DLC is an important issue in the industry that gamers tend to be very split on. Some think that new features are always a good thing, even if it costs more money and some think that DLC is anti-consumer and unacceptable in any form. Like most issues, my opinion is somewhere in the middle. Some DLC is good, some DLC is bad. I think that intent, cost, timeline, and type of game are all relevant when deciding if a piece of Downloadable Content is bad or not.
I think that the biggest problem with DLC in games is when a game is released, has a $60 price tag, and then has paid DLC a week later. When a game has extra content for sale so soon after release, it means that the content was ready and always intended to be part of the game. The devs simply released an incomplete game at full price and then offered the rest of it for more money. The complete game is not $60, but $70, $80, $100, or more, depending on how much DLC there is. Marketing an incomplete game as a finished product while holding the rest hostage under an additional pay wall is anti-consumer and unacceptable. One of my absolute favorite series is terrible about this and I have been forced to stop purchasing their products: Total War.
I have been playing the Total War games since Medieval Total War in 2002. I have hundreds of hours in Rome, Shogun II, and Empire Total War and dozens in the others. These games are incredibly fun and appeal to my strategic and gameplay sensibilities on almost every level, but a month after each game is released there’s $20-$40 of DLC. Usually a game will launch with 5 or 6 playable factions in a map of 25+ AI factions. In a couple months after release, they will often add 5 or so more. These were obviously in the works at launch, but unfinished. They were always intended to be in the game and charging more money for them as if they were simply extra features is dishonest and unethical. If the game is unfinished, they should either delay the release or publish the rest of the content for free. Creative Assembly, though amazing at creating games, has business practices that I can no longer support.
In shooter games like Call of Duty, the devs will release new map packs as paid DLC. Fighting games like Injustice will also do this with new playable characters. I don’t see this as quite as awful as the Total War system, but it’s still not great either. While the extra content is not necessary to play or enjoy the full product, but it splits the player base. Since only some people will be able to play on all of the maps or as all of the characters, matchmaking becomes more complicated, separating players into those who can play with the extra content and those who can’t. This becomes worse and worse with every added piece of DLC. Companies try to solve this by offering a Season Pass, which guarantees access to future DLC for a one time price. This concept, while seemingly practical and will probably save you money, is not a good idea as a consumer. You are paying for content that doesn’t exist yet. There is no guarantee that future DLC will be of acceptable quality or that there even will be more DLC. It is the same issue as pre-orders, which I will get into in more detail another time.
I think that a game that does this well is Overwatch. The game is a one-time purchase, $40 for PC and $60 for Console, and you get access to all current and future content. Every new character, map, balance fix, event skin, etc is available to you. You never have to spend another cent. The way that Blizzard can do this and continually create new content for the game is through the optional loot box purchases. The loot box system is one that is controversial and some see it as anti-consumer. I covered this topic in my post about loot boxes. Essentially, as long as the contents of the loot box are only cosmetic, I am fine with the system existing and I much prefer it to being charged for each new character or map.
Another situation that is worth considering is free-to-play games. While I don’t like a system where parts of the game are locked behind a pay wall, but as long as the game isn’t pay-to-win, I suppose it is acceptable. I think that a good middle ground here is a game like League of Legends or Paladins, where most of the characters are unavailable initially. You have to either purchase them or unlock them eventually by playing the game. Each week, there is a rotation of characters that are playable for free, that week. The game is free, it is all unlockable by playing the game, and there is a way to experience all of the content if you play long enough.
Now on to examples of DLC that I think is specifically done well. First, I want to talk about From Software and the Soulsborne Series. Every game, other than Demons’ Souls, has had at least one piece of DLC. Every single one, in my opinion, has been an excellent addition to the game. They usually release the base game with plans to add DLC later, but the content in the DLC never feels like it should have been included in the base game. They all are clearly additions to the world and story and each one has added several hours of content. Bloodborne’s The Old Hunters expansion included my favorite boss fight in the series. For a paid DLC on a fully priced base game to be acceptable, I think that the added content needs to be high quality, solid quantity, and should feel transformative or at least additive to the base game.
Firaxis, the makers of Civilization and XCOM, is an interesting case. I find that each game they release is excellent on launch and feels complete. Their major expansions have all be amazing and worth every penny, but they sometimes have smaller DLC packs which, while not necessary for the game, don’t merit their own price tag. XCOM 2 had a collection of additional soldier customization options called Anarchy’s Children. This should have either been included in one of the later DLC’s or added for free. Civilization VI adds new playable civilizations to the already plentiful list every few months. I think that these are often over priced. They are always good, but should be priced reasonably. On the other hand, XCOM Enemy Within improved on Enemy Unknown exponentially. It completely transformed the game and added tons of new content. Civilization V Gods and Kings, Brave New World, etc were all massive overhauls of the game, adding new features and changing mechanics. XCOM 2 War of the Chosen could have been marketed as a separate game. It completely changed how the game is played and added hours of new content. Overall, Firaxis has a few lackluster but not terrible DLC’s and arguably some of the best DLC ever made.
The last example I want to mention is The Witcher 3. The Witcher 3 is often held up as an amazing example of DLC done right. I just want to add my voice to this. Hearts of Stone, as an expansion was excellent. The story, new characters, new monsters, new part of the map to explore, new crafting mechanics were all excellent. The missions for Von Everic were quite different and very fun. I also loved how well it fit into the post game of Witcher 3. You didn’t need to start an entirely new playthrough of this massive game to play the new content at a satisfying level. I was blown away by Hearts of Stone and it was probably my favorite DLC in any game…until Blood and Wine. Blood and Wine was bigger and more saturated than most other AAA games. If I had to pick my least favorite thing about the base game of Witcher 3, it was that many of the Witcher Contracts and side missions felt pretty similar to each other. This was not a problem at all in Blood and Wine. Every mission, was unique, hilarious, evocative and fun. Posing for a painting with a dead griffin, winning a grand tourney, helping a love struck knight woo a cursed woman, enduring the bureaucracy of Beauclaire banking, and my favorite quest in the whole game: entering a land of corrupted fairy tales. When people say that DLC is unacceptable, I can understand that, but then I point to Blood and Wine and realize that DLC can sometimes be amazing and absolutely worth it.