With the concluding chapter of Dishonored’s
exciting DLC series, The Brigmore Witches
, due tomorrow, what better time to reflect on some of the most celebrated expansion packs of the past half decade?
A breed apart from arcade titles (Mark of the Ninja
), episodic games (The Walking Dead
) or tacked on miscellaneous DLC (Injustice
), expansion packs are self explanatory creatures - PACKS of content which EXPAND upon a game’s lore, culture and overarching narrative. But the very best ones play a little fast and loose with the rules...
And most certainly DON’T
sh*t all over the gorgeous ending, Prince of Persia: Epilogue
, you inconsiderate jackass!
Anyways, recently digital rights management, season passes and release schedules have twisted these packs into stranger beasts. But when reared lovingly, their roar is no less formidable.
UNEXPECTED ANIMAL METAPHOR!
Woof.5 – Undead Nightmare (Red Dead Redemption)
This is PRECISELY what I’m talking about.
RDR is a truly atmospheric experience: A western with deep, detailed mechanics, a weathered hero and an intentionally sombre mood.
Undead Nightmare is pretty much identical. Save for all the zombies, unicorns, chupacabras and the four horses of the apocalypse. Indeed it’s this injection of the ridiculous, amid such deliberate polish makes Undead Nightmare so refreshing. Startlingly unique yet eerily familiar in the same breath.
Also, Sasquatch.Honorable Mention - Jetstream (MGR: Revengeance)
It’s way too short. It’s far too expensive. But damned if it’s not got the right idea!
Brand new move set. Brand new playable character. Same old Jetstream Sam. Same old Revengeance. Enjoy.4 - Broken Steel (Fallout 3)
Up until recently, Bethesda were appropriately hailed as monarchs of downloadable content. The company became synonymous with the rapid firing of expansion packs for a solid year post release. Take Broken Steel - An expansion that widens the narrative goalposts of Fallout 3, shoehorning in a nuke chucking jaeger for good measure. That’s fan service!
If anything, towering Liberty Prime is idiosyncratic of Bethesda’s DLC policy. Their games transform from singular entities to juggernauts of content, variety and exploration which come to dominate entire generations.Honorable Mention – Dragonborn (Skyrim)
Pretty much identical to the above. Only with fewer rampaging automaton leviathans. SAD EMOTICON.3 – Heart of the Swarm (Starcraft II)
The second entrant in a planned Starcraft II trilogy, Heart of the Swarm mixes it up but good!
Gone are the United Earth Directorate’s gears and motors, replaced by the Zerg’s biological slither. Queen of Blades Sarah Kerrigan takes the reins from Jim Raynor while a contemplative mood subdues the original’s frentic motif.
Heart of the Swarm is a Triple A game in all but price. An ideal expansion.Honourable Mention – Artorias of the Abyss (Dark Souls)
Thrusting players back in time, to explore a fabled portion of Lordan’s past, AotA basically offers more PvP, armour, weapons and Bosses. So basically, more Dark Souls. Never a bad thing.
Unless you’re playing on PC...2 – Blood Dragon (Far Cry 3)
While most expansion packs add little tweaks to the main game recipe, Blood Dragon goes off book entirely, runs from the kitchen and heads straight to the garage for some heavy duty tinkering.
Unrecognisable, save for its DYNAMITE Far Cry 3 combat, Blood Dragon is very much its own beast, spewing personality, humour and 80’s references from its dripping muzzle.
It’s rare an expansion triumph over the original. But in Blood Dragon’s case, it’s such a landslide victory, even FC3 highpoints Vaas and Sam fade away in the neon hue of screaming chain guns, laser dinosaurs and 8-bit montages.Honourable Mention – The Knife of Dunwall (Dishonored)
The differences between Daud and Corvo are subtle, yet palpable. Daud has a voice, feared throughout the aristocracy, a reputation, earning him the favour of Dunwall’s undesirables, and his Whalers, who answer his every whim with the tip of their blades. Simply put, it’s very cool.1 - Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep (Borderlands 2)
I specify Dragon Keep, but honestly, ANY Gearbox expansion packs could comfortably fill this slot. These packs are of unrivalled quality, boasting feature length narratives, ample sideys, fresh level caps, brutal co-op bosses, and literally thousands of new guns (courtesy of Borderlands’ procedurally generated armoury.)
Regardless, the real draw is the humour. Be it Tina’s whiter-than-white ghetto speak or Mr Torgue’s Caps Locked EXPLETIVES, Gearbox have tapped into something extraordinary. Borderlands II boasts comedic writing and performance genuinely unrivalled throughout the entire industry. It’s often gut-bustingly hilarious, a definite distraction when staring down the nozzle of a rapid-fire, acid spewing shotty!
But a pleasing distraction, nonetheless.Honourable Mention – The Missing Link (Deus Ex: Human Revolution)
The Missing Link doesn’t do anything terribly different. It plugs a narrative hole, it addresses complaints regarding Boss Battles and it offers the chance to respec. It also has an Irish guy.
Nor does it put a single foot wrong. It’s pacy, involving, visually distinct, and built upon the tenants of player freedom that made Human Revolution one of the finest comebacks in gaming history.