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Did you wear the Colovian Fur Helm? If you played Morrowind you probably did. The Colovian Fur Helm is a piece of armor you can easily get at the start of the game it literally falls out of the sky for you, being worn by a wizard whose spell doesn't work as intended and you'll probably keep it for a while. At the start of Morrowind decent helmets are hard to come by, especially if you're cheap. The downside is that the Colovian Fur Helm looks like a big hairy nipple. No matter how badass the rest of your armor is, topping it off with a hat that makes you look like one of the Coneheads will ruin your ensemble.
I thought about that hat recently when I was watching Hearthstone designer Ben Brode , which players have called a bad card. Actually they've called it worse things than that, but let's stick with bad. Some players actually like winning with bad cards, Brode explained, before going on to discuss its potential for use in a non-competitive fun deck . Long past the point where it was a liability, I wore that silly Colovian Fur Helm because I'd started thinking it was funny defeating ghosts and monsters while wearing a conical nipplehat. It was bad, but that's what made it perfect for me.
Plenty of games have items in them that prove unpopular with players. Maybe they're equipment in an RPG, cards in a digital card game, guns in a first-person shooter, or power-ups in an arcade game. They could be ugly. Their stats could be terrible. Most players may shun them, but they still serve a purpose.
James Lopez, producer on the Borderlands series, provides me with the excellent names of several guns from Borderlands 2 that players considered bad: Flakker, Bane, Fibber, and Crit. They all had their moments to shine, however, as there was an ebb and flow to the popularity of guns in the games some were popular right off the bat but some were 'undiscovered' for a while until the community found things that made them special , he says.
The Flakker for instance is a shotgun that shoots multiple explosive projectiles. They detonate at medium range, making it almost worthless against distant or nearby enemies. Plus, it fires very slowly. While the Flakker seems underwhelming for a weapon of 'legendary' rarity, it does have its uses. The sniper character Zer0 can combine it effectively with his Rising Sh0t ability, which lets him earn bonus damage for a short duration after every successful attack. The amount of bonus damage increases every time you hurt an enemy, so a single good shot with the Flakker can max out that bonus, after which you switch to a better gun to make use of it.
The Bane on the other hand is a submachine gun that drops your movement to a crawl and constantly shouts at you. When you shoot it screeches like Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber making , and it announces every reload by bellowing Reloading! Even taking it out it will make it announce Swapping weapons! Dropping the in-game volume to zero won't prevent it from ruining your eardrums, either. And yet there are people on YouTube using The Bane to defeat Borderlands 2's endgame raid boss .
Borderlands is an unusual case in that most of its guns aren't unique like the Flakker and Bane, but procedurally generated. They combine effects in randomized ways so you might end up with a sniper rifle that reloads almost instantly or a pistol that shoots burning bullets. It creates variety and depth, Lopez explains, as well as the possibility of the user getting a one of a kind gun that nobody else will have. You might pick up two Maliwan fire SMGs of the same level but they re not going to be the same. And it might turn out that one is more your play style than the other, and the one you don t like might be perfect for someone else in your party.
When you do find a unique gun in a Borderlands game, something with a name like Good Touch or Teapot, you know it's special. That inspires players to figure out why a seemingly bad gun exists instead of chucking it aside like the disposable randomized weapons Borderlands games are full of. As Lopez puts it, Giving them names creates a theme about the gun, a connection to how you got it, and can also inspire the community to learn more about it through forums, videos, wikis, etc.
At the other end of the spectrum from Borderlands and its millions of guns is Assault Android Cactus, a twin-stick shooter in which each of its playable android characters only has two weapons. Some are regular fare like a flamethrower or a beam laser, but the android named Aubergine wields something different: an indestructible drone called Helo that causes damage in a circle and controls like a fishing rod. Hold down fire and the drone moves further away from her; release and it's reeled back in.
Aubergine is the most divisive character in the game, says developer Tim Dawson, some people dig her, but a lot of players couldn't get their head around controlling her Helo drone while moving. She was meant to be an out-there character and push the envelope in terms of twin-stick shooter mechanics, but because she takes so much more work to get good at, plenty of people never did.
The drone has advantages, like being able to cause damage to enemies while you hide behind a wall, but it's tricky to get used to compared to more straightforward tools like the shotgun or the drill. Not many players bother getting to grips with Aubergine and her drone.
Even so, I'm glad she's in the game, Dawson says, she came about from realising our weapon designs were stagnating mid-development and sitting down to brainstorm something off the map. She's not only a good character for players who stick with her, but her existence in the game challenged us to make later weapons like the Railgun and Giga Drill more distinctive.
Assault Android Cactus also has power-ups that appear regularly throughout each level. Each power-up initially appears as a red Firepower boost (adding hovering guns to your arsenal), but if it's not picked up immediately will transform into a yellow Accelerate boost (adding movement speed as well as slurping pick-ups toward you), and finally a blue Shutdown (sending enemies to sleep). The fact that players can choose which of the three power-ups to collect by timing it right inspired a vigorous debate on the game's forum over which was best.
Accelerate came off worst of the three by a fair margin. Despite boosting speed, decreasing damage taken and pulling battery and weapon orbs in, some players began actively avoiding Accelerate, says Dawson, seeing it as a wasted opportunity to grab one of the other two power-ups, both of which had more overt offensive potential.
In the choose-your-own-adventure card game Hand of Fate, each of the player's items is represented by a card that becomes that piece of equipment and appears on your avatar when combat begins. They fall down on you like rain, if rain was made of helmets and axes. Though Hand of Fate is a very different game, just like Assault Android Cactus and its Accelerate power-up, players prefer equipment that has overt offensive potential .
According to its creative director Morgan Jaffit, Something we notice a lot is that people generally prefer items with direct effects, rather than those that act on another system. A good example there is Skullcap of Prophecy, which reduces your cooldowns if you kill an enemy with a weapon ability. There's a lot going on there for a player to think about how often do they kill enemies, how often do they get to use weapon abilities, how does reducing cooldowns help them, etc.
The Skullcap of Prophecy can be part of a powerful combo when used with weapon abilities capable of finishing enemies off, reducing the cooldown on the ability that triggered the Skullcap in the first place in a repeatable loop. Most players don't bother with it, however, preferring to use gear that increases damage directly or doesn't require a decent weapon to synergize with.
Likewise, gear that has negatives as well as positives generally gets picked less than items that are a straight benefit, says Jaffit. Forbidden Armor give you bonus damage resistance, but stops you being able to heal. People tended to just wear slower, less effective armour instead of dealing with the downside.
And that's up to you. Choosing not to use items that handicap you whether they provide some balancing advantage or exist simply to let you challenge yourself or fit a specific theme you're roleplaying is a choice that's yours to make. But even if you do make that choice, the bad items you avoid still serve a purpose. As Jaffit says, you always need contrast. No single item is 'good' in the abstract, you need other items to compare them to.
If every card in Hand of Fate or Hearthstone was perfectly balanced for use with every playstyle, there would be no thrill to finding ones that suit you. If the power-ups in Assault Android Cactus were the same you'd never race dramatically across the level to grab the one you like, and if every gun in Borderlands was useful at every range and in every situation you'd never switch between them and find the perfect moment to bombard some bad guys with a shotgun that shoots exploding swords.
Even beyond stats, items with no value can be imbued with purpose by passionate fans. In Dark Souls, one of the starting gifts, a pendant, does absolutely nothing. Why would anyone pick it over a key that unlocks doors throughout the game? Fans of Dark Souls labyrinthine lore speculated on how the pendant might fit into the mythos until director Hidetaki Miyazaki revealed that . But by then it had served its purpose, making Dark Souls just a little bit more mysterious.
That Colovian Fur Helm served a purpose too. When I finally sold it in favor of wearing something made of enchanted green glass, I felt like a proper hero for the first time, not that joker straight off the boat with the pointy head.
I would have missed the Colovian Fur Helm, but fortunately the shopkeeper I sold it to was so impressed he put it on immediately and continued wearing it for the rest of the game. Everybody's bad item is valuable to someone.
There s a bit near the beginning of Uncharted 3 where protagonist Nathan Drake evades a police entourage by clambering up a drainpipe and onto a roof. The building overlooks the city s skyline and, while it s dark, the mass of light that radiates from the metropolis sprawled out in front of him lets him see for miles. It s a wonderful moment, but, while impressive, quickly feels bogus.
You see, in games like these you often can t actually reach the panoramic vistas, the gorgeous rolling hills, or the far-off knife-edge cliff faces, but are instead too quickly funnelled off down the next linear pathway towards the next foregone conclusion. You hardly have a chance to properly enjoy each moment of reflection before the story is moved on, and this makes me sad. (Incidentally, it looks like players will have the chance to sample the above and play many other PlayStation 3 exclusives on PC in the not so distant future if you d like to see what I mean in this instance.)
Conversely, having spent the past week ebony armour-deep in SureAI s Enderal a Skyrim total conversion mod whose scale almost matches that of its source material I was reminded of what draws me to games like these in the first place. Against games like Uncharted, it s not their open-ended quests, nor is it their divergent missions; their multitude of weapons and characters, or even their sprawling maps what I love about open-world games is simply knowing it s possible to explore their arenas from corner-to-corner, to pore over every inch of their sandboxes, or to delve into each one of their nooks and crannies.
Finding the highest accessible point in the map is the first thing I do when dropped into an open-world environment, before I pick a certain spot out in the distance and try my damndest to make it there alive or, more times than I care to admit, die trying and revel in whichever wildlife/scenery/baddies I encounter along the way.
From a practical perspective, besides facilitating these hands-on moments, trekking to and from these vantage points allows for a better understanding of the map itself. Truth be told, though, there's something I find wonderful about knowing that particular small patch of land, that dilapidated farmhouse, that seemingly abandoned island that I can spot from aloft my perch can be reached and explored, just because. There might be nothing real merit there on arrival and there's often not but I delight in the fact that in these games it can be done.
In Skyrim, I first discovered the Oghma Infinium book by stumbling upon Septimus Signus outpost after spying it from atop the College of Winterhold s roof; in New Vegas I meticulously planned an ambush on Caesar's Legion from the mountains located to east of their camp; in The Witcher 3 I climbed the Kear Trolde bridge in Skellige just so I could jump off into the water below because, well, why the hell not? There is, after all, no wrong way to play games.
I ve played and enjoyed the entire Uncharted series, and many games like it, but I ve found my fondest moments in games over the years have stemmed from the ones I ve created myself; the off-script set pieces and the moments of sheer randomness. Perhaps you could call it a problem with authority, but I like being able to roam where I want, when I want and spotting such places from the peak of a mountain, bridge or magic school is the best means for it.
Five years in the making, hobbyist studio SureAI has now released the English language version of Enderal: The Shards of Order, a total conversion mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Off the back of its multi-award winning Oblivion total conversion Nehrim: At Fate s Edge, Enderal is easily the small studio s most ambitious project to date one which not only offers players an entirely new playground to explore; but also a host of new characters to interact with, 30 hours-worth of campaign to plough through, and some completely overhauled systems to tinker with.
Naturally, the mod s release was marked with a launch trailer:
Last year, we caught up with a few members of the SureAI team to learn about the making of the mod which is a relatively long but interesting read. Expect more words about of Enderal: The Shards of Order at some point later this week, however learn what Jody Macgregor thought after spending 20 hours wandering its sprawling bounds last week.
The best part of was when I turned into a kid. In flashback I explored the village my character was born in from a first-person perspective lowered to child-height, then watched it burn down to rubble. It wasn't even part of the main storyline, just a sidequest, but it was still affected by who I was and where I came from. It's a clich backstory for a fantasy hero to have, but seeing it play out made me feel connected to it.
Nehrim was German mod team SureAI's total conversion for Oblivion, released in 2010. Since then they ve been working on , a total conversion mod for Skyrim, and it begins with something similar. I'm a kid on a farm and my first quest is take a message to Daddy . The sun is shining, birds are wheeling in the bright sky. It's gorgeous. I take the first of many screenshots immediately. Things turn dark after this idyllic start because of course they do, but it's an immediate reminder of Nehrim at its best, making you feel like the world and your character existed before you clicked Start New Game.
After that I'm a grown-up on a ship to the theocracy of Enderal, choosing my face and race from a selection of half-breeds that will mark me as an outlander for the rest of the game, though none are as exotic as the cats and lizards you can choose in most Elder Scrolls games. The journey from here to Riverville, your typical fantasy starter village, is a tutorial that introduces new characters who then introduce new concepts and quickly clear the deck to make way for the next batch. I get knocked unconscious and wake up in different locations so often it's disorienting, but I guess travelling to a new country should be. It's a trick Enderal will recycle a lot.
These tutorials kick off a game where some things remain standard Skyrim, like the controls and physics, but other things feel alien. Fast travel has gone, although in a nod to Morrowind's silt striders there's a network of giant four-eyed birds called myrads who take you from place to place for 25 pennies. There are also teleport scrolls and within the gigantic city of Ark signposts let you jump from district to district. (Even with those signposts, I see a lot of loading screens whenever I go anywhere in Ark.)
Leveling skills by using them has been replaced with an old-fashioned experience point system. At level-up you earn points that can be distributed into skills by reading appropriate books, which is why I have spent all my money on books about lockpicking. There are also trees of perks to unlock, combining abilities familiar from Skyrim like rolling while crouched with new ones like Focus, which reduces the cost of spellcasting for a duration, and Flashpowder that blinds enemies.
These talents replace Skyrim's dragon shouts. My old favorites sneaking and archery are augmented by a talent that increases my critical chance for a short time while hidden, and a new set of elementalism abilities power up certain spells, turning the fire and lightning that shoots from my hands into a clutch move that can win most fights.
Most, but not all. Like Nehrim, certain parts of Enderal will not be suitable until you're higher level. After arriving at the city of Ark the main quest became too much for my level 9 character and I had to find side quests until I could get back onto the main track. Since each quest is rated out of four stars for difficulty it's easy enough to find simpler missions.
you probably noticed the main quest's plot has a lot in common with Mass Effect. An apocalypse that came to previous civilizations is returning for yours, but through researching how they failed to prevent it you might be able to succeed. The Precursors are called Pyreans and the Reapers are High Ones, but it's familiar stuff so far. That's OK since it's not like it was a very original plot even when Mass Effect told it, and telling a story well matters more to me than originality.
Other mods that add new characters and quests, like and , have been a fun way to see strange new places, but their writing and voice-acting remind you they're fan-made works. We criticize Skyrim for re-using voices and only having a few memorable characters, but other mods have made me appreciate how hard it is to get that stuff right. Not every bit of dialogue or plotting in Enderal is perfect, but so far it's better than anything I've heard in other mods.
Though there's a fair bit of tutorial to push past, now I'm eager for each twist of its tale and invested enough to be worried about the fates of its characters. My mercenary companion has an easygoing cynicism that's charming, the swearing sorceress reacts to each disaster with honest fury, even a passing art gallery owner sounded so genuinely defeated by the disinterest of her cityfolk I was happy to take on a job for her.
I'm playing a pre-release build of Enderal's translation so not everything is perfect. I've met a man in a bar who spoke German, and some of the signs and posters around Ark are untranslated as well. Nehrim was entirely voiced in German with only English subtitles, so a fully voiced English localization is a huge additional task they've taken on. Sure, no one can agree how to pronounce the name of the goaty local monsters the Vatyr, but it feels churlish to pick at individual flaws when the overall standard is so high.
I've done the textbook journey from a small village to a big city, solved a mystery with the convenient visions I've begun having, and earned a riding donkey named Whirlwind whose legs kick out with adorable clumsiness at high speed. The tone is slightly grittier than Skyrim this is a fantasy RPG where having special magical powers means also having a fever that might kill you, most of the potions you find have turned rancid, and the roads are lined with crucified skeletons. But in spite of its differences, moment-to-moment I feel like I'm playing Skyrim again.
While Nehrim tried to make a completely different RPG out of Oblivion, one closer to the Gothic series, Enderal seems like a slightly better-looking, slightly more linear, slightly lower-powered Skyrim. It has a desert and there's a grimy Undercity beneath Ark and people swear, but its mountains, spiders, and lockpicking minigame are all pure Skyrim. It's the most ambitious mod I've played yes, even compared to the one that not because it's different to Skyrim, but because it's of comparable quality. I liked Skyrim plenty, and having more of it is very welcome.
A mushroom towers above you, reaching for the sky. The place feels familiar, but the light has changed. Plants have taken root in previously barren land, new rocks jut from the earth like gnarled fingers. It s the same, but different a place inspired by what came before. A complete remake and re-imagining of Morrowind, in the words of Brandon Giles, one of the lead developers of the ambitious community project Skywind. The mod aims to draw players fresh and old to the world of Bethesda s 14-year-old RPG.
Skywind had its inception in 2012. The seeds can be found in Morroblivion, which ported Morrowind s content into Oblivion s engine. Once the project came to an end, some leftover team members decided to attempt a similar feat this time using Skyrim as their base.
It wasn t until late into the following year that the project evolved into what it is now, Giles says of the Elder Scrolls Renewal Project, of which Skywind is a part. [We] aspired to do something greater than a mere port of Morrowind. No one really knows the exact point that this switch happened, but I think as we got more and more talented individuals on board, we really broadened our horizons and looked to make something much more special. Since then the vision has only grown.
Skywind s global team was brought together by a love of the Elder Scrolls series. They re all volunteers, and their ultimate reward for the thousands of hours invested will be the finished project itself. The challenge they have set is to take a classic and renovate it, improving it graphically and bringing the world s density, life and interactions up to the standards set by today s open-world games.
The team, though scattered, has clear lines of management. Tasks are chopped into manageable chunks and assigned by the development leads. Countless spreadsheets are assembled in order to keep track of the various tasks and deadlines. The driving force is a small core team, working with and managing the vast array of people who have volunteered their time.
These team members all share the same broad vision for Skywind. Morrowind is a game that now shows its age. The locales feel barren and sparse compared to modern achievements, the fog-cloaked horizon is a stark contrast to the immense draw distances we re now accustomed to. The team have to address this disparity, filling in areas of the world with new content. This act of creation in a game so revered comes with its own difficulties the additions must merge seamlessly with the established world. Skywind will include the story and quests familiar to Morrowind players, but some carefully constructed new missions have been added. The ultimate aim is that new content should be indistinguishable from the old.
Modifying a classic is no easy task, and the team must tread carefully when deciding on additions. Every idea goes through a vetting process. When someone has a new suggestion, and they re serious enough about it, they write up a detailed plan and share it with the rest of the team, Giles says. Everyone leaves comments and suggestions and we work from there, and if it s worth implementing, we ll put in the effort to make it a reality.
Additions are rigorously scrutinised to ensure that they meet the same high standards across the board. The gatekeepers of quality are several industry professionals, who are lending their expertise partly because of a deep love for the Elder Scrolls series, and partly to work on a project that s free from corporate oversight.
Lore masters also pick over any suggestions with a fine-tooth comb guaranteeing that everything fits within the universe set out by the Elder Scrolls games. These team members have been followers of the series since the start, and are able to draw from their own deep knowledge of the world, as well as consult the extensive wikis and other reference sources. They are essentially historians historians with the advantage of being in direct communication with the creative mind behind a large part of the world and lore of Morrowind, former Bethesda designer Michael Kirkbride.
Enthusiasm can only take you so far, however, and the attrition rate among Skywind s voluntary team is high. The success of the project has been that, out of a number of people who have offered to help, you get one that really sticks with the project, Darren Habib, one of the team s veterans, says. I ll put a rough figure to it: out of every 100 people that join up to do some tasks, only one person will actually carry on to progress the project.
The bulk of development is therefore handled by the core team, but they still want the project to remain as open as possible. They leave the door open in order to attract unique individuals able to contribute. Burnout is high true of any voluntary project but the team understand this, allowing people to take breaks when they need them. They have managed to keep morale high with their continuous communication and recruitment. Everyone is kept in the loop and made to feel a part of the community.
The legacy of the original game released back in 2002 the third in the Elder Scrolls series still casts a long shadow. Its weird world is filled with wonders, from magically crafted mushroom architecture to the sprawling waterway-filled city of Vivec. Morrowind captured and continues to capture the hearts of its players.
The action mostly takes place on the island of Vvardenfell, which today stands out as delightfully alien compared to other locations in the Elder Scrolls series. All of Bethesda s worlds have had their quirks, but none have had nearly as diverse a landscape as that found in Morrowind. Each region feels fresh and different, its architecture and landscapes drawn from different inspirations.
The first Elder Scrolls games, Arena and Daggerfall, presented players with huge worlds, using random generation to map out and stock their myriad dungeons. Morrowind broke with tradition; Bethesda opted to create a smaller, more detailed, world than its predecessors. Throwing out the random generation, the game s designers hand-crafted every section of the world. This painstaking approach proved a massive undertaking, but the payoff was worth it. The developers love and attention shines through in the design of every location. From the caves of skooma-smuggling bandits, to the tombs cobwebbed with history linked to actual families in-game.
Post-Morrowind, there have been two new main Elder Scrolls releases: Oblivion and Skyrim. These build upon the foundations laid down by Morrowind, inevitably changing aspects of it as well. The strength of Elder Scrolls games especially Morrowind has always been believable world building and focus on exploration, says Max Fellinger, Skywind s game mechanics lead. Skyrim shifted away from this to present a more streamlined reward-curve, based mostly on dungeon-crawls.
The team faces the challenge of deciding which new features from Skyrim should carry over to Skywind and which should be consigned to history. They have to determine how best to retain the feel of Morrowind while keeping any improvements made by the new game. Abilities such as shouts, tied specifically to the Dragonborn protagonist, have been removed completely. In general, Skyrim felt more focused on player skill, like modern action games, while Morrowind focused on character skill, like a classical RPG.
For instance, contrary to the implications of its first-person action combat, Morrowind used the classic RPG dice roll to decide what happened in a fight. Your sword might hit an enemy s flesh, but it was a behind-the-scenes number that decided whether or not you did serious damage. It s a system that lacks responsiveness. Skyrim has far better feedback, because it s driven more by the player s actions than their character s stats.
However, as a result, Skyrim is more uniform when it comes to the character builds of its players. There are certain core abilities and skills that almost everyone upgrades, while others are largely ignored. Morrowind encouraged players to have more freedom in their choices. There s no single correct build. Some balancing issues remain, but in general players have a wider range to choose from.
The challenge, then: how best to fix Skyrim s problems without recreating Morrowind s unresponsiveness? The developers have a balancing act on their hands, merging two disparate systems into a cohesive whole. Their approach has been to strip down the Elder Scrolls and other RPGs to their core, and find out what makes them tick how the gears of their various systems mesh together. Ultimately, the team want to craft an experience that brings back some of the systems of classic RPGs, giving players the freedom to build a character in whatever way they want.
In Morrowind s original release, dialogue was largely confined to text boxes, with only a small percentage of it voice acted. Skywind again aims high. Its ultimate goal is to have all lines of dialogue fully voiced. Our biggest challenge is the sheer number of voice actors we re going for, voice acting lead Ben Iredale told me. Unlike Bethesda s situation, where they focus on a smaller cast of actors covering the majority of lines, we re looking to have a pretty massive amount of unique voices to cover the roughly 40,000 lines of dialogue that are in Skywind. We think it is worth the extra effort especially since it is one of the benefits we have as a community project there are so many dedicated fans ready to lend their voices.
Skyrim s world often comes close to a place that feels like home. At least until a guard tells you, yet again, about how their previous career as an adventurer was brought to a close by an arrow to the knee. Idle banter can make or break immersion in virtual worlds, especially those that support hundreds of hours of exploration.
For Skywind, Iredale says that a team of writers have crafted 9,000 in-game conversation lines between NPCs, giving each character their own essence of personality. The final release will include priests discussing the 36 lessons of Vivec, and merchants arguing over prices little touches that breathe life into the world.
On release Morrowind was praised for its vision and fully 3D world. Time has not been so kind. Its once vaunted graphics are now showing their age. Giving Morrowind back its beauty is a major objective for the Skywind team they want to recreate the world with all the bells and whistles we ve become accustomed to in modern games. This is no walk in the park: the team have to rebuild the world from the ground up.
Interpreting the low poly models and textures is one challenge, according to Aeryn James Davies, Skywind s lead artist. [It s] practically impossible without going back to the drawing board and looking at pre-3D concepting by the original team. We went back to the original concepts of Kirkbride and others and reworked it from the earlier stages. The 3D representation of 2D concepts are always limited by the technology of the time. Fourteen years is a big difference in processing power.
The evolution of videogame graphics in the intervening time has given the team the chance to make something really special, building on the ambitions of what came before. The redesign ranges from equipment to landscapes, with a particular focus on ensuring each area of the island has its own distinctive feel.
We felt that each region of the game deserved its own unique set of assets and textures to expand on the exotic nature of the original, says lead landscape designer Giles. As a result, each area looks and feels much different than from before. Any Morrowind purist might be upset by the new changes, but we really wanted to do something different instead of just adding shinier texture work and remodelled objects. There have been countless fans who have commented on videos or screenshots of the game saying it looks and feels exactly as I remember! so I think even with these major changes, the charm and spirit of Morrowind has definitely carried over to this new design.
Azura s coast is just one of the regions undergoing a dramatic change. It was originally sprinkled with menhirs, but the Skywind team have transformed it into a landscape filled with striking basalt formations, quietly betraying Vvardenfell s volcanic roots. An overhaul of this scale could have been a disaster, but it s handled with care by the team changing the visual identity of the region while staying true to the heart and soul of Morrowind.
The team s ambitions aren t restricted to improving the variety of the landscape, either. They re aiming to make Skywind s graphical quality in its entirety exceed that of Skyrim itself now almost five years old. The team feels able to do this because their focus is solely on the PC. Where Bethesda had to take ageing console tech into account, Skywind s developers are free to concentrate on a single, more powerful platform.
The mod itself remains without a release date the general feeling being that it ll be done when it s done. Still, there s confidence that it will, eventually, be done. In the years since the mod s initial reveal there has been the constant worry that it might end up as vapourware all stylish screenshots and video, but never making it to a final release. It s a consequence of the team s open development. Professional studios only reveal projects after years of work. Skywind has been in the wild since day one. Viewed this way, their progress in the last four years has been remarkable from a group of volunteers.
The project inches ever onwards, getting closer to its release, but there is still plenty of work to be done and new volunteers are always welcome. The team have a lot riding on this a lot of people to please but each and every one is convinced they will deliver what they have promised. They probably won t have to resort to using magic to get there.
By Edward Bals.
The good folks at The Elder Scrolls Renewal Project have released a new Skywind trailer that shows off some of the latest work that's gone into bringing the great Elder Scrolls RPG Morrowind into the great Elder Scrolls engine Skyrim.
Everything shown is but a small fraction of work done on Skywind over the last few months, the YouTube description states, noting that the video is taken from a private developer alpha and, as such, is subject to change. Music, voice acting, sound effects, quest implementation, bug fixes, etc. couldn't be shown properly in this video, but are being developed alongside the visual progress.
It's a gorgeous trailer, and the prospect of playing a version of Morrowind that doesn't look like it was hot stuff 14 years ago is powerfully appealing. But I can't let it go without leveling some sort of complaint, and in this case it's the music: Nice enough as a generic RPG tune, but it's really got more of an Oblivion vibe than Morrowind. Other selections from the soundtrack are definitely more on-the-money, though: You can listen to bits and pieces courtesy of Soundcloud.
There's still no word on when Skywind will be ready for release, but you can follow along with the development (and join in if you're so inclined) at tesrenewal.com, and read our recent feature on the modders who keep recreating Morrowind right here.
For millions of players, Morrowind was their introduction to the world of The Elder Scrolls, but even Elder Scrolls veterans who cut their teeth on Arena and Daggerfall left Morrowind with an impression that lasted. For some of those players, Morrowind made such an impression that they never wanted to leave at all. Those fans have spent the past years painstakingly updating Morrowind, brick by brick, texture by texture, into Bethesda s more modern engines.
Even returning to Morrowind 14 years later, it s easy to see why. Morrowind's island setting of Vvardenfell offsets a few standard fantasy clich s a villain who lairs in a wasteland of volcanic ash and dwarven ruins full of monsters but also more visionary ideas. There's a prison inside a moon floating over a city built on a lake, a transport network of giant fleas controlled by riders who directly manipulate their steeds' nervous systems, and a settlement where most of the buildings are the hollowed-out shells of gigantic dead creatures. Vvardenfell is a memorable place, more outlandish than anything seen in the Elder Scrolls games that preceded or followed it.
Morrowind was also the first Elder Scrolls game to come with a Creation Kit, a gift from Bethesda that gave players the opportunity to alter that world and make it their own. The best mods tended to leave the setting be and instead tinker with the clunky RPG mechanics it was filtered through, changing the way leveling works and the rate skills improve and so on.
Bethesda would continue experimenting with those mechanics in later games, alongside making technical improvements like the obvious graphical ones as well as the additon of full voice acting and tweaks to the animations (it took until Skyrim for people to be able to move their legs the right way when running diagonally). Since both Oblivion and Skyrim came with their own Creation Kits, they were just as moddable as Morrowind. While many of Morrowind's mods anticipated future improvements, the most ambitious mods for Oblivion and Skyrim are those that look back, inserting the entirety of Morrowind's setting and story into the newer games. They're called Morroblivion and Skywind, and each is a massive undertaking that has required teams of modders and years of volunteer work.
A modder who posts on the forums at as Brainslasher points me to a thread that breaks down the timeline. It began with a modder named Galadrielle whose dream was to remake Vvardenfell in Oblivion, but with a new story that would occur during the same time period. Later modders re-imagined Morroblivion as a straight re-telling of the original, unwilling to alter the game they loved beyond some visual and mechanical improvements. As Brainslasher puts it, they were motivated by love for this game and its crazy world with its weird architecture and creatures, the hostile world that you as a player are thrown into without knowing anything about it.
(Someone suggests their next project right there in that history thread: Now let's do it all again with Morroskyrim! )
That crazy world is something that gets brought up again and again in my conversations with people who worked on these overhauls. They talk about its dwarves going beyond beery miner stereotypes to become a culture of Babylonian steampunk objectivists, or Hlormar Wine-Sot, the drunken barbarian who enlists your help in getting his clothes back from a witch. One of them namechecks The Lusty Argonian Maid, a book of in-setting erotic fiction. It s not every RPG that goes so far as to have its own saucy novels, but that level of commitment to detailing every part of the setting is what inspired similar commitment in its fans.
Morroblivion can be played , but Skywind is still in development, and has been for four years. Will Jordan, who posts to The Elder Scrolls Renewal Project forum as Smitehammer, has been there for two and a half of those years, joining just as Skywind changed scope from simply porting the old game into a new engine to what he calls a full re-imagining of Morrowind . That means creating a lot of new designs from scratch, guided by the concept art, rather than simply inserting objects from Morrowind and cranking the textures up. It also means creating new quests to fill in gaps and adding new dialogue so that NPCs can chat to each other rather than just the player.
Jordan is both a writer and one of the team leads in the voice acting department alongside Taerkalith, aka Benjamin Iredale, who has been working on Skywind for almost as long, hopping from job to job. I've done a bit of West Gash landscaping, creating the initial river design through the canyons, worked on spells such as Silence and Icarian Flight, and helped jumpstart the music and SFX departments which had slowed down about a year ago, Iredale says. They're now some of our healthiest departments. Also a bit of quest fixing and dialogue implementation, but that overlaps closely with my department so it comes with the territory of voice acting.
Coordinating voice actors is a big job, since Morrowind was very heavy on the text and only a handful of NPC greetings (and one god) were voiced. Early on it entailed acquiring all the text data for the scripts and coming up with a method of identifying appropriate lines by NPC and creating scripts, says Iredale. Now I'm doing implementation of the voicetypes/voicefiles which entails working in the Creation Kit along with third-party supporting applications.
Jordan actually started as one of the actors, inspired by the performer whose greeting is the first you hear in the game. Jeff Baker came up with which few people on the team could match. I learned rudimentary sound editing and recording techniques to improve my audio quality, and began coaching others on how to improve their own sound quality and acting forming ideas on how each race should sound for some internal consistency.
Michael Pewtress, aka SFX team lead Corpus X, is a more recent addition to the team. He's been part of what he calls the Skywind universe for just over seven months, though he'd been following the project for a couple of years before that. When I came in for a visit last September it felt like nothing was happening and I thought I could offer my help to get it going, he said. When I joined I was just an SFX contributor, but the team lead at the time left the project about a month or two into my tenure so we ran team leadless until I took over in December. It's a lot of work for volunteer pay, but I really enjoy the community and almost everyone laughs or plays along with my jokes so I think I'll be staying.
Very few of Skywind's modders worked on Morroblivion and some of them, like Pewtress, have never worked on a game before at all. This has been a fun learning experience, he says. Iredale, on the other hand, worked on personal mods before stepping up to join Skywind. Given how long it's been and the still unfinished state of Skywind though some of the screenshots they've shown and the videos make their achievements so far look very impressive I ask if there s some worry that a new Elder Scrolls game will come out before Skywind does.
Iredale isn't bothered, saying, There is a good chance we'll release before the next Elder Scrolls game if they keep to their typical timetable. Even if we released shortly afterward, I think people would still want to play it, as the graphics and gameplay are still faring decently with the assets we've been creating.
Pewtress notes that Skyrim is still plenty popular, even though it's now almost five years old. I'd say we have a least four years before something is released and I want my SFX guys done [with] our job in six months, he says with enthusiasm. Sound Effects Division Rules!
When a new Elder Scrolls game comes out, whether it's set in Valenwood, Hammerfell, Black Marsh or any of the other provinces of Tamriel, it's possible that Morrowind will find itself being recreated by modders yet again in place of the new location. Porting Skywind into Valenwind, Hammerwind, Blackwind, etc. would require a lot of additional asset creation and complicated data wrangling, says Iredale. There's a good chance it may be done, but I don't think the current team largely is interested in doing that.
According to Mewtress, As long as there's a Creation Kit in a new Elder Scrolls game, it'll be used to make Vvardenfell again. He compares their slightly unhinged dedication to the Star Trek fans making fan films. They're even getting sued by Paramount and that's not stopping them!
Jordan agrees. One interesting thing about Skywind is that nearly all the assets are our own. The animation skeletons are taken from Skyrim or modified from Skyrim's, but nearly all the textures, models, and a great deal of the sound effects and music are to be completely fan-made. This means if another Elder Scrolls game comes out using an updated engine, it would be fairly easy (and legal) to port over anything we've made. We're thinking long-haul for this project, laying the groundwork for not only the project in its current form, but planning for its future development. If we do the grunt work now, future TES modders will be able to focus on refining and embellishing without having to remake an entire game from scratch again.
So what is it about Morrowind in particular that makes it worth rebuilding at least twice, if not more? Morrowind, for me, was the first video game that truly realized a D&D world in three dimensions, says Iredale. The bizarre and complicated lore and religious-political hierarchies made it a world you wanted to know more and more about.
Developers like Michael Kirkbride went out if their way to make the world seem as alien as possible, while keeping suspense of disbelief possible, says Jordan. The world has all these fantastic creatures and strange architecture, but none of it looks out of place. For him, an important moment came when he noticed relationships between the different stages in the lifecycle of the humble Kwama, which he calls quadrupedal insecty things that are raised like cattle-chickens by the Dunmer for their eggs.
Their adult forms, the Kwama Foragers, Workers, and Warriors, are encountered frequently by players, and inside the tunnels where they nest you can meet their Queens. But they also have a larval form, called Scribs, which you'll spot both in the wilderness and depicted on the signs that guide you to Vvardenfell's taverns (you can see one outside the South Wall Cornerclub in Balmora, for instance). Their eggs and cuttle turn up as items, and they're mentioned in passing in dreams and conversations, just enough pieces to let your mind puzzle it all together in a way that makes sense.
It's this sense of interconnectedness, from the lowly Kwama and their eggs all the way up to the legends of ascended gods Vivec, Almalexia, and Sotha Sil that makes Morrowind special. The individual pieces fit together like they would in a real culture, and the longer you spend inside the game, the more of those pieces assemble into something greater.
The Skywind team are doing impressive work on making Morrowind look and sound better, while also helping it become a little less frustrating to play thanks to Skyrim's mechanical improvements, all to allow the Morrowind we built up inside our heads as we first played it to live again. To some degree, though, no matter which game's variety of combat and leveling are applied to it, no matter which level of fidelity it's polished to, that version that will always live inside our imaginations.
When Skyrim came out I played it on a pretty sweet rig, running it on its highest settings and eventually adding high-res mods so I could see every twist in every peasant s rope belt. Now I m going back to it on a laptop with an Intel HD 4000 graphics card that struggles to run it on low, dropping below 30 fps whenever a fight breaks out or I absorb a dragon soul in that swooshy display of lights and effects. Fortunately, there are mods for this situation too.
The Shadow Remover mod takes the blocky shadows that distractingly flicker over everyone s faces on low settings and gets rid of them entirely, which gives an immediate performance boost. We can do better though, and with the Ultra Low Graphics mod suddenly I m getting between 50 and 60 fps, even if the world now looks like abstract art and some of the faces are a bit freaky. Everything s smooth and plastic, like action figure accessories. It s fascinating to see a familiar setting warped like this though, and I m enjoying seeing twisted versions of sights that had become commonplace.
It s all thanks to Alex, aka The LowSpecGamer, a YouTuber who makes video tutorials to help people get high-end (ish) games running on low-end PCs. I remember struggling to get games running as a kid on the cheap computer my working class parents could afford, but LowSpecGamer goes above and beyond, demonstrating how to edit .ini files and mess around with mods as well as showing which in-game settings give the biggest boost.
Though he lives in Barcelona now, The LowSpecGamer (as he likes to be called) was born in Venezuela and grew up unable to afford the newest hardware. For him, learning to push games below their minimum settings was the only way to play them. There s always this narrative about PC gaming being about trying to get the best out of the game, trying to get the best graphics and so on, he says. That s the main narrative in gaming culture. That didn t really fit with what I was doing or how I felt and I thought I was the only one.
Obviously he isn t, as the thousands of views on his videos show. In those videos he passes on some of the expertise he s picked up from several years of modifying files and changing priority settings to lowspec games as diverse as BioShock Infinite, Life Is Strange, and Goat Simulator. Even if you re not interested in following his advice, it s fascinating to see him surgically altering the guts of games.
It takes a lot of effort to make these videos, with plenty of time consumed in testing tweaks for games made using the same engine to see if they carry across and trawling forums to check out what enterprising players have already done. I have to try everything because it s very often that I will find a Steam discussion where someone will tell me some magical procedure to increase performance of a game and then I will try it and it will actually make it worse, he explains. I do have to extensively test everything.
Some games are more resistant to this process than others. For the three videos he s made about Metal Gear Solid 5 he did a lot of research in the mod community, eventually hitting gold in a thread on NeoGAF where modders were trying to decrypt its configuration files. I don t know, 40, 50 pages into it some guy started figuring out how to do an ultra high graphics mod and he explained his steps for his research. I saw the files he was tweaking and I thought to myself, Wait, I could use this exact procedure but instead of making things higher I could make them lower. Which is exactly what I did.
One of his most popular videos is about The Witcher 3, with over 500,000 views. Following its advice I installed the Hunter s Config mod and disabled various options, then went into the game s user.settings file and edited it to remove even more effects and drop the resolution below the minimum available in the options menu, all the way down to 800x600.
My PC with an i7 processor and 8GB of RAM but a not-so-hot Radeon 7600 graphics card can normally only run The Witcher 3 at about 15 fps. Now it s jumped up to the high 20s, sometimes nosing up to 32, though it looks like it was released around the same time as Oblivion. Foliage springs into existence as I ride past it, Geralt s shadow is only visible at certain angles and only from the knees up, and most of the surfaces look a bit like they ve been coated in milk.
Some of the commenters on LowSpecGamer videos are strangely angered by the idea people are happy to play games this way.
I don t mind because I remember playing games on my parents old 486 in a tiny window in the corner of the screen, but some of the commenters on LowSpecGamer videos are strangely angered by the idea people are happy to play games this way. They say things like don t buy the game at all if you can t run it and claim that it totally ruins the experience . There s an odd defensiveness, as if they re seeing a mural of Jesus permanently muddled by inept restoration rather than someone turning down textures because they can only afford a mediocre laptop.
I remember one guy commenting, I don t see the point of this, you can get a good computer for X amount of dollars at your local store and put it together so I don t see the point of your channel. I was about to answer him when one person responded, The world doesn t end at your doorstep. It s a good point. What the LowSpecGamer demonstrates is ingenuity that comes from necessity, and it should inspire our respect rather than contempt. It s easy to think that it s easy to get a good computer when you live in a developed country. As I know because of the country I was born in, that is not the case for a lot of people, and judging by the analytics of the channel a lot of people from many countries around the world enjoy or feel represented by this.
Not every game has cracked open and revealed its secrets under his pressure, however. He maintains a list of what he calls the doomed games," and they include a couple of obvious suspects. Batman: Arkham Knight seems to particularly frustrate him. To this day I keep regularly re-downloading the game and trying stuff. I haven t given up yet but it s amazing how it ignores the configuration files for so many things. Even the way the configuration files are set up is messy. The problems with Arkham Knight aren t only superficial, they are very evident everywhere. Then you have games like Assassin s Creed: Unity, which is one I particularly dislike because even when getting into the configuration screen of the game, trying to switch things into low, when you check back into the configuration file it will barely change.
There are a couple of games on that list for better reasons though, ones that don t obfuscate their configuration and instead make it so easy to alter them that there s nothing left for him to do. Games like Saints Row IV and Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor are good examples, as both can be changed so dramatically in their own options menu there s no need to push them any further.
And while some players aren t impressed by what he does to their favorite games, the developers don t seem nearly as precious. Recently the team behind Oddworld: New n Tasty!, the remake of Abe s Oddysee, reached out to him personally to offer some advice on how to lowspec their game. To have a developer—especially of that game, I really loved the original Abe s Odyssee—to have the developer help me tweak around the remake to make the video, it makes me extremely happy.
The team responsible for Skywind, a full conversion mod for Skyrim which recreates the third instalment in the Elder Scrolls series, is still plugging away. While the team at the Elder Scrolls Renewal Project released a short video in February showing off some of the game's landscapes, the video embedded below is a progress report outlining most of the work done since last year's diary.
While the game has been in development for over four years, the volunteer-operated project still needs help with textures, models and more. They've also recruited over 100 different voice actors to lend words to Morrowind's colourful assortment of NPCs. Details on how to contribute to the project can be found on the official ES Renewal Project website.
Here's the video:
Remember when buying a game didn't feel like a guarantee of seeing the ending? There are still hard games out there, Dark Souls flying the flag most recently, but increasingly, the challenge has dripped out or at least softened, often leading to sadly wasted opportunities. What would Skyrim be like, for instance, if its ice and snow wasn't simply cosmetic, but actually punished you for going mountain climbing in your underpants?
With a quick mod—Frostfall in this case—you're forced to dress up warm before facing the elements, and things become much more interesting. That's just one example, and over the next couple of pages you'll find plenty more. These aren't mods that just do something cheap like double your enemy's hit-points, they're full rebalances and total conversions. Face their challenge, and they'll reward you with both a whole new experience and the satisfaction of going above and beyond the call of duty.
Game: Kerbal Space Program
Link: Kerbal forums
Kerbal Space Program is not an easy game to begin with, and the addition of any extra manageable parameters adds only more complexity to the brilliant flying sim. The realism overhaul wasn t intended to create a punishing experience, it merely brings a few things in the game in-line with the real world. Solar panels are lighter, for example, but produce far less power. Cockpits and components that weigh the same as their real world counterparts, and engine propellants are more accurately simulated. The fact that all these changes make the game seem new and incredibly hard? Well, that s rocket science for you. It s also a great baseline for other mods, like the punishing Deadly Reentry mod.
Game: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Frostfall stands out among survival mods for complementing the open-world game underneath and not just demanding you stare at a temperature gauge and eat a deer every few minutes. Skyrim s blizzards will kill you. Nighttime will kill you. The water will kill you faster than you can say, Rose, make room on the bloody raft! Big deal, right? All survival games do that. Frostfall alters how you understand the world, forcing you to find crossing points, plan your excursions and select gear based on more than its stab resistance. Simple quests become scenes from The Revenant. In the unlikely event Frostfall doesn t make a human-sized ice lolly out of you, you ll feel like a true Nord.
Game: The Witcher 3
Zombie outbreaks are easy to handle if you catch them early, as you ll find out if you install Infection Mode for The Witcher 3. The mod summons a Devourer, who you can kill immediately if you choose. If the Devourer attacks a villager, they become a Devourer too. Anyone they attack will join the Devourer legion, even children. The results are quickly horrifying. Go for a walk for a short while and return to the region for an enormous fight, or let one loose in Novigrad and watch the nightmare spread.
Game: Dying Light
Day is night and night is day for Dying Light s breed of zombies. In sunlight they plod around in small circles, not really paying attention. By night they suddenly become a lot more frisky. The circadian difficulty loop is a key part of the game, giving you the chance to scavenge during daylight hours and hold up at night in your favourite safehouse. I Am Legion disrupts all that. Zombies are more lively by day, and there are more of them, while a reduction in bandit numbers means choked access to vital resources like bullets and weapons. More than this, the mod transforms the tone of the game. Suddenly it feels like a true fight for survival.
Game: Alien: Isolation
The motion tracker is your best friend aboard the Sevastopol. Guns immediately draw the attention of the bullet-proof monster, so until you get a flamethrower, there s very little standing between you and brutal slaughter. The motion tracker is a little green beacon of light in a world of shadows and fangs, which only makes it crueller when this mod snatches that away from you. With a broken tracker you're forced to rely on your senses—headphones are recommended—if you want to make it to the next room alive. If you eventually get the hang of that, consider installing Unpredictable Alien at the same time, which tweaks the frequency at which the Alien chooses to roam in different areas.
Game: Stalker: Call of Pripyat
All those weapons scattered around? Gone. Anomalies? Now more dangerous. Magic mini-map? Forget it. Valuable quest rewards? Good luck. Things you do get: thirsty, and factions who send goons after you if you anger them. On the plus side Pripyat is much more active, with a complete sound overhaul, and new NPCs to meet—who all have to play by the rules too, with no more infinite ammo. If you can survive here, you've got a good chance when the actual apocalypse comes.
Fallout: New Vegas
Link: Nexus Mods
Nevada is a good example of making things more difficult without being openly psychotic. Levelling is slower, players and NPCs get less health, and obvious features are now in, such as armour only being a factor in headshots if the target actually has head protection. It's also possible to toggle some extra-hardcore options, such as food no longer healing and taking care of hunger/thirst/ sleep on the move. There's a sack of new content, and an Extra Options mod is also available, offering even more control.
Despite what modern 'old-school' shooters would have you think, Doom was a relatively sedate experience—fast running speed, yes, but lots of skulking in the dark and going slow. Not any more! Brutal Doom cranks everything up to 11, then yawns and goes right for 25.6. We're talking extra shrapnel, execution attacks, tougher and faster monsters, metal music, and blood, blood, blood as far as your exploding eyes can see. It's compatible with just about any level you can throw at it, turning even E1M1 into charnel house devastation. The enemies don't get it all their own way, as Doomguy now starts with an assault rifle rather than simply a pistol, and a whole arsenal of new guns has been added to the Doom collection—including the BFG's big brother.
Game: The Witcher 2
This streamlines the combat and makes the action closer to how Geralt's adventure might have played out in the books. He's more responsive, can automatically parry incoming attacks, begins with his Witcher skills unlocked, and no longer has to spend most fights rolling around like a circus acrobat. But he's in a tougher world, with monsters now figuring out counterattacks much faster, enemies balanced based on equipment rather than levels, and experience only gained from quests, not combat. Be warned this is a 1.5GB file, not the megabyte Hotfix that's claimed.
Elder Scrolls games get ever more streamlined, and further from the classic RPG experience. Requiem drags Skyrim back, kicking and screaming. The world is no longer levelled for your convenience. Bandits deliver one-hit kills from the start. The undead mock arrows, quietly pointing out their lack of internal organs with a quick bonk to your head. Gods hold back their favour from those who displease them. Most importantly, stamina is now practically a curse. Heavy armour and no training can drain it even if you're standing still, and running out in battle is Very Bad News. Combine this with Frostfall, and Skyrim finally becomes the cold, unforgiving place it claims to be.
Total War: Shogun 2
Not only is this one of the most comprehensive mods any Total War game has ever seen, its modular nature makes it easy to pick and choose the changes that work best for the experience you want. Together, the campaign AI is reworked, as are the skills and experience systems, diplomacy and technology trees. There are over 100 new units. Campaigns are also longer, providing more time to play with all this, with easier access to the good stuff early on in the name of variety. There's even a sound module that adds oomph to rifles. Add everything, or only the bits you want. It's as much of a tactical decision as anything else on the road to conquering Japan.
Game: Crusader Kings II
Real history doesn't have enough bite for you? Recast the whole thing with Starks, Lannisters, Freys and the rest and it will. This doesn't simply swap a few names around, but works with the engine to recreate specific scenarios in the war for the Iron Throne. Individual characters' traits are pushed into the foreground, especially when duels break out. Wildlings care little about who your daddy was. It's best to know a fair amount about the world before jumping in, and the scenarios themselves contain spoilers, but you're absolutely not restricted to just following the story laid down in the books.
Game: Grand Theft Auto IV
Guess what this one does. A bowling league for Roman? Cars that drive themselves? A character who appears to tell Niko You have $30,000 in your pocket, you don't need to goon for assholes after Act 2? No, of course not. These guns put a little reality back into the cartoon that is GTA. The missions weren't written with that in mind, obviously, but there's nothing stopping you from giving it a shot. Worst case: murdering random civilians on the street is much quicker, easier and more satisfying. At least until the cops show up to spoil the fun. Range, accuracy, damage, ammo and fire rate are all covered, though be warned that you shouldn't expect perfect accuracy from your upgraded hardware. This is GTA after all. Realism is not baked into its combat engine.
Game: XCOM: Enemy Unknown
You're looking at eight soldier classes, many more missions, invaders as focused on upgrades as your own science team, and a much longer path to victory. Research is slow, not least to make early weapon upgrades more useful, while the aliens are constantly getting more powerful. Their ships are better, their terror missions are more regular, and more of them show up for battle. In exchange, you get to field more Interceptors, the council is easier to appease, and the ETs don't cheat as much.
Game: Far Cry 3
Ziggy makes Rook Island a more natural place, removing mission requirements for skills, cutting some of the easier ways to earn XP, increasing spawn rates to make the island busier, and throwing away the magic mini-map in favour of a compass. The second island is also unlocked from the start. Smaller changes include randomised ammo from dropped weapons, being able to climb hills that you should realistically be able to, and wingsuit abilities made available earlier to get more out of them.
Minecraft has a Survival mode, but it's not desperately challenging. Terrafirmacraft takes it seriously, with hunger and thirst that must be dealt with at all times, and key elements added such as the need to construct support beams while mining to prevent cave-ins, and a seasonal cycle that determines whether or not trees will produce fruit. Many more features are to be added, but there's enough here already to make survival about much more than throwing together a Creeper-proof fort.
Game: Torchlight II
Link: Synergies Mod
This adds a new act to the game, over a hundred monsters, new rare bosses, a new class—the Necromancer—more and tougher monsters and the gear to take them on. There are also endgame raids to add challenge once the world is saved yet again, and more on the way—including two new classes (Paladin and Warlock). It's the top-ranked Torchlight II mod on Steam Workshop, and easily the most popular. Be aware that it's still in development, and has a few rough edges.
Game: Civilization V
Link: Steam Workshop
While Brave New World has officially given Civ V a big shake up, for many players Nights remains its most popular add-on. It's a comprehensive upgrade, adding new buildings, wonders, technologies and units, with a heavy focus on policies and making the AI better. The single biggest change is how it calculates happiness, citizens adding cheer simply by existing, but the slow march of war and other miseries detracting from the good times. Annexed a city? Don't expect too many ticker-tape parades. Yet keeping happiness up is crucial, as it's also the core of a strong military. This rebalancing completely changes how you play, while the other additions offer plenty of scope for new tactics and even more carefully designed civilisations.
Link: TTLG Forums
This makes Dishonored's enemies more attentive, faster and able to hear a pin drop from the other side of the map. When you get into a fight, it quickly becomes an all-out street war. The biggest change is to Dishonored's second most abusable ability: the Lean (Blink of course being #1). Corvo can no longer sit behind scenery, lean out into an enemy's face and be politely ignored. He's now much more likely to be spotted—especially in ghost runs, where his advantages are now limited to the Outsider's gifts rather than the Overseers' continued lack of a local Specsavers.
Game: Deus Ex
New augmentations! Altered AI! Randomised inventories! Also a few time-savers: instead of separate keys and multitools for instance, a special keyring has both, while upgrades are used automatically if necessary. Difficulty also changes the balance considerably, from the standard game to 'Realistic' mode where you only get nine inventory slots, to 'Unrealistic', which makes JC Denton the cyborg killing machine he's meant to be, but at the cost of facing opponents who warrant it. In this mode he gets double-jumping powers, and automatically gobbles health items when he gets badly wounded. Good luck though, I still got nowhere.