War! Huh! What is it good for? Absolutely loads of things when it comes to video games, it would seem. Not content with supplying us with such, ahem, great game names as Warfighter, Warface and (I kid you not) Wartune, it seems nothing gets the freebie and modification community going quite as much as the smell of pixellated napalm in the morning. So read on for The Best in free PC games and mods: WAR! edition:
XCOM: Enemy Unknown:
It seems the dominating topic of conversation about this revival of classic PC strategy franchise X-COM has not been how unexpectedly brilliant it’s turned out to be, but what the hell to name your soldiers. My Twitter feed has been deluged with stories of exploits by squads named in honour of the 1970s Dutch football team or great philosophers and generals from history, and tales of members of Irish girl band Bewitched getting blitzed by B-movie bug-eyed aliens.
One editor I know named his little soldiers after his pool of freelance writers - apparently I died accidentally when a nearby car exploded. Not quite the sort of heroic, guns-blazing death I’d have liked, but that’s the cruelty of war for you.
It’s only been out a week, and already the modding community have got to work feverishly tinkering away under XCOM’s bonnet. Excalibur’s Easier Easy Mod does pretty much what it says on the tin, while at the other end of the difficulty scale the Anti-cheat Mod for Classic Difficult with Abduction and Terror UFO’s not only wins the most long-winded mod name of the month award hands-down but makes XCOM much harder by removing the +criticalchance and +aim% from all aliens so that you face the full, unfettered alien A.I.
Second Wave gives you heaps of new options second time around should you actually beat the game, while Warspace Extension tweaks and rebalances a myriad elements from weapons to the strategical map. You can download these and future XCOM: Enemy Unknown mods.
Mount & Blade: Warband
From sci-fi squad shenanigans to medieval mass warfare. If there’s one community that just can’t get enough of their mods, it’s Mount & Blade fans - files for these games are amongst the most consistently downloaded in the Strategy Informer Mods section. Here’s a selection of some the latest to grace our servers:
Imperialism fast-forward the lands of Calradia to 1760, re-imagining the native map in line with the new time frame and adding gunpowder, new governing systems and unique factions..
A Clash of Kings recreates the world of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice (or Game of Thrones for those who came to his work via television) inside the Warband engine. It’s still in beta, but is pretty stable, and you can grab it from.
The Dark Ages in the British Isles were a pretty grim time for all concerned, and you can get a taste of that life with Brytenwalda Special Edition. This hugely ambitious mod meticulously recreates the British Isles with more than 40 cities, 75 castles and 200 villages to explore/plunder the hell out of, and that’s just for starters, as the screenshot illustrates. It’s a great example of the sheer scale that Warband modders are working at, and you.
As much fun as testing your tactical skills can be, sometimes you just want to jump in, grab a gun and wage war yourself on some random server, for which free first-person shooter Warsow is ideal. It’s very much in the classic super-fast-paced mould of the likes of online Quake and UT, with a heavy emphasis on speed of movement and wall-jumping to ensure you get to that vital power-up before your opponent, and packs all the essential game modes under its belt, including Capture the Flag and Instagib.
It’s also rather pretty to look at, mixing a cyberpunk sensibility with a stark cel-shaded cartoon aesthetic. Mix in a hefty dose of customisability and some interesting built-in e-sports features and it’s quite a package for an entirely free title..
After I highlighted Diaspora in last month’s column, Strategy Informer reader Herodotus drew my attention to the Battlestar Galactica Fleet Commander mod for Homeworld 2 in the comments - and it’s just as brilliant as he described.
It says it all about the vibrancy of the PC modding community that, in a month packed with outstanding new releases (I haven’t even found time to play Dishonored yet), I should find myself hooked on an add-on for a nine year old game. So props to Herodotus and do keep the suggestions coming in, folks.
Loopy Doom 3 mod of the month:
Only the second column in, and we have what appears to be a tradition developing. Quite what it is about id Software’s monster closet tour-de-force that brings out the bonkers in modders I don’t know, but this month’s example of such madness is x-MASS.
It’s Christmas time, your car’s broken down, you’re lost in the fog in a backwater town and to top it off demons have stolen your kid’s presents. What are you going to do? Kick ass, obviously.
Any mod that features a weapon entitled “Instant Zombie Present Grenade” and lists “silly humour” as a feature point is clearly a must-download, and you can grab it.
That’s all from me for this month, and I’ve barely scraped the surface of what is available. I’ll return with more of the very best that free PC games and mods have to offer in November. Meanwhile, make your way over to thefor a constant stream of the latest mods, patches, demos, maps and so much more.