Exactly how you view Downloadable Content (either a chance to bring something new or different to an established product, or a cash-grab abomination) may vary, but it's clear the DLC phenomenon isn't going anywhere. As Irrational Games offers their last trip through the world of BioShock this week in the form of the 'Burial at Sea' DLC's conclusion, we can't help but think that they are just the latest in a long line of developers who made DLC not only worth the price, but worth the experience.
The realm of PC gaming has been familiar with expansions for years, but the rise of home consoles made the concept not just more mainstream, but more profitable. And for many, even more memorable.
Read on for our list of the Top 10 Video Game DLC.
Old World Blues
Released For: Fallout: New Vegas
Bethesda made waves when they took the beloved Fallout universe from an isometric adventure game into the realm of first-person shooters, but it wasn't long before the torch was passed to Obsidian's Fallout: New Vegas - a shooter using most of the style and gameplay of Fallout 3, but set in the titular Nevada city - arrived on the scene.
Drawing inspiration not from Fallout 3, but the games which preceded it (with many of the team having worked on the cancelled Fallout 3 from Black Isle), any doubts of Obsidian being up to the task ended with the 'Old World Blues' DLC. Sending players into 'The Big Empty,' the campaign was one massive homage to retro science fiction of the 1950s. The allusions always existed on the fringes of Fallout, but 'Old World Blues' put them center stage.
Released For: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Wherever fans of The Elder Scrolls rank Skyrim in the series, it was impossible to ignore the groundswell of enthusiasm the game evoked among RPG fans. Following the success of the main game, Bethesda added even more hours of gameplay in the form of 'Dawnguard' and 'Hearthfire.' But just as the interest seemed to be waning with the passage of time, 'Dragonborn' arrived to re-ignite player addiction.
Chronicling the return of the Dragon Priest Miraak, players were given a rude awakening when meeting the first 'Dragonborn.' Bringing the long-awaited dragon mounts into the mix, the DLC finally let players travel to other realms of the Elder Scrolls universe as well. It may be a one-stop shop for Elder Scrolls fans, but it comes far closer than we ever expected from DLC.
New Super Luigi U
Released For: New Super Mario Bros. U
No game character is more under-appreciated than the taller half of Nintendo's Super Mario Bros., and in 2013 the company decided to give him his due. Announcing 2013 as 'the Year of Luigi,' the company backed up the claim in the form of New Super
Bros. Luigi U, downloadable content for New Super Mario Bros. U.
Starring Luigi as the undisputed lead - the only Super Mario Bros. platformer to flat-out exclude Mario from the action - players were able to wield Luigi's higher jumps, floaty physics and decreased traction. But it was far more than a gimmick; offering a difficulty some found missing from recent games in the series. Luigi brought pulse-pounding precision along with him, and did it in DLC that could easily be considered a standalone game.
Released For: Mass Effect 3
There's no question that Mass Effect has had an inconsistent history with DLC, but their successes have been some of the best. Mass Effect 2 set a high point for DLC with 'Lair of the Shadow Broker,' and while Mass Effect 3 left many fans wanting more, BioWare promised to appease with the 'Citadel' DLC, bringing players the kind of quirky laughs and returning fan-favorite characters they longed for.
Pitching Commander Shepard against a mysterious threat on the titular Citadel, nearly every crew member returned to lend a hand. Once the fight was over, the real fun began: planning, hosting, and enjoying a party. The action satisfied, but the chance to rekindle old romances, gain closure, and let Shepard's hair down with the crew he had built was too good to pass up.
The Knife of Dunwall
Released For: Dishonored
For the most part, DLC is a self-contained experience; whether meant to deliver another dose of gameplay, tell a shorter story in the universe, or flesh out the campaign. But rarely does it cause players to reconsider their assumptions about the released game - yet that was the exact goal of Dishonored's 'The Knife of Dunwall'.
For the uninitiated, it is a surprise assassination that sends the game's events into motion, forcing the player to prove their innocence and seek out the real killer. In 'The Knife of Dunwall,' players are given the chance to play as that assassin while learning the events surrounding his own struggles and betrayal. The DLC essentially turned Dishonored into the first part of a supernatural trilogy, concluded with the 'Brigmore Witches' DLC. Not to mention fine-tuning the acclaimed gameplay mechanics at the same time.
Released For: Dragon Age: Origins
Given just how beloved Dragon Age: Origins is by longtime fans of BioWare and RPGs in general, it's no surprise that its only expansion is just as lauded. Picking up months after Origins concluded with the player's Grey Warden defeating the Darkspawn, 'Awakening' drops them back into a world where the enemy remains, now smarter and more devoted than ever before.
Players can import their prior hero (along with their accrued fame and renown) or start fresh as an outsider, viewed with suspicion. New characters, a new base of operations to upgrade, and a chance to re-spec without consequence means 'Awakening' may as well be a sequel to Origins. And considering the fan reaction to the actual sequel, that only sweetens the deal.
Released For: Borderlands 2
Few video game studios have distinguished themselves in the realm of post-launch support Gearbox Software, creators of the Borderlands series. With Borderlands 2, the team took the mandate of DLC to a new level in multiple add-ons for varied groups of fans. For our money, 'Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep' sums up the attitude of the series perfectly.
As the name suggests, the entire world of Borderlands - heroes, villains, weapons, and everything in between - is re-imagined as a figment of Tiny Tina's imagination. Turning the campaign into an elaborate game of Dungeons & Dragons, the writers take every chance to show their love of the pen-and-paper RPGs which once ruled loot hoarders everywhere, and it's unabashed love of absurdity in the name of fun is infectious.
Released For: Red Dead Redemption
Rockstar Games has made a habit of impressing with their DLC (more on that later), but Red Dead Redemption's best add-on was as shocking as it was impressive. After earning numerous near-perfect scores for its mature story, hero, and strong Western style, Rockstar announced the 'Undead Nightmare' DLC. Lawmen were no longer the threat facing John Marston, but a zombie plague spreading across the frontier.
Taking place completely separate from the core storyline, the decision to shift gears from serious cinematic storytelling to a zombie survival horror experience caught gamers completely by surprise. Even more surprising was how Rockstar managed to deliver an experience as refreshing and polished as the base game. The studio simply made DLC that would alarm and delight their fans, and the result is one of the best batches of DLC we've ever encountered.
Released For: BioShock 2
BioShock 2 has been described as a worthwhile experience by some, or a game that should simply never have been made by others. But all can agree that the game itself was almost justified by the 'Minerva's Den' DLC. Casting the player as an Alpha Series Big Daddy, they're soon drawn into a rivalry hinging on Rapture Central Computing, the home of the Thinker - the world's first artificial intelligence.
The less said about the DLC's story the better, but the exploration of personal obsession, the early days of computing, and Alan Turing's efforts in particular are the exact kind of storytelling that made BioShock such a triumph for those longing for more thoughtful shooters. Buying a copy of BioShock 2 just for Minerva's Den is far a bad decision - a true mark of great DLC.
Episodes From Liberty City
Released For: Grand Theft Auto IV
Beginning with Grand Theft Auto IV's 'The Lost and Damned' DLC, players weren't quite sure what Rockstar Games was up to with its spinoff content. A separate story following Johnny Klebitz, a member of Liberty City biker gang The Lost, the DLC was a test of the feasibility of digital-only releases. But what players got was a Grand Theft Auto experience in a condensed form, without sacrificing any quality.
The trend would continue with 'The Ballad of Gay Tony,' received just as strongly. The duo was later packaged as Episodes From Liberty City, and while it's hard to know if Rockstar will keep up the experiments, but these batches of DLC are not only some of the best ever released, but some of the strongest Grand Theft Auto content Rockstar has ever produced.
There you have it: our list of the very best DLC. While other gamers are sure to adore the wealth of map packs now commonplace in multiplayer shooters, or think the console age can't hold a candle to the expansions of the PC's most established franchises, these entries prove that a developer or publisher taking a second crack at a property doesn't have to be a simple cash grab.
Which are your favorite DLC campaigns, or additional content? Be sure to name them in the comments.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.