn’t just do what it says on the bloodpack.  As well as editing in clan-specific questlines, it also includes a number of other massively-useful mods, such as the ability to keep companions like Heather and Yukie about with you when you go off gallivanting.  Difficulty is reworked, and the music in the game is fixed up.  Combat has been reworked to push it further in line with the pen and paper ethos of the game, and it comes with a load more weapons to play around with as you brutalise the shady residents of grimdark Los Angeles by night.  There are even a few quests specifically tailored to the more evil players among us.  There’s something strangely satisfying about promising that smug fuck LaCroix you’ll keep out of trouble, then running straight out of his office to become a plaguebearer.

There’s a lot said about the sheer unbelievable masochism of the average Dark Souls fan, but in many respects, they don’t even come close to the average X-com: Enemy Unknown player.  Dark Souls has difficult bosses who will, if you don’t know what you’re doing, reduce you to an unsightly stain on the arena floor. Fuck up in X-Com, and you’d better be prepared to restart, because in a VERY short while, the world will be crawling with Sectoid tourists making passes at your Earth women and taking awkward pictures of the Taj Mahal.

X-Com mods are, for the most part, geared around making a gruelling and horrible Earth defence sim even more gruelling and horrible.  For those who thought that the original game wasn’t quite as unforgiving as they’d like, there’s The Long War, which turns an already drawn-out slogging war into an absolute nightmare.  The original game is by no means a breeze, but this mod had us shivering behind broken-down walls from the very first encounter with super-powered outsiders flanking us.  However, the Alien threat now actually FEELS like a threat.  They make plans, having their own tactics and research going on, and it makes for a tremendous experience.   It’s not all bad news, though.  New weapons and equipment helps a little, if you can get hold of it, and countries that have been lost can now be won back.  If you can storm the Alien control centre they’ve set up, that is.  If you’re absolutely insane, they’ve also added a “Longer War” option for those who want less of a challenge and more a videogame equivalent to invasive amateur dentistry.

Terror from Space is another mod that seems designed to utterly punish any X-Com player in all the right ways.  There’ll be no more of that skipping straight to the most powerful weapons.  Everything is focused on tactics.  The alien threat will make better decisions than you do, and capitalise on that constantly.  You’ll regret ever learning the names of your squad, because it’ll be just one more line to add to the daily funeral services.  To make matters worse, high-end Alien armour has to be destroyed before the slimy Earth-invading mess inside can even be harmed.

Fuck that.  We’ll just hide underground with a Breaking Bad DVD box set until it all blows over.

  

 


 

Did we miss anything?  Are there better mods out there for the games we mentioned?  Tell us in the comments below!

 

polycarpWASDuk writer Arkworthy has, over the years, tried (and failed) to create the next big thing in PC mods.  Among his various failures are the Fallout: New Vegas – Alzheimer’s Mod (in which players can recreate the heart-breaking mental disorder in the midst of the Nevada wastes), Attic Assault: a Half Life 2 mod map based on the Diary of Anne Frank, a Phantom Menace total conversion mod for Knights of the Old Republic and a Zoo Tycoon mod that takes a light-hearted and whimsical look at the horrors of animal cruelty.  

 

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