While developers usually try to make a game as good as possible, they are also confined by circumstances. They work to deadlines and shipping dates, publisher expectations, and budget constraints amid other factors. This means that sometimes the finished product might not be the best it could be, while the games that release on PC often get fan-made mods that substantially improve the game.
Over on ResetEra, players have been discussing the mods that drastically improved games (to the point they become "essential"). The OP, 'Soldier', clarified what they meant: "I'm mainly curious about the mods that actually proved to be essential to a game, to the point that it would even arbitrarily raise a game's score: let's say a 6/10 game now becomes an 8 or 9/10 game thanks to just a couple of really essential mods".
The OP said they got the idea after the release of Sonic Frontiers noting that modders are already at work on making improvements to the game's physics and other mechanics. "It makes me curious if the results will actually transform that game from 'very good' to 'excellent' once it's done," they wrote. The poster also mentioned other examples to get commentors going, such as how a KOTOR 2 mod added lots of cut content and how Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines players must install the 'Unofficial Patch' to get the proper experience on modern PCs.
There were a few nods for Sonic Adventure with commentors mentioning graphics mods that substantially alter the look of the game for the better, either by upgrading the visuals or returning the title to look more like the Dreamcast version. Another notable nod went to Project Restoration, a patch for Majora's Mask and Majora's Mask 3D that features many fixes and quality of life improvements.
One good tip that answered the OP's call out was a suggestion for a Square Enix classic. User 'AgeEighty' wrote: "Final Fantasy IX Remastered is far from unplayable without Moguri Mod, but it improves the experience so dramatically that I'd call it essential for sure." The mod is available over on Nexus Mods and uses deep learning techniques for a "total revamp" of the PC version of FF9 and makes the game's graphics that much crisper and better looking, improving resolutions.
One interesting mention recalled a fix for Aliens: Colonial Marines. There is a whole story behind this one. A modder named 'jamesdickinson963' dug into the game's config file and discovered a spelling mistake. One line of code read: "ClassRemapping=PecanGame.PecanSeqAct_AttachXenoToTether -> PecanGame.PecanSeqAct_AttachPawnToTeather".
Of course this should read as "Tether". The modder made the change to the typo and discovered the AI of the Xenomorphs in the game changed. On ResetEra, a poster wrote how much this one tiny change to the code alters the gameplay experience.
"Sure enough, a single letter typo was found exactly where he [the modder] claimed. I was in disbelief. As recommended, I fixed the typo, saved it in Notepad and booted the game up.
The improvement is immediately recognizable in your first encounters with the Xenos. While they still charge you perched on their hind legs, they now crawl far more often, flank you using vents and holes in the environment and are generally far more engaged and aggressive. Five years after release, a single letter managed to overhaul the entirety of the enemy AI behavior in the game."
This change to the game's code was also tested by PC Gamer, which did a before-and- after comparison. Beyond this interesting suggestion, there are many more that commentors have mentioned, including a rather comedic one for Devil May Cry 5. You can find the thread on ResetEra here.
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