Last Updated 3/31/2009

WAIT, THESE AREN'T TEXTURES!

There are a lot of essential mods that dramatically improve the look and feel of the game but are not just mesh/texture "replacers". These mods come in a lot of different shapes and sizes, so they are further arranged into several categories below.

Note that many of the descriptions here include tips for how to arrange these mods in your load-order list. Even if you already think you know how to do this, please re-read the Oblivion Mods FAQ section on Setting the Load Order and General Load-Order Guidelines. Really. You've been warned.

DISTANT OBJECTS

This category is dominated by iggey's amazing Almost Everything Visible When Distant (AEVWD), which allows you to see most structures in the game from very far away, much like you can with the Imperial City in vanilla Oblivion. Inspired by rain_nz's excellent but somewhat limited Tamriel VWD mod, AEVWD was a huge undertaking because it adds literally hundreds of new low-poly meshes and tiny textures to go with them. AEVWD will most likely impact your system performance, but it's well worth the dramatic results, and is absolutely critical if you like to play without the navigation/quest pointers (see the HUD section below).

Iggey has also created an alternate version AEVWD called Almost Everything VWD large (AEVWDL), which improves the textures used on distant objects.

Bomret has also expanded AEVWD by adding the window light effects from Texian's Window Lighting System (see TWLS in the Lighting section) to the distant buildings. Illuminated AEVWD dramatically improves the look of distant buildings at night without any performance impact and is compatible with other lighting mods like Cities Alive at Night (also in the Lighting section).

Finally, Arthmoor has combined all of these and more with extensive mesh optimizations in Really AEVWD (RAEVWD). This mod attempts to provide as much visual improvement as possible without absurd VRAM requirements. The distant object mesh optimizations are dramatic and are achieved primarily by discarding unnecessary data from the distant meshes rather than reducing the visible shape data. 

Since other mods you're using may also add things that should be visible in the distance, ElminsterEU has created an amazing utility called TES4LODGen. This is a one-click DistantLOD generator. What does this mean? Well, it will automatically find your Data folder, your list of active mods and your Oblivion.ini, then load all active mods, load all associated BSAs, and generate the DistantLOD data for all worldspaces in all your active mods. Wow! Yeah! It automatically takes into account all installed mods and correctly handles cases where objects are moved, removed or added. It also completely ignores the VWD flags and instead checks directly to see which models have _far.nif versions (the low-poly meshes) and then exports LOD data for everything that uses those models. This means you can simply install the meshes and textures from AEVWD, AEVWDL, or RAEVWD and then run TES4LODGen. Fantastic! If you don't like the results for some reason, just delete the DistantLOD folder.

People with very high-end systems have an even more amazing option. Expanding on the concept of AEVWD, jacko2 has created the stunning More Than Almost Everything Visible When Distant (MTAEVWD), which adds distant view for rocks, wayshrines, etc., to the very limit of what's feasible for today's computer systems. Only users with the very strongest machines (Core2Duo 2.6GHz, 8800GT with 1Gb VRAM, etc.) will be able to get acceptable frame rates (15FPS+) with all detail enabled. You have been warned! To improve performance with this mod, you should consider disabling water reflections and lowering the uGridDistantCount value in Oblivion.ini. Also, make sure to keep uGridsToLoad at 5 in Oblivion.ini. MTAEVWD works fine with TES4LODGen, too. Perhaps some future combination of this with RAEVWD will make complete VWD possible with reasonable system limitations.

If your system just can't handle AEVWD or MTAEVWD, then you should try the older Tamriel VWD (v0.5) mod, which adds some 40 distant locations to the game. However, the performance hit for this mod is worse than it should be because the meshes and textures are not reduced like they are in AEVWD.

Another excellent addition in this area is the Optimised Distant Land MAX mesh replacer, which can give you some increased performance with very little loss of detail in the distant landscape meshes. This mesh replacer works fine with all distant landscape texture replacers, too. 

GRASS & TREES

There are several significant early mods in this category, including Short Grass, Low-Poly Grass, and HTF's Diverse Grasses, but the most significant recent additions are RPGBlackDragon's LowTriPolyGrass and LowPolyTrees. These two mods can significantly help graphics performance without sacrificing much in appearance. LowTriPolyGrass replaces the standard grass mesh with a simplified mesh to improve performance, but without any significant loss of visual quality. The LowPolyTrees mod does noticeably reduce the visual quality of trees, but the performance advantages are worth it for many users. Both offer several incremental levels of reduction so you can pick the performance-quality tradeoff that best suits you.

Much like LowTriPolyGrass, the older Low-Poly Grass mod also replaces the standard grass mesh with a greatly simplified mesh to improve performance. It looks virtually identical to the original mesh in first-person mode, but its simplicity does become apparent in third-person mode.

The Short Grass mod is an ESP file that changes the height of grass in the game, which may improve performance on some systems. 

The most recent entry in this category, HTF's Diverse Grasses, adds to and changes all the grass in the game. It changes the size, shape, and color of the grasses you find in the game. It includes matching landscape textures. There are also optional matching landscapeLOD texture sets: Diverse Grasses 2048 Landscape LODs or Diverse Grasses 4096 Landscape LODs.

HARVEST

The mods in this category offer dramatic improvements to immersion in the game by giving visual feedback whenever the player opens a container or collects ingredients. The revolutionary mods that first defined this category are Harvest [Containers] and Harvest [Flora]. To appreciate what these mods do, you should watch the YouTube video of Harvest [Containers].

More recently, Realistic Flora came along and improved on the concepts in Harvest [Flora] by converting all flora to use nif animations, which means that any plant added, moved, or removed by mods will work without issues. It also means you can disable Realistic Flora whenever you want without fear of losing any flora in your games. But most important, it won't bloat your savegame file size since the PlaceAtMe script command isn't used.

Fortunately, the Realistic Flora creator has now joined forces with the Harvest [Flora] team, and the result is Harvest [Flora] v3, which includes the best of both mods and much more (including support for the Shivering Isles expansion).

Qarl's Harvest adds similar harvesting effects for fallen logs, as well as a bunch of other cool stuff like apple trees, hay you can feed to your horse, and more.

Downloads:
Harvest [Flora]: TESNexus | PlanetElderScrolls
Harvest [Containers]: TESNexus | PlanetElderScrolls
Qarl's Harvest: TESNexus | PlanetElderScrolls
Realistic Flora: TESNexus | PlanetElderScrolls

LIGHTING

One of the worst immersion problems in Oblivion is the lack of lighting on windows at night. The amazing Illumination Within mod by Slap and ModMan set out to solve this problem. The difference this makes in-game is amazing. Windows will glow as if lit at night, making cities and villages appear much more alive. It's an effect you have to see to believe. However, there were a lot of issues with the original version, so the best way to use it is to install both Illumination Within Revived and then Illumination Within Revived 0.92 -- Optimised. The drawbacks are that there is some performance impact from the additional light sources and it does not work with mods that change the cities or move buildings around.

Alternately, you can use the excellent Texian's Window Lighting System (TWLS), which entirely avoids the problems of Illumination Within since it does not place actual light sources in the game world. Conversely, the main drawback is exactly that: it does not use actual light sources, which some users prefer. Users with lower-end systems should definitely use TWLS since it has much lower system requirements (it doesn't use scripts or area-effect light sources). TWLS also has the distinct advantage that it automatically adds window light effects to buildings added by other mods, such as Open Cities Complete. The only compatibility problems with TWLS arise when you install a mod that changes building meshes, such as QTP3 and QTP2: Parallaxed Qarl. This just means that some buildings may not get the window lighting effect.

Merging these two approaches, the fantastic Animated Window Lighting System and Chimneys gives the best of both worlds. AWLSC mod gives the building meshes two states: lit and unlit. This allows a low-impact quest to toggle the state of each mesh for day and night without requiring any new objects to be placed in the world. This avoids the FPS hit from IWR while still providing a similar result and allowing complete compatibility with Open Cities, Better Cities, Open Better Cities, or any other mod that moves things around in the world. You still do not get the actual light sources as in IWR, but the effect is closer here than in TWLS. Even better, AWLSC now uses the same method to add smoking chimney animations to the game! AWLSC includes the latest mesh optimizations and fixes from the Unofficial Oblivion Patch as well as support options for QTP3 and Blood & Mud. Works especially well with the distant lighting effects from RAEVWD.

Also, the excellent Cities Alive At Night mod lets you see city lights from outside each city at night (including chapel windows).

To make things darker at night and in dungeons (so you actually need torches and other light sources), you should get the Darker Mods Set (includes Darker Dungeons and Darker Nights). You may prefer to have night be a bit less dark than Darker Nights, in which case you should get Original Color Darker Nights. For the Shivering Isles expansion, get Darker Nights for Shivering Isles. Note that when using these along with overhaul mods that alter dungeons (such as Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul), you'll either need to load Darker Dungeons last or even better use Wrye Bash's Bashed Patch to import the lighting changes (i.e., leave them inactive but tagged with C.Light and then activate the Import Cells section of the Bashed Patch).

MAGIC EFFECTS

Lots of players hate the constant saran-wrap effect that some spells and magic items suffer from in Oblivion. There are tons of mods that attempt to alter or remove this effect. My personal favorite is Initial Glow, which replaces the persistent glow effect on magical items and spells with a subtle initial glow that fades out within a few seconds. Initial Glow has a huge advantage over most similar mods because it does not suffer any compatibility problems with mods that change other aspects of magic, such as Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul 1.3, Mighty Magicka, etc. (TES lore refers to "magic" as "magicka" in case you're wondering).

If you prefer more persistent magic effects, you should try Visually Enchanted Weapons 2.1.

WEATHER/ENVIRONMENT

By far the most popular weather/environment mod is Natural Environments (NE) by Max Teal (recently updated for Shivering Isles compatibility). The included Natural Habitat and Natural Vegitation mods are essential additions to the game (although natural vegetation can cause a performance hit). Also included are Natural Water and Natural Weather, which are less universally accepted (although still very popular).

The Natural Water mod makes water extremely clear (transparent). If you don't like the clear water effect from Natural Water, some excellent alternatives include Phinix Waterfix (my personal favorite), Enhanced Water, and Advanced Water Modification. Another excellent addition here is Improved Water For Oblivion And SI.

The Natural Weather mod adds a bunch of new weather types, but it sometimes has problems with switching weather types too frequently, so if you have problems with this you may want to try the Natural Weather Unofficial Patch (although this largely solves the problem by eliminating the seasonal weather patterns added by NE) or try another alternative instead. If Natural Weather's colors are too saturated for you when using HDR, then download Natural Weather Color Override.

An excellent alternative to Natural Weather is the Atmospheric Weather System (AWS) by HTF. It's all personal choice between AWS and NW, and there's no clear winner, so try both and see for yourself (save first!). There are also a ton of add-on options for AWS you can find here (TESNexus search link for "AWS" will also return some mods for "claws").

Another similar to mod is More Sky Climates, which adds variation and realism to the game weather. There's also Seasonal Weather, which makes weather random but still realistic. Add the two together and you get Seasonal Weather for More Sky Climates, which is similar to AWS but more random. These are also compatible with Original Color Darker Nights.

Given all these choices, there are several good possibilities for combinations of weather and environment effects, as follows*:

  • NE: Natural Weather (Darker Nights)
    NE: Natural Weather Color Override (for HDR)
    NE: Natural Weather Unofficial Patch
    NE: Natural Water, Phinix Waterfix, or Advanced Water Modification
  • AWS
    AWS NE Color
    AWS Plugin Pack
  • Seasonal Weather for More Sky Climates
    OC Darker Nights
    NE: Natural Water, Phinix Waterfix, or Advanced Water Modification

*Major thanks to Daedro for suggesting this arrangement.

Virtually creating a whole new category of its own, Wormheart's Natural Interiors (NI) mod changes the lighting of interior cells based on the weather outside, day/night cycles, etc., and even lets you see out through the windows to a simulated exterior skyline. Unbelievable! It was a huge project, though, and was never completed. Fortunately, a strong team of NI fans have continued the effort with Weather - All Natural, which includes support for NW, AWS, and more. This even more ambitious effort aims to also let you see buildings and even NPCs when looking out a window!

Deathless Aphrodite's Rainbows in Tamriel brings another refreshing change to the world. This mod does exactly what the title suggests. It adds a chance that you may see a rainbow after a storm. It's compatible with everything. Very cool.

If you're not using one of the major landscape replacers from the World Textures page, you should consider HTF's Diverse Grasses, which adds to and changes all the grass in the game. A future version is planned to improve compatibility with the Better Tiling Landscape textures.

Although it's not strictly weather-related, the awesome Get Wet mod adds a huge amount of immersion by making the player , NPCs, and creatures look wet if they're out in the rain or go swimming. You literally get to see the water droplets running off your character, your horse, anyone you talk to, etc. Screenshots don't do it justice. Be sure to get the Get Wet Updated version, since the original version suffered from a few significant bugs.

There are quite a few "night sky" texture replacers, but few of them come close to matching Gloomfrost's Real Night Sky. Great for stargazers. Be sure to install it after any other night sky mods. Works well with Night Sky Fire & Ice 2 if you only use the Blue Masser and New Secunda textures from that mod.

SOUNDS

The Oblivion Stereo Sound Overhaul (OSSO) mod enhances many of Oblivion's stereo/ambient sounds, including many new sounds, expanded stereo dynamics, boosted bass, crisper sounds, subtle reverb, loop fixes, and a greater variety.

The Better Storms & Weather (BS&W) mod expands on OSSO by further tweaking the weather sounds from OSSO and adding more randomization during storms. You should install BS&W after OSSO, so that BS&W's updated sound files will overwrite those from OSSO.

BS&W also includes integrated versions of PJs Lightning Strikes During Storms and More Immersive Sounding Weather (MIS-W), so if you use BS&W then you should not use those other mods. BS&W is not compatible with the Natural Weather mod from Natural Environments. If you want to maintain compatibility with Natural Weather, use the older MIS-W instead of BS&W.

The best of the bunch may now be Deathless Aphrodite's Storms, Lightning, Sounds for AWS, Natural Weather and Vanilla (Storms & Sound), which merges Weather Inside (see below) with BS&W, makes them compatible with AWS or Natural Weather (but does not require them since it also includes a vanilla weather version), and adds numerous critical tweaks.

The More Immersive Sound (MIS) mod also improves immersion by tweaking the stock in-game ambient sounds for animals, city noises, etc. A separate ESP is included with lowered wind sound level for people who play with no music, or the music turned down. MIS is compatible with BS&W as long as BS&W is loaded after MIS (in your load order). The great Better Bell Sounds mod is included with MIS. Be sure to grab the MIS_FIX file, which includes some meshes that were missing in the main download.

Another great sound mod is Atmospheric Oblivion (AO), which adds things like ghostly moans, insane muttering, howls of beasts, birds/wildlife, crumbling masonary, etc. Since this mod also adds weather sounds, it may be necessary to load it before BS&W if you want to hear the effects of BS&W. Be sure to also get the Atmospheric Oblivion 1.1 patch and install it after Atmospheric Oblivion 1.0. The excellent Mod Compatibility Project (MCP) includes compatibility patches for using AO with Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul and Martigen's Monster Mod.

Expanding on AO, Audia Arcanum 2.0 revises all and magicka cast and hit sounds, adds more high-quality ambient noises, and improves most of the "arcane" enemy sounds, such as wraiths, ghosts and liches. Be sure to add the 2.1 update to get the full effect. AO is included. Should work with OOO, MMM and Mighty Magicka.

In a similar fashion -- but for combat -- several excellent mods have been made to improve combat sounds. These include Cleitanious' classic Combat Sounds 300, Walther's Oblivion Combat Sounds, and Better Bow Sounds. The best of these are compiled in migthegreat's Symphony of Violence, resulting in a complete overhaul of combat sound immersion. Now when you strike flesh it will sound like it should, gruesome and gory.

Finally, the Weather Inside [seasons] 1.2 mod adds four different types of indoor weather, all directly related to the external weather. This mod will let you hear subtle breezes inside when the weather is calm outside with blue skies, pronounced wind with subtle howling inside when the weather is overcast/blustery outside, as well as howling wind and distant thunder inside when a thunderstorm is raging outside. There is also a quieter version included for people who play with no music, or the music turned down. All the sounds are bundled in a .BSA file.

Weather Inside is incompatible with Sunlit Interiors, but it is fully compatible with Natural Environments Weather and other Weather mods (such as BS&W and AO), Open Cities, and DarkerDungeons (however, make sure that Darker Dungeons loads after Weather Inside or the dungeon lighting will revert to default).

You can arrange the ESP load order for all these mods however you want, depending on your preference, but it probably works best with this load order*:

  • MIS.esp or MIS Low Wind.esp
  • MIS New Sounds Optional Part.esp
  • Atmospheric Oblivion.esp
  • Storms.esp
  • weather inside [seasons] v1.2.esp or weather inside [silent seasons] v1.2.esp

*Adapted from initial suggestions by Martigen.

So, for any sound activators not covered by Atmospheric Oblivion, the MIS sounds will be heard, while BS&W will take precedence over AO's weather sounds, and of course you'll also get the subdued weather sounds from Weather Inside. This means Atmospheric Oblivion will handle the majority of sound tweaks for everything except weather.

If you're using one of the Storms & Sound variants (recommended), then you will substitute either AWS-Storms & Sound.esp, NW-Storms & Sound.esp, or Storms & Sound.esp (for vanilla weather) in place of the last two plugins on that list (i.e., you won't need Storms.esp or Weather Inside.esp any more).

Due to the way these sound mods work, they may conflict with lots of things. This is fine as long as you load them first, before any gameplay mods. I put them all very near the start of my load list, just after the Unofficial Oblivion Patch (which itself goes just after Oblivion.esm). You may lose some sound sources this way, but there is enough variation of sources that you won't loose them all. This is especially true if you're running any other mods that alter containers or interior lighting, since the changes will conflict (AO adds sounds to containers, for example, so it will need to be loaded before mods such as OOO, Harvest Containers, Lock Bash, etc.) if you're using any of those.

If you suffer a performance hit when riding a horse, it may be because the hoof sounds are too much for your onboard sound card. The solution for this is Quiet Feet. The only problem with that mod, however, is that it doesn't work well with other mods that alter horses, such as OOO 1.3, Slof's Horses, The Great Horse Compilation, etc. So, for compatibility with those mods you'll need to use Quiet Feet for OOO and all other creature mods (there's also an OMOD version). It replaces the .wav files with empty ones to eliminate the performance problem on some sound cards.

If you're looking for new music in to hear in the game, you should check out these awesome music packs: Battle music pack, Dungeon music pack, Explore music pack 1, Explore music pack 2, and Public music pack.

USER INTERFACE

One of the biggest complaints about Oblivion is that the in-game HUD and menus were obviously designed for use on the console versions of the game (XBOX-360 and Playstation 3). Fortunately, there are tons of great mods that solve this problem. The first and best-known of these is BTmod v2.20, but lots of more specialized improvements have arrived more recently.

One of the best mods for improving the HUD is Immersive Interface. Immersive Interface has an excellent installer that lets you configure numerous options for exactly how you want the HUD to appear in-game. If you want something flavored more like Morrowind, check out wz's masterpiece: Remake of the Classic Morrowind HUD. Also, if you want to further customize your own interface, check out wz's utilities, such as wz_Builder.

For the menus, my personal favorite is wz_Inventory, in large part because it makes it possible to find stuff in your inventory without a lot of scrolling (Morrowind-style!). Unfortunately, wz never released the final improvements he made to the mod, but he did pass the torch on to other UI designers who now incorporate his work. Another very popular UI mod is Dark UI, which uses a dark red leather texture for the menus. Another excellent merger is Phinix Immersive DarkUI 1.1, which combines the unobtrusive HUD from Immersive Interface with DarkUI fonts and menu style. The only drawback to this merger is it doesn't support the easy custom configurability of Immersive Interface, which is a shame.

The most advanced of the newer UI mods is the hugely popular DarNified UI, which now includes wz_Inventory and many other amazing improvements. With some tinkering you can even alter the HUD layout much like Immersive Interface. Check out the details on DarN's forum.  The popular DarkUI'd DarN variant merges DarNified UI with DarkUI for a great effect. You can also try one of several variants of DarkUI'd DarN, such as the excellent DarkUI DarN recolors.

Although it's not a complete HUD redesign like the others described here, the Simple Compass mod provides a very subtle but effective change to the standard Oblivion compass. 

Finally, ICUP has released Loading Screens Remade, which adds beautiful DarkUI-themed loading screens created from screenshots taken by the TES community. However, this mod is not recommended for new players (since the new screens do not include the useful text tips found in the original loading screens).

DOWNLOAD MIRROR SITES

PlanetElderScrolls
Illuminated AEVWD
Almost Everything VWD
Immersive Interface
Natural Environments
NE Color Override
DarkUI wz_inventory
Phinix Immersive DarkUI 1.1
Loading Screens Remade

TESNexus
Illuminated AEVWD
Almost Everything WVD

Immersive Interface
Natural Environments

Diverse Grasses (OMOD version)
Atmospheric Weather System (OMOD version)
DarkUI wz_inventory
Phinix Immersive DarkUI 1.1
Loading Screens Remade

ElricM
Almost Everything VWD

FilePlanet
Almost Everything VWD

File Front
Illuminated AEVWD
Atmospheric Oblivion 1.0
Atmospheric Oblivion 1.1 patch

MORE ESSENTIAL IMPROVEMENTS

I'm bending the rules for this site here a bit by also including a few of the absolutely essential gameplay/item/creature mods because they also add a huge improvement in the types of armor, weapons, creatures you will see in the game, as well as fixing a lot of critical problems with the game.

Anyway, here's the list (including some mirrors):
Chameleon-NoRefraction
Potable Pastiche
OnHit Shader Replacement
Slof's Oblivion Robe Trader (Slof's Hive)
Ingredient Storage Shelves
Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul 1.33
Francesco's leveled creatures/items 4.5b (be sure to get the huge items add-on)
Open Cities Complete (brings most cities into the normal worldspace)
Bananasplit Better Cities (English translations of dramatic city overhaul project)
Open Better Cities (brings Better Cities into the normal worldspace)
Lore Creature Expansion 1.3 (TES File Front)
Lore Creature Expansion 1.3 (TESNexus)
Martigen's Monster Mod v3.5 (PlanetElderScrolls)
Color Cyrodil Terrain Map
Menu Video Replacement Scenery
Elven Map Redux
Antiquated Map
Colored Map
Dark UI Loading Screens