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The Cream of the Crop: A 2011 Look at the Best Mods for Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

by: Sorenson ; edited by: Aaron R. ; updated: 4/18/2012 • Leave a comment

Sturgeon's Revelation dictates that about 90% of anything will be crud, and Oblivion mods are quite a testimony to its truth. Preserve your sanity and go straight for the good stuff with this guide to some of the best mods available for this popular RPG.

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    Get Your Mod On

    The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion is one of the most detailed and ambitious RPGs in the history of gaming and is often held as a model for other sandbox RPGs to observe. However, Oblivion's success is not entirely by its own merits. While Oblivion is certainly a fine game on its own, the enormous variety of mods that have been developed since its release have contributed greatly to the title's popularity. Even if the majority of mods are tripe, the few that do present quality content make slogging through the chaff well worth the effort, and many lists of essential Elder Scrolls: Oblivion mods have emerged over the years. Whether you're a new player or an old hand trying to remember which mods were worth playing, the following list of mods will enhance any Oblivion player's experience.

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    Mods for Graphics and Beauty

    Beautiful People: We laugh, scoff and mock, but deep down inside all of us is a little elf woman with the most FABULOUS hair. Game graphics quality has skyrocketed over the last several years as developers push for more pixels and better models, and many mods have emerged to follow this trend. Some focus on the more technical side of graphics, while others try to improve the more aesthetic side of Oblivion's design. No matter your interest, you would be well advised to investigate the following Oblivion mods.

    • Beautiful People: Oblivion has a bit of a reputation of containing and creating some of the least pleasant characters to look at, and many mods have emerged to try and rectify this issue. Beautiful People tackles this issue by introducing a great variety of new hairstyles and eye options that greatly enhance the aesthetic appearance of any player character that takes advantage of these new additions. Beautiful People may sound rather vain, but you'll be surprised at the effect this little mod will have when you have it up and running yourself.
    • DarkUI'd Darn: While Oblivion is commendable in terms of content, its user interface is far from friendly, and thus has been the target of many a mod to try and make the UI more friendly to the eye. Though many focus on shrinking icons and text, DarkUI'd Darn combines the UI streamlining of Darnified UI with the soothing color palette of Dark UI, shifting to a soft red and gold combination that is both pleasing to look at and extremely accommodating to those with sensitive vision. If you're the type that favors high contrast black and likes to surf and play during the night, DarkUI'd Darn is a mod you can't afford to pass on.
    • Illumination Within and Without: Though many buildings in Oblivion contain candles, torches and lights, building exterior always appear the same regardless of the circumstances. This handy little set of mods will light up exterior windows and darken interior windows during the night, properly emulating light conditions and giving exteriors and interiors a more natural feeling. Like many Oblivion mods, while this sounds rather minor, the effect is substantial once you're actually experiencing it.
    • Natural Environments: A series of mods that focus on environmental changes, Natural Environments addresses issues with water, weather and vegetation, overhauling their appearance to create a more natural yet detailed feeling when out in the wilderness. For any player who loves long romps through the wilds in search of treasure, this is one mod to check out.
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    Gameplay Mods

    Companion Share & Recruit: You, too, can now have your very own Princess Patricia brigade at your beck and call! Perhaps the most populous of all the different types of mods, gameplay mods come in a variety of forms and functions, ranging from simple tweaks to all-out overhauls.

    • Alternative Start: While the initial tutorial for Oblivion is certainly useful for explaining the base game mechanics, it quickly becomes a pain on subsequent playthroughs unless you remembered to make a dedicated save before the end of the tutorial. One of the first and most popular Oblivion mods, Alternative Start allows you to quickly customize your character and adjust your starting loadout, and even manages to do so in a format completely friendly to the role-playing crowd.
    • Better Enchanting & Spellmaking: Though a bit neutered compared to its form in Morrowind, enchanting in Oblivion is still nevertheless quite useful. Unfortunately, the long quest chain that must be completed to access enchanting can sully the experience, but Better Enchanting & Spellmaking easily sidesteps this predicament by placing alters of spellmaking and enchanting in all chapels throughout Cyrodil. For convenience and getting straight to the good bits, this is one mod any spell-slinging player will want to pick up.
    • Companion Share & Recruit: Tired of leading a solitary existence? Companion Share & Recruit is an amazing little mod that allows you to recruit most NPCs to your service and create the rag-tag band of misfits you've always longed for. Inventory and spell controls allow you to custom-fit your band's equipment and magic settings, and routing controls allow you to form companions into individual bands that can be dispatched to select locations at a moment's notice. Whether you need an extra sword or a pack mule, CSR is one mod that will fulfill all your partying needs.
    • Deadly Reflex: Combat in Oblivion is certainly a cut above that of Morrowind, but for some people the improvements simply aren't enough. Enter Deadly Reflex: making major changes to combat rules and AI behavior, Deadly Reflex heightens combat by increasing player interactivity and allows you to destroy your opponent in various ways, including incineration, freezing and shattering, decapitation, bisection and throat-cutting. There's simply no question about it: if you're looking for a mod with real impact, look no further than Deadly Reflex.
    • Toaster's Brutal Stealth: Big ideas can come in small packages, and Toaster's Brutal Stealth is just one example of how a good mod doesn't have to be a monster with tendrils in every department. With a bit of script work, Toaster's Brutal Stealth allows you to inflict sneak damage with two-handed weapons, which normally only inflict normal damage even when sneaking. Sneak softly and carry a big stick when you activate this wonderful little mod.
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    Swag Mods

    Natural Environments: Monty hauls are nice and all, but sometimes the best reward after a dungeon crawl is the beautiful sight of the surface. No matter where you go, no matter how you think, it eventually always comes down to a matter of just how much stuff you've got, and the following Elder Scrolls: Oblivion mods are no exception. Weapons, armor, items - these mods will give you more stuff than you or George Carlin could possibly know what to do with. Remember to grab some mods for houses so you have more space to store all that stuff!

    • Capes and Cloaks: Clothes are one of the contenders jockeying for second place in the "most popular mod category" contest, and Capes and Cloaks is a front runner in that particular race. Providing capes and cloaks in a variety of sizes and color palettes, Capes and Cloaks is an essential mod for the fashion-conscious player.
    • Clocks of Cyrodil: Though you yourself can't directly own the clocks, Clocks of Cyrodil is a mod that is a great addition for those looking to add a bit more flavor to the world. Each city gains clock towers, clock stands and wall clocks, all of which allow you to tell the exact time with but a quick glance instead of ducking into menus. You'll be surprised how much of a change this mod will make despite its modest intent.
    • Enchanted Gems: Taking enchantment in a new direction, Enchanted Gems is an interesting little mod that can imbue your weapons and clothes with a new variety of enchantments. Weapons enchanted through this mod deal less damage per attack, but will automatically recharge on strike; armor and clothes, meanwhile, gain special enchantments like immunity to poison, paralysis and other elements or increases to attributes. If you're sick of precious gems being vendor fodder, this mod is definitely for you.
    • Knightly Armory: The style might be old and cliche as all get, but classical fantasy armor can be an old comfort amongst some of the newfangled flashy and glitzy designs features in so many mods these days. Full plate, chain and winged helmets are just a few of the goodies this mod adds to the mix.
    • Realswords: Sometimes, style does matter, and this collection of Oblivion mods will easily please anybody who dislikes the "chunky" design of vanilla weapons. The Realswords series gives each race its own unique style of weapons available from new stores and from bandits and marauders.
    • Unlimited Rings and/or Amulets: Sick of the two-rings rule of magical swag? This mod removes the item slot designation for all regular and magical rings, allowing you to wear as many as you please. Too bad there aren't any Oblivion mods that allow you to fire spells from rings like in Morrowind, otherwise you could get some Mandarin action going.
    • Thieves Arsenal: For those enthralled by stealth and swindling, Thieves Arsenal is an absolutely essential mod. Adding a new shop to the sewers of the Imperial City, Thieves Arsenal includes a variety of useful items based on the well-respected Thief game series, including trick arrows and a blackjack that allows you to rob victims blind with minimal risk. Thieves Arsenal also includes an interesting quest system that generates small quests to retrieve goodies from dungeons across Cyrodil, challenging you to use your stealth abilities and avoid violence at all costs.
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    A Warning About Mega Mods

    DarkUI'd Darn: Nothing witty to say here, this mod is just incredibly nice to have. Mega mods - Elder Scrolls: Oblivion mods with an incredibly wide scope and effect - are often tempting to use as they tend to be some of the most prolific mods available on mod websites. While many mods have tried to attain the status of mega mods, only four have risen to true mega mod status. Francesco's Level Creatures and Items, Oblivion Warcry, Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul and Martigen's Monster Mod add enormous amounts of tweaks and new content to Oblivion, including new quests, factions, armor and weapons, monsters, and countless others. Even more ambitious than these mods is FCOM, a merge mod that seeks to pack all four of these well-known mods into a single package.

    Having played Oblivion numerous times with a variety of different mod loadouts, however, I can say that while the changes these four mods enact are certainly interesting, they are not not necessarily essential or even ideal. This goes doubly so for FCOM, which ups the ante considerably. These Oblivion mods may pack in a lot of features, but they also create quite a few problems:

    • Mod Compatibility: Because each of these mods affects a wide swath of data, they can create serious compatibility issues if you use more than a handful of other mods with them. It is possible to tweak some lesser mods to function with them, but the results are oftentimes not worth the effort, especially if it's a relatively minor mod you want to make compatible.
    • Mod Setup: Installing and optimizing some of these mods can be a tedious and painful process, especially in the case of FCOM. Trying to combine these four mods into a single functional package can take hours upon hours upon hours, and a single mistake at certain points can completely spoil the fruits of your labor.
    • Mod Size: Take note that these mods, especially if used in combination, can take a serious chunk out of your hard drive and memory reserves. Once unpacked and in a use-ready state, the sum total of FCOM comes to more than 3 gigabytes, and loading all that additional data on top of Oblivion's considerable memory resources will cause some serious performance issues if your computer isn't quite up to the task.

    This is not to say that you should avoid these mods like the plague. For some, the effort and the effect of installing these renowned Oblivion mods is well worth the stumbles and the setbacks. Just be aware of what you're getting into with these mods, as the potential frustration they can create can easily spoil your game.

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    Mod-Making Advice and Tips

    Deadly Reflex: Even when bugs rear their ugly heads, some mods still manage to make the experience simply incredible. Installing mods is an excellent way to spice up your Elder Scrolls: Oblivion experience, but nothing quite beats making your own mods. The Elder Scrolls Construction Set allows you to change almost every aspect of Oblivion, and developing your own mods offers an insight into Oblivion's inner workings and lets you target and address issues that other mods have missed for one reason or another.

    Take care when developing mods for Oblivion, however, as it's incredibly easy to get caught up in the excitement of mod-making and lose perspective. Having sifted through countless mods over the years and even developed a few of my own, allow me to offer a few guidelines for your mod development process.

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    How to Avoid COMPLETE Misery and Failure as a Modder

    For every one good Oblivion mod, there are at least 100 that are stupid, pointless, or sickening to the point of making you question your faith in humanity. One stroll through your typical Oblivion mod site - or even just the mere thought of the Elder Scrolls Nexus - more than demonstrates the countless ways that modders can go wrong in their modding efforts. Follow these rules to make the most out of your modding work.

    • One Subject for One Mod, One Mod for One Subject: Design your mod around one subject and stick to it at all costs. Mega-mods are interesting, but many users are more interested in addressing single issues when looking for Oblivion mods, and keeping your mods focused in their scope will increase the odds of someone downloading your mod. This isn't to say that your mods can't be deep in nature: a mod that's thorough but straight to the point will draw far more users than a mod that's all over the field.
    • Minimalism is an Artform: When making a mod, ensure that the changes made to game settings are applied only to files that must be changed to affect the change. Even the slight act of looking at other entries can sometimes mark them as changed, and changed files run the risk of conflicting with other mods that make substantial changes to those particular files. You can delete file changes in the mod details menu, accessed through the file loading menu.
    • Self-Sufficiency is a Virtue: Avoid building your mod in a way that depends upon other mods for support unless this dependency is absolutly, positively necessary. Unless your mod is absolutely stellar, very few people will want to download several more mods that they might not even want for the sake of allowing one to run properly.
    • Ugh, ANOTHER God/McMansion/Female Companion Mod?: Certain mod genres are overflowing with submissions, and certain mod genres also tend to be magnets for low-quality content that 99.9% of users will zip right past. Weapons and armor with absurdly-powerful attributes are a dime a dozen and easy enough to make that most users would rather just do it themselves; houses, mansions and castles, unless they fill a particular gap in the housing field like the Imperial City Talos Plaza House, tend to scream "LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT MY HUGE HOUSE!" above anything else; and Bethesda game mods have already been sullied enough by female "companions" without yet another modder getting in on the act. The last thing you need is that particular bit of stigma rubbing off on you.
    • Appearance is Everything: A professional presentation is essential for creating successful Oblivion mods. Provide plenty of images (if applicable) to demonstrate just what your mods do and ensure that your images are informative and to-the-point. A full and thorough description that goes into detail explaining what your mods are capable of will impress viewers and push them further to the download point. Skimping on images and posting minimalist or shoddy descriptions is a sure way to kill mods, as the lack of an image will fail to catch the eyes of users and poorly-written descriptions will repulse readers.
    • Stroke Your Ego Much?: It might seem like a rather small to outright trivial matter, but avoid including your name in the name field for your mod and the name of the file you upload to Oblivion mod sites. Including your name in the name of your mod will say exactly two words to certain readers: "Egotistical Dick."
    • Mind Your Folders: If your mod contains several folders, such as data, texture, model and audio folders, take care when packing your mod in a compressed archive. Assume that whomever downloads your mod will want to extract the archive's contents straight to the base folder and make sure that you only package the essential folders and files to allow for this extraction. Extra folders mean that anyone who wants to extract your mod is going to have to muck around in their particular compression program or file manager program, and the last thing you want is a mod that's such a pain to extract that the user winds up cursing your name. This applies doubly to redundant vanity folders with the name of your mod, as they not only take up pointless space but once again project a very specific image and a very specific term already mentioned.
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    References

    All information in this article is based on the author's first-hand experiences with the mentioned mods.

    All opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author.

    Beautiful People Image Credit: Elder Scrolls Nexus/leeus

    CSR Image Credit: Elder Scrolls Nexus/laharl096

    Natural Environments Image Credit: Elder Scrolls Nexus/MadDiplomat

    DarkUI'd Darn Image Credit: Elder Scrolls Nexus/Gothic251

    Deadly Reflex Image Credit: Author's Own Exploits

    Final Image Credit: Elder Scrolls Nexus/Maigrets

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