Story DLC Is Great But Not Always Beneficial To A Game
The end-credits roll. It’s been a wild ride. You’ve just finished yet another great game and you’re reeling from the excitement of it all, or trying to process what just happened, or sitting there confused wondering why you ever bothered spending your hard-earned money in the first place. Regardless, the game is now complete, you’ve finished it and you may now move on to something else.
But wait! Developers don’t want you to move on to something else just yet. They want you to keep that game disc in your console / PC. They want you to keep playing. So maybe there’s a multiplayer mode for you to try out. Maybe it was the primary appeal of the game in the first place, but in the cases I’ll be using today it most likely isn’t. Maybe there’s some co-operative for you to try out. A series of challenge maps, perhaps. Something else, besides the main story. Or hell, maybe it’s just a New Game Plus feature so you can go back with all of your upgrades intact, and do it all again.
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These are all great because they add on extra play time to a game, effectively meaning you get more for your purchase. Hopefully the game doesn’t have an online pass component either, so you’re not stuck locked off to some of that content if you purchased a game second-hand.
However with the case of downloadable content, or DLC, you are paying for extra content. Sometimes you’re paying a bit more than you ought to be, typically because as a game’s retail price depreciates, the cost of the DLC associated with that game does not. This effectively means that there are games out there, right now, that you could purchase for less than you would spend on their DLC. Still, the point of DLC insofar as anything that isn’t a microtransactional DLC, is to perpetuate that game disc remaining in your console / PC even further. Or perhaps to bring it back, in the case of DLC released much later for a game.
The core concept here is, you want people spending more time playing your game.
Easy enough to understand, right? But what happens when you’ve got the type of game that, while filled with endless possibilities to pull content from, does not easily lend itself to additions to the story it has. What happens when the game in question getting the DLC is a self-contained story that stands well enough on its own without requiring further additions? And what happens if the DLC released for it serves to ruin the experience as a result?
Okay perhaps that’s a bit extreme to say, but the point that I’m getting at here is simple: Some games are better off without story DLC. Others have universes that work well with it. This is just the way of the world and if we could all afford it, I’m sure we’d play every single story DLC we could, for every game we own. But what if it ended up dulling our initial experience of whatever game? Or what if, by the end of it, we were left realising that it didn’t really add anything substantial and we only really played it because we wanted more of that game?
This morning we shared the news that The Last of Us is getting a new story DLC. Now, The Last of Us is the quintessential example of a self-contained story. It doesn’t need a sequel. It doesn’t need further elaboration. It did a great job of telling a singular story and leaving it at that. Sure it wasn’t the perfect story, or at least I seem to be the only person who’s played it and thought so. But it’s a good story.
With their new story DLC for the game, Naughty Dog are trying something different and going for a prequel situation with Ellie, based on her life before she met Joel. I like this idea very much because it explores a new aspect of the world that Naughty Dog has created. We know Ellie to be a cynical but still somewhat naive fourteen-year-old, and we’ve certainly heard tell of her past across her adventure with Joel, but wouldn’t it be great if we could explore those times when Ellie was just a child forced to survive in a harsh environment? One could argue no, we were told the story by Ellie and that should suffice as enough, however one might also consider the rich possibilities of a slightly different perspective. Certainly anyone who enjoyed [SPOILERS] that sequence later on when we got to play as Ellie for a short while [/SPOILERS] might fancy having more of that action.
In the case of The Last of Us, we don’t necessarily want to spend more time in that world but it’s an interesting and unique enough situation that we’d like to have a go at it.
On the other hand, let’s look at the new DLC for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, called Freedom Cry. It follows the story of Adéwalé, the slave that Edward Kenway frees in the beginning portion of Black Flag, who joins Edward first as quartermaster and then as a fully fledged assassin. Some years later, he’s on a mission of his own. Now, please tell me who on Earth wants to play as anyone but Edward Kenway? Maybe I’m wrong and there’s a whole bunch of people who played through Black Flag thinking, “Damn, I wish I was Adéwalé and not this blond fuck.” The story itself works across multiple content packs, which means that for the entire experience you’ll be paying a fair bit of money unless you forked out for the season pass, but it is in essence a fully fledged story in this world.
The thing is, nobody actually wants it. What we would perhaps buy it for, is the excuse it offers us to spend more time sailing about, not giving a fuck. Assuming it actually offered that.
This is true for previous Assassin’s Creed games as well. I actually bought the DLC for Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Neither of them really did that much, although Brotherhood at least offered up some interesting scenarios with its Disappearance of Da Vinci DLC. Still, the main reason I bought and played those DLC packs was that when I was done playing through the game’s main story — as well as collecting everything — I still hadn’t had enough of the game and sorely wanted more. In essence then, this DLC was okay because it offered up an excuse to play more of the game.
The one exception to that in the case of Assassin’s Creed games, and of particular significance because it offered something different, was the Tyranny of King Washington DLC for Assassin’s Creed III. One of the biggest potential boons of Ubisoft’s great franchise is their ability to twist and tweak minor historical trivia such that it presents alternative viewpoints. For example, they portrayed Washington as nowhere near the great man the history books said he was. Likewise, a few other famous historical figures were portrayed in unique and interesting (I’m using these words a lot, aren’t I) ways. With this DLC for Assassin’s Creed III, Ubisoft presented a sort of ‘What If’ scenario, and it was great to consider. Furthermore, because it was so out there and radical, they went just as crazy with your character, giving him some crazy mythical powers to compliment his repertoire of assassin techniques. Something new to the series, and worth checking out.
Then we come to Mass Effect, and it so pains me to do this, but here we see some examples of DLC that isn’t so beneficial to the game experience. Now, let’s get a few things out of the way first. The Mass Effect games on their own are great. They have an amazing and intricate story, they have some multidimensional and well fleshed out characters and there’s also some decent gameplay to be found as well. There have been some really great DLC packs for the Mass Effect series. Immediately, Lair of the Shadow Broker for Mass Effect 2 comes to mind. Kasumi: Stolen Memory is another. So it’s not to say that BioWare are incapable or anything — they just seem to, whether by EA’s influence or their own choices, really force players into purchasing DLC. And that’s not always cool, because gamers want the choice in the end. (Heh, end.)
With the Mass Effect trilogy we were presented with three story DLC packs that should have been left in the main game. The first of these was for Mass Effect 2, called Arrival. In it, Commander Shepard is called in to save a space station that has been dealing with reaper technology. By the end of it, Shepard is forced to sacrifice millions of lives in order to slow the advancing reaper threat, and after a bone-chilling and ominous dialogue with Harbinger, is left to face the music and deal with the repercussions of his actions. This is basically how Mass Effect 3 starts. However, if you’ve never played the Arrival DLC, you would never have known any of this unless you’re the type of person (like me) who spends all their time reading Codex entries in games.
Then in Mass Effect 3 they went even further, first taking the game’s most interesting and original character (spoiler: a prothean crew member) and hiding him behind paid story DLC called From Ashes. In From Ashes, you explore a failed human outpost and discover the character Javik, who then joins your crew and presents you with some of the most interesting and unforgettable insights including my favourite quote of the series: “Stand amongst the ashes of a trillion dead souls and ask the ghosts if honour matters.” This character, if you opted out of story DLC, would be lost to your experience of the third game. Further, there was even a post-release DLC for the game called Leviathan — which I still maintain was always planned as the controversial ‘The Truth’ DLC before the endings saga erupted — in which Shepard and his crew met and interacted with a living reaper who wished to join their side. He explained pretty much everything to Shepard, and created more understanding and closure in a ten-minute dialogue, than could be found in the entire third game. Again, story DLC.
In the case of Mass Effect, what we got was the original game being harmed, or perhaps you could say undermined, by the story DLC that filled plot holes, but only if you were willing to pay for it.
I want to pick a few more examples of games that have strictly been harmed by story DLC but I’ve already gone on long enough, so, perhaps another time. Perhaps even in a feature. Live in suspense! In the meantime, why don’t you tell us if you’re a fan of story DLC, and if you’ve played any then share what you enjoyed and what you thought was just not worth the money spent on it. As a final disclaimer, if you ever bought the epilogue DLC for Dead Space 3, then shame on you. Also, what happened to Isaac?