"Do I need a mod manager and if so, which one?" by Rogdonlp


     If you are playing any of the Fallout or Elderscroll games you need to ask yourself some questions.
Do I Need to use a Mod Manager?

     There has been a renewed interest of late in the early Bethesda games – Arena, Daggerfall, Fallout 1, and Fallout 2.  A number of groups are currently converting and modifying these games so that they are not only playable on today’s computers but with added features and/or mods.  Because these games either have no mods or just a few mods, you do not need to use a mod manager.  However, if you did use one it would not hurt anything.

The more recent games such as Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas, Fallout 4, Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim Legendary Edition, and Skyrim Special Edition have sufficient mods available that you may need to use a mod manager.  Whether you need to use a mod manager depends on how you play your game.  Ask yourself these questions:
  1. Do you play the game with only its DLCs and ten or less mods?
  2. Do you play your game with a certain set of mods that does not change very much from the start of the game until you move on to a different game?
  3. Are you a constantly adding/deleting mods to/from your load order until the game crashes and you have to restart the game all over again?
  4. Are you very particular about the textures and meshes that are used in your game?  For example, you have two landscape overhaul mods that you want to use.  Many meshes and textures are replaced by both mods.  You have examined each mesh and texture in both mods using Nifskope and Gimp and you now know which meshes and textures you prefer.  Going through both mods and deleting the less preferred meshes and textures is a tedious task.  If a mistake is made, it could take a lot of effort to recover from the error.  While you may not be planning on looking at individual meshes and textures, there are a number of mod guides that do require that you delete certain meshes and textures from some of the recommended mods.
     If you answered question 1. with a yes, you probably do not need to use a mod manager.  However, as the number of your mods grow you will find that you are spending more time doing maintenance on your mods and not enough time playing the game.  How many mods do you have to have to really need a mod manager depends upon you.
     If you answered question 2. with a yes, you may not need a mod manager but you will need to start using tools like:
  1. LOOT - which arranges your esp load order so that each mods are below their master file(s) in the load order.  The game crashes if they are not.
  2. XEdit – which is used for many things.  The most used task is to clean dirty .esm and .esp files.  This means removing ITMs (identical to master records) and UDRs (undelete deleted references).  Having ITMs and UDRs in your .esm and .esp files can cause random crashes which can be very difficult trace down.  XEdit is also used to create bash tags which are used by Wrye Bash.  While creating bash tags really does not need to be done for the more recent games, it is especially useful in Oblivion.
  3. Wrye Bash or Wrye Flash – merges certain types of .esp files into one merged file known as a Bashed Patch which reduces your esp count allowing you to use more mods before reaching the 255 .esp limit (140 .esp files for Oblivion).  It also resolves differences between mods.  Suppose in your load order you have three different mods each of which changes the speed of a one-handed sword swing for the swords used in that particular mod.  You don’t want to have three different swing speeds for one-handed swords in your game.  Wrye Bash determines what the winning swing speed is and applies it to all three mods.

     While these tools can be used without a mod manager, as your number of mods grow it becomes less time consuming to launch these tools from within your mod manager.

     If you answered Question 3. with a yes, you definitely need a mod manager.  With a mod manager your game will still crash.  However, if you use a mod manager with the three tools listed above, your crash rates should go down.  If you continue to remove from your load order mods that contain scripts, you will still eventually have a broken game even if you use a save cleaner such as Fallrim Tools.  If your game does crash, finding the problem is usually much easier with a mod manager since you can deactivate mods with a click of your mouse rather than having to delete the mod from the Data folder.  Also having a mod manager can help you restore your original load order with the push of a button.  That is assuming you remembered to have your mod manager create a save of your mod order and esp load order before you started changing things.

     If you answered Question 4. with a yes, you not only need a mod manager, but you need a powerful one that will allow you to layer meshes and textures just the way you want; nif by nif and dds by dds.

Which Mod Manager is Right for Me?
     There have been a number of mod managers for the Bethesda games over the years.  Most of these old mod managers have disappeared.  The one exception to this is Oblivion.  Oblivion’s use of OMOD files instead of archive files, the Oblivion Script Extender not working well with most mod managers, and the other peculiarities of Oblivion have meant that the old mod managers are the ones to use for Oblivion.  Wrye Bash has been the mod manager of choice for Oblivion.  However, it is complicated and has a very steep learning curve.  Oblivion Mod Manager has been extensively reworked recently.  OBMM is a simple mod manager that can handle all of Oblivion’s quirks.  The current reigning mod managers for the other Bethesda games are NMM (Nexus Mod Manager) and Mod Organizer (aka MO1).  These two mod managers work well with all the Bethesda 32 bit games except Oblivion.  They cannot be used for the 64 bit games - Fallout 4 and Skyrim Special Edition.

     Two new mod managers have just arrived.  Vortex is the Nexus replacer for Nexus Mod Manager.  It has been released in an alpha version.  People who have used it have said that it is much like NMM.  However, it does handle 64 bit games and it is supposed to be able to handle all of the hundreds of different games that are on Nexus.  The initial impressions of people who have tried the alpha release is that it follows in the line of NMM – a simple tool to be used for simple mod builds.  Because Vortex is designed to handle hundreds of different games it is not as specialized for Bethesda games as NMM was.

     The other new mod manager is Mod Organizer 2.  MO2 is a complete rewrite of MO1.  This means that it is exclusively designed for the Bethesda games.  MO2 has the ability to work with the 64 bit games – FO4 and Skyrim SE.  It can also handle the other games – FO3, FNV, Morrowind, and Skyrim.  It even works with Oblivion, sort of.  Right now, MO2 works only with the GOG version of Oblivion.  The development team is still working to get the Steam version of Oblivion to work with MO2.  The development team now knows what the problem is.  Thus, MO2 should be able to handle Steam Oblivion in the next release.  Another nice feature of MO2 is that you can install it once and then you can use that one installation to handle all of your Bethesda games.  You can switch back and forth between games with a click of your mouse.

     So which mod organizer should you use?  If you answered questions 1. and 2. yes, no mod manager or NMM are your choices.  If you answered either Question 3. or 4 yes, then you will need a more sophisticated mod manager like MO1 or MO2.  MO 1 is still a good mod manager for the 32 bit Bethesda games excluding Oblivion.  However, MO1 is no longer being supported.  It is one Microsoft Update from being broken forever.  In case you did not notice, the Windows 10 Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 updates disabled a lot of computers and broke a number of programs.

     Whichever mod manager you choose, ALWAYS make backups of EVERYTHING!  Mod authors pull their mods off of Nexus and other mod sites for various reasons and never repost them.  If you have a backup copy of the mod you can always use it.  If you don’t, you may have lost it forever.

Have FUN!