I think mods are great. And if you’ve been following the best mods lists I’ve been compiling for RPS over the last several months, I dare say you feel somewhat the same. Be it superficial tweaks, or highly ambitious overhauls, the work of creative hobbyists is often wonderful – and anything which is capable of breathing new life into our most treasured games is surely worth celebrating.
Total conversion mods are arguably the most impressive of this remarkable bunch. Due to their often exceptional standard, pulling this list together was a daunting task. I’ve gathered my favourites below, including a number of honourable mentions after the core lineup, which cover a wide range of genres. Be it finely-tuned strategy or guns-blazing first-person shooting, and everything in between, you’re sure to find something that tickles your modification fancies here.
Game – Arma 2
A child of Arma 2 and Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead, DayZ is a brutal post-apocalyptic zombie survival mod that’s as much about isolation and solitude as it is about fighting hordes of the undead. Sure, the infected want nothing more than to tear you limb from limb and feast on your festering insides, but a heavy drought, harsh famine, and an ever-dwindling amount of resources means cohabiting hostile human survivors present as much danger as the mindless monsters do. You’ll spend long spells of DayZ hiding away away in the wilderness, safer, and all the better for it. Arma 2’s DayZ mod proved so popular that it went standalone in 2013.
Game – Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Multi-Theft Auto began life as an online multiplayer component for 2001’s Grand Theft Auto 3, then named GTA 3: Alternative Multiplayer. While also supporting 2002’s GTA: Vice City, MTA’s popularity was cemented by its support for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – the game which Multi-Theft Auto is still based upon today.
As Richard Moss explored in detail last year, Multi-Theft Auto – rather strangely – appears to be getting more popular with each passing year, even against the acclaim of Grand Theft Auto 5’s far more sophisticated GTA: Online. A number of entertaining game modes, loyal player-base and cartoon-like aesthetic keep things fresh, though, all of which has helped MTA operate for more than a decade with little sign of slowing down.
Game – Half-Life
When Valve’s flagship sci-fi FPS Half-Life failed to ship with default cooperative support, Dan Fearon – otherwise known as Sven Viking – set about crafting his own co-op experience. In 1999 Sven Co-op shipped its first version 1.0 and while Fearon didn’t expect it to be played by anyone besides him and his mates, the Half-Life community celebrated its release. In 2016, 17 years since inception – with hundreds of updates, tweaks and tinkerings along the way – Sven Co-op finally landed on Steam and has since accrued over 1.5 million players.
Expect co-operative play where players band together against AI NPCs, and collectively solve puzzles as a team. Familiar Half-Life weapons, character and monsters star, however the difficulty has been ramped up to suit team play. Furthermore, a healthy modding scene has helped keep Sven Co-ops maps and missions fresh.
Game – S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat
Billed as a “free-play sandbox mod” for Call of Pripyat, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Chernobyl mod features 32 maps, some reworked level design, improved AI and customisable weather. Players can expect a new level named Trucks Cemetery, as well as a new character creation suite – “including name, portrait and faction selection” – alongside a new achievement, and a ranking and reputation system. Those who enjoy cooperative play should know Call of Chernobyl also boasts a companion system, and a PDA stats system and leaderboard. Update 1.4 released in September 2016 bringing with it some sweeping changes – the sum of which can be found by clicking the link above.
Game – Crusader Kings 2
Crusader Kings 2’s A Game of Thrones was launched in 2012 and does what you almost certainly expect: transports the sprawling world of Westeros into CK2. While interweaving George R.R. Martin’s fantasy drama narrative and lore into Paradox’s grand strategy wargame, AGoT reworks Crusader Kings 2’s base game mechanics so that the real is less likely to fragment into multiple kingdoms – a la the television/book series. The off-shoot of this is of course that players fight to control one singular throne – the Iron Throne. As it stands, players can choose to play from any start date in the 300 years before Aegon’s Conquest through to the beginning of the fourth book, The Feast of Crows.
Game – Half-Life
When Minh “Gooseman” Le and Jess “Cliffe” Cliffe crafted Counter-Strike – a tactical shoot ’em up mod for the original Half-Life – the latter was still in school. After the selling the rights to Valve, Le moved to the developer’s Seattle headquarters to further develop the idea, while Cliffe spent two years wrapping up his studies before eventually joining his online partner. This was the first time the pair had ever met in person which somewhat surprising, given how popular Counter-Strike would go on to become. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has since eclipsed the original in popularity terms, but, given the fact the majority of its players started out in the 1999 classic, it’s sometimes easy to forget CS:GO began life as a Gordon Freeman knock-off.
Game – Quake
Team Fortress hasn’t always boasted the cartoon-like visuals its hugely popular second series entry has today. Now over two decades old, the original TF was written and designed by Robin Walker, Ian Caughley and John Cook, however quickly welcomed the many hands of intuitive map makers and modders who crafted a host of new arenas and weapons into the original idea. As a class-based multiplayer, Team Fortress weighs heavily on team-work (it’s in the name) as players do battle to ascertain specific objectives with Capture the Flag a particular fan favourite. Three years after inception Valve bought the rights to Team Fortress and released a standalone variation for Half-Life. Team Fortress 2 landed in 2007 and is to this day one of Steam’s most played games.
Game – Half-Life 2
Black Mesa is a fan-made remake of the original Half-Life that’s been in development since the launch of Half-Life 2 in 2004. Said to be unhappy with the difference in quality between the GoldSrc engine (which powered the original game) and the Source engine (which powered HL2), mod team Crowbar Collective set out to reimagine protagonist Gordon Freeman’s debut outing against more modern tech – a journey which is still incomplete today. Following eight years of development, work on the free iteration of Black Mesa wrapped up in September 2012, with a paid version now available on Steam’s Early Access platform. The latter promises to include the otherworldly Xen chapters of the original, as well as surplus multiplayer maps and game modes.
Game – Half-Life 2
Another game born from the Source engine that went on to spawn its very own standalone version. The brilliant work of Davie Wreden and William Pugh, The Stanley Parable perfectly illustrates the gratuitous grind of the 9-5 rat race while simultaneously taking a swipe at the illusion of choice – both in life and in videogames. The result is nothing short of brilliant as the player goes against the narrator – voiced superbly by British actor Kevan Brighting – as little events unfold in direct relation to your actions. Videogames have a knack for reinventing themselves to the point where critics are often left questioning the definition of the medium. The Stanley Parable is a perfect example of a mod-cum-game that rewrites the rule book.
Game – Half-Life 2
One of the most famous Half-Life 2 mods which creator Garry Newman has long admitted was a mistake. Born from experimentations with the Source engine, Garry’s Mod was one of the first ever games to land on Valve’s Steam distribution platform and offers players a free-roaming physics sandbox within which to build whatever they want. There’s no rules, no predetermined goals, and no directions – “we give you the tools and leave you to play,” so reads the game’s Steam blurb.
Having spent the last decade growing a dedicated community, Garry’s mod now has thousands of game modes – such as the popular murder mystery-inspired Trouble In Terrorist Town – and over 300,000 downloadable models, maps and assets all housed within its Steam Workshop page.
Game – Warcraft 3: Frozen Throne mod
DotA 2 is Valve’s free-to-play MOBA juggernaut which tops Steam’s Top Games By Current Player Count list on a daily basis with upwards of 600,000 (sometimes way upward) players. Yet Defense of the Ancients once belonged to rival developer Blizzard. Sort of.
The original DotA is a multiplayer online battle arena mod for the Blizzard-owned Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos and its expansion The Frozen Throne, you see. Similar to its acclaimed sequel, the name of the game is to attack and defend respective Ancient structures by way of high-powered heroes that can be buffed and levelled up along the way. Developed in Reign of Chaos’ World Editor suite, the idea has been reworked several times and, under the banner of DotA Allstars, has been maintained by renowned community designer IceFrog for over ten years. After acquiring the rights to the DotA name in 2009, Valve launched standalone sequel DotA 2 in mid-2013, however the original DotA is often cited as the game responsible for the MOBA genre.
Game – The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
Skyrim’s Special Edition gave players a good reason to revisit the now five-year old role-player when it launched towards the end of last year, however SureAI’s Enderal gave them a great one. Set within a beautifully realised world similar in size to its source material, with all new quests, characters and systems, Enderal is easily one of the best total conversion mods ever made. Its forerunner Nehrim, a total conversion mod for TES 4: Oblivion, set the bar high as far as reimaginings of Bethesda RPGs go, however Enderal is an even greater achievement. Assuming you own Skyrim, Enderal is free yet could easily justify a big budget game price tag.
Game – XCOM: Enemy Unknown
The XCOM series began with Julian Gollop’s wonderful 1994 turn-based strategy game UFO: Enemy Unknown (otherwise known as Xcom: UFO Defense), however lost its way slightly after that. Hasbro Interactive’s acquisition of the development reins from Microprose and Mythos Games saw the series move into third-person shooter territory, before two proposed games were cancelled ahead of an 11-year hiatus. In 2012, Firaxis released XCOM: Enemy Unknown and the turn-based strategy game was returned to greatness.
Catering to the masses however meant some fans of the original found EU more forgiving than the mid-’90s classic – which it seems the creators of the Long War mod noticed too. By introducing over 700 changes to the base game and its expansion XCOM: Enemy Within, Long War offers a longer, more complex, and far more difficult slant on Enemy Unknown. With more strategic choices and customisation options, Long War gives players more tools to thwart the alien invasion, however expects more from them in a campaign which closer reflects the original Xcom. As such, it’s tough but fair and can easily swallow hundreds of hours of your time.
Action Quake 2
Game – Quake 2
The Dark Mod
Game – Doom 3
An open-source Doom 3 mod designed to reimagine the original stealth ’em up Thief. Complete with an editor, The Dark Mod has accrued over 80 fan-made missions and campaigns.
Fallout: Project Brazil
Game – Fallout: New Vegas
An unofficial prequel to Fallout: New Vegas – set in the Mojave and its surrounds and not South America.
Game – Half-Life
A wonderful Half-Life mod which melds first-person shooting with real-time strategy. Has since been eclipsed by Natural Selection 2, however is still considered one of the best HL mods of all time.
Game – Stellaris
A work-in-progress mod whose most recent update is mighty impressive – offering players more than 50 pre-scripted races with canon starting positions and tonnes of ships and weapons. A great tribute to Star Trek that’s also an equally great Stellaris mod for those not interested in the Enterprise.
Long War 2
Game – XCOM 2
Resigned to this side list only because I feel the original Long War is marginally better. Like its forerunner, it could be argued this is as good as – if not better than – its source material.
Nehrim: At Fate’s Edge
Game – The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion
Similar to Long War 2 above, Nehrim lives in the shadow of its counterpart which, in this instance, is Skyrim total conversion Enderal. Nevertheless, Nehrim is a fantastic achievement and a must have for any fan of the role-playing genre.
I guarantee you’ll find at least one or two total conversion mods above that’ll add hours of play onto on your favourite games – but with so many quality fan-made projects out there today, I’ve inevitably overlooked some worthy of note. Here’s the part where I turn this over to you guys: which of your own favourites have I missed? Let me know in the comments below.