A celebration of creativity: a homage to video game mods
Having regularly stretched the limits of my fairly ordinary laptop to play games over the past few years, it was a very pleasant transition when I picked up a PS5 a few months ago. And while I’ve made myself aware of the many advantages offered by console gaming, there is one noticeable drawback — the (lack of) availability of mods. User-created content can do anything from fixing bugs to overhauling entire systems, often adding replayability to a game and contributing towards a vibrant community, but it’s something you can usually only experience on PC.
Since I appear to have just 45 minutes of Skyrim (2011) gameplay logged in my Steam library, I’ll refrain from discussing it excessively. But what is certain is that Skyrim — along with other Bethesda games — is a perfect example of how to achieve mod integration. It’s a truly remarkable feat that Skyrim has remained continuously relevant and in the public eye since its 2011 release — and much of this can be attributed towards the strength of its modding community. It may be somewhat of a cliché to say Skyrim mods feel like an entirely new game, but in some cases, this is literally true — such as The Forgotten City (2021), a time-loop mystery set in Ancient Rome which was first launched within Skyrim before being developed into its own game. Having recently been added to PS+ Extra, I’m looking forward to playing this when my backlog clears up a bit.
At their best, mods do wonderful things for the player experience
But enough about mods I haven’t used — one of the games where I’m most grateful for mod integration is Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic II (2004). Developed on an extremely tight schedule after the success of the first KOTOR a year prior, KOTOR II shipped with an unfinished final narrative and several game-breaking bugs, and generally received far less attention than its predecessor. While the first KOTOR continues to enjoy a thriving modding scene (Invisible Headgear mod, I love you), this is of a more supplementary nature, while the second game requires use of modding to give it the justice it deserves. The Sith Lords Restored Content Mod (TSLRCM) repurposes content found in the game files that was cut for time, bringing the game back towards Obsidian’s original vision while also fixing hundreds of bugs. And while it surely does not quite compare to actual development time, it’s a monumental feat and rightly considered essential within the KOTOR community. In fact, when KOTOR II received its mobile port in late 2020, publisher Aspyr specifically ensured the inclusion of a workaround to make mods such as TSLRCM available for players, with the mod also expected to soon arrive as DLC for the game’s recent Nintendo Switch port. KOTOR II’s extensive scope of other mods ranges from upscaled assets to rebalancing mechanics and although the age of the game clearly shows, as an experience it remains among the very best that Star Wars has to offer.
I’m also fond of the mods in Mass Effect 3 (2012). Although the first two Mass Effect games retain some level of mod compatibility, Mass Effect 3 really comes into its own with user creativity. There’s a range of fantastic quality-of-life mods which improve the experience, especially when you’ve already played the series multiple times like I have. But probably the most well-known ME3 mods deal with the game’s infamous ending, modifying its closing cutscenes entirely. While I can appreciate them, I’m not as devoted towards these mods as others may be — but I am a fan of the accompanying Citadel Ending Mod, which delays the game’s Citadel DLC until after the end of the main storyline. Citadel is, in every aspect, a pure love letter to the series’ characters and fans, and it’s spiritually a much better fit to play this after (and not before) the game’s tense finale. ME3 users have also created a range of content which both enhances the experience and rectifies issues with the base game. One such example is the Miranda Mod — which gives one of ME2’s key characters a more satisfying role in the sequel’s narrative. Another case is the Expanded Galaxy Mod, which deepens immersion to drive home the game’s atmosphere of a galaxy at war.
While mods can take the player to territory that seems asinine (for example, implanting Kermit or Shrek as playable characters in Sony’s recent Spider-Man port), it is of course possible to simply ignore these. At their best, mods do wonderful things for the player experience, and should be celebrated both as a showcase of community creativity as well as for how they can give a new lease of life to games.