If you’re into gaming then you might be aware that there a lot of trends and business practices in the games industry these days, many of which have left me disappointed on many occasions. However, there is one thing that remains as good if not better than it used to be, and that is modding.
If you aren’t very familiar then it’s quite simple really, mods are new content added to games by fans, for free. This could be anything with some games, there are examples of mods that practically make entire new games out of existing ones, and even further there are some insanely successful mods from the early days that have become the big budget most popular games of today. Modding is, in my eyes, perhaps the last innocent corner of gaming. The one little community island created by hobbyists in an industry ocean driven by greed, conflict of interest, risk aversion and opportunity cost. The one environment where creativity is not stifled and that allows niches to be filled regardless of their commercial viability. The one area of gaming that people treat as a hobby instead of a job. Modding has been something that exists outside of market forces, and that is what has made it so valuable over the years.
Clearly the modding scene in some games has become valuable enough that companies such as Valve saw a great deal of money to be made, who last year in 2015 attempted to introduce a paid modding service integrated with steam for Skyrim. I wont get into the problems this caused, but it could have been far worse if they didn’t cancel their plans after a few days of internet backlash. Thankfully there has been no news of this being attempted again yet, but I’m sure someone will give it a shot, there’s just too much potential for money to be made. I hope modding stays as it is for as long as possible, it has been increasingly successful being driven by creative individuals and groups, and supported by a generous community. Big companies and big money would just make a mess of things.
Anyway that’s enough of that, on the bright side there are tons of amazing mods out there, with some of the most successful examples becoming full games themselves such as Counter Strike based on Half Life or DotA based on Warcraft (two of Valve’s biggest games now). Others do such amazing feats as adding a multiplayer mode to a singleplayer game, of which there are a few buggy examples in Skyrim, and an extremely successful and popular one for Just Cause 2. Some of my favourite expansions and full games have started out as mods, with the creators going on to be hired by the developers of the game, or even forming their own companies.
Now I’ll show off a few of my favourite and some of the most ambitious mods I’ve seen.
First off I have to mention at least a few mods for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. This game has perhaps the most active modding community I have ever seen. With over 45,000 mods and 800 million downloads on the Skyrim Nexus, and probably many millions more on the Steam Workshop. If there’s a mod you can think of for Skyrim then it exists. There are enough extra sets of weapons and armour, new quests, characters and gameplay overhauls to keep the game fresh forever. There are always new graphics and lighting mods which will keep the game looking new and on par with the newest games. There are even mods that add whole new areas to the game with voice acted NPCs and tons of quests and interesting locations, even more than the official expansions!
But the mods I have to mention are the ones that brought me back to the game for the completely different experience they gave me. The main mod that formed the basis for me was one called ‘Frostfall – Hypothermia Camping Survival’ and along with a bunch of other mods it transformed Skyrim from a regular RPG where you are the hero, to a survival game with you struggling to stay alive in the inhospitable landscape, trying to keep warm and fed by making sure to wear warm clothes, stay dry and go hunting and gathering to sustain yourself and perhaps earn some money by selling what you can. Along with this I also used several mods that made the combat more difficult, meaning that even the regular wild animals such as wolves and bears were a huge threat to me. Thankfully I was able to use a new survivalist skill tree to give me the ability to live off the land, make traps and bows and spears from the resources around me if I couldn’t afford a proper weapon.
Its been about two years since I modded skyrim that way, and I haven’t had the time to keep up with it, but these days there are thousands more mods that just keep getting better and better, and I don’t see it stopping.
Third Age: Total War
This mod has to be one of my all time favourites. It’s quality is top-tier along with some of the mods that get full releases as games, but it somehow isn’t well know or popular enough for that itself. It’s a complete overhaul for Medieval II Total War that transforms the map into the entirety of Middle Earth. The game starts before the war of the Ring, and you can play a full Total war campaign game complete with full battles and all the factions, units and events revolving around the discovery and war for the One Ring.
The best thing about this mod is that it isn’t just simple re-skins and graphics mods, its that the entire game has been changed to look and feel like a full Lord of The Rings Total War Game. It gets it right down to the details of things such as the voices of the orcs, background info on everything and nice LoTR fan art for the loading screens. It even features all the iconic locations from the movies such as Minas Tirith and Rivendell as well as all the important locations not seen in the movies imagined beautifully. This mod really is special, even among the rest of the amazing mods the entire Total War series has.
But wait there’s more! This mod is so big that it even has mods for it! That’s right folks, mods within mods. That’s got to be a sign of a good mod right? The main ‘submod’ for this is one called’ Divide and Conquer’ which splits up all the factions more accurately, making for a far more detailed game. For example, instead of in the main mod where you play as the Dwarves, you can now play as three seperate Dwarf kingdoms, including a chance for a re-established Moria! There are also entirely new factions added such as Dorwinion and the remnants of Angmar. All these factions even come with a ton of entirely new and unique units, as well as plenty of other details in the settlements and events.
Finally I have to mention one or two source mods. The source engine was released in 2004 with Counter Strike: Source, and then followed shortly by Half-Life 2. Following on from the tradition of Valve’s games being heavily modded by fans, this engine was perfect for modders and to this day has spawned plenty of fantastic free mods on steam, some of which have become successful games in their own right.
The first one I want to mention is a game called Pirates, Vikings & Knights. You can find this game on Steam and it’s entirely free. The development of the game is still ongoing and has been for many years, but considering it’s a side project for free by only a few people, that’s totally fine. The game is essentially a three team deathmatch or objective based competitive online game. The three teams are the Pirates, the Vikings and the Knights. The most popular game mode you’ll find is called ‘Booty’ where the Pirates and Vikings, befitting their stereotypes, have to storm the Knight team’s castle to steal treasure. It’s an incredibly fun and silly game, and more people should play it!
The next two are old source mods that have become games. The first one was a mod called Age of Chivalry. It’s a similar play style to PVK but slightly more serious and more focused on its medieval setting. Eventually this mod became a full release on a different engine and was renamed Chivalry: Medieval Warfare (probably a parody of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare). This full release has become very popular and improved on a nimber of things. Over the improved graphics and smooth melee combat, the best this is the objective game modes. With one of the teams being the evil order against the good guy knights, one of the maps has you burning a village and slaughtering peasants as the other team tries to stop you, and then once you succeed you need to storm the enemy castle and kill the King, who is played by the top player of the other team while his teammates defend him.
The last game I want to mention is one called Insurgency. I never played this game as a mod, but it was recently made into a full release on a new engine and I have loved it since I found it. This is a fairly simple multiplayer modern FPS, which I generally find boring quickly, but for me it strikes the perfect balance between the fast-paced fun of something like Counter Strike, and the slow and tactically realistic gameplay of something like Arma. On top of this the game has some great pluses to it, such as there being no player levels or xp system, which most games rely on too much these days to make you feel invested in a game to keep you around, whereas this game is just such pure fun that it doesn’t need any of that getting in the way. The game still has things like weapon attachment unlocks, and plenty of variety that are made available depending on your class and the stage of the current match. Also, the game has some great realistic details that I’ve seen no other game do so well. For one, the guns are LOUD and make a lot of smoke and dust fly everywhere, which really makes a difference to how it feels when you’re being shot at or shooting. Also, there are night versions to every map, and the night is properly DARK, which can be interesting because it means flashlights or muzzle flashes are really easy to see from afar, and you can do things like blind people that are using night vision goggles by shining a light or shooting a flare near them. Finally, this game also has it’s own great modding community! There are tons of weapon and character re-models and re-skins available on the workshop, and they only affect your game so you can have everything look and sound how you like. There have even been some recent large mods that change the game into a zombie game or a WW2 setting with their own dedicated servers to play on.
If you’ve somehow managed to get through all of my nonsense about mods, then I hope it was informative. And if you’ve never tried any mods before, then I hope this gives you the desire to go and try some! there are mods for almost every game out there, and maybe you can find something to make one of your favourites even better!