Nothing quite sums up the limitless possibilities of PC gaming like the humble mod. When a developer eventually moves on from a game to digital pastures new, or a title fails to live up to the expectations of its audience, there’s a good chance said game will simply fade away into obscurity.
But then, one or more talented users step in and that’s where the magic really starts to emerge. Games that are completely overhauled into something new; games that are fixed or finished where the original version was lacking. Games once lost, but now refreshed a new.
As part of TechRadar's PC Gaming Week 2018, we look at the best PC mods that extend the gameplay of our favorite games. If you're after mods that totally changed the way games are played, check out our list of the 10 best total conversion mods.
1. DayZ (ARMA 2)
No list covering the most influential mods in history would be complete without the mod that helped popularise an entire genre - one that still dominates headlines and streaming platforms today.
Built using the engine and basic assets of military simulator ARMA 2 (and one of its expansion packs, ARMA 2: Operation Arrowhead), creator Dean ‘Rocket’ Hall envisioned a survival sim where a player would spawn in large map with no resources of weapons.
The aim was to scavenge for gear, while avoiding or defeating both other players and AI controlled zombies. With realistic damage models (including the ability to break bones), DayZ became an instant hit in 2012.
2. Star Wars: Galactic Warfare (Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare)
Years before EA and DICE revived the Battlefront franchise with two very enjoyable entries in 2015 and 2017 respectively, PC players were clamouring for a proper first-person multiplayer shooter set in the sprawling vistas of a galaxy far, far away.
First released in 2009, Star Wars: Galactic Warfare used Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare as its base, and features a complete overhaul of everything from weapon models to sound effects.
Even now, almost a decade after its release, it’s still one of the most impressive fan-made projects. With a huge number of maps based on iconic locations for the original trilogy, it’s one of the most immersive mods on our list.
3. Black Mesa (Half-Life)
There are mods, and then they’re are mods. These are the fan-made projects that are so professional in quality, content and execution you’d expect it to have come out of a proper studio with a price tag attached.
That’s what it’s like playing Black Mesa. A complete remake of the original Half-Life, the mod took eight years to build and offers and uses the more advanced Source engine (well, more advanced than the now antiquated GoldSrc one used for the original).
It’s an incredible achievement, and even received the quiet blessing of Valve itself, which also greenlit its addition to Steam as part of the Early Access program.
4. Defense of the Ancients (Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos)
Much like DayZ and its vital role in popularising battle royale games, Dota served as one of the progenitors for the MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) genre.
As with the aforementioned zombie survival sim, DotA began life as a mod for Blizzard’s RTS classic, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, and mixed the top-down strategy mechanics of an RTS and combined it with the levelling and character progression of a traditional RPG.
It was built using the in-built World Editor tool included in Warcraft III, which enables players to share custom maps and scenarios online, and soon became a mainstay on the competitive scene.
5. NeoTokyo (Half-Life 2)
Starting out as a mod for Half-Life 2, NeoTokyo took the basic building blocks of Valve’s seminal shooter and transformed it into one of the most polished and uncompromising multiplayer shooters you can play on PC.
Originally released in 2009 (and added to Steam Greenlight in 2012), this fan-made project began in 2004 and took design cues from classic futuristic anime such as Akira and Ghost in the Shell.
Designed as a single-life, round-based FPS (similar to Counter-Strike), NeoTokyo is famed as much for the detail of its art style as it is the difficulty of its mechanics. It plays and feels more like a military sim, but with the speed of a modern shooter.
6. Skywind (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim)
Few mods have grown in scope and size as much as The Elder Scrolls Renewal Project.
A vast, multi-person initiative that aims to remaster every entry in the iconic action-RPG series, its become a labour of love that continues to grow and evolve in 2018.
Skywind is by far the most well-known of all the builds, which aims to remaster The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (which came out in 2002) in the engine of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Over 70 volunteers worked on mod, creating brand new models, textures, quests and gameplay features - including over 70,000 lines of re-recorded dialogue.
7. Counter-Strike (Half-Life)
It might seem like overkill for three mods based on the Half-Life series, but that just shows you how influential Valve’s shooter franchise has been for amateur developers - and how malleable its source code is.
And come on, as if we were going to talk about mods and not mention one of the biggest and most popular: Counter--Strike.
While it remains a firm favourite in the esports community in 2018, it started out life in 1999 as a mod overseen by two-man volunteer team Minh ‘Gooseman’ Le and Jess Cliffe.
With a simple premise of two teams of terrorists and counter-terrorists looking to eliminate one another it became an international hit and impressed Valve so much the two were hired and Counter-Strike remade as a proper standalone game.
8. The Sith Lords Restored (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II)
While many of the mods on this list offer enhancements to the base experience, some are there to ‘finish’ a game many felt shipped undercooked.
One such game was Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, and with its original campaign having ended so abruptly, a group of dedicated players worked tirelessly to restore the quests, locations and characters that were cut by developer Obsidian due to time constraints. The result was The Sith Lords Restored.
The additional content patches in longer questlines, alternate endings, extra dialogue and more. It even fixed a handful of bugs that dogged the original version.
9. Long War (XCOM: Enemy Unknown)
With the original XCOM proving to be one of the best turn-based tactical sims ever made, most modders weren’t interested in overhauling the game but rather enhancing it with more content and greater stakes.
Enter Long War, a partial conversion that effectively extends the length and breadth of the game in almost every way.
Squad sizes are increased to eight, customisation was increased tenfold and the ability to retake countries by assaulting multiple alien bases was introduced.
Its four core members were assisted by 29 modders, 20 voice actors and even some members of developer Firaxis as well. It became so popular Firaxis hired the main modders and formed a new studio to work on the sequel.
10. The Dark Mod (Doom 3)
If you like your games with a healthy dose of stealth, then there’s a good chance you’ve played one or more of the Thief games over the years.
The original trilogy of games remain some of the genres best (despite not aging that well graphically by modern standards), but a lack of a fourth sequel eventually put a set of dedicated fans to work.
Using the Doom 3 engine as its base, this project became The Dark Mod, it introduced a revamped (and ultimately superior) lockpicking system, brand new locations to explore and all manner of denizens from which to rob and pilfer. Originally released in 2009, it eventually received a standalone version in 2013.
Welcome to TechRadar's PC Gaming Week 2019. We're celebrating the most powerful gaming platform on Earth with in-depth articles, exclusive interviews and essential buying guides that showcase everything PC gaming has to offer. Visit our PC Gaming Week 2019 page to see all our coverage in one place.
First published June 2018