It’s been nearly two years since the release of Fallout 4, and so many of us have already had our fun with it. But thanks to the modding community, we’re able to breathe new life into Bethesda’s action-RPG.

Whenever I’ve gone on a modding frenzy with a Bethesda game, I tend to expand on what’s already there. To improve the overall experience. You see, for me, it has to be lore friendly. No nano suits and lightsabers. No clean and perfect supermodels with mountainous mammaries. It’s the apocalypse in the world of Fallout 4, and a very dire one at that.

This time, instead of expanding on Fallout 4, I wanted to take it a step further and overhaul the game. To create a new experience. I do not possess the ability to make mods myself: the extent of my modding credentials go as far as messing around in Morrowind. I once created a shack, and a rainbow coloured portal that would transport you to an unfinished landscape, void of any life, foliage, or hope. To say that I’ve dabbled might be a little generous.

Setting the stage

So then, it was time to take a trip to the Fallout 4 Nexus to browse its vast (and rather kinky) library. The goal was to assemble an overhaul that would work with Fallout, not against it. And it wasn’t until I saw the ENB preset Pilgrim, that I knew exactly what to aim for. I wanted to make a truly bleak survival horror.

For anyone unacquainted with ENBs: they are modding tools created by Boris Vorontsov that allow you to transform a game’s visuals. Colour correction, lighting and other post-processing effects are at your fingertips, and you’ll find tonnes of fantastic community-made profiles on The NexusPilgrim is up there with the best.

Inspired by the movie The Witch, it sucks all colour from the world creating a grim atmosphere. Couple that with photo-realistic lighting and you get a complete one-eighty on the previous palette. Pilgrim even goes a step further with the addition of a weather and soundtrack mod. I was genuinely surprised at how much it was able to transform the game on its own.

Summon the horror

With an ENB to do the heavy lifting, I could start looking for a core gameplay tweak to further enhance the setting. It was a no-brainer: the ghouls. They’re already freaky, but I decided to give them a horrifying makeover with DECAY. I also added hundreds of them across the map. I mean, why not?

This is done using FeralGhoulOUTBREAK, a simple mod that can spawn up to 2,500 ghouls across the Commonwealth. I didn’t want them constantly interrupting gameplay though, so I went for a lower number. They should be a threat, not a nuisance.

Of course, with so many ghouls running amok it’s important to balance that out. You can do that with Fear the Walkers. This allows you to tweak a tonne of settings from movement speed, damage, infection and spawn rate.

For me, I set them to be slow, ambling hordes. This way it’s possible to evade them if needed but fighting doesn’t mean instadeath either. If I’m stupid enough to get caught, ghouls will kill me in a few hits, but it turns out getting infected is a much bigger threat. A single swipe from a ghoul is enough to pass it on, and it’ll cause health to slowly drain away. The only way to treat the infection is to find antibiotics, and after modding the loot table, it’s not an easy task.

It’s an effective way to encourage player choice. Do you attempt to clear the area of ghouls for a chance of finding supplies? Or do you steer clear and hope you find enough scraps in the wastes? More often than not, it was desperation that lead me to take the first option.

Building an atmosphere

I know you should never mix weather mods, but I feel that Pilgrim doesn’t have much variation. So I installed the ever-popular True Storms and then Fog of War. I wanted to ensure that, even on the best day, it looked bleak. Also, Fallout 4 can sometimes look a little flat, so with a constant mist hanging around it gives the world more depth. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I’m fourteen hours in and I’ve yet to have any problems.

It’s also been a long time since the bombs dropped, so nature would’ve claimed the world back by now, right? That is why I installed Fallout 4 Seasons – Summeralong with a variety of landscape and texture mods. There’s nothing quite like the contrast of a beautiful landscape drenched in horror. And with such a dense environment, I’ve changed the way I play.

I’m no longer able to scan the environment the same way, and am forced to sneak through the wasteland instead. You can never tell if a ghoul is lurking on the other side of the overgrowth, and often I’ve bumped right into one.

I can recall one time where I was so far from base, that night had fallen before I could make it back. The rain was lashing down, and my flashlight struggled to break through the thick fog surrounding me. Distant gunshots cut through the torrential downpour as I bee-lined home. Before I could react, I slipped off a cliff edge and crashed to the ground. Immediately, I heard ghouls screaming from all directions. I had no time to collect myself. I just ran.

As I sprinted through the woods I attracted even more attention. Snarling shapes were emerging from every bush and I knew that I screwed up big time. I made it home unscathed, but I brought a horde with me. With the help of Cogsworth, I spent the next morning clearing them out. There was still the odd straggler lurking in the rubble but at least I was safe.

Staying alive

That whole experience wouldn’t have been half as nerve-wracking without some major gameplay tweaks. I find that Fallout 4’s survival mode is challenging but it lacks desperation. I want an experience like The Road, where I’m a vulture picking at scraps and barely making it through the day.

This is where Fallout 4 Loot Overhaul 2016 comes in (as well as a 2017 patch if you have the DLC). This transforms survival mode in immeasurable ways. I was no longer swimming in loot and walking around with a hundred Stimpaks. Hell, I was lucky if I had two.

For the first few hours, I’d be returning home with just enough supplies to patch myself up and get me through the night. I was also having to consume a lot of dirty water and irradiated food, yet I only had one RadAway to my name. Towns would have better loot but now they’re crawling with ghouls. And, with only two rounds for my Mauser (a lucky find), fifteen Pipe Pistol rounds, and a combat knife, it wasn’t looking good.

Only after fourteen hours do I have a small stockpile of food and ammunition, and assuming I don’t get infected or over-irradiated, I’ll be okay. It’s another game-changer that has lead me to be more resourceful. Instead of relying on Stimpaks and chems, I’ve been cooking food and even learned to purify water.

Finding a balance

With so many changes, you run the risk of creating some major balancing issues. For example, now that loot is harder to find, basic needs shouldn’t deplete as fast as they usually do. And, with less ammo, enemies can’t be bullet sponges so you need increase your damage. But, now you’ve done that, enemies need to deal more damage too. It’s lucky that we have Survival Options to stop this volatile and leaky FatBoy from toppling over.

With it, you can tweak and balance to your heart’s content, making the game as forgiving or unforgiving as you like. Personally, I wanted to make some reasonable concessions. The game should be challenging, but I can’t be getting frustrated at every turn.

So I made weapons more powerful across the board, but outgoing damage would remain higher than incoming. If only a little bit. Remember, this is still Fallout 4 and enemies shoot the same. I also disabled VATS and replaced it with Bullet Time. That way I can’t abuse it to search for enemies, but I still have something to help me out in tough encounters. Overall, combat has become more strategic and less gung-ho, and I find myself scouting camps and engaging at a longer range.

All basic needs have been taken down a notch too. One big meal and some snacking would usually see me through the day. And, by reducing fatigue a little, I don’t suffer constant stat penalties from sleeping on my dirty mattress. It’s small tweaks like this that offer a little respite and keep the game moving.

What becomes us

This overhaul has refreshed Fallout 4 for me. It really has. While I wait for another Stalker or a something inspired by The Road, I have this. The game no longer feels like a post-apocalyptic romp, but a dark, unsettling glimpse into a world that’s not only fascinating but also terrifying.

Hints of humour found throughout the Commonwealth have taken on a new meaning. One that is gritty, dark and ironic. Even the radio stations feel different. DJ Travis of Diamond City Radio doesn’t sound like a pathetic loser, but a man who has lost all hope. While I sit in my dark, damp basement in Sanctuary with nothing but a can of Cram, a knife and dirty water, I can’t help but sympathise with the poor bastard.


Thanks for reading. This overhaul uses over 150 mods but only the ones linked in this article are essential. I also encourage you to install some old school weaponry (1) (2), backpacks , this camping mod, Pipboy Flashlight, and as many texture mods as your system can handle!

ONE OF US! ONE OF US!

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  • Jose Alvarado

    Is there a complete list of all the mods used?

    • I thought about putting one together, but most of the other mods are just textures, weapons, clothes and tiny tweaks here or there. What you see in the post is really all you’ll need.

  • Adam Morgan

    Great read, thanks. Have been looking for an inspiration to muscle through another round of mod installs/clear-outs/bug-resolutions to play something more akin to an actual “Survival” difficulty.

    Guess that means it’s time to make the switch to Mod Organizer so I can have my “normal” settlement-friendly install going too.

    Thanks for pushing me over the ledge!

    • Hey, it was just a gentle nudge 😉

      Survival Options and the Loot overhaul made a huge difference in survival mode. It constantly feels like you’re just getting by. And with how deadly everything is, it makes you think twice about taking on a raider camp.

      I’m currently trying to scrounge together enough ammo to do so.

  • Sykie

    I’d love to see someone put together a mod compilation for this. Hell, if nobody else bites, I might do it myself!

  • Steph Hifko

    It is cool to see such a visceral approach to gaming. This is great.

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