I don’t know if you remember when DLC first crept into the console market.. if your think back you may have had, and may still have the same reaction I did: your own sweary version of “c’mon are you kidding me?”
It seemed like an extremely attractive way to extort money out of gamers and a dangerously emerging trend – the threat of buying a game at full price, only to find that you have to pay even more to make it work properly or to get the full experience. It’s part of the reason EA was voted worst company in America two years in a row.
But throughout this console cycle DLC has also emerged as a medium for developers to take risks and in some cases bring us some of the most creative, interesting and unique experiences of the generation.
Here are my picks for the best downloadable content of the generation:
1) Borderlands – Zombie Island of Doctor Ned
Zombie Island was the first DLC I’ve ever purchased – and for me it was the first DLC I remember that was more than just a cash-grab to unlock pieces of the game (skins/weapons/maps etc). Instead, Gearbox used the DLC as a ‘why not?’ to have some fun and to take their game in totally different direction – a hilarious ‘what-if’ Zombie scenario.
Zombie Island had a huge impact on Gearbox (and I believe many other studios) by recasting DLC as a chance for developers to be creative and not be bound by the rules of their own universe (or corporate responsibilities).
This opened up unlimited potential that we saw executed to perfection in the superb Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep in Borderlands 2; with similar approaches from some other studios (another excellent example of which I’ll talk about below). But to me Zombie Island was the first DLC that opened up my opinion on what the medium could be.
2) Far Cry 3 – Blood Dragon
Ok, so I grew up with VHS action movies and this game dead-on headshot the late 80’s early 90’s vision of the future.
Where typical “retro-80’s” style looks at the era with snark, sarcasm and a confused sense of irony; and out-of-touch studios attempt to plumb the successes of 80’s but completely miss the point (ahem Transformers, Robocop…), Blood Dragon works so well because it took its source material 100% seriously and was clearly created by people that grew up in, and loved this world – (and got that at the time it wasn’t a joke, this truly was the future).
If you grew up when video games were actually 16bit and sci-fi/action movies were deadly serious – Blood Dragon is a love letter to you. Not only was it fun, but an innovative risk that shows what great developers are truly capable of when they have full creative freedom to play.
If you were born in the 80’s you owe it to past-you to watch the trailer:
3) Dishonored – Knife of Dunwall/Brigmore witches
It’s hard to talk about the Dishonored DLC without going into what makes the game itself so great – suffice it to say the flexibility of approach and the challenge implicit in no-detect/no-kill achievements makes this series intelligent, challenging and fun. When Dishonored came out it was a rare, brave chance at a new IP that cut right through the nauseum of incremental sequels with it’s murky characters and thick grimy steampunky world.
The second and third DLC (a two-parter) took everything good about the game and built on it in every way: an excellent narrative featuring the conflicted ‘villain’ Daud (leader of the assassins and arguably more interesting than the main lead Corvo); new powers that encouraged even more creative mobility and gameplay choice; and even more varied and beautifully crafted environments (both in terms of style and gameplay flexibility). The DLC is a huge win for gamers and hopefully its financial success encourages studios to take more risks in develloping unique intellectual properties – not only in their DLC but in their actual games.