Quality vs Fun – Why I dislike DLCs and Expansions
Today there are plenty of games that offer bonus content, in the form of DLCs or Expansions. We could be looking at RPGs, Strategy Games or an FPS, and there will always be something extra offered our way. It could be a map, gear, extra faction, perk, or something similar. The problem which I have with DLCs and Expansions is that they tend to kill the challenge of a game by offering us ready and simple solutions to otherwise fun challenges. The aim of a DLC or Expansion should be to introduce more content, without throwing balance into a deep pit and burying it. If you have to offer a player additional perks, do not make them overpowered. Instead, if players want a new challenge, give it to them! Or if a challenge they create for themselves needs the extra push, push them!
Quality vs Fun – Why I dislike DLCs and Expansions
Among the games which clearly ticked my dislike for their DLCs is Far Cry 2. In its raw form you started with crappy guns, and had to either steal or buy an adequate weapon. If you bought the right DLC though you had instant access to an Explosive-Crossbow, Silenced Shotgun and Sawed-Off Shotgun (which acts as a pistol, if memory serves right). First of all, the Explosive-Crossbow was capable of taking out a vehicle with a single hit. Ordinary men did not stand a chance against it, and although the explosive traveled slowly you did not need much practice to make full use of the weapon. Without it you would have to either find or buy an RPG, which was as deadly, but much harder to use overall. To be honest, I used the sniper rifle anyway, and when fighting a convoy I first took out the drivers, then anybody who jumped out of the vehicles. Of course, Explosive-Crossbows make fancy weapons, but they kill a lot of the challenge.
Equipment DLCs would be fine, if they were in some way related to the overall story. There could be a truly Epic armor set waiting for you, but you would have to get it first.
Among Strategy games I was disappointed with Empire: Total War. This was caused by players using DLCs to hold an advantage over other players. One battle I had involved no use of artillery, which I was content with, since I expected a fair open field battle. What I ended up with were two foes, holed up in the corner, with “spikes” surrounding them and DLC Infantry who, as it quickly turned out, had superior range to any of my troops. If a DLC allows another player to be able to exploit their bonus content against other players, I consider that a clear lack of balance. Reasonably speaking, if there was an upper cap on how much “Special” infantry a player could deploy, thanks to the DLC, at least I would not face a force made up entirely of Sniping Line Infantry.
The other side of the Coin
Not all Expansions or DLCs are bad. One of the games which I liked for the different DLCs and Expansions was Dawn of War (1 and 2). You could play against other players with or without the expansions, and all they added were new sides to the conflict, some more units (to all the players) and more maps. Nobody felt left out, unless somebody lacked the money to buy the Expansions to wage war with their favorite army. A lot of RPGs also follow the correct trail of thought in their expansions, because they offer new campaigns, thus loot, and often perks, skills and more. This might have made the main campaign easier, but at least (if it was done right) there was a sense of continuity.
Certain Strategy Games offer great new content with expansions, but sometimes they over-do it. Fanatyk told me how in Cities in Motion one of the Expansions offered him a bus (I believe it was) that was far better than any other bus available, and at a much lower price. Economy or City-Building games are sensitive to new content, because they could make a game too simple. Imagine there was a DLC for Ceasar 3 (ancient times, I know) which gave you a free Praetorian Legion at the start. Or that you began a game of Black and White with a number of “Ever Content” citizens, who did not have to eat, sleep or have housing. There is nothing wrong with an easier start, just don’t make it brutally simple.
Don’t play them, if you don’t want to!
My stand might seem like that of a boy, who is angry that the boy next to him has a bigger toy than he does. That is not the case, I merely point out that certain DLCs and Expansions add to much “good” to a game. I buy and download DLCs and Expansions, and I have nothing against them, as long as they do not do the horrible mistakes, mentioned earlier.
On one hand, you could say “Don’t download the DLC/Expansions, don’t play them if you do not want to!”. I follow that trail of thought, since if an Expansion is too expensive or does not add anything interesting to the game I do not bother. On the other hand, what do you do once there is some Expansion or DLC, and you cannot play with other people online until you get it? This is why I was friendly toward games like Dawn of War which told you outright, “You do not have to get any of the expansions, in order to play online. Buy only what you want.”. Of course, this might not be a sound business model, but if the DLCs/Expansions are well thought out there will always be a group out to buy them.
Balance is key
Not all games focus on a Story or Campaign, so not all DLCs and Expansions can be capable of introducing such elements. What all DLCs and Expansions should focus on is not destroying the balance. Introducing new, interesting content is fine, as long as: 1) Somebody does not feel inferior (usually those without the DLC). 2) The content will actually be sought after. If there was a DLC for Fallout: New Vegas which allowed me to capture and then train a wild wasteland hound, I’d buy it (if it was well thought out), but if Bethesda released a DLC which would allow me to get a shiny umbrella for my Apartment/House in-game, I’d pass.
Some game series have stumbled into this giant pit of DLCs and Expansions. It might be unfair, but when I look at some of the popular titles I have the nagging feeling that, aside from spending plenty of cash on the game itself, you then have to spend double the amount on bonus content. Thankfully, the content is usually optional. I dread to think of the abstract future, where you buy Video Games, and then have to download “Chapter DLCs” in order to progress through the game. I am not thinking of DLCs lasting a couple of hours, just the usual chapters/levels lasting an hour or so. Let’s hope this will never happen.
Alex “WriterX” Bielski