Mod Hell

By Shamus Posted Friday May 16, 2008

Filed under: Rants 98 comments

One of the major advantages of Oblivion was the fact that the game was so easily mod-able. This allowed the modding community to do things like:

  1. Fixing the hundreds of outstanding bugs.
  2. Repairing the broken graphics engine.
  3. Fixing the awful, self-defeating leveling system.
  4. Replacing the abominable default interface with something appropriate for a mouse & keyboard.

Oblivion in Six easy steps.
In the past I’ve heaped shame on Bethesda for the state that Oblivion was in at release, a state that remains largely unchanged today. Oblivion is a huge freeform world, which scratches my particular gaming itch in a profound way. Despite the scorn I hurl at the title, I’ve clocked a lot of hours on the game, and I wouldn’t have done that if it wasn’t fun.

The release of Oblivion stung badly for me because the game was so buggy and unpolished. What was I going to do? Wait for the next freeform RPG? If we are very lucky we will get one more before the decade is out. And even then, we still must hold out hope that Fallout 3 won’t be dumbed down by its obligations to consoles, that it won’t be encumbered by unacceptable DRM, that it will run on computers that can be constructed on this planet, and that it won’t be a software jalopy like Oblivion was.

So I find myself in the position of needing to play and complain about this title at length. If there is only one game in your chosen genre, you’re sort of obligated to play it. Although, since it’s the only one, I guess we can say Oblivion is the very best freeform RPG for this generation of PCs.

So my hopes for this title rely on using mods to straighten what Bethesda has made bent. There are three major problems with the mod system in Oblivion:

1. Too many large mods are needed.

The biggest problem is that the game suffers from an almost complete lack of polish. Bugs, broken quests, bad balance, outrageous polygon counts on simple objects, textures which are much too large or too small for their intended use, bad leveling system, cumbersome interface, screwed up voice files, game balance issues, etc etc etc. There is no aspect of the game which can’t be greatly improved through the application of a suitable mod. There is just so much in this game that needs attention that the required mods are too numerous and far-reaching. In an ideal world, the default game should be fine, and then mods could be applied to offer greater replay value. To require a half dozen mods just to get the core of the game running is to ask too much of the modding system.

2. The mod repositories are in shambles.

Over the last couple of years entire Oblivion sites have come and gone, been bought out, moved, or just reorganized their database. Which means many links are 404’s. There is no one site that has all mods. All of them require some sort of account creation before you can download. You’re going to be going through the register » CAPTCHA » email confirmation » login process more than once in your quest to get the files you need. During my search I encountered popup ads, download queues, fake download links, broken links, and large NSFW advertisements.

It really is insane that they will put the user through such merciless hassle to let them have a 20kb file, which is smaller than any one of the half dozen ads on every page.

Since modding is such a huge part of the game, Bethesda probably should have hosted the files themselves, similar to what Maxis did with the Sims Exchange.

3. Mods are too complex to install and activate.

Some mods come in the default .esp file format. You activate these mods when launching the game. Some come in a different .omod format and require the Oblivion Mod Manager in order to install and activate. Others are just a collection of files for you to place in various directories, along with some cryptic commands to add to configuration files. Some require a combination of the above.

Some mods don’t work with other mods, or they work, but only if you install them in the proper order, or only with certain versions.

This is the third time I’ve installed the game since release, and each time the mods have been harder to track down and sort out. This time I’m saving them to my hard drive. I don’t know if I’ll ever install it again, but if I do I don’t want to have to battle to locate and install the mods like I did this time around.

For the curious, the must-have mods for me are below. I’m not going to link the mods, since they will most likely be 404’s by sometime next week.

  1. BTmod – This interface overhaul is a must.
  2. Harvest Flora – Makes it so that when you harvest fruit or herbs or flowers that the plant actually changes appearance. This makes it much less of a headache to gather ingredients for alchemy.
  3. Harvest Containers – This makes it so that when you open a wardrobe, box, desk, chest of drawers, treasure chest, crate or barrel, the game actually shows the object in question being opened. You can see what you’ve looted and what you haven’t.
  4. Younger, Hotter NPC’s – I’m not crazy about this one. By default, all the women in the game are middle aged and most of them are quite homely. This mod makes them all young and pretty, even ones which should look old. What I’d really like is some dang variety, for both males and females. Still, it’s better to have all pretty girls than all ugly ones.
  5. A mod to increase the size of the face textures, which default to 128×128? Wha? This is the sort of insanity I’m talking about: A game with 3,000 polygon boulders and 24 polygon tufts of grass, but which only spends 128×128 pixels on one of the most closely viewed textures in the game, the character face. There is a mod to reduce the poly count of some of the more wasteful objects, but it looked like it was going to be a little dicey to get running.
  6. Color map mod – The default map is just ugly. The mod to color it also makes it more obvious where the invisible walls are on the edges of the world, so you don’t blunder into them as often.
  7. Female Voice Replacement – I hate when I create a 20-year-old elven chick and she has the voice of a woman in her late 50’s. The voice replacement corrects this.
  8. Unofficial Oblivion Patch – Fixes about a thousand little bugs and issues.

From The Archives:

98 thoughts on “Oblivion:
Mod Hell

  1. vbigiani says:

    If you think that’s awful, try dealing with a ginormous mod collection for Baldur’s Gate II :)

    The installation guide weights at 200 pages, references no-longer-available mods, and requires you to download dozens of patches to the various mods.

    At least installation is (usually!) as easy as extracting to the game directory and double-clicking setup-mymod.exe, and you don’t need to register to download files.

  2. JFargo says:

    I tend to agree very strongly with the comic’s answer to this problem.

  3. Don’t just archive the mods; archive the game directory.

  4. Nathanael says:

    Ouch, I was looking forward to playing this game. Not so much anymore. Sounds like too much work just to get things going.

  5. Dev Null says:

    I played the game in its original state, hard as that may be to believe, and have been meaning to go back and have another run through with a different character and the mods installed… but it seemed like too much effort to work out which mods I wanted. I’ll give your list a try – thanks for another great gaming shortcut Shamus.

    (Except maybe for the Younger hotter NPCs one. I agree with you – I’d rather have variety – but since I play WoW I get enough pixellated anatomical improbability as it is…)

  6. Zukhramm says:

    I went trough the Oblivion mod thing yesterday actually. Stop spying on me Shamus.

    In any case, once I installed everything, and I finally started playing it seemed like half of the mods didn’t work anyway.

  7. henebry says:

    Shamus, why don’t you host a collection of what you see as the vital mods here? If the files are as small as you say, I can’t imagine that the bandwidth cost would be appreciable. After having gone through so much trouble yourself to assemble all these, hosting them here would certainly put you in the black, karma-wise.

  8. Viktor says:

    You know, most of the problems you mentioned are actually fixed by playing on a 360. Yes, you can’t mod away the levelling system, but the bugs, graphics engine, and interface are all much better.

    And I hate the “Young, hot NPC” mod. Its medievil. They should be mostly pock-covered, malnourished, and scarred. Hotness is an abberration.

  9. Nihil says:

    Heh, when I played Oblivion I had about a hundred mods installed – but then again, I actually find installing and discovering the new features of each mod really fun. Turning into a lich or a werewolf was awesome, and being able to organize my library (with individually designed covers for each book, of course) appealed to my OC side. Being able to wield a second weapon and fight from horseback was nice, too.

    I burned all the mods on a couple of DVDs when I uninstalled the game. I’ll probably play it again the next time I upgrade my computer, just to enjoy seeing it run at full details and with every insane ultra-high-quality texture pack available. Of course, by then I’ll probably have to re-download each one since they’ll have been updated…

  10. Hal says:

    I always save the mods to the hard-drive. This gives me some safety, in that I can reinstall the mods if something breaks the game and I have to do a wipe/reinstallation of the game.

    So, let me recommend some mods for you, sir:
    1. Herbalism – This works off of Harvest Flora, automatically harvesting any alchemical plant (etc.) as you go by. Just, um, turn it off inside the castles.

    2. Tamriel Travellers – Adds travelling merchants to the roads. Gives some versimilitude and gives you an option for unloading loot in the wilderness.

    3. Kobu’s Character Advancement System – This is by far my favorite. Gives you a lot of options as to how the leveling system works. I have it set that your stats automatically update when you gain skill points. I like it because I have had a lot of nerfed characters in the past.

    4. Dark Dungeons – The dungeons are actually dark, rather than being mostly lit by default. Combine this with a mod that gives dungeon actors torches, and, again, versimilitude upgrade.

    5. Smarter Mercantile Leveling – Let’s you change how that skill works. You can actually level this one in a reasonable way now.

    I have a dozen more installed that I’ve come to love. But those, to me, are the best fixes I have installed.

    I download my stuff from tesnexus.com, which used to be tessource.net. Just be careful; it seems that mods which give you scantily clad/naked females all over the game are very popular. Seriously people, just download that stuff when you’re not playing the game.

  11. Stu says:

    I had similar experience with Morrowind. Mods for higher res textures, better models, open faced helmets for the Vivec Guards (because those default clown faced helms made me laugh at crucial moments), a neat mod that lets you write books and scrolls – useful for storing alchemy recipes. Many more.

    I hear great things about Oblivion, but an almost equal number of bad things that keeps putting me off.

  12. Froody says:

    Just be glad you at least have the English version of the game… the German one is so horribly translated it hurts. For instance, “Gods, give me strength!” is changed into “Gods give me strength”, turning the sentence into something completely different just by totally ignoring puntuation, the inventory has abbreviations everywehre (Kl. Tr. d. Lwdh. for a simple Healing potion), and so on…

  13. Lost Chauncy says:

    I’ve had Morrowind for about 5 years now and still haven’t completed the first quest…something involving a Dwemer Cube I believe. The reason, I got so caught up in discovering, installing and playtesting mods I never got around to actually playing the game.

    I keep telling myself I’ll go back and just play the game. Which I really should since I now finally have a computer that will run it in something other than slide show mode.

  14. Ian says:

    Viktor: Shamus doesn’t have a 360. Secondly, my friend has the 360 version and it’s no less buggy than the PC version. The only difference is that when things go wrong you can’t do anything about it. For instance, my friend had a Fighter’s Guild quest bug out on him. Because of that, he can’t finish the Fighter’s Guild quests, it’s impossible. Had he bought and played through the PC version, he could have probably cheated to get through the bugged mission.

    I’ve been playing the PC version since I upgraded my system (since my old one couldn’t play it very well at all despite being barely under the *recommended* requirements, and the fact that Oldblivion doesn’t work on v1.2) and, out of all the mods that were listed in this entry, BTmod has me trembling with desire. Those interface improvements alone would make the game far more playable. If I keep scrolling through my item list as-is, it’s no doubt going to wear out my scroll wheel.

  15. Nathaniel says:

    Games with heavy mod use should have a package manager created (preferably) by the developers of the game or by fans. Then it could note current conflicts and make installation of and removing mods easy. It could come a with nice disclaimer, of course, about effects on system or games, but at least it would make a lot more sense.

    (Morrowind with its mods was pretty great, especially the one(s) that improved the body and face models immensely. Besides the occasional feeling of alienated pointlessness the game could incite :-) )

  16. Barron says:

    I think we all know the hot young females are not authentic, but this aint a documentary. I still use the original faces, but I can see the appeal. It’s a fantasy world, why shouldn’t people look like I want them to look? It’s the same reason so many guys roll female avatars in MMOs. They aren’t trying to “explore gender interdynamics” or some sort of psycho BS. It comes down to “Who’s butt do I want to look at for the next 1,000 hours?” I’m happy with a more authentic world, but if some people like NPCs that you actually want to look at…

    Also, I agree that it isn’t entirely fair to pick on Oblivion vs. Morrowind. The game is now 2 years old. It might have been fair to rag on the requirements on release, but by now it shouldn’t be so hard to build a system that runs it well. And it definately looks much better than Morrowind. Also, from what I remember, the Morrowind modding situation wa just as screwed up as Oblivion. Oblivion definately has genuine problems, especially the leveling, but someone ought to bring up what it does right

  17. kmc says:

    I tried Oblivion, although I was full-bore into WoW at the time, and I liked it and intended to get back to it eventually, but I had an insurmountable problem. When I got to the end of the dungeon (yes, my elf was just barely out of training-pants), I couldn’t inflict any damage. The rats and goblins (? if I remember correctly) could definitely hit me, but I couldn’t get my char to make any kind of attack if inflict any damage at all. Has anyone else had this kind of problem? Is it moddable? I couldn’t leave the dungeon, which severely hampered my enjoyment of the apparently expansive gameworld.

  18. eloj says:

    BG2 mods are a mess? No they’re not. It’s all neatly organized at pocketplane: http://modlist.pocketplane.net/

  19. Blackbird71 says:

    Shamus, if you’re itching that bad for a freeform RPG, I think it’s definetely time for you to step into the world of MMORPGs, as it’s the new home of freeform play. I know you’re apprehensive about a time sink and being unable to play for short, interrupted periods of time, but there are a number of games out there that with self control on your part, do not have to be a straight-jacket on your time. With the right games, you can play for a single hour and actually accomplish something, and interrupt your play without fear of losing your character or progress. It seems that more and more companies find that they can make more money by designing games for peopel with jobs/families/lives who actually have money to pay, rather than just for the teens with a lot of time on their hands.

    I’d personally recommend WoW. Despite it’s reputation as an addictive timesink (most of which comes from the players’ lack of self control, rather than game design), I’ve found it rather easy to get into the game for a short spurt and then leave the keyboard whenever I need. For added flexibility, play a night elf, being able to become invisible at will is very handy when you need to step away for 10-20 minutes, it’s like having you’re own pause key.

    A game to stay away from would probably be EVE Online. It’s an incredible game, very well done, but I find that in order to accomplish anything, I need to schedule a 3-4 hour block of time to play without interruption. Which of course means that if you’re busy like me, you probably don’t hardly ever play (and I should probably cancel my subscription). The one thing the game has going for it in the busy gamer category is the skill system: your character advances through a real-time-based learning system, so whether you’re logged in or not, the character keeps improving.

    Anyway, there’s a freeform world out there suited to your needs, just look around and you’ll find it. Good luck!

  20. Stu says:

    Blackbird71: Eve Online isn’t so much a game as it is a maths homework! :-P

  21. Zukhramm says:

    I do have to disagree with Blackbird. Particularly the sentance “With the right games, you can play for a single hour and actually accomplish something, and interrupt your play without fear of losing your character or progress.”.

    That and the recomendation of WoW. Mostly, it’s a matter of disagreeing on what coundts as “accomplishing” something. The thing is, there’s nothing to accomplish except moving forward for nothing but the sake of moving forward. Or well, that’s the problem with all MMORPGs. If someone knows one that is different please do tell, Guild Wars is the game that has come closest to me, but it’s still not close enough, especially since it moves away from the MMO-type world.

  22. Casper says:

    To Blackbird71:
    MMORPGs aren't the same thing as RPGs. There are a lot of differences. Some people like both types, some only one of them. I personally would pick RPG over MMORPG.
    To eloj:
    If only Oblivion or Morrowind mods would be properly organized like that….
    What Oblivion really needs, are mod packages, where all the good mods would be lumped together and tested, easy to install. They could put them in 3 packages:
    1 Full bug fix, graphic update
    2 Extra quests, locations, etc
    3 Game play changes- such as hunger, the need for sleep….

  23. vbigiani says:

    @Eloj: I know about the modlist (you might know me as ‘The Bigg’, in fact, so I’m not exactly Mr. Newbie).

    What I’m talking about is not the finding of mods, it’s the procedure for installing the full Mega-Mod which is a mess – installing a dozen or so ‘normal’ mods is painless.

  24. Lee from Sheboygan says:

    I would love to go back to Morrowind. I really would. However, the combat is just so much more superior in Oblivion that I can’t do it. (sigh)

  25. Scotticus says:

    Man, all this Oblivion talk has me wanting to play it some more!

    Now where did I leave that install disc?

  26. Blackbird71 says:

    @Zukhramm & Casper

    Yes, I know there are differences between RPGs and MMORPGs, I’ve played many of each. But Shamus is talking about a desire to play freeform RPGs, and frankly, things don’t get much more “freeform” than some MMOs out there. It’s not that there is “nothing to accomplish,” but rather what you accomplish and what your goals are is entirely up to you. In this respect, freeform RPGs and many MMORPGs are very much alike. You have a world with many things you can do, but nothing you are required to do. What quests you take, and what direction your character moves in, is your choice. Very few RPGs offer a truly freeform environment, but you will find more in the online than the offline category.

    By the way, Guild Wars, according to the devs and publishers, is not an MMO. It also is not freeform, it has a set storyline and sequence of quests, so I can see why it fits what you like better if you are looking for a traditional RPG, but this makes it completely different from the Elder Scrolls games and most MMOs.

    Personally, I’ve played at least a half-dozen MMORPGs in the last 6-7 years. I’ve only recently (last 6 months) gotten involved in WoW, as it’s reputation and community image often put me off. But I decided to give it a try, and found myself a guild of mature players, who also have lives and obligations, and I’ve found it quite fun. I’ve also gotten my wife hooked on it, after years of trying to get her interested in many offline RPGs. Also, out of all the MMOs I’ve played, it has proven to be the least time-intensive. I play when I want to, for as long as I want to, without feeling a need or obligation to play longer than I can. If I feel like being social and playing in a group, I can do that. If I’d rather just play my own solo game, I can do that too, and that’s actually where I spend most of my time. The point is, it is freeform, it’s enjoyable (for me, at least), and it’s not a major drain on my time.

    As for truly freeform games, I wish I could recommend the original Star Wars Galaxies. The game had a mountain of bugs, but it had an incredibly inventive character development system, letting you create your character any way you wished, with your own combination of skills chosen from hundreds of options, somewhat similar to the Elder Scrolls games in variety of character make-up (never actually played Oblivion, but Morrowind and Daggerfall). It was a game in which you could be truly unique, and literally do whatever you wished. Sadly, the game does not exist in the same form anymore, except in some emulators currently under development by devoted fans.

    As for now, I find WoW entertaining, though it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. The point is that freeform play seems to have become the realm of the online game, and there are enough of them out there that just about any gamer should be able to find one suited to their tastes.

  27. Zukhramm says:

    Problem is, I cannot set up any goals for myself or accomplish anything. Yes, Ican take whatever quests I like and do anything I’d like. But still it makes no difference, completeing a quest is a piece of text, some gold and maybe a new weapon.

  28. mos says:

    Here’s a good guide.
    Unfortunately, it looks like my personal “Here’s what I use for my Oblivion gaming” thread on EvilAvatar.com got deleted, or I would give everyone here a list of forty or so mods that I got to play nicely with each other, and which all significantly improved the Oblivion experience.

  29. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Shamus,why not try p2p when searching for mods?With eMule I was able to quickly find all of those mods,and theres no registration or other hassle.

  30. Jeff says:

    Wait, what?

    Fixing the awful, self-defeating leveling system.

    THIS. I want that. Where did you get a mod that fixed that? If it works I’d install that other mod mentioned in the Nondrick blog, and then wander around becoming a master alchemist and doing sidequests before activating the actual game…

  31. Ryan Speck says:

    While it was no Morrowind, I was surprised my 5-year-old first-gen Athlon 64 system managed to run it without a hitch and actually looked good.

    As opposed to most people’s complaining about graphics problems and speed issues, it actually ran better for me than when I tried to run Morrowind when that came out.

    I played Oblivion unmodded and, while there were a few bugs, I didn’t notice too many problems, other than it wasn’t quite as fun as it should be. Maybe someday I’ll try it all again but with everything modded out.

  32. WoodenTable says:

    I always used Planet Elder Scrolls to get my Morrowind mods. The database of mods isn’t too hard to navigate, it doesn’t need a registration, and the good stuff gets voted fairly quickly to the top of the mod lists. And it isn’t likely to close down any time soon. My experience is with Morrowind, though: I haven’t played Oblivion yet, but they seem to have plenty of mods for it.

    A quick check at the Oblivion mods and I found a Low Poly Grass Mod. Changes the grass from 20 polygons to 8. Judging from the comments heaping praise on the modmaker, I’d say it helps greatly. :)

    If you’re searching their mod-lists though, I recommend organizing them by number-of-votes or number-of-downloads, instead of how highly they’re voted. The voting system suffers from the usual problem for 1-10 voting systems, in that 95% of people just award 10s to everything.

  33. Nilus says:

    “Fallout 3 won't be dumbed down by its obligations to consoles”

    This quote is the kind of PC gamer elitism that gets on my nerve. Especially when you are talking about Morrowind and Oblivion, which were essential the same on the consoles and the PC. Bethesda and Bioware games(the two biggest cross platform RPG game companies) have been making games that were identical across platforms and not dumbed down in any way shape or form. KOTOR, Jade Empire, Morrowind, Oblivion, Mass Effect are all games that were initial released on a console first and I would not conside any of them dumbed down.

  34. Blackbird71 says:


    Then you’re probably not going to be much of one for any freeform game, online or otherwise, because that’s about what they all amount to.

  35. Dihydrogen says:


    Oblivion was dumbed down for consoles, and its not to hard to see. One of the more obvious examples is the 8 quick keys, where it makes no sense not to have at least 10 on a PC. Also, the inability to cycle through spells is another good example. The menu system has gigantic text (to display well on low resolution TVs), and it is a scroll menu designed to be navigated analog sticks. Morrowind had none of these issues and it played on the xbox like a PC port struggling with the fact it had no mouse. Morrowind was released for PC before it came to xbox and had been under development for PC before the xbox existed.

  36. Shamus says:

    Nilus: I stand by what I wrote. In fact, one of the major gripes with Oblivion is the horrid interface. It’s horrible because it’s built to be useful on a d-pad.

    UT3 had the same problem.

    Look, if these games brought a PC-style (mouse-centric) interface to the console without modification, it would be awful to use.

    It’s not PC elitism, it’s just built for a different control scheme. You can’t blame PC gamers for wanting something that suits them.

  37. Zanfib says:

    Shamus, search for Obscuros Oblivion Overhaul. It is very good.

  38. onosson says:

    Why oh why did I trade in my copy of Morrowind years ago?? I can’t find a used one ANYWHERE now…

  39. Mistwraithe says:

    So which of the listed mods fixes the auto monster levelling, which frankly is the most annoying aspect of Oblivion out of the box?

  40. McNutcase says:

    We probably shouldn’t talk about “dumbed down for consoles”.

    As stated above by several people, consoles and PCs have different needs when it comes to UI. What’s good on a console (varying scroll speeds with how hard you push the analogue stick, for example) is pretty much “broken” on a PC, and vice versa.

    What producers SHOULD insist on is that multiplatform games have multiple UIs, depending on what the platform is. That, though, costs money and time in coding and (assuming a competent publisher) testing, so one side or the other is going to be disappointed, and the way things are going? It’s going to be the PC crowd.

  41. Namfoodle says:

    I still haven’t gotten around to finishing the expansion sets for Morrowind, and my PC is was too old to run Oblivion when it came out. If/when I upgrade my PC, I’m not sure I will bother with Oblivion unless I have a lot of time on my hands for the mods.

  42. Nilus says:

    Whether games are easier to contol on a console or PC isn’t what I had a compliant about. Its the term “Dumbing it down”. PCs and Consoles are different, but neither is any more or less intelligent then the other. Wanting your games to be designed to be controlled by your perform platform isn’t elitist, but referring to another platforms control scheme as dumber can be seen that way.

  43. Sitte says:

    Having an interface optimized for a D-pad on a PC game is dumb. Dumb, Dumb, Dumb. Oblivion on the PC was dumbed down from what it should have been, for the sake of the console version. Dumbed down for the Xbox.

    Having an interface optimized for a mouse & keyboard on a console game is dumb. Dumb, Dumb, Dumb. Morrowind on the Xbox was dumbed down from what it should have been, for the sake of the PC version. Dumbed down for the PC.

    As a PC gamer, I’m annoyed by the first and not directly affected by the second. I’ll be able to sympathize with someone who is annoyed by the first, but I’m not going to rant about it myself. It seems Shamas is in this same category.

    Although if you get down to it, I’m pretty sure that a high-end PC *is* more intelligent than a high-end console. Yes?

  44. Sitte says:

    Egads, I just said “dumb” a lot.

  45. Cardboard says:

    I have one word for you: FCOM. It’s the four biggest overhaul mods rolled together with compatibility patches for a bunch of other mods. It takes a bit of work to get it up and running, but the process is surprisingly well documented. When I play Oblivion I just use FCOM, the Unofficial Patch, Robert’s Alternate Start (Pick from a few starting locations, as well as wealth and social status), and a few graphics mods.

    There’s a trailer here that gives you an idea of the sheer SCALE of the thing.

    Also, use Oblivion Mod Manager. Always. Helps prevent virtually all mod compatability and uninstall/install issues.

    Oh and I should note that FCOM makes the game significantly more difficult.

  46. McNutcase says:

    It’s tricky to figure if a PC is smarter or dumber than a console. Do we calibrate based on game performance, pure number-crunching, what-all else? The purposes are different.

    Different seems to be my favourite word today.

    Sitte makes the point I was trying to: if something is optimised for another platform, we’re going to call it dumb. That’s the way people are. I don’t say it’s right to call it dumb, though; I would prefer “badly implemented”.

    The ideal, as I said, is to have the UI done differently for each platform. What Bethesda did with Oblivion was put the burden of doing that on fans… which is admittedly “nicer” than what they did with Morrowind, which is leaving the xbox version with a bad UI and no way of fixing it. What they “ought” to have done was make a PC-optimised UI for the PC version…

  47. Justin says:

    I played through Oblivion on the 360, and I’d like to point out: the UI for the menus wasn’t that great for the D-pad either… If they dumbed it down for the console, they went too far.

    That said, it is still possible to enjoy the game. I know I did.

  48. Noctambulist says:

    I just want to say to those people who said “I was going to try Oblivion, but I’m not going to now”, you are missing out. I played through the entire campaign and all the sub-plots with the vanilla game. I had a blast and still think it is one of the best games I’ve played on the PC, issues and all. Add some nicely done mods, and the game is even better. Don’t miss out on one of the best games out there just because it wasn’t perfect.

    Also, I’ve found tesnexus.com as a great source for most mods. They have pretty much everything there.

  49. Bizarre says:

    It’s pretty hard to deny that taking an interface from mouse and keyboard to a control pad is dumbing it down.

    You simply don’t have the control options available to a PC – it’s “dumber” by default.

  50. guy says:

    no time for RPGs, Galciv has expansion pack out recently.

  51. Malkiel says:

    Another recommendation for Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul”

    I suggest you check out the website, it covers the huge list of changes it makes to the game (including changes so monsters don’t level with the player)
    Its the core MAJOR mod that I install, with many other mods then in support. Here’s are the primary mods:
    Oscuro Overhaul
    Darker Dungeons
    Darker Nights
    Book Jackets (great for immersion)
    Illumination Within (windows light up randomly at night, amazing oversight on Bethesda’s part)

    I also have the updated landscape texture packs that get rid of a lot of that blocky look, and I have Qarl’s texture pack running that creates realistic 3d look (parallax-ish) on ground and wall textures. Heavy hardware requirement for Qarl’s though

    Looks like FCOM mentioned above includes Oscuro’s Overhaul, so I might have to check that one out.

  52. Ian says:

    Nilus: I think the term “dumbing down” is perfectly appropriate. You’re going from a platform with more buttons to a platform with less buttons. It’s not an insult to the console or the people using the console, it’s just the truth (for the record, I’m split 50-50 between console and PC gaming).

    A bad console to PC port can have similar problems, like the controls for Assassins Creed (which is far worse than UT3’s menu system, for the record). While taking a full set of controls and adopting them to a gamepad with limited buttons can be referred to as “dumbing down,” taking a set of gamepad controls and porting them, without any changes, to a keyboard/mouse layout can only be referred to as “dumb.”

  53. Alvin Brinson says:

    You bastage. I was putting off reinstalling Oblivion just for this reason. Now I’ve done gone and wasted 6 hours fscking with it, and there’s no voices when talking to NPC’s now, and I don’t know why because I did not install the voices mods, but grrr…

  54. GAZZA says:

    Well don’t I feel stupid. :)

    I played Oblivion without any mods at all – I didn’t even know that mods existed. And while I played long enough to become the head of all the guilds, I couldn’t really be bothered to actually play through the main quest, in some part because of exactly the issues that Shamus says his “must have” mods fix.

    Kind of a shame really. I’d never played Morrowind or the Bard’s Tale series, and I only played Oblivion because a mate of mine insisted that I didn’t know what I was missing. I really couldn’t see what the fuss was about.

  55. Dix says:

    I don’t know how the number of buttons used has anything to do with whether a game is ‘dumbed down’ at all.

    When we type, we use 30+ buttons. When we speak, we use no buttons. The language isn’t dumbed down in text vs. speech (or vice versa) as a result of the control mechanism or complexity, but as a result of how people perceive the culture to which that mechanism belongs.

    In other words, if a game feels ‘dumbed down’ on a console, I would suspect it’s because the developers simplified it to appeal to a crowd that doesn’t, can’t or won’t spend time learning how to mod software in order to play a game. >.>

  56. empty_other says:

    “Dumbed down” defined by the great me!:
    – Less shortcuts (8 quickslots in Oblivion, why? Or no shortcuts in Deus Ex 2?)
    – HUGE clumsy interface with a HUGE font.
    – Unrealisticly small levels (Deus Ex 2 :( )
    – Removal of “uneccessary small stuff” (like the option to build together your own armor piece by piece, or the option to drop coins. Or the skills in Deus Ex 2). Seriously, it is the small stuff that make a game unique!
    – Difficulty turned drasticly down (for the common good of the common man? Really? The common man should feel insulted!)
    – Less options! (The UT series was renowned for its configurability, how could they throw that out the window? They must have hit their heads too hard)

    And i blame consoles. And they blame pirates (people like me, who are too lazy to drag my butt to the shop).

  57. Zukhramm says:


    Sorry, but I don’t belive you. I do not believe “freeform” has to mean “uninspired gathering of gold and items acomplished by piece of text in an open world”.

  58. Hawkehunt says:

    I agree that the biggest problem with Oblivion it the interface – particularly the menu structure and the mega-huge text so it’s readable on a TV.
    Maybe I’m making too many assumptions about the programming practices of game developers, but I would think that the layout of the menu would be abstracted from the functionality, and therefore it should be easy to make it look completely different (more suited to PC) while still doing the same thing.

  59. empty_other says:

    Hawkehunt: The layout is actually mostly abstracted from the functuality, and it is relatively easy for “anyone” to make their own UI. Pure lazyness that Beteshda didnt… “Let the modders do it!” was their bright idea. So now us PC gamers has to install a ton of small mods, and for each mod, the chance of a mod-conflict increases.

  60. Nilus says:

    So basicallt Empty_other you are comparing all Console to PC ports based on Deus Ex 2, which we can all agree was a crappy game.

    And for those saying PC isn’t dumb because it has more buttons. I can flip that around and say that PC gaming sucks because your standard keyboard/mouse combo only has one analog control(the mouse), as apposed to a modern console control that has 2 analog sticks plus at least 2 analog triggers. Like someone else said. Typing takes 30+ keys, speaking takes none. Speaking is not any dumber then typing.

    There are plenty of games that originated on a console that have plenty of depth to them, and are not dumbed down in any way(Like all the recent bioware games).

  61. guy says:

    you forgot
    -no way of knowing how many units you control at a time (universe at war)
    -really awkward selection and control system (universe at war)
    – random deselection of units you are building (universe at war)

    really, command and conquer 3: kane’s wrath did the right thing. the console has it’s own interface.

  62. Ian says:

    The number of available buttons is one of the core reasons why bad ports appear to have been “dumbed down” for consoles.

    When you have fewer buttons, you wind up with awkward limitations. For instance, Oblivion has the eight quickslot cap on the PC when it could have easily been ten (and those extra two slots would be very useful). To top things off, the slots themselves are displayed in a radial interface. A bar would have been far more natural for the platform.

    The controls in Assassins Creed for PC are so badly botched because of the developer’s decision to port the limited number of buttons on the 360/PS3 controller directly to the PC port. As such, you wind up having to do some strange things like holding down three buttons to run. All of the actions listed onscreen are depicted using the same diamond layout of the controls using tiny, hard-to-see icons. The diamond layout is insignificant and the icons are too small to be helpful in any situation.

    Of course, dumbing down does go a bit deeper into the actual design of the game, such as with the Deux Ex 2 examples that were given earlier.

    All in all, I still think that the term is highly appropriate. Developers have had a past for sacrificing graphics, gameplay, and ease of use when designing multiplatform games. In most cases this is a result of using a console mindset when developing PC ports, but in other cases it’s a result of using a PC mindset when developing a console game. This happened both ways in the Elder Scrolls series — Oblivion was an example of the former (though nowhere near as bad as some other titles, like Assassins Creed) and Morrowind is an example of the latter.

  63. Smileyfax says:

    The only thing Oblivion has over Morrowind is the hilarious physics system, in which you can use a fireball to knock all the crap off a bookshelf, or jump onto a table set for dinner and just kick everything off.

    I didn’t think Oblivion was dumbed down so much as it was…homogenized.

    I mean, in Morrowind you had this breathtaking exotic land filled with unusual flora and fauna. Giant mushrooms occasionally dotted the landscape. Scuttle was a popular local dish.

    Then in Oblivion you get wolves, pine trees, and watermelons. Really, Bethesda? Really?

    The only dungeon type worth writing home about is the Ayleid ruin — fun places with mystery and the occasional deathtrap. The forts and caves which dot the landscape are pretty dang dull compared to their Morrowind cousins, bandit caves and tombs.

    The voice acting was a letdown, too. All elves seem to share the same voice actor — what happened to the gravelly Dark Elves, the aristocratic High Elves, the whiny Wood Elves? I don’t recall, but I think the Khajiit and the Argonians sound quite alike as well.

    The game is definitely enjoyable, but it’s just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich where all the jelly glooped out and escaped.

  64. Blurr says:

    I also don’t like the voice acting in the game. Sure, it adds a bit of flavor… for a bit. Then it simply gets old. All the monks have the same voice, and even the main characters share the voices of normal NPCs. This makes creating new NPCs for quests hard if you want them to seem like they’re integrated into the game.

  65. Zukhramm says:

    You people make me feel like giving up getting those Oblivion mods working and just buy Morrowind.

  66. Blurr says:

    If you put the content of Morrowind and the game mechanics of Oblivion together, you’d have a great game.

    To me at the moment, both games feel a bit lacking.

  67. empty_other says:

    you are comparing all Console to PC ports based on Deus Ex 2, which we can all agree was a crappy game
    :D Good observation. In my world, Deus Ex 2 is the definition of “consoled”.

    Typing takes 30+ keys, speaking takes none. Speaking is not any dumber then typing.
    Sorry about breaking this analogy, but any spoken word carries ten-folds more information than the same written word.

    I will always look upon a “consolised” game as “dumber”. I will again point to DX2 who is a prime example; “The game’s still the same. There’s just…less in it.”

    Disclaimer: The poster of this post is in no way trying to imply that games on consoles are in any way less entertaining or in any way dumber than a pc game.

  68. McNutcase says:

    Console games can perfectly easily have good content and gameplay – my preferred example is Halo. I know Shamus dislikes Halo, but it is a good shooter, it has good content and lots of it (aside from the Library, which is egregious copy and paste) and it did raise the bar. When the PC port of Halo dropped, I’d have bought it on its merits as a PC game. Halo got cross-platform pretty much Right, while other games keep getting cross-platform Wrong, and lead to accusations of dumbing-down…

  69. Chris Arndt says:

    Saving the mods to the hard drive?

    This reminds me of the moment I discovered that Microsoft was discontinuing support of Windows 98. I searched and downloaded ALL of the Windows Updates for Win98 so next time I reboot and reinstall the system, including the OS, for my 2000 eMachine, I can fully install the OS instead of just what comes on the System Disc.

  70. Jeff says:

    I’m going to have to insist that “dumbed down” is the appropriate term.

    Evidence – Your spell list.

    Morrowind: You can delete spells.
    Oblivion: You can’t delete spells.

    They LOST functionality and complexity between ES3 and ES4.
    ES4 is dumber than ES3. Oblivion was dumbed down. (Because apparently they think console gamers are too dumb to handle a delete function?)

    ES3 and 4 are both made by the same developer. Oblivion was made (or started on) immediately after publication of Morrowind. So it isn’t as if there were massive staff changes between them.

    The major difference is that Morrowind was for the PC, and Oblivion was for the XBox 360 and PCs. In other words, ES4 is for consoles as well as for PCs.

    Thus, Oblivion was dumbed down for consoles.

  71. Viktor says:

    Correlation does not indicate causation.

  72. Lingwei says:

    “”Fallout 3 won't be dumbed down by its obligations to consoles”

    This quote is the kind of PC gamer elitism that gets on my nerve. Especially when you are talking about Morrowind and Oblivion, which were essential the same on the consoles and the PC. Bethesda and Bioware games(the two biggest cross platform RPG game companies) have been making games that were identical across platforms and not dumbed down in any way shape or form.”

    Yeah Shamus, stop being such an elitist PC snob. You probably spend all day worshipping Fallout and Arcanum like those snobs on RPGCodex. Stop being so old fashioned and get with the times, it’s 2008 not 1997! :rolleyes smiley:

    Just to let you know Nilus, the dumbing down of Oblivion does not refer to the fact that it has a console interface. It refers to fact that all thought in playing the game is taken out. Untoggleable quest compass, no written directions so you can’t find your way there even if you could turn it off, quest updates at every single turn, everything levelling itself to the player so there is no real challenge no matter what level you are. Those are the things that dumbed Oblivion down, and what a lot of us fear will happen to Fallout 3 as well.

    Regarding Shamus’s problem acquiring mods I wonder if you have found the website http://www.tesnexus.com yet. Tesnexus is the largest Oblivion modsite on the internet, and so if you are looking for a mod your best bet is to start there. If tesnexus doesn’t have it then it is likely that Planet Elderscrolls has it instead. Plus you can download mods under 2mb without creating an account. The one minor downside is that since it is so heavily trafficed the downloads can be a bit slow, but hey I’m sure we all remember what it was like to have slow downloads in previous years.

  73. Zukhramm says:

    I am more developers for this “dumbing down”. Because I’m a console player and I don’t like to be the blame for stupider games.

  74. Lal says:

    I like Oblivion very much, even if I know how buggy it is. I agree, there are many mods and sometime you don’t know if it’s worth something. But I found Giskard’s mods sometime ago, like Kvatch Aftermath and Origins of the Mages Guild. They are very good – they are really well-thought and add new quests.

    PS Of, course, I found your blog via DM of the Rings, just after you finished it. From that time I read your articles from time to time and now I dare to leave a comment ;)

  75. Zanfib says:

    Wait… you can delete spells in morrowind? How?

  76. Viktor says:

    IIRC, on the XBox, you go to your spell list and there’s a list of buttons and what they do at the bottom of the screen. One of them is labled “Delete”.

  77. Noah Lesgold says:

    Did you ever play Escape Velocity: Nova It’s a remarkably free-form space game where activities available include mercantile trading, space piracy, bounting hunting that lets you prey on space pirates, assisting with scientific inquiry, and aligning yourself with one of 6 factions with lengthy and interesting overarching plots. Very good time.

  78. Jeff says:

    IIRC, on the PC, just shift-click it. Been a while, though.

  79. DM T. says:

    I played Oblivion when it came out, without any mods and managed to finish it.
    I then bought Knights of the Nine with the official mods and played it again, start to end, it was quite fun looking for all the quests I missed the first run.
    I had to reinstall the game when Shivering Isles came out… Yes, third time charm. This time I tried out the unofficial mod that ditched the auto-level-monsters… I didn’t like the mod all that much.
    I know it’s not a regular RPG, when all the monsters level up with the player, but the game itself was great fun. I love freeform RPGs.

  80. Jeff says:

    I think it’s not just auto-leveling monsters, but that if the developers don’t use that shortcut, they’d actually have to populate the entire map accordingly.

    So the BBEG’s fortress remains full of powerful creatures, but you can return to the “peaceful village” you started in without being swarmed by demon lords.

  81. Miral says:

    I prefer having the auto-levelling monsters, at least at low levels. It does get a little irritating at higher levels (bandits with uber armor?), but it does mean that you really can go everywhere and do anything in any order. If the monsters are at set levels then you’re pretty much forced into either doing things in a particular order (which often in turn forces grinding periodically, which I loathe) or grinding massively at the start just so you can do things out of sequence — while leaving many encounters at the one-hit-kill level (which might be satisfying to the ego but isn’t especially interesting).

  82. Old Man Matt says:

    Hi there guys. I just thought I’d mention a few of the best mods that haven’t been listed so far.

    The Immersive Interface by Harfluer
    Natural Environments by Max Tael
    Beautiful People by Midnight Voyager
    Unique Landscapes (there are about a dozen different locations)
    Mighty Magic

  83. Casper says:

    Actually, games are not “dumbed down” for consoles. Consoles and PC`s just have different requirements. I blame the developers, who get sloppy and don’t create proper interface when porting them to PC.

  84. darem says:

    This article is so full of wrongs, it is a shame. Let me just correct the biggest ones: Firstly, there IS a very good and never outdated compilation of mods out there, to be found at http://www.tesnexus.com – it’s by far the largest mod collection – it’s hard to NOT find a mod there. The next thing is that mods are very easy to install, and with a tool like OBMM (also to be found at Tesnexus), installation and deinstallation needs a single click. And finally, the “hundreds of outstanding bugs” are minor ones, none of them game-breaking.

    To sum it up: Mod your Oblivion, it’s easy, fun, and you get really close to the game you want.

  85. Shamus says:

    darem: So, because YOU don’t have any problems means that NOBODY has any problems? Less than half the mods I download have an omod version. Plenty are just a bunch of files. How do you “one click uninstall” those”?

    You don’t need to “fix” the “wrongs” in my article. I was at tesnexus. I’m telling you: They require registration to download mods.

    They offer downloads via popup windows, so that IE users will have to enable popups and then get spammed with talking “free ipod nano” ads.

    All. Mod. Sites. Suck.

  86. Davesnot says:

    come back to NWN1.. try it again.. the mods work.. are easy to load.. don’t give you pop ups.. as a matter of fact.. NWN2 works too… they were designed with adding mods in mind…

    The Original Campaigns sucked for both these games.. but the community and expansions were good.. and with 5 years of patching.. the thing is rock solid.. NWN2 has had almost 2 years of patches..

    Come back.. we’re waitng.

  87. GaGrin says:

    1. tesnexus requires no such thing. If you insist on using IE I’m afraid I have no sympathy.

    2. MMOs are lifeless husks and oblivion is the same for the most part – which is the single biggest reason why Morrowind remains such an acheivement (despite its abhorrent gameplay mechanics – the world and story worked).

    3. The control scheme for Assassin’s Creed is a clear gameplay choice – and while I personally think a couple of keys should be swapped I would strongly advise anyone planning on playing such a clearly platform/fighting game spending a few pounds/dollars/libre on a USB XBox360 pad and plugging the sucker into your games machine. Its worth it as a one off investment if you enjoy the genre at all.

    4. Leveling is evil. The fact that gamers still call a game an RPG based of the supposed development XP systems off is an ofront to decent people and fans of dramatic fiction everywhere. We need to recognise that.

    5. All points bar the first are my opinion. (Seriously, get Firefox or Opera they work better hands down.)

  88. Shamus says:

    GaGrin: It does. You can stand there and insist otherwise, or you can try it yourself like I did just this morning.

    I tried it in BOTH IE and FF.

    75% of people still use IE. It doesn’t matter which ones you like best (I use FF myself) because if the site only works with FF then it just once again proves my thesis: All mod sites suck.

  89. GaGrin says:

    I must apologise – just to prove I wasn’t going mad I checked and goddamn you’re right. Perhaps it has a file size limit because I tried this yesterday, same site and I downloaded loads of files (all in the kb range rather than the mb range) and I’ve never registered with any download site other than fileplanet.

    So yes. It does suck. What the hell is up with that?

    EDIT: Just confirmed this. Its either based on file size or file category (my bet is on size) because I did the exact same thing picked something in gamepaly tweaks that was under 1mb in size and it doesn’t ask you to pick a mirror or login it just goes straight to the download dialogue.

  90. Jeff says:

    Hm, I don’t have a copy of Morrowind anymore, but I recall seeing a friend (who doesn’t play RPGs) with a Morrowing GotY CD or somesuch… I think I’ll go steal his.

  91. McNutcase says:

    I enjoyed Morrowind… apart from one thing that made my pedantic blood boil.

    The Morag Tong, I think it was. A bunch of assassins, anyway. Any time I asked a member about them, he’d say they were “discrete”. What he MEANT was that they were discreet. I ended up diving into the Construction Set and attempting to fix this… but my simple changes to two freakin’ words caused it to crash. That was a real failure of QA…

  92. Casper says:

    No actually the Morag Tong “discretely” killed you because you dared to correct their grammar. :)

  93. Uberhiker says:

    All you need for Oblivion Goodness is found here:


    and here (I know how the name sounds but it stands for Popehat Oblivion Omod Project):


    These two guys have to be the Gods of the Oblivion universe. In as much as Qarl has contributed, these gentlemen have as well in their way.

    I’m running the full P.O.O.P. pack myself and some stuff from Dev’s site. Between the two Oblivion mods are no longer a mystery or a headache.

  94. Uberhiker says:

    And whomever said to play NWN1 again, I still play NWN1 on a weekly basis. It’s a great game and patch 1.69 is recently out the gate if you didn’t know.

    Long days, pleasant nights.

  95. hexaae says:

    I agree with you.
    This games was very promising, offers unbelievable gfx (have you tried the Natural Elements 2.1 mod?) and a great almost-real virtual world but… man, IT’S FULL OF SILLY BUGS and in the complex is an UNFINISHED WORK! :(
    Mod patching is giving me a headache… sorry, I’ve got the original but I’m afraid I’ll give up… Worth watching, but very disappointing to play, actually.

    What about Two Worlds or Gothic 3? Have them less bugs?

  96. Andrew says:

    No one will read this two years on, but hey.

    I agree with a lot of what you say. Installing a lot of mods *is* annoying. And I do feel I “need” far more mods for Oblivion than I did for Morrowind.
    I never had any problem with Oblivion’s graphics, though. This is probably a combination of playing the game on a machine bought in 2010 (so I had no problems running it), and having played very few modern games (so to me, the graphics, even the faces, just look awesome). I use a lot of mods, but not a single graphics one. Of the mods you list, I use only UOP and BTMod.
    I join the chorus of cries against “beatifying” the female NPCs. One of the things I *like* about the game is that the characters aren’t all stunningly attractive. There are pretty NPCs even in the game as standard, in my opinion. Relatively few of them are actually ugly.
    I do think Oblivion made several improvements on Morrowind, even leaving the graphics aside. At least the NPCs aren’t all stuck to the floor, for a start. The combat is slightly better- the ability to actually choose to block is nice. Harvesting plants is now single-click. The perks at skill levels 25, 50, 75… were a good move. The factions feel much more distinct. Being able to sit down is something I like a lot.
    Of course there’s more that is clearly worse in Oblivion, I grant you.

  97. arkon says:

    Hey i know this is years now after this post but just wanted to say thanks for the list of mods I read your dm of the rings I got oblivion on sale and hunted down all the mods on your list they really help the game.

    It was really hard to find them though but thanks for the mod list.

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