When we first fired up Oblivion, the graphical beauty of the game held considerable sway over our eyes. We could stare for hours at the shiny armor, the beautiful sunsets, and the frolicking deer. However, after a few days something about the game's textures irked us. The close up lush environments looked fantastic, but degraded down to a murky pile of green mush from afar. The Oblivion forum goers already had a term for the blocky, indistinct grass textures: pea soup. Furthermore, we noticed that water reflections of nearby terrain looked fine, but reflections of distant terrain appeared blocky. Then another revelation hit us, the water didn't bother to reflect our character, or other objects on screen either.
Roll over the image to load the comparison image.
Default Oblivion vs. Oblivion with mods installed
Oblivion could also use some help outside of graphics. Oblivion's inventory management system only shows a handful of items on a single page, which borders somewhere between atrocious and annoying depending on how deep you have to scroll down a list to find the item you want. Something had to be done. Fortunately, users didn't have to wait for Bethesda to address these issues with a game patch--Oblivion's open modification system allowed users to create their own fixes and add their own features.
The Oblivion Mod Scene
Within days, if not hours, of release the modding community, alight with activity, released scores of add-ons. Users willingly subjected themselves to half-complete changes, risking the game that they had in the hopes of getting something better in the end. The efforts have resulted in new functionality, which stretch all the way from improved graphics to entirely new game worlds and storylines. The best part--it's all free and rather easy to use.
Oblivion has countless mods, but this article focuses mainly on the visual tweaks. We scoured numerous forums for suggested tweaks; then we plodded through the various modding sites and sorted through scores of files to pick the very best mods. The vast majority fall into these categories: texture replacements, initialization tweaks, and data files. Texture replacements add new graphics or replace existing graphics in the game. Initialization tweaks contain information on how to edit your .ini file to improve performance and graphical quality using hidden settings already built into the game. Data files generally have an .esm file extension; some come with associated texture files that you have to load into the Oblivion data directory.
Keep in mind that not all modifications play nicely with each other--some mods might replace already-modded files and inadvertently delete a previously installed mod. Also, mod authors have limited resources for testing; don't be surprised if you come across the occasional graphical anomalies and even some instability.
Due to the variety of modification types, there isn't one specific installation method. Most mod authors will provide simple instructions with their programs. However, we do have a few tips to share.
Should you decide to take advantage of the initialization tweaks, make a backup of the original file that you can revert to if things go horribly wrong. You can find the Oblivion.ini file in the My Documents/My Games/Oblivion folder. On a side note, if the ini screws up the game and you didn't bother to make a backup of the file, simply delete it. When you relaunch Oblivion, the game should create a new default Oblivion.ini file.
Texture mods are finicky and might not work because of an improperly made, or nonexistent, ArchiveInvalidation.txt file. Generally, this file comes with the mod, but if you already have the file in your Oblivion/Data/ game folder, you'll need to append new information to it. On the off chance that you need to make changes to the file, use this utility. Follow the instructions, and the utility will automatically generate a comprehensive list of the textures located in your Oblivion/Data/Textures/ folder and then append them to a newly created ArchiveInvalidation.txt file.
Data files are easy to use, but they tend to arrive without documentation. You'll likely have to copy the files into the Oblivion/Data game directory. To enable them, click on the Oblivion game icon and then click on the Data Files button to choose what mods you want to load. It's as easy as smashing crabs!
The following pages have download links to all the mods we mention in the article. For simplicities sake we're also going to include one big file if you want to try them all out.
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