Rarely do games have definitive endings. Every developer hopes for the critical and financial success to continue making their games, and start a franchise with their latest IP. Even franchises that have concluding story arcs are deliberately left open-ended in some areas, and inevitably more sequels appear.
Successful games are often followed by DLC or an expansion before a true sequel sets in. The motivations and methods for releasing these expansions are varied. Some developers have leftover resources to use, and some build them from scratch once it's clear their game is a hit. There are also developers who purposefully withhold finished content as DLC, and release it later as the “true ending” to a game, or as part of a pre-order exclusive. No matter their nature, DLC expansions are here to stay, for better or for worse.
And sometimes, it really is for the better. Often the expansions manage to improve upon the original game, taking consumer criticism into consideration and polishing already well-developed ideas. Some expansions tell better stories than their original games, or introduce entirely new ways to play. Here is a look at some of the best expansions ever released, expansions that have managed to outshine the games from which they were spawned.
15 Dragonborn (Skyrim)
Skyrim was a phenomenon of epic proportions when it first came out in 2011. It had a trailer so exciting that it melted the minds of an entire generation, and updated versions of the game are being released to this day, six years later. With such hype and prestige surrounding it, Skyrim’s DLC had a lot to live up to, and succeeded wholeheartedly with Dragonborn.
In this expansion you are given an entirely new map to explore, and an adversary in the form of a previous Dragonborn. The main and side quests in this DLC are engaging as ever, and keep Skyrim’s mould while also harkening back to the nostalgic days of Morrowind. The cherry on top, however, is that you get to ride dragons, a feature that has been sought after since the game was first announced.
14 Ballad Of Gay Tony (Grand Theft Auto IV)
The Ballad of Gay Tony adds a sense of flair and excitement to GTA IV’s already exceptional formula. Explosions are the name of the game in this expansion. You get explosive shotgun rounds, sticky bombs, and plenty of missions that require blowing up cops and helicopters.
The most compelling aspect of this DLC is the writing. You play as Luis Lopez, the manager of a club that is owned by the titular Gay Tony. You are tasked to recover the stolen diamonds of both GTA IV and The Lost and The Damned DLC, and encounter many hilarious and well-written characters along the way. This outlandish story of revenge and riches runs parallel to the full game, offering a fun and satisfying conclusion to the diamond debacle, and to GTA IV in general.
13 Throne Of Bhaal (Baldur's Gate II)
Baldur’s Gate II is rightfully considered one of the best RPGs on the PC. It holds up even to this day (provided you optimize it with the fix pack) and packs a ridiculous amount of content into its game world, one considered small by today’s standards. Baldur’s Gate II has phenomenal writing, a D&D inspired character creation system, and plethora of fun challenges.
Throne of Bhaal ties up the narrative of the entire series, which is no easy feat. It provides an exciting boost to your characters powers and tactical options, and makes them a force to be reckoned with across the entire expansion. Most importantly, however, it provides some of the most interesting questlines the series has to offer. You are given many options on how to play, including evil options that actually make a difference.
12 Blood Dragon (Far Cry 3)
Much like the first episode of Rick and Morty season 3, Blood Dragon was first assumed to be an April Fool's days joke. Announced on the titular day in 2013, Blood Dragon looked too absurd to be real. Cyborg anti-heroes, neon soaked retro-futurism, and giant lizards shooting lasers from their eyes? There was just no way. But alas, a month later the DLC was announced in earnest, and the results have been glorious.
Blood Dragon takes the winning gameplay formula of Far Cry 3 and puts it into a cheesy sci-fi action movie from the 80s. The game is completely aware of its nostalgic excess. The weapons and enemies are colourful and explosive, and overly dramatic flashes of red lightening continually punctuate the skies. Your character is named Rex Power Colt, and spews ridiculous one-liners at every opportunity. The whole thing is a blast.
11 Awakened (Dead Space 3)
Dead Space 3 was the nail in the coffin for many Dead Space fans. From its original instalment, the series has moved steadily from a survival horror to action, with Dead Space 2 finding the perfect middle ground between them. Dead Space 3 took things a step too far however, and added co-op and weapon customization to a series about feeling alone and powerless in the midst of an alien zombie infestation.
Awakened takes Dead Space 3 back to its survival horror roots. It puts you on a doomed vessel riddled with vent-travelling Necromorphs and mad cult members, a situation all too familiar for our unfortunate hero Isaac Clarke. The encounters are horrifying and gruesome, as they should be, and the DLC provides a cliffhanger ending that makes for an incredible start to a new trilogy.
10 Crown DLC (Dark Souls 2)
Darks Souls 2 was certainly the most divisive entry in the Souls series. Many fans were put off by its overall feel, while others praised its polished multiplayer options. Regardless of your opinion, it is undeniable that the DLC is top rate, and provides excellent challenges and lore implications.
The DLC is broken into three chapters, The Crown Of The Sunken King, Iron King and Ivory King. All three chapters delve into the lore of Dark Souls, and provide some answers on the stories of King Vendrick, Manus, and the Bed Of Chaos. The areas within the DLC are some of the toughest to date, and feature some of the most challenging bosses, such as The Fume Knight and Lud and Zallen. The Crown DLC shows Dark Souls at its finest, should not be missed by any fans of the series.
9 Minerva’s Den (Bioshock 2)
Parallel to Bioshock 2 occurred the events of Minerva’s Den. In this DLC you control Subject Sigma, a Big Daddy reawakened in order to retrieve the blueprints of The Thinker, a sentient supercomputer that is under the control of mad scientist Reed Wahl. The Thinker has many uses and implications, and controls many vital systems within Rapture. You are guided through the DLC by Brigid Tenenbaum and Charles Porter, who both have their own motivations for wanting to recover The Thinker.
Minerva’s Den features the same refined gameplay that Bioshock is known for, and introduces some new weapons and abilities, such as the Ion Laser and Gravity Well. Minerva’s Den excels most in its storytelling, however, and features an emotional plot twist that rivals the main narrative of the original Bioshock.
8 Artorias Of The Abyss (Dark Souls)
Dark Souls is a game that revels in its narrative ambiguity. Very few plot points are explicitly stated, and must be derived from the environment, NPC dialogue, or item descriptions. Artorias Of The Abyss is an exceptional expansion because it answers questions related to Dark Souls lore, and tells us the fate of one of its mythological figures: Artorias the Abysswalker, one of the four knights of Gwyn.
In the DLC we see how corrupt Artorias has become, and must put him out of his misery in an epic duel. The mechanics of this fight are stupendous, and are given even more power due to their narrative weight. The rest of the DLC also delivers in spades, with nostalgic environments, creative enemies, and awesome boss battles against the likes of Ancient Dragon Kalameet and Manus.
7 New Super Luigi U (New Super Mario Bros. U)
Luigi has lived in the shadow of his brother for far too long. 30 years since his debut on Mario Bros, Nintendo turned his fortunes around by making 2013 the year of Luigi. Many Luigi themed games came out that year, and the best is an expansion for New Super Mario Bros. U simply titled New Super Luigi U.
The expansion adds a few much needed twists to the New Super Mario Bros. formula. First of all, it provides a greater challenge, giving you only 100 seconds to finish each level instead of the standard 300. Luigi’s higher jump and floatier physics are also put to good use in the game, and must be exploited properly to complete certain platforming puzzles. The level design is impeccable as always, and is tailored to make the game as fun as possible for players old and new.
6 Brood War (StarCraft)
StarCraft was the game that took Blizzard’s pedigree to a whole new level, and remains one of the largest e-sports phenomenons in the world. Most popular in Korea, the capital of e-sports, StarCraft began its life a very different game. It was originally pitched as Bloodlines, a game about space vampires. Thankfully, that idea evolved into the game we know today, with its three unique races and compelling narratives.
Brood War expanded on the original StarCraft in every conceivable way. It introduced new campaigns for all three races, with story arcs that all tied together beautifully. New units were thrown into the mix, giving the game a sense of freshness, and missions are both tough and story driven. It also polished balancing issues throughout the game, making once useless units suddenly viable.
5 Shivering Isles (Oblivion)
Shivering Isles takes everything great about Oblivion and makes it even better. This expansion takes place in the Shivering Isles, a wonderland-esque environment ruled by the mad and highly entertaining Sheogorath. The land itself is divided into two distinct halves: Mania, with its giant mushrooms and whimsical colours, and Dementia, a much darker and gloomier place.
In addition to excellent environments, Shivering Isles gives you awesome new armor sets derived from unique ore on the island, fun new weapons and spells, and a plethora of engaging and multi-layered quests. No quest feels out of place in this expansion, and even the fetch quests are a blast to play, which is an admirable feat. Truly, Shivering Isles is everything an Oblivion addict could ever want, and more.
4 Tiny Tina’s Assault On Dragon Keep (Borderlands 2)
Absurd zaniness has always been a chief export of Borderlands, and Tiny Tina’s Assault On Dragon Keep doubles down on this approach. The DLC puts the player in the mind of Tiny Tina as she plays a game of Bunkers and Badasses, a copyright infringement free version of D&D. Because of this, wild and whimsical things pop in and out of the world at the behest of their narrator, and create an environment entirely unique to the Borderlands series.
On top of this the game itself is engaging and witty, and full of strong comedy that is self-referential and satirical. The DLC is a love-letter to role-playing games, but remembers the franchise it is a part of at the same time. The loot-driven shooter is better than ever, with a huge variety of enemies and engaging boss fights.
3 Undead Nightmare (Red Dead Redemption)
There was little Rockstar could do to improve Red Dead Redemption, their spaghetti western masterpiece. The game had an incredible narrative, a lush and beautiful game world, and fun mechanics. What does one do when trying to create a DLC to top all of this? Short answer: zombies, and more zombies.
Undead Nightmare is Red Dead Redemption with a supernatural twist. A zombie infection has taken over the West, and it's up to John Marston to stop it. The highly varied undead enemies give the gameplay a refreshing twist, and the spooky presentation is top notch. New weapons such as holy water and the blunderbuss make hunting zombies a joy, and you are given the opportunity to hunt mythical beasts such as Sasquatch, Chupakabra, and the four horses of the apocalypse, which is all sorts of awesome.
2 Wrath Of The Lich King (World Of Warcraft)
World of Warcraft’s many expansions have reinvigorated the gameplay for even the most experienced players, adding new level caps, raids, storylines and quests. While all the expansions have been well received, Wrath of the Lich King kicked the game into another gear, and showed what was truly possible within subscription-based expansions.
WOTLK got so much right. The plot was expertly woven into the gameplay, with a memorable villain and a story that nostalgically tied back to Warcraft 3. Questing was always a profitable venture, and the continent of Northrend made leveling a joy. Most importantly, it featured raids that were refreshingly different, and could involve up to 25 players. WOTLK refined the World of Warcraft formula, and inspired more players than ever to pony up for a subscription.
1 Blood And Wine (The Witcher 3)
Blood and Wine is the perfect example of DLC done right. It takes players out of the despairing North to the vibrant and thriving country of Toussaint, which provides a much-needed change of scenery. Toussaint is one of the most beautiful worlds ever created in a game, with sprawling sun-lit fields and vibrant cities. The residents of Toussaint have their own flair and culture, and it is a joy to explore their stories through various questlines.
The main narrative of Blood and Wine revolves around vampires, which are an excellent juxtaposition to the shimmering world you explore. The enemies you face truly test your prowess as a fighter, and offer a challenge for even the most experienced players. Blood and Wine is the final chapter of Geralt’s current story, and has rightfully become CD Projekt Red’s crown jewel.