Every now and then, a near-perfect modification is made for a game. One that is meant to merely improve the default, vanilla experience via gameplay enhancements and often times engine enhancements and/or artistically consistent visual/audio improvements as well. But for every essentially perfect overhaul mod, there are a hundred flawed ones. In this article, we will highlight examples of overhaul mods that come closest to perfection; mods that are not lightweight in what they change, yet they’re so good that they make it incredibly difficult to find a good reason to play unmodded.
Note that in this article we’re looking at overhaul mods, not just unofficial patches or graphics mods. We are also not focusing on excellent engine source ports since those make minimal gameplay changes relatively speaking, e.g. OpenMW, Arx Libertatis, and ioRTCW.
Quake Combat Plus
Quake Combat Plus (QCP) is the ultimate way to play Quake. The recent remaster of Quake is generally inferior, with the only benefit being the engine’s support for frame rates beyond 60. Quake Combat Plus is an addon for Quake 1.5, which requires the Darkplaces source port (July to August 2017 builds only). It just so happens that Darkplaces has the best graphics quality by far of any version of Quake, enabling fully path traced global illumination even. But the engine does not support frame rates over 60 as the engine only updates 60 times per second at most.
In any case, this means Quake Combat Plus guarantees the best looking (frame rate aside) and, most importantly, the best playing version of Quake. Be sure to play it on Nightmare mode, which this mod finally makes worthwhile. The best feature of Nightmare mode is the new enemy spawns, which really feels like how the game should’ve been all along.
This mod also overhauls the AI and arsenal, tweaking balance and adding features to maximize their potential and balance. The end result is unmistakable – the ultimate version of Quake that elevates it to a new level. Be sure to get the version 5.1 beta linked above, and not version 4 on ModDB. This mod was made by the same creator of several other mods on this list: Unreal Evolution and GMDX, all of which essentially complete the games they were made for and they make it impossible to go back. You will surely miss QCP when playing maps/total conversions that don’t support it.
Unreal Evolution is a fairly recent mod for none other than Unreal Gold, one of the greatest FPS games ever made. It is a significant gameplay overhaul. It requires the OldUnreal 227i unofficial patch, but Unreal Evolution itself fixes bugs in addition. The ModDB page breaks down what it adds to the game: perfectly fitting visual enhancements, perfectly placed and balanced new weapon upgrade modules as well as an under water dash ability, much needed AI enhancements and enemy variations, hugely improved enemy encounters (especially on Hardcore mode), much needed level design improvements without entire layout changes, and more.
The only problem with this mod is how it installs; rather than being in a self-contained UMOD file like other mods, it largely compromises the original game install by editing two or three core files. Unfortunately, this was necessary for some features like Hardcore mode, which is really the way this game should be played. Good thing Unreal can be purchased without any DRM from GOG and probably even the Steam version, making this an inconvenience but not a deal breaker. People who wish to play Unreal’s multiplayer will need to do so on a separate install from their Unreal Evolution install.
Unreal Evolution also adds a Hardcore difficulty mode with limited saving. This mod makes the vanilla game (or vanilla + OldUnreal 227i) seem like a good beta build that’s missing the final touches. I wrote more about the game with this mod here. I also recommend the other mods listed in that article, to further improve Unreal’s graphics quality without destroying the original wonderful art style, as well as improving sound. The end result is the king of a genre and perhaps the closest any game has ever come to perfection.
System Shock 2 Rebalanced Skills and Disciplines + Alarming Cameras + Scary Monsters AI Enhancement
While these are three mods, they are all made by the same person, split up for the sake of compatibility with other mods (i.e. the AI Enhancement mod doesn’t require SCP – the unofficial patch). Rebalanced Skills and Disciplines is a straightforward name, but the end result of the mod is much better balance that closes the gap between skills and disciplines, so that fewer of them are useless or outright inferior. It also significantly improves gameplay progression. These three mods combined make for a significant gameplay overhaul.
Additionally, the rebalance mod reworks the SHODAN boss fight to make it less terrible, and the upcoming version 1.08 (currently in beta which is highly recommended) will expand weapon and armor modding with much needed improvements and additions, taking the gameplay to another level. As with the previous mod listed above, these are changes that only make the game better regardless of personal taste.
SCP Alarming Cameras makes it so that destroying cameras will set off alarms unless the security grid is hacked, and it makes some other improvements to them as well as rebalancing Remote Electron Tampering appropriately.
Last but not least, Scary Monsters AI Enhancement is also self-explanatory; it makes much needed improvements to the AI that makes them far less exploitable and more challenging.
These three mods combine to bring System Shock 2 closer to perfection. I also suggest using the mods listed in this guide which are compatible. The end result is one of the best ever showcases of gameplay design, with the extreme depth of System Shock 2’s gameplay combined with its player agency, difficulty curve, brilliant progression curve, and with this AI mod some of the most effective AI in gaming.
System Shock 2: Enhanced Edition and the VR version are on the horizon, but there are concerns about mod compatibility with it so we’ll have to wait and see how they pan out. The concerns revolve around mods made using NewDark features, since NewDark source code is unobtainable, though Nightdive seems to have implied that they may have reverse engineered it. Time will tell, it would be a dream come true to play the VR version with these mods.
BlueLight is an overhaul mod for SWAT 3: Close Quarters Battle. While it is probably the least substantial mod in this article, being a minor gameplay overhaul, it’s still something that should always be used. It improves sounds, weapon models, and adds a variety of weapons and accessories to the game. It should not be used alone though, as Last Resort mod is vital in getting the game to work properly on modern systems. d3d8to9 is also a must for any DX8 game such as this.
Note that in recent Windows versions (Win10 21H2 and presumably 11), there’s a horrible new bug addressed here. The next version of Last Resort will fix the issue.
GMDX (Version RSD)
This is an all encompassing mod for Deus Ex, it stands for “Give Me Deus Ex” and it is a significant gameplay overhaul and more. You can find it here. Note that GMDX v10 “Community Edition” is made by entirely different people who merely remove many of the improvements from GMDX v9 for some reason, but without those improvements it is simply a lesser experience. Avoid the regressed v10 and play version RSD, which is basically the true v10.
The main GMDX mod is made by the creator of the aforementioned Unreal Evolution mod, while version RSD is made by the person who made the above System Shock 2 mods. These guys understand gameplay design and balance.
GMDX also serves as a mod compilation, including New Vision which in itself includes Deus Exe, and also Project HDTP. Whereas Deus Ex: Revision mod makes controversial, significant changes such as changing the layouts of levels, GMDX is harmless to purists. It includes engine improvement mods that make the game actually run properly on modern systems and adds a DX9/DX10 renderer (DX10 is limited to 100 FPS however and often stuttery, I use DX9). A DX11 renderer can be downloaded separately, but it runs poorly on most systems. The graphics mods included in GMDX do not change the aesthetic, but significantly and undeniably improve quality.
One of the best features about GMDX is how customizable it is, via UI customization and scaling and model selection. GMDX significantly improves skill balance so that no skill is completely useless and they’re all more logical. It also takes the augmentation gameplay to the next level via clever rebalances and additions, fixes bugs, adds a much needed mantling mechanic to better take advantage of the game’s level design (this comes from another integrated mod), fills out the levels with more details without changing the layout, improves physics, adds ammo types, improves AI, improves sound effects, and it adds a Hardcore difficulty mode with limited saving. And much more than this. Like Unreal Evolution, the attention to detail is meticulous and GMDX makes the vanilla game feel like a beta build comparatively.
Version RSD adds a convenient augmentation radial menu, a much needed inventory item rotation mechanic, new playthrough modifiers including an addiction system, further balance refinements, more bugfixes, repair boxes can now repair wearable equipment, and more. This will supposedly become the next version of the mod rather than a fork.
By not using GMDX vRSD, you would be choosing an uglier looking, much worse balanced game (more useless skills, augmentations, weapons/ammo) with dumber AI, more repetitive sounds, and noticeably less attention to detail. Using DSOAL with this game is also a must.
Heroes Unleashed is the definitive way to play Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon; yes the original from 2001. Without this mod, Ghost Recon is a game with cool mechanics but forgettable everything else. With this mod, it better reaches its goal as a truly hardcore tactical shooter, like other games from Red Storm Entertainment (most notably the Rainbow Six games).
Heroes Unleashed is a significant gameplay overhaul; it revamps AI, weapons and related functionality, models, physics, sounds, and includes its own campaign which can be played solo or cooperatively. But you can still play the original campaign and expansion campaigns with the improvements of this mod as well, so it is a win-win. Be sure to get the Steam version of this game, not GOG, since only Steam comes with the expansions which are stronger than the base campaign. Be sure to also use d3d8to9.
One of the biggest benefits of a game being open source is that you end up with mods like RealRTCW. I recommend using the Steam version for easy management of updates via Workshop. Hopefully it ends up as its own install/version on GOG as well.
RealRTCW combines an improved 64-bit engine (ioRTCW) with a new renderer (still OpenGL), dynamic lighting, HDR and other newer rendering features that are seamlessly integrated, perfect texture replacements that are no less artistically consistent than the original but many times better quality, much higher quality models, better sound quality including actual surround sound support, improved recoil system, expanded arsenal, improved AI, improved balance, a new hardcore difficulty mode (Realism), UI improvements, new game+ for those who want it, chapter select, restored content, bonus game modes like co-op, I mean what doesn’t this mod do? Granted it is a minor gameplay overhaul at the end of the day, but a very welcome one.
This mod is so good that some other excellent mods such as Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory Single Player & Co-op have a RealRTCW version. Like every other mod in this article, RealRTCW is as if the game had more time to develop, and in this case as if it came out a few years later with much improved technology. It is also recommended to use OpenAL Soft with this game (use the 64-bit DLL and rename it to OpenAL64.dll), for improved sound spatialization including surround sound support.
Player Resource Consortium
This is the most ambitious and impressive overhaul mod I’ve ever seen for any game, rivaled only by the final mod listed in this article. But first, let’s talk about the game. The goal behind BioWare’s Neverwinter Nights, a 2002 RPG based on Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition, was to provide the ultimate computer role-playing game with multiple campaigns, single player and multiplayer with dungeon master capability, a toolset for creating your own modules (campaigns) and persistent worlds, while providing the most content rich gameplay staying closer to pen and paper than any game before it (and only 4 after it even attempt to compete in this regard).
But despite this, there is a lot of watering down compared to pen and paper content, and even more content that is just missing. So while it seems like an exceptionally content rich video game compared to any other RPG, compared to pen and paper it’s shallow and needlessly rebalanced since it’s not for the better.
Enter Player Resource Consortium mod, whose goal is to add all the missing official (not third party) third edition content to the game, or at least all the official content that is deemed worthy (which is the vast majority of it) and works in Aurora Engine. Most content from most Wizards of the Coast 3rd edition books (and many 3.5e) is integrated! The end result is: well over 200 playable classes including so many concepts other fantasy RPGs don’t have like psionics and other types of magic like Binding, Incarnum, Shadowcasting, and Truenaming, dozens upon dozens more races, countless new feats and spells that provide endless combat and non-combat abilities you’ll never see in any other video game (e.g. scrying, much more capable teleportation, disguising, and much more), more of the skillset from third edition (so now you can jump, climb, and more), Weapons of Legacy, character templates such as fiendish or lich, reserve feats, and so much more. It also comes with a module updater which can install this mod into modules and attempt to resolve conflicts itself.
Neverwinter Nights with PRC mod really spoils you; it makes the gameplay of even the deepest RPGs like Underrail, Pathfinder: Kingmaker and Wrath of the Righteous, Neverwinter Nights 2, The Temple of Elemental Evil, Baldur’s Gate III extremely shallow and one dimensional in comparison. Don’t be afraid of this mod overwhelming you though, the only thing here that might temporarily overwhelm someone is the massive amount of races and classes to choose from, but this much choice is only a good thing.
Now if only the game would go open source, so that its silly limitations can be overcome once and for all. Something that several other games in this article benefit from… or really all closed source games in existence would benefit from.
Rainbow Six 3 AllR6 / Tactical-Gaming Mods
This collection of mods, made by people belonging to one group, bring Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3: Gold into the 21st century. The video above demonstrates it. Rainbow Six 3 is one of the most hardcore tactical shooters ever made with some of the most detailed, unrestrained, and authentic level design in gaming, along with mechanics still rarely seen today such as fluid door opening and fluid posture.
OpenRVS is a much needed unofficial patch and Supply Drops adds lots of new equipment to the game with qualitative improvements equivalent to 10+ years of technological progress. The models of these new weapons are that much improved, and now you get 3D scopes, the ability to use two optics at once or backup canted iron sights, IR lasers, and much more. Then there’s the Elite Counter Terror AI and Tango AI mods, adding features to enemy AI such as moving hostages, executing hostages, and suicide bombing. There’s also a bullets through walls mod and more. Refer to this article for what mods to use and how.
SWAT 4 Elite Force
SWAT 4 Elite Force is a very popular mod, so popular in fact that many were looking forward to the upcoming game Ready or Not largely due to the creator of the mod, known as eezstreet, also being a developer of the game (until he left). Elite Force adds so many quality of life improvements like field of view adjustment, new gameplay options like being able to disable iron sight zoom, new interaction prompts, new squad commands, teammates now report completed tasks so you don’t have to, teammates deploy glowsticks to signify that they’ve cleared an area like in SWAT 3.
This mod also combines both campaigns (original and The Stetchkov Syndicate expansion) so that you don’t have to launch the expansion separately. It even adds its own new, very short campaign, really just three maps but of the same quality of the originals. In addition, it more than doubles the amount of equipment available in the game from guns, ammo types, armor and helmets, and all the equipment is balanced perfectly and some of it even being tied to a campaign progression system. Like the other mods in this article, SWAT 4 Elite Force feels like an official expansion pack.
Note that there are various forks of Elite Force, such as Back to Los Angeles which is my personal favorite. It adds some more equipment and alters the movement speed to be more realistic.
Memories of the Zone
While not my first choice for a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl overhaul mod (that’d be the honorable mention, listed below), Memories of the Zone is the one that is just a flat out direct improvement over the base game without drastically changing its structure. It is a 64-bit DX11 engine upgrade, an unofficial patch, a vanilla friendly graphics mod in environmental textures, weapon models/textures, and weather. It also has optional addons. Thanks to this mod, there is literally no reason to play vanilla or competing but now outdated mods such as Autumn Aurora 2.
Known as “the realism mod for Arma 3“, Advanced Combat Environment 3 (ACE3) is the definitive gameplay expansion for Arma 3, as was its predecessor for Arma 2. I can’t believe it wasn’t an official expansion for Arma 3, ACE4 really should be an official expansion for Arma 4. It might be the most substantial gameplay overhaul of all time for any game, don’t quote me on that but I’d love to hear of other gameplay overhauls this massive besides the aforementioned Player Resource Consortium.
Arma 3 is “the mil-sim” FPS game… but really it only deserves to be called such with ACE3. Most people know of it by now in addition to PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS and DayZ, both of which started as mods for Arma games. ACE3 adds loads of useful equipment, no surprise there, but the surprise to people unfamiliar with the ACE mods is the amount of new gameplay systems added. The most unforgiving, realistic medical system ever, simulation sniping via range and windage adjustment like you’ve never seen in a game before, the most realistic and detailed ballistics in gaming, tons of new interaction abilities both in the game and in the Zeus real time editor, so much depth to equipment usage and simulation, really there’s too much to list so check out the documentation.
Sounds like too much for you? Don’t worry because ACE3 is extremely customizable; most systems are plugins that can be enabled/disabled and customized to an extreme degree. Use only what you want. This is why it made our list; if it had everything enabled at all times then it’d be too different/extreme fit the bill for this article.
OGSR Gunslinger – OGSR is one of the most incredible mods ever made, expanding on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl so thoroughly and expertly that it’s almost like comparing No Man’s Sky or DayZ when they were first made available to when they were finally completed, if not for some of the issues described below. The story isn’t changed, but it is properly expanded on. The base game is sorely lacking in side quests despite the size and nonlinearity, which OGSR addresses with dozens of hours of side quests that emphasize quality over quantity, some of which being all time great side quests.
Then there’s the GUNSLINGER mod, a weapon overhaul as the name implies. It is perhaps the highest quality weapon mod ever made for any game, from my experience only rivaled by the best weapon mods for Garry’s Mod. The models and animations surpass almost all games, let alone mods. In fact, I’d actually rank the animations #1 in terms of realistic attention to detail, especially due to the jamming and clearing animations. Plus they’re top tier in animation fluidity. But where GUNSLINGER shines most is weapon customization; the base game is very weak here, only letting you mount one scope and/or one silencer and/or a grenade launcher on applicable guns. GUNSLINGER weapon customization matches the best weapon mods for Garry’s Mod, and these are the next most customizable guns after the king, Escape from Tarkov. Check out the GUNSLINGER creator’s YouTube channel for more.
So why is this only an honorable mention? Because OGSR doesn’t demonstrate that same level of consistency and near-flawlessness as the above mods. Sure, many of the new quests are brilliant, but some are more tedious than anything. The writing of OGSR also introduces some new flaws – the base game is very well written, while OGSR’s writing reveals a stronger underlying language barrier, inconsistent styles due to different writers, unprofessional editing, and it can be oddly vague at times. Pointing these issues out makes them sound worse than they really are, but these issues would have to all be resolved before OGSR could be anything more than an honorable mention, even with GUNSLINGER.
There must be other outstanding modifications like these out there, perhaps Quake Combat Plus which we’re not yet ready to judge. Some really good gameplay overhaul mods weren’t quite significant enough for this article we felt, such as MMod. Nothing against such mods since they do what they need to do. Long War 2 for XCOM 2 is another popular one that is more controversial for its considerably increased campaign length. Feel free to let us know in the comments of similarly incredible overhaul/improvement mods.