When I buy a game I look for the target ratio of fun to dollars. If it doesn’t provide an hour of fun for every dollar spent on the game, I eat a pint of ice cream and weep quietly about being ‘burned again’. But even games that meet the Golden Entertainment Ratio ™ have a finite amount of entertainment that can be programmed into them. Unless, that is, they have mods.
Mods allow us to experience the game anew. Either new stories are added in to a great existing engine, or the gameplay is altered in a way that makes the original story better. Here are four of the best games with a modding scene.
Any Bethesda RPG
I mean, we’ve all seen the ‘Randy Savage Dragons’, right? Bethesda has included a modding engine with their games since Morrowind, and the result is a library of mods so extensive that a gamer literally would not have enough hours in their life to complete it all. Fallout 4, Fallout New Vegas, Fallout 3, Skyrim, Oblivion, Morrowind, and probably more that I’m not aware of, all have a massive selection.
“Item Recycling” for Skyrim, by Derangedhk417. It’s a simple one that allows you to melt anything metal down into ore. On its surface, this may seem like an overly simple mod to pick as a favorite, but there are few experiences more satisfying than wandering through a battlefield to loot the nearly-worthless iron weapons from your slain foes. Drop the pile in the forge and watch your problems melt away; it’s a Tywin Lannister end zone dance.
Harebrained Schemes got on the map with a massively successful Kickstarter campaign that funded their creation of the first games to come out set in the Shadowrun universe since 1993. (We will not discuss the war crime that is the tragically overpriced 2007 fps.) Shadowrun Returns and its successors were built from the ground up with modding in mind; specifically story mods that allow you to take on more “runs”, either as a total newb or by importing a character.
If you are not familiar with Shadowrun, imagine that half the population of planet Earth started turning into Tolkien-esque species. Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and even Trolls. Then, “Johnny Mnemonic” happens. It’s fantasy creatures in a cyberpunk world, and it rocks. This setting is largely used to tell stories of Shadowrunners, people who do dirty work for a price. Due to the episodic nature of this work, it makes perfect sense to play new mods every week; it feels just like accepting a new job on the darknet!
“Shadowrun Unlimited” by Ryan Willie. You start off getting wronged by a Samurai on the payroll of a terrifying megacorp, and from there learn to become a criminal. For fun and profit! This game is designed to function like the title implies, offering repeatable quests that have enough changing variables that they stay feeling fresh.
As I’m grinding runs for money to buy that sweet new monofilament whip, I may find that I take the same run twice. One time, I have planted the explosives and flee the facility with guns blazing, and on another version of the run a bunch of employees want to chat as I’m trying to flee because they believed the lie I told them about being the new HR guy.
This mod is rad, you guys.
Mount and Blade series
If you’ve read my other articles you’re probably aware of my deep, passionate, somewhat alarming, love for this game. Here’s the hard truth though; the mods are responsible for the majority of the play time I’ve had with it. Yes, the base game is a masterpiece of strategy and violence, but the mix of army management and personal combat works so well in so many settings.
Due to the modding community for Mount and Blade I have lead groups of Jedi into battle against sinister Sith forces (Star Wars Conquest.) I have cut through hordes of Orcs in order to keep them from taking the head of my liege on the battlefield (Phantasy Calradia.) I have taken Richmond from the Confederacy, rebuilt civilization after the zombie apocalypse, and run a hundred other bizarre scenarios programmed by people with time and talent at their disposal.
“Phantasy Calradia” by Guspav. It’s the D&D setting but with large-scale battles. I got to play a barbarian witch-king. He cast magic but was mostly a muscle guy, so I called them "flex spells."
“Come get some of these flex spells!” I would say.
And then I would flex. On account of the magic.
Long live Viktus! Long live his glorious pecs!
There is something about the role playing genre that lends itself well to modibility. Possibly it’s the fact that by the time a great crop of mods are usually made, the game is no longer cutting edge and must rely on story- the specialty of RPGs- to retain an audience. Regardless of the whys, Neverwinter has some of the best story mods ever imagined.
“Darkness Over Daggerford” by Alan Miranda. Made by one of the actual game developers, this mod shows what an open system like Neverwinter Nights can do. The adventures are basically endless when you have constantly updating content, and DoD feels basically endless (in a good way!) due to the scope of the world map.