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The Case for DLC in the Modern Gaming Experience

By February 6, 2024Author's Opinions, Gaming6 min read

2023 was an excellent year for gaming. Many new video games that instantly became classics, such as Larian Studios’s Baldur’s Gate 3 or The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom released. There were new releases for every type of gamer, but full games weren’t the only thing that graced the community in 2023.

Downloadable content, or DLCs, are a big part of modern gaming, and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They range from simple cosmetics that you can purchase in an online game’s store, to story-driven expansions that add a chunk of new content to a video game.

I wanted to take a look at the DLCs that were released in 2023 and how they compare and contrast to each other. Not every game needs a huge expansion. All DLCs have a place depending on the medium and genre. Sometimes they’re paid, sometimes they’re free.

A screenshot from God of War: Ragnarok

Image from IGDB.com

The first DLC that comes to mind when I think of 2023 is the one that came out most recently. God of War: Ragnarok released a free expansion titled Valhalla. This expansion serves as an epilogue to the base narrative and adds a new roguelike game mode to shake up an already incredible combat experience.

I loved nearly every aspect of Valhalla when I played through it. The narrative was gripping, and the roguelike gameplay loop was addictive. It scratched the most primal parts of my brain, although I have no idea why.

All of this was released for free by Santa Monica Studios, too. I would expect a DLC of Valhalla’s size to be about thirty dollars, and I would’ve been happy to purchase it. Free DLC was a big risk to take, but it paid off. This DLC has been almost universally praised.

Most DLC is not free, though. Significant expansions usually come with a significant price tag, such as the Phantom Liberty expansion for Cyberpunk: 2077. This DLC added a huge area to Night City, giving players about 25 hours of new content and multiple endings to add replayability value.

I loved Phantom Liberty. It breathed new life into Cyberpunk after the myriad issues plaguing its launch. CD Projekt Red deserves a lot of credit for fixing up the game and delivering on their promises to the players.

Big expansions are a staple for open-world RPGs these days. Horizon: Forbidden West even received an expansion with Burning Shores. This practice echoes from the past with more well-known DLCs such as Skyrim or The Witcher 3. 

Phantom Liberty is much bigger in scope and scale than Valhalla. It doesn’t serve as an epilogue or a gameplay rework, but it deepens an already massive story and adds new weapons and vehicles for players to enjoy in their adventures. I prefer expansions to just about every other form of DLC, but if it’s for a game I like, I’ll buy whatever form it is.

Image from the Official Cyberpunk Website

Not every form of DLC can be a huge story expansion, though. Not every game is concerned with a story.

Image from hotwheelsunleashed.com

Sometimes, all you want to do is race across an orange track in an array of fantastical cars.

Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged locks cars and special tracks behind a paywall. None of these things will detract from the base game if you don’t have them, but having a few extra cars to play around with is nice.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with smaller additions like that, but it can cause bad blood between a developer and its consumers. I don’t have enough money to buy several different season passes’ worth of cars and tracks, but thankfully, it doesn’t lock me from a complete base experience.

I can’t resist a cool Hot Wheels car, anyway. Mattel still manages to keep my wallet in a chokehold.

The DLCs I’ve discussed so far aren’t necessary to purchase. You might miss out on extra story and gear if you don’t buy a DLC like Phantom Liberty, but Cyberpunk is still an excellent experience without it.

MMOs, however, basically require you to buy their expansions to progress. Sometimes, levels are locked behind the game’s newest expansion, as are important quests, gear, and locations. If you aren’t obsessed with a certain MMO, it can be intimidating and stressful to buy a ton of content all at once.

Destiny 2 is the first example that comes to my mind. Every year for the past decade, a new expansion was released, adding a significant portion of the game’s sweeping narrative, a new destination to explore, and many new weapons and armor to add to your Guardian’s arsenal.

The Elder Scrolls: Online does something similar with its significant expansions. Each one adds a new area and more quests to further the game’s stories.

DLC should be able to take different forms. Developers have different ideas of how to add new content to a game, and whichever type is added is up to the creative vision. Depending on the type of game, I think DLC strengthens the overall experience.

The DLCs of 2023 have largely been as beneficial as the major game releases, and the examples I have noted do well to show off what DLC can be if done well.

Will Edmonds

Will Edmonds is a junior who loves single-player video games, playing the saxophone, and creative writing. He is majoring in professional writing and a part of the one of the jazz bands at the Catlett Music Center. He plans to become an editor after graduating college and hopes to publish his own book.