Gamers have a complicated relationship with downloadable content. On the one hand, the chance to expand the universe of one of your favorite games can be irresistible. “Dawnguard” and “Hearthfire” allowed players to lose themselves deeper than ever in the world of “Skryim” through the addition of home life and even greater supernatural forces.
On the other hand, it often feels like the developer’s way of squeezing a few extra bucks out of its fanbase. If you take DLC and hard disk expansions to be more or less the same thing, no series has done this more successfully than “The Sims.” For every reiteration of the best selling game in history, there have been anywhere from 15 to 20 expansions and stuff packs, some offering new content, like pets and world travel, and others, like seasons and swimming pools that definitely weren’t as difficult to put together as Electronic Arts would like you to think.
In modern gaming, you can pretty much expect any flaw or plot hole the audience picks up on to be patched at your expense. In “BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea,” you were given the privilege of paying an extra $30 for both episodes if you wanted the chance to play as Elizabeth, a character who can tear holes in the universe and should have been “BioShock Infinite’s” lead in the first place. In the case of BioWare’s “Citadel” expansion for “Mass Effect 3,” players were charged $15 for the opportunity to have an ending that wasn’t, in the eyes of many, absolutely terrible.
While this seems to have been the result of a genuine miscalculation on BioWare’s part at least, sometimes it honestly feels like the developer had every intention of including run-of-the-mill content in the game before someone in a board meeting realized they could bill it separately to rake in a few million extra $20s (looking at you EA). But we still buy it because Steam sales are a scourge on free will and, sometimes, it’s worth it.
“XCOM: Enemy Unknown,” for example, was a solid turn-based tale of an alien invasion with heart before the introduction of “Enemy Unknown” in 2013. It may have cost nearly $30, but it earned it. The addition of new aliens, more maps and the ability to cybernetically and genetically enhance your soldiers, not to mention an entirely new side story of international intrigue that could’ve constituted a sequel in itself, made “XCOM” into an entirely different game.
Similarly, while the makers of “Civilizations V” have churned out over a dozen new playable nations since 2010, most of them have been bundled into a deluxe package by now and it’s true expansion, “Gods & Kings” and “Brave New World,” change the state of play entirely. In retrospect, a game without religious pressures and such a wide field of cultural and diplomatic options would seem empty, but you didn’t notice it before Firaxis Games showed you what you were missing.
A new map or character skin is all well and good, but that’s what DLC should be: an expansion that adds something you didn’t realize the game needed and turns it into something you couldn’t live without.