Try and think of a better one
The whole Loot Box debacle that has rolled out of the past several weeks has been interesting to watch. It’s wonderful to see gamers and game journalist coming together to fight the common enemy of publishers attempting to nickel-and-dime us on every goddamn game we buy. Loot Boxes are the en vogue enemies for those distraught with the state of gaming, but I remember when it was DLC that faced the firing squad. Even today, many are sickened by DLC, Season Passes and everything else we have to pay for that should arguably be included in the full price of the game.
But not all DLC is equal, and while we all have our anecdotes about shitty practices, we probably all also have some DLC we absolutely love. For me, Burial At Sea is not only the best DLC I’ve had the pleasure of purchasing, but it’s also better than the game it’s attached to.
My coworker basically forced me to pick up Bioshock Infinite because he wanted someone to talk about it with. I hadn’t played the original at this point — though I would several months later — but I relented and rented it one weekend. By the time I wrapped up my adventure through Columbia, I liked what I saw but not necessarily what I played. And while time hasn’t been kind to the game, Burial at Sea has aged exceptionally well.
And let’s be honest, I’m only talking about Episode 2 here. Episode 1 is fine if not more of the same, but taking control of Elizabeth in the moments leading up to the downfall of Rapture is beyond compare. The decision to make it a stealth experience is what truly makes it magical. Bioshock Infinite prioritized world-building and moments that were supposed to leave us slack-jawed over gameplay. As a shooter, it was exceptionally average. Tackling Episode 2 using stealth forced us to actually think about the environments we were running through. We couldn’t just run and gun our way through bullet-sponge baddies. We had to think, study, act and retreat when necessary.
Burial at Sea Episode 2 did what the original Bioshock could and what Infinite couldn’t: it made a game that combined compelling story with compelling gameplay. One didn’t overshadow the other and jumping between Rapture and Columbia really brought the series full circle. Yes, the Daisy Fitzroy retcon was bad with a capital B, but beyond that, it’s a fitting way to end the BioShock series if it really is at an end.
Artorias of the Abyss is pretty much what I think of when the phrase “DLC” comes to mind.
It didn’t feel required as the base Dark Souls game was full enough, but it added in a few crucial, meaningful story bosses like Artorias himself. It symbiotically attaches to the main game without awkwardly feeling like an unceremonious “menu item.”
The fact that for now there are no known Souls plans is a bit bittersweet. It would be great to return to the worlds of Yharnam or Lordran one day, but for now, we have a small series of excellent games, with mostly on-the-mark DLC to back them up.
Most of the time, Borderlands DLC is just more of the same, and that’s fine. More places to go, more bandits to shoot, more guns to find. Borderlands 2‘s add-on Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep delivers on that front in spades, but it also brings so much more to the table.
By using the narrative framing of a Dungeons and Dragons-esque role-playing game, it allows for not just more enemies to shoot, but a greater variety of enemies to shoot. It lets the Vault Hunters go to places that are too fantastical to canonically exist on Pandora, and lets the gameplay with those environments in unexpected ways.
But the greatest achievement of Assault on Dragon Keep is how, despite its even more over-the-top setting, it delivers the most relatable human story in any of the core Borderlands titles. It takes an event from the main campaign that frankly doesn’t carry much emotional impact and makes it real. And it takes Tiny Tina, a character who is manic and (to many) irritating, and reveals her to be a three-dimensional human person.
I honestly had quite a hard time thinking about good DLC. I know I’ve played some, but there are so many mediocre or downright bad examples of DLC expansions that I tend to block them from my memory. It’s fine to get some more content in a great game, but I wish developers and publishers put more effort into making DLC stand out.
So I went back a bit further and decided to bend the rules a bit. Expansion packs were basically DLC before the term came to be and one of my favorite games of all time, Sim City 4, got a nice expansion that helped flesh out the traffic situation. In the base game, it was hard to coordinate streets and get people moving, so the expansion naturally expanded on that idea and made vehicle flow a lot nicer.
One of the coolest additions was the ability to drive a car on the streets. It had nothing to do with successfully running your city, but it was a hell of a lot of fun. I remember plowing into houses and trying to ram other cars on the road in an effort to create a massive pile-up. I also liked how you could take control of emergency services and put out fires or rush people to the hospital. It was neat.
This expansion didn’t add an extreme amount of new content, but it was always going to be hard to perfect Sim City 4. The base game was such a solid package that anything else was going to seem like window dressing.
It’s not very common for DLC to add something truly meaningful to the plot of the base game. Usually, DLC just offers more of the gameplay that made the game great in the first place, while only being tangentially related to the story. As a result, you should definitely sit up and take notice when a DLC campaign pops up that takes events in an interesting new direction.
That’s exactly what Dishonored‘s The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches DLC did.
What makes this DLC so fascinating is being able to play as Daud, the assassin who killed the empress and set Corvo’s story into motion. You already get some insight into Daud’s character in the base game, but it’s not until you walk a mile in his shoes that you truly understand how conflicted he is.
As Daud, you embark on a quest that takes place entirely behind the scenes of Dunwall. Nobody is aware of the threat the empire is facing. Only Daud knows, simply because the noticeably more passive-aggressive Outsider wanted to watch him squirm. Daud himself is looking for redemption by saving the empire he himself robbed of its ruler. And once everything is said and done…nobody will know how important Daud’s exploits were.
The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches didn’t just add more of that awesome Dishonored gameplay. They didn’t merely let you play around with new powers (although it needs to be said that Daud’s time-stop Blink is sweet as hell) in a bunch of new maps.These DLC campaigns added to the world of Dishonored in a much more meaningful way.
Back in an age where the idea of more zombies in video games didn’t make me roll my eyes Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare was the best expansion I had ever seen in a game.
Rockstar has put more than one exceptional piece of content. Most of the GTA expansions are pretty great, but Undead Nightmare is exceptional. It trades in the cowboy filled west for one covered in undead hordes and demon horses. Making ammunition a currency was also a pretty awesome change up to an already great game.
One time I went to the mall because they were having a Pokemon event. If you gave them one or more of you GBA Pokemon cartridges (Ruby, Sapphire, or Emerald) they would put a Celebi on there. Then you could leave.
If I remember correctly, this was right around when I turned 30, which was before it became cool for adults to like Pokemon, but after the initial Pokemon craze had started to die down. I was glad I brought my girlfriend (now wife) to the event, mostly because it made me look less like a child molester. That’s not a matter of pride. I just don’t like scaring children and their parents by simply existing.
The guy in front of me in line had multiple copies of each game. He somehow managed to smell like phlegm. By that I mean when you smelled him, you got the same olfactory sensation as those times when you have a bad cold so you snort your own snot further up your nose to prevent it from leaking out. He wasn’t mean, but he wasn’t very nice either. I liked him just fine.
There was also an incredibly fashionable and punk rock woman there with a huge afro. She was teaching the children how to catch shiny Pokemon. Many had surrounded her, clearly enthralled. She’d caught so many shinies that it was ridiculous. I was too afraid to talk to her much, but she is a real-life gym boss and I’ll never forget her.
The Pokemon I got from the event was pretty cool too. I’ve used it two, maybe three times.
Later, I pretended to be not one, but two children (one aged 5 and the other 9) when I sent my Emerald and Sapphire cartridges to Nintendo of Europe. They were running a promotion where they’d put a Deoxys on your games if you trusted them enough to mail them to their offices via the postal system. The promotion was only for residents of Europeans, and I was afraid that they’d catch on to my ruse, so I fabricated the identities of two children in order to gain their sympathy.
I even drew two pictures of Deoxys for the Nintendo of Europe staff to enjoy, one in the style of the 5-year-old, the other in the style of the 9-year-old. They were pretty convincing. Attached was a letter saying something like “We are just two sad siblings who want nothing more than to have this special DNA Pokemon in our lives.”
It worked. A few months later and I got the cartridges back, with Deoxys resting comfortably on both of them. My heart actually skipped a beat.
If the people from Nintendo of Europe who I tricked are reading this, I’m sorry.
And also, thank you.
Pixie The Fairy
The best DLC is the Shantotto minion. Since she was only previously available only through the Final Fantasy XIV 1.0’s original FFXI crossover event quest and that even can no longer feasibly exist, so she was recently added to the Mog Station cash shop for five bucks.
What do you get for that five dollars? A black mage who dutifully follows you, silently does Ouji-sama laughs and mocks your every action. So if you need to feel wholly inadequate about your DPS, tanking or healing — fear not! The Shantotto minion is here to silently judge you and deem you a total loser no matter how well you do.
Runner-up: Fallout: New Vegas’ Dead Money add-on. All hail Dog!
At first, I wanted to pick Baldur’s Gate: Throne of Bhaal, but then again, that’s technically an expansion pack, rather than “DLC”. These days the distinction between the two is fuzzier than ever, but right now I still differentiate them in terms of intent and impact. DLC doesn’t really change much about how a game plays on the fundamental level, and for games with a story, is usually inessential.
That in mind, the best DLC of all time for me is Mass Effect 3‘s Citadel add-on. Released after that game’s infamously divisive ending, as well as its equally divisive “correction”, any attempt by Citadel to continue the saga of Commander Shepard beyond the apocalyptic stakes of the core Mass Effect 3 experience would likely have only poisoned fan reaction even further, so BioWare was wise enough to quit messing with it. Instead, it used Citadel to affirm a thing everyone sort of knew about Mass Effect (and BioWare RPGs in general). That thing? To paraphrase a cliche, the real treasure (in a BioWare game) is the friends we make along the way. With its campaign centering on the impact Commander Shepard’s had on the lives of the people she’d touched, and its unforgettable party sequence reminded us why we liked all of the many squaddies we’d met over the course of the series (or maybe missed the ones who couldn’t make it). Further “date night” cutscenes for pretty much every active character really drove the love home, and by the end, the wet squib that was its three-color “true” ending was forgiven (if never really to be forgotten).
Ultimately, you didn’t need to finish or even have Citadel to enjoy Mass Effect 3, but its presence made the whole game that much better for it.
Runner-Up: All four Fallout: New Vegas DLCs.
Well if we’re doing runner-ups I’m just going to have to name the season pass to Mario Kart 8 as my runner-up because those tracks were the shit. Yes, even Ice Ice Outpost.