Wasteland Enhancement Guide - Feb 5, 2009
A Guide to the best Fallout 3 Mods
While owners of the Xbox 360 version of Fallout 3 so far only have the official Bethesda DLC to look forward to for post-release add-ons, PC owners are currently getting tons of new content in the way of third-party mods. With the official editor, called the G.E.C.K., released only six months ago (and the game only having been in stores for less than three), we've still seen a wealth of new content that changes the way Fallout 3 looks, sounds, and plays. Here's the first edition of our mod guide for February 2009 which will give you a head start on installing a wealth of great, new mods.
Fallout Mod Manager - yeah, the Fallout 3 launcher lets you turn mods on and off, but just like with Oblivion, that basic functionality is simply not enough for anyone loading more than a few mods. The launcher's list is already pretty broken when you have more than a dozen or so mods on it, but beyond that, you're going to want to order your mods correctly to get them to work like you want. You see, you might have two or three mods loaded that all change the same thing, so having the one with the changes you want lower on the list than the others is necessary. FOMM lets you do that along with managing save games and a few other things. At this point it's not quite as far ahead in technology as Oblivion Mod Manager - like, for example, you can't package those texture mod packs together as .7z files or anything - but this will at least get you going.
ArchiveInvalidation Invalidated - It's been a problem since Bethesda's last game, Oblivion - Fallout 3 keeps all of its art files in archives called .BSA files, but to add new replacement graphics, you put the separate files in folders that extend inside the Data directory. And for some reason, the game, by default, won't use the replacement graphics you give it unless you fiddle with some text file that tells it exactly which ones you want to replace. It's a mess, but this tiny mod tricks Fallout 3 into using anything you place inside its Data directory without question and without editing text files. This one is an absolute must-have for any mod that isn't just changing a few game variables, and in the case of the list that follows, we'll be changing plenty of stuff.
DarnifiedUIF3 - Even though Bethesda gets a bit of credit for making an interface that's clearly closer to what PC gamers want, it still could have used some improvement. Enter Darn, who had a great interface add-on for Oblivion, and who has given Fallout 3 the same treatment. More data will fit on the screen, the HUD and UI elements are smaller and sharper, and things look much more like the game was designed only for the PC. Note that installing this one will require you to edit one of your Fallout 3 .ini files - blame Bethesda for not allowing mods to easily include their own fonts - so installing it isn't quite as easy as some others. But it's most certainly worth the effort.
Megaton Texture Pack and Rivet City Texture Pack - These texture packs blanket both Megaton and Rivet City in new, razor sharp textures that really improve the look of both places. Beware that this will increase the video RAM requirements of your game significantly, especially if you use the higher-resolution versions. For the record, my 512MB card had no problems at 1920x1200 resolution and 2xAA with the 2048x2048 packs.
Terrain Pack - this will up the quality and resolution of many of the outdoor textures throughout the Capital Wasteland. Note: I only recommend the highest resolution version if you have a video card with 896MB or more of RAM. On a 512MB card, you might get away without much swapping or loading if you play at 1680x1050 or less with no antialiasing.
DK_BulletTime - yes, it's Bullet Time, and yes, it actually is still handy even if you also use VATS a lot. This one requires Fallout Script Extender to work as originally intended because it adds an entirely new key binding for bullet time (you can get the mod to work without it, but you'll have to bind an item to one of the 8 number keys and activate it that way without FOSE), but either way it works nicely. It's fairly well balanced, too, since there's an initial cost of action points and it drains them pretty fast - and unlike VATS, reloading weapons is going to cost you a lot of APs. But this is perfect when you are trying to do something a little less like sniping and a little more like Rambo and won't need to reload for a while. Gatling Laser, anyone?
Weapon Mod Kits - this is one of the best new add-ons around. Ever wonder why you can configure and build so many things in Fallout 3 but couldn't fiddle with existing weapons? Well, this mod allows you to pick up mod kits and use special workbenches to install them. From clip extenders (with included extended magazine models) to silencers, scopes, and laser sights, this one can modify and increase the power of almost any weapon in the game world. Don't be surprised if this one throws the game's balance out of whack, though; taking even a regular Hunting Rifle and adding a full complement of gear to it will make it extremely deadly and just about perfectly accurate. I recommend that you add some increase in difficulty, whether through the game's built-in setting or by using a mod, to help balance it a bit.
GNR - More Where That Came From - annoyed that there are less than a dozen songs on Galaxy News Radio? Install this add-on and you're set. This is a big mod that comes in five separate packs, and yeah, you should install all five - it's worth it. Once you're done, you'll have a full hundred new songs in the GNR rotation, all of which fit in with the game's theme perfectly. It doesn't make Three Dog less annoying, but you'll still keep the station on just to hear some of the great new music. There are also five additional packs that force GNR played on radios throughout the world (as opposed to your Pipboy radio) to play the new music - yes, Fallout 3 keeps those audio files separate and makes them take up double the space, for some unknown reason. Install those extra five packs if you want the GNR on your Pipboy to match the GNR that's playing throughout the rest of the Wasteland.
Martigen's Mutant Mod F3 - This one will change the way you play Fallout 3 immensely. Most world-spawned monsters, including most Super Mutants, will now spawn two to three times as many at once, and even more with the "Increased Increased" optional add-on. It generally makes the game harder for both stealth- and action-oriented players, but it also adds some variety by equipping your enemies with new stuff and even adding new monster skins so that they look different from one to the next. There might even be a few totally new monsters kicking around.
Free Play after MQ - Don't feel like waiting until Bethesda's third add-on pack is released to be able to keep playing after finishing the game? Just install this and you'll have that option. I wouldn't be surprised if any post-main quest saves break once that DLC is released, though, so you might think about a character restart between now and April if you use this one.
Balance Mods - So far I haven't found any overall balance mods I've been happy with. Most of them make the game more difficult, which is fine, but they also add things like the need to eat or sleep which make fast travel or waiting around an annoyance. Some give weight to chems and stimpaks (or even ammo!) which will weigh you down immensely. None of the ones I've seen so far have in-game configuration options, so the more configurable (and therefore tolerable) ones require you to read through a Readme file and turn on and off each element of the mod separately in your mod manager. Hopefully further down the road we'll see some better choices.
Fallout 3 Flash Map - save this and then open it with your favorite web browser, and you'll have interactive Adobe Flash-based map of the game that's searchable and configurable. Unfortunately there's no way to get this functionality to work directly in-game and alt-tabbing isn't the most stable of activities to do while Fallout 3 is running, but on the off chance that you have a second computer or small laptop nearby, this is perfect to have running next to your gaming PC.
Operation Anchorage - Bethesda's first DLC pack is not terribly great overall and I expected more from Bethesda's $10 price tag, but it still winds up being a decent addition to the game - especially if you plan on playing for a while after it's done. The FPS-oriented gameplay inside the Anchorage "sim" misses the point of what made Fallout 3 so great, but it does at least include a few very powerful and fun items to use in the Wasteland once you've beaten it. The Chinese Stealth Suit will make sneak-based kills a hell of a lot easier, and the Gauss Rifle is plenty of fun once you install this fix and maybe this fix.
And that's what we have so far, folks. In the next edition, we'll get into some of the mods that revamp the repair system, ones that add perks, and hopefully some overall gameplay balance mods that are easier to set up and configure to the player's liking. And maybe we'll get some more great texture packs and updates to the already excellent mods that have been released, too!