Even if you view game expansions and downloadable content as barbarous cash-grabs that only serve to line the pockets of industry fat cats, it appears the DLC phenomena is here to stay for the foreseeable future. But just because the ways companies make money from games has changed over the years, doesn’t mean that there aren’t talented developers out there working hard to make sure the expansions we get for our already-purchased games are both worth the price and the experience. These are eight great expansions that helped revitalize established games.
8. Bioshock 2 – Minerva’s Den
Many gamers criticized Bioshock 2 for being too similar to the first game in terms of its look and feel. But if any of those critics had stuck around long enough to play the Minerva’s Den expansion, they might have been pleasantly surprised. In the expansion, players are cast in the role of an Alpha Series Big Daddy named Sigma, who is activated to retrieve the Thinker’s machine code. While Minerva’s Den might not have as impressive a narrative as some of the other expansions on this list, the way it explores human nature, personal obsession and the drive to succeed are compelling storytelling aspects not often seen in the first-person shooter genre. Plus, there’s an epic plot twist at the end that will have you questioning every move you ever made in Bioshock.
7. Dishonored – The Brigmore Witches
In Dishonored‘s first expansion, The Knife at Dunwall, you no longer play as Corvo Attano and instead are thrust into the role of an amoral assassin named Daud. It was a solid expansion that did well developing some of the lesser explored areas of the original game, but it lacked closure and felt little bit like a precursor to something bigger. That “something bigger” turned out to be a second expansion titled The Brigmore Witches. Strangely, The Brigmore Witches offers up a much more compelling tale of Dunwall’s supernatural subculture than Corvo’s comparatively boring story of revenge and political manipulation. Daud’s questionable conduct allows players to go through the game without worrying about whether or not the decisions they make are in line with the character, and the DLC provides numerous opportunities to either atone for your sins or slide further down the path of corruption. Furthermore, the missions in The Brigmore Witches exhibit even better environment and level design than anything found in the original game. In terms of storytelling and gameplay experience, this is how DLC should be done.
6. Fallout 3: New Vegas – Old World Blues
Considering Fallout 3 is a massive open-world role-playing game, you can imagine that any related game expansions would have to be pretty hefty in order to do any sort of justice to core title. Fortunately, Obsidian was up to the task and the Fallout 3: New Vegas expansion, turned out to be substantial enough that it warranted its own DLC, namely, six add-on packs available as DLC. Among the six, Old World Blues in particular proved to be a favorite among fans as the whole campaign seemed to be one big homage to retro science fiction classics.
5. Borderlands 2 – Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep
Gearbox Software, the company behind the Borderlands series, are no strangers to the realm of DLC. Nearly all the titles from this developer are accompanied by some form of post-launch support, but when Borderlands 2 came out they took things to the next level by offering a host of full-length campaigns and other digital downloads such as new character classes and vault upgrades. But if you were to choose only one piece of DLC from the entire lot, Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep is a perfect addition to the series. In this add-on, all the heroes, bad guys, weaponry, and locations are re-imagined as figments floating around in Tiny Tina’s imagination. This effectively transforms the campaign into and pen and paper-style RPG, with the writers seemingly taking every available opportunity to gush about their love of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s original. It’s silly. And it’s the best kind of fun.
4. Mass Effect 2 – Lair of the Shadow Broker
In the Lair of the Shadow Broker expansion for Mass Effect 2, you help a crewmate named Liara T’Soni on a mission to rescue a man kidnapped by the Broker. Over the course of this DLC, as you chase down clues and get into deadly skirmishes, Liara’s character develops significantly and the way she changes is an aspect that plays prominently into the story of Mass Effect 3. Great writing and storytelling aside, Lair of the Shadow Broker is also full of amazing gameplay moments, like cleverly challenging boss battles and pulse-pounding chase sequences in sky-cars. If you consider yourself a fan of Mass Effect or even Bioware games in general, this is one expansion you certainly don’t want to miss out on.
3. Half Life – Opposing Force
Playing as US Marine Adrian Shepard, you’re on the other side of the Half Life story in this inventive alternate perspective of the events surrounding Gordon Feeman’s escape from the monster-infested Black Mesa facility.
Going through the game as part of a special strike team and running into Freeman at pivotal points in the story is a delight, and Shepherd makes some astonishing discoveries of his own that give an entirely new dimension to the story. For instance, his encounter with the previously unknown alien species known as Race-X gave things a much greater scope, as the hostile force can be seen fighting against both the humans and the more familiar Xen aliens.
Opposing Force took everything that was great about Half Life and managed to improve on it. Best of all, it gave us a better understanding of the original game by showing additional layers to the conspiracy that would see the Marines were sent to hunt down Freeman get hunted down themselves by Black Ops. This expansion isn’t only a fantastic gaming experience, it’s a fantastic work of science fiction.
2. Red Dead Redemption – Undead Nightmare
Rather than chasing down banditos and dealing with nefarious lawmen, Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare has protagonist John Marston take on a less traditional threat facing the Old West. Namely, a zombie plague that’s spreading like wildfire across the frontier.
The story is completely separate from the one told in the core game and the play-style shifts from a methodic, cinematic experience to something more along the lines of a frantic zombie survival nightmare. Although the extreme divergence initially caught fans completely off guard, combining Rockstars’ famously polished, open-world gameplay with zombies proved to be a recipe for one of the most innovative and entertaining expansions in recent memory.
1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Dragonborn
The Elder Scrolls series is a beloved RPG franchise that generates a lot of excitement in the gaming community with each new release. All the of the expansions for Skyrim are great extensions of the core story that add plenty more hours of dungeon crawling to an already massive game. However, it’s Dragonborn that really rises above the rest and proves to be the best expansion in the series.
In this the last of the of the DLC released for Skyrim, we see the return of the of the first Dragonborn—the legendary Dragon Priest Miraak. More importantly, it finally added dragon mounts! But what good is a dragon mount without a huge environment to soar around and terrorize people in? No worries, Bethesda also included other realms from The Elder Scrolls universe so you can burn and pillage to your hearts content. Dragonborn is expansive, enjoyable, and adds something new to the mix—a textbook example of great DLC.