Top 16 PC Game Modifications
Veteran PC gamers know: The best games are an investment. That's because the people who love them will use them to make their own custom models, skins, game modes, and even completely new games--all of which you can download and play for free.
But it's not always easy to sort the crap from the incredible, so we've put together a list of our favorite can't-miss mods from Half-Life, Fallout 3, and more. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments!
You may have wandered the wastelands on your Xbox 360 or PS3, but you don't get the real postapocalyptic experience until you've added a few PC-only mods to the $30 original Fallout 3. Get started with Fallout 3 Wanderer's Edition, which adds more survivalist elements to the gameplay (food and drink, more injuries) plus a whole new set of gear and items. Also, grab Fallout 3 Re-Animated for more-natural-looking animations, Enhanced Weather for more-immersive weather effects, and NMC's Texture Pack for more-attractive textures. And stop by Fallout 3 Nexus to grab more goodies.
Dwarf Fortress is like the cricket of PC indie titles: it’s the ultimate gentleman’s game, but the complex rules and archaic design intimidate and alienate new players. Thankfully there’s a thriving community of hackers to help you get past that sticky wicket with mods like the Lazy Newb Pack, which completely reskins Dwarf Fortress with a much more appealing and intuitive 3D interface. Once you’ve gotten your feet wet with vanilla Dwarf Fortress, consider hacking in new scenarios and enemies with mods like Xenomorphs (which injects Aliens and Predators into your fortress) and Wasteland (which challenges you to survive in a setting of postapocalyptic desolation).
Valve Software elevated the first-person shooter to a narrative style with the debut of Half-Life, and the company's fervent support of the mod community (Valve released the software development kit for free) allowed ambitious coders to create classic mods like Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat that were good enough to be bought and published by Valve as stand-alone games. Half-Life 2 owners have tons of great (and free) mods like The Stanley Parable to choose from, thanks to the open nature of the Source engine, though we recommend paying for must-have mods like Garry’s Mod and Dino D-Day.
Quake has reaped the rewards of Id Software's mod-friendly design with all kinds of imaginative fan-made skins, models, and sound packs, but we're here to talk about one mod in particular: Team Fortress. Yes, the roots of everyone's beloved Team Fortress 2 trace back to the original QuakeWorld Team Fortress, which was the first game to feature delicately balanced class-based Capture the Flag action. Levels may come and go, but 2fort is forever.
Civilization 4 is such a complicated game that you'd expect making any substantial modification--much less converting the entire game to something else--to be a mammoth task. Yet that’s exactly what enterprising developer Derek Paxton did with the release of Fall From Heaven, a fantasy total conversion mod for Civilization 4 that’s arguably better than the original game. If you’re not into heroic fantasy and gods walking among men, pick up Fury Road and transform Civilization 4 into a gritty survival strategy game set in the postapocalyptic wasteland.
Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos/The Frozen Throne
Warcraft III is one of the few games on this list to have a mod so popular that it became its own genre. That mod is Defense of the Ancients ("DotA") a multiplayer mod that takes Warcraft's core gameplay, diminishes the macroeconomic aspects, and focuses on hero-on-hero combat. Not only has it spawned several popular competitive games (most notably League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth), but it inspired its own Swedish pop song by Basshunter.
Epic starfighter sims like Wing Commander and X-Wing Alliance are hard to find these days, so it’s important to wring every bit of enjoyment out of a classic fan favorite like Freelancer. The game is easy to mod, and plenty of fans are still running multiplayer servers, so grab a copy of a mod like Freeworlds: Tides of War to reskin every ship as a classic Star Wars starfighter and fill the bars with stormtroopers and scumbags in Mandalorian armor. If you’re secretly a Cylon, pick up the Battlestar Galactica total conversion instead.
Space-based real-time strategy epic Homeworld 2 has earned a place in the pantheon of PC gaming legends. Equally great (though somewhat overlooked) is the Homeworld 2 Complex mod, which takes Homeworld 2 and insists that you go deeper: 40 new units, additional support for ship subsystems, new research trees, and much more. As if you needed another reason to dust off your copy of Homeworld 2.
Unreal Tournament Series
The Unreal/Unreal Tournament/Unreal Championship series has always been a fertile ground for modders--many of whom use their familiarity with the Unreal Games Engine as a springboard to become professional games developers. Our nods go to The Crucible, an Armageddon-themed collection of mutators for Unreal Tournament 3, and Weapons Factory for the original Unreal Tournament, a class-based game that's kind of like Team Fortress's slightly weirder cousin.
GTA San Andreas
The PC version of San Andreas earned national notoriety for an infamous hack involving a hidden Hot Coffee minigame; but despite the scalding press coverage, hardcore fans are still creating plenty of creative and original mods. If you’re tired of traipsing around San Andreas, consider downloading the Jurassic Park: Operation Andreas mod and taking a scenic drive through Jurassic Park. If you’re looking for something a little weirder, install the You Are Here mod to turn GTA into a Silent Hill-esque survival horror game.
Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls Construction Kit is so robust that a team of dedicated German fans created a total conversion mod called Nehrim that transforms it into an entirely new game, complete with professional voice actors and musicians. If you just want to spend more time in Tamriel, consider picking up excellent fan mods like The Lost Spires (which adds 15+ hours of fresh gameplay and a new Archaeology Guild) and Martigen’s Monster Mod, which adds a mammoth amount of new content and more than 150 new monsters (including actual mammoths!).
After it debuted, Crysis ($40) became infamous for sporting a graphics engine so beastly that we had to wait a few years for a consumer-grade PC powerful enough to run it at maximum settings. Most of that power went toward rendering the fantastically detailed jungle environments, so mods like Predator: The Heat of the Jungle are a no-brainer. If you happen to own the Crysis Wars multiplayer expansion pack for the original Crysis, don’t miss the opportunity to trade in your nanosuit for a 50-foot BattleMech with the MechWarrior: Living Legends mod.
Morrowind is the oldest Bethesda game to make our list, so if you’re looking to hack your PC copy, the first thing you download should be the Morrowind Rebirth mod. That will update the aging graphics engine with new textures and items to make your time in Morrowind a little easier on the eyes. But if you’re looking to get off the island and explore the rest of Tamriel you should consider installing Tamriel Rebuilt, an ambitious attempt by hardcore fans to re-create the entire Elder Scrolls universe based on in-game descriptions and their own imagination.
We know, we know--the original StarCraft deserves plenty of props for the custom games collection, which gave rise to all kinds of game-extending maps and minigames. However, we're putting StarCraft 2 ($60) on this list for perhaps the most ambitious mod ever: StarCraft Universe, which aimed at re-creating the World of Warcraft raid experience in a StarCraft 2 map. Please, Blizzard, don't kill this one. We've always wanted to play as a Dark Templar.
We decided to include Doom 3 on this list for only one reason: The Duct Tape mod. See, most of Doom 3's dramatic tension comes from poorly lit environments. You do have a flashlight, but you can't use it at the same time as your weapons. Enter the Duct Tape mod, which lets you tape the flashlight to your machine gun and shotgun. You're on a highly sophisticated research facility on Mars, after all--you really think they don't have a roll somewhere?
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Check out these titles for countless hours of entertainment and enjoyment that won't cost you a cent. They’re fun, free, and available right now on PC--plus they’re easy to play. You won’t even have to hack a command line!