Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Tweak Guide
[Page 4] Patches & Mods
Bethesda has released a third patch for Oblivion, almost a year after the first patch. This patch brings the game up to Version 1.2.0416. The patch contains all the fixes from the previous patches, and the full list of changes is here. The latest changes include a range of bug and quest fixes, including fixing a major Form ID bug caused by the Shivering Isles expansion. Most notably the patch implements some optimizations to LOD (Level of Detail), so that as you wander the game world the blurry distant LOD Textures transition more smoothly to the sharper Detail Textures as you get closer to them. For more details of this see the new bLandscapeBlend variable under the Advanced Tweaking section, as well as the Highly Recommended Mods section further below for details of the new 'pepper' effect applied to landscapes, and how you can change/remove it.
Note: There are two versions of the 1.2.0416 patch - one for people who have Shivering Isles installed, and one for other Oblivion users which is listed further down the patch download page. Make sure to select the appropriate one for your version and locality.
It should be noted that some of your mods may not work properly once you have patched the game to a newer version. Typically you need to wait for the mod author to release a newer version if it is a complex mod. However if the mod simply contains replacement textures for example (such as the LOD Texture Replacement mods below), then instead of waiting for a new version, you can fix them yourself - see the Updating Mods section at the bottom of this page for instructions.
Also, make sure you defragment your system after installing this (or any) patch, to ensure smoother gameplay. Patching files with new information means that portions of them will become fragmented across your drive. People mistakenly believe stuttering has increased after a patch due to engine flaws, when it's quite simply due to important files becoming fragmented.
Update: There is also an Unofficial Patch put together by modders and regularly updated which addresses a large number of quest bugs. I personally don't use this patch, but if you find nothing else works to fix your quest issues then you may like to try it.
Oblivion avoids many of the problems associated with copy protection methods by simply having a basic DVD check in place. I can't provide you with the details of how to obtain a No-DVD patch for Oblivion for legal reasons, but I can say that keeping the disc in the drive does not impact on your performance at all. Furthermore, I want to stress that since Oblivion is arguably one of the best PC games available to date, no-one has any excuse for pirating this game. If you can afford a PC, and the game is available in your country, you can afford this game. A lot of people constantly whine about SecuROM or StarForce, but here we have a major games studio which has taken the gamble of not using restrictive protection systems on such an amazing game. Purchase a legitimate copy of the game as it will give you literally hundreds of hours of amazing gameplay, and given the way it can scale upwards, it has remained replayable and still looks fantastic several years after its release.
One of the things which really makes the Elder Scrolls games popular is the way in which they accommodate official and user-made modifications, or 'Mods' for short. These mods can add new areas to the game, new dungeons, new features, new objects, and entirely new storylines/quests. Mods mean that Oblivion, like Morrowind before it, has almost limitless gameplay potential. If you're interested in developing mods or plugins for Oblivion, or altering any of the Oblivion files to add your own customizations or game world adjustments, you can download the free TES Construction Set (6.5MB), and then refer to the TES CS Wiki, where there is a range of information on how to use the construction set. Since it's a Wiki, you can even add your own information to it, to make it an excellent resource for all Oblivion modders.
If you're not in the mood to make any mods yourself, well then as you might expect Oblivion is already stirring up a lot of excellent mod action. Check these places for mods you can download:
TES Nexus (was TESSource)
For a list of my recommended mods, see further below.
Official Plugins / Expansion Packs
Bethesda have released a range of Official Plugins for Oblivion, however they are not free. While it may be controversial for Bethesda to charge users for each plugin (usually $US1.89 - $2.99 each), these are not essential modifications to Oblivion, and there are plenty of great free mods available (like those below) which are far more useful, so if you don't want to spend your money, you don't have to buy the plugins.
An official Expansion Pack/Plugin called Knights of the Nine has also been released, and contains new gameplay. You can either download this pack or purchase a boxed set containing this expansion plus all the plugins released to date. It is recommended that you purchase the boxed set, as the downloadable plugins have an Internet activation system which can be quite troublesome and limiting, whereas the boxed set does not.
A full expansion pack called The Shivering Isles has been released. It contains over 30 hours of gameplay set in a new Realm of Madness. I've prepared some short videos which show you basic gameplay in The Shivering Isles.
A plugin called Fighter's Stronghold has now been released, and is free for a limited time after which purchase is required. Note that this plugin introduces a bug, which is detailed (including a workaround) here.
The plugins and the boxed sets require that you be patched to the latest version of the game for them to work properly. If you've installed the Shivering Isles Expansion Pack, I strongly recommend patching to the latest version of Oblivion even if you don't plan on playing through the Expansion just yet, as it has a major bug which impacts on all Oblivion gameplay.
Update: If you've purchased the Oblivion Game of the Year (GOTY) Edition, it already comes with Knights of the Nine and Shivering Isles expansions, so you don't need to purchase or install them separately.
Highly Recommended Mods
The following are free mods I highly recommend that you install. These are mods I have installed on my own system, and are safe and effective. From time to time I will add to this list of 'must-have' mods:
Texture Noise Replacement (2.6MB) - This mod replaces the new TerrainNoise.dds file which was added to the \Program Files\Bethesda Softworks\Oblivion\Data\textures\Effects directory as of the 1.2 Patch. This file controls the 'Pepper' Effect on more distant landscapes, which supposedly adds more detail, but can look odd at middle to close distances. You can either install this mod to make it look more realistic, or instead you can just rename or delete the TerrainNoise.dds file in the directory noted above if you want to remove the effect altogether.
Importantly, Bethesda has not altered any of the LOD textures as of the latest patch, so the LOD Texture Replacements below are still recommended. Keep in mind their appearance can be hindered by the new Terrain Noise effect, so either remove that effect or mod it - as discussed above - to get the maximum benefit from these LOD Texture Replacements.
Landscape LOD Replacement 1.1 (28MB) - This mod replaces all the distant blurry LOD landscapes with better looking higher resolution textures. This means you don't have to use the uGridsToLoad command, and hence you won't experience any major performance reductions or visual glitches. Note that Version 1.1 of this mod provides improved performance over the original version, so it is recommmended that you upgrade to it - more details here.
Landscape LOD Replacement (Border Regions) 1.1 (48MB) - By the same author as the mod above, this mod fixes all the blurry landscapes from the border regions as well. Note that Version 1.1 of this mod provides improved performance over the original version, so it is recommmended that you upgrade to it.
Normal Map LOD Replacement (25MB) - This mod replaces all the normal maps for distant land - basically it improves the shadows in all distant terrain, and is a great complement to the Landscape LOD Replacement mods further above.
Note: These LOD replacement mods may not work properly if you have certain optimizations enabled in your graphics card control panel - See 'Graphics Control Panel Settings' under the Neat Stuff & Conclusion section of this guide for details. They also may not work once you patch the game to a newer version - see Updating Mods at the bottom of this page for a fix.
High Resolution Texture Replacement Pack (2GB+) - If you're not happy with the appearance of the textures in the game, especially when up close, you can try Qarl's high resolution texture replacement pack which replaces a wide range of textures, including those on buildings, landscapes, rocks, dungeons, even snowflakes and blood. It uses much higher resolution replacement textures which will only work on Nvidia 6 series or ATI X1000 series graphics cards or newer. While it can make Oblivion look even more detailed, it will generally increase stuttering and may reduce FPS by up to 10-20%. Only recommended for those with decent graphics cards which have 512MB or more of Video RAM.
Better Grass Without Tiling (151KB) - This mod replaces the standard distant grass texture which shows very obvious tiling. This mod removes that tiling and hence grassy hills in the middle distance look much better. If you want to replace all your tiling textures - not just the grass - with non-tiling versions, you can try this Texture Tiling Replacement Pack (22MB). I personally prefer just the grass mod, as removing tiling from everything makes it look far too smooth in my opinion.
No More Annoying Messages Mod (3KB) - This simple mod removes the made-for-console periodic 'Loading Area' text message, as well as 'Your Horse is stabled outside the city gate' and 'The Dark Brotherhood is watching you' text prompts, but keeps the important ones. If you just want to remove the 'Loading Area' only, use the Lite Version of this mod. Highly recommended, as the 'Loading Area' messages totally ruin immersion while wandering around outdoors.
Color Map Mod (2.5MB) - This mod replaces the in-game world map with a color version; a nice visual touch.
I'm aware that there are plenty of other mods out there at the moment, however the list above will only contain those mods I consider "essential" and would personally install on my system due to safety and compatibility reasons. Feedback on some of the other mods indicates that they can have unusual effects on the game, including visual glitches and even crashes, so I will only provide the "safe" must-have mods here. Make sure to check out the Mod sites further above yourself to see what else is out there if you're after a particular modification for Oblivion.
Installation instructions for each mod are usually included with the mod itself in a Readme.txt file. Where instructions may not be provided (perhaps a sign the mod isn't very professional), the procedure typically involves extracting the contents of the mod archive into your \Program Files\Bethesda Softworks\Oblivion\Data directory (and subdirectories as required), then if necessary using the Oblivion Launcher, selecting 'Data Files' and ticking the mod from the listing shown there. Note that you should make sure to run Defrag after installing larger mods to reduce stuttering in the game.
Next, to make sure your mods are always detected by Oblivion, even after being patched, see the instructions under 'Updating Mods for New Version of Oblivion' further below. That method is quite simple and should work for most basic texture replacement mods, such as those I've recommended above. However, I've found that for the 'Grass Without Tiling' mod, I needed to create an empty text file, rename it to ArchiveInvalidation.txt, paste the path to the 'Grass Without Tiling' mod file into it (i.e paste the following into there: textures/landscape/terrainhdgrass01su.dds), and then place this Archiveinvalidation.txt file into into my \Program Files\Bethesda Softworks\Oblivion\Data\ directory. This isn't always necessary, but basically it tells Oblivion to always check for subdirectories under the default directories for added texture, sound, music and image mods, and load up whatever is in there.
Based on further research by members of the Oblivion community, it turns out that due to a bug in Oblivion, the ArchiveInvalidation.txt method doesn't necessarily work properly for all mods. The solution involves using the Oblivion Mod Manager utility. This utility makes the appropriate changes to your Oblivion files, but note that you need to make sure you've installed .NET 2.0 or newer for it to work. If you're still having problems installing your mod and getting it to work correctly, try this Oblivion Mod FAQ for more detailed instructions. The instructions I provide above (and below) will work for the mods I recommend.
A final word of warning about mods - be careful, not all modders are experts, and sometimes installing a mod can bring with it odd effects or unexpected problems down the track. Choose mods carefully based on lots of user feedback and don't install many different mods at once - some are incompatible with each other. A badly installed mod can thoroughly ruin your saved games, so once again make sure to keep plenty of save points before installing a mod. The mods I recommend above are all proven to be relatively safe and thus I can recommend them for you to install. I do want to urge you though not to go nuts with mods.
Updating Mods For New Versions of Oblivion
Some mods need to be updated each time a new patch is released for Oblivion, otherwise they may not work properly or at all. In such cases, it is wise to check the mod sites for a new version of the mod shortly after a patch is released. Otherwise changes to certain gameplay parameters may conflict with that in the new patch, and cause unintended consequences.
However, for simple mods which only have replacement textures, sounds or images, and hence no chance of actually conflicting with the latest patch update, you can resolve this easily yourself. Oblivion usually considers any replacement file 'old' if the file dates are older than that of the main Oblivion.esm file, and doesn't load them up. You can change the dates on your existing mod files yourself quickly and easily, following these instructions:
1. Download the free FileDate Changer utility (20KB).
2. Extract the contents and run FileDate.exe
3. In the program, click 'Add Files', then browse to the mod directory where replacement textures reside. For example, for the LOD Texture Replacement files this should be \Program Files\Bethesda Softworks\Oblivion\Data\textures\landscapelod\generated.
4. Select all the mod files there (hold down SHIFT and highlight all the files), then click Open.
5. Back in the main program window, change the Creation and Modified dates to some new date, such as tomorrow's date (i.e. newer than the day you patched Oblivion).
6. Click 'Change File Dates' and it's done.
This method only works for mods which are simple replacements of existing Oblivion data, primarily mods based on texture, sound and image changes. I don't recommend this for any other type of mod which affects gameplay for example, and if you find it doesn't work properly for you, see further above for links to more detailed instructions.
The next section starts our look at the Oblivion In-Game settings in detail.