If there’s one thing that irks me about this generation of gaming, it’s the amount of attention given to Downloadable Content, ‘DLC’. Almost every AAA game release promotes additional downloadable content which, more often than not, finds consumers paying half as much again, if not more, than what they paid for the original hard copy of the game.

Firstly I want to make clear that I completely understand the reasons why DLC is so vital and such a successful concept for game developers. There are few flaws in a business model which requires minimal additional work in terms of game engine design, character modelling, and weapon balancing (etc.) for bonus profit. And I’m by no stretch of the imagination arguing that all DLC is a waste of time and money from a consumer point of view; some companies do manage to pull off the concept of additional purchasable content well.

Of course, as well, some people may have enjoyed the original game so much that they just want to play more, price not being a problem. This is a fantastic advantage to DLC; additional material is made available to extend the enjoyment of the fans. An example of DLC I received my money’s worth for was the Shivering Isles expansion to Oblivion, the predecessor to Skyrim by Bethesda Softworks. From playing the expansion you could tell real work and creativity had gone into the 20-hour completely off-shoot main quest, area design, a plethora of crazy enemies, and an array of new weaponry and armour items. Having said that, I purchased it while on sale for half of the intended price, at around 1200 Microsoft Points (£10.20) opposed to the original 2400 (£20.40).

Having just praised Bethesda for the Shivering Isles expansion, I would now like to draw your attention to one of Oblivion’s first DLC packages available; the Horse Armour. For a measly 200 MS points (roughly £1.75), you gain the ‘ability to outfit your favorite horse with a set of stylish armor.’ Although £1.75 doesn’t sound like a whole lot, particularly after just spending £40 on the game alone if you bought at first release, it does arguably take advantage of those completionist and die-hard fans who just have to own everything.

Having said that, if you did choose to purchase the Horse Armour package for Oblivion, maybe you deserve to be taken advantage of by such a miniscule and silly addition to the game?

Personally, Gears of War 3 was my most highly anticipated game of 2011, and possibly one of the only games I pre-ordered last year, for the costly sum of £40. Having only a limited part-time job last summer, I was fairly devastated to learn that merely nine days after buying Gears 3, September 20th, Epic Games were launching a ‘Season Pass’; a one-off payment of £20.40 which would entitle you to four pieces of separate DLC, a saving of 33% opposed to buying all the DLC separately. Said content was to be launched episodically over the next year, with the first instalment being just two months away in November.

I have four main problems with this strategy. Firstly, purchasers of the Season Pass had no idea of the content this half-of-the-hard-copy-game-price-again would bring, as the majority of it hadn’t even been created yet; Epic expected people to place their trust in a game they had played for just over a week, to be playing for the next 12 months.

Secondly, some clever-clogs hacked the code of their copy of the game and discovered that some of November’s planned content was already included on the main install disc of the game, but would only become available with the purchase of the DLC package in November, which in my opinion is just downright wrong.

Thirdly, as newer map packs and game-modes were included in the third and fourth bundles of DLC, players who chose not to buy these packages were forced into separate multiplayer playlists with a lower player population, equalling longer, and sometimes impossible, matchmaking times. This just seems fundamentally unfair to those players who choose not to purchase the DLC, and therefore are severely limited in their ability to play the online multiplayer modes. We can say this for certain by the published player populations on the menu screens of Gears of War 3, with many playlists more often than not with zero players.

Fourthly, not only had Epic announced the Season Pass, but had also added a multitude of ‘weapon skin’ bundles, enabling the player to alter the look of their weapons. The total cost for every skin for every weapon at launch was £30.60, or 3600 MS points. With the purchase of the standard edition of the game, the Season Pass, and every weapon skin, we’re talking about a sum of £91.

Drawing attention away from the potential expense of DLC, 2012 brought a new kind of downloadable content to the stage in Bioware’s attempt to quell the raging tirade of die-hard Mass Effect 3 fans. Mass Effect 3 has been extraordinarily unique in that players have been able to link their play-through and character between all three episodes of the franchise; decisions that were made in the first game consequently effected events in the third instalment. This ability to shape the course of the universe within your game has been a constant feature which makes the series so engrossing and a joy to experience. While keeping clear of spoilers in this article, needless to say fans of the games were left speechless at the weakness of the cut-scenes which made up the final ending of the trilogy.

Bioware responded to this outcry; by releasing an ‘Extended Cut’ DLC (free to download) which would ‘provide more of the answers and closure that players have been asking for’. Although maybe a bit of a cheap trick (consider releasing the end snippet of Inception showing whether or not the Totem stopped spinning) I think it’s an admirable step in the right direction to ultimately appease fans of the series who could otherwise have felt let down and disappointed with the ending of the game.

I’d like to now move from the sublime to the ridiculousness, and briefly discuss Train Simulator 2013. The game is exactly what it says on the tin; much akin to Flight Simulator, except… it’s a train. The game as standard costs £35, which to me as an action-loving, shoot-em up gamer, seems a fairly hefty price anyway. There are a whopping 73 pieces of DLC available for the game which includes other models and designs of trains to drive/pilot/conduct, and different and expansive sections of track to use. The total price for everything Train Simulator 2013 has to offer? £995.28. There’s not really a lot I can say about that gob-smacking figure. Would you be prepared to spend a thousand pounds on your favourite game?

Liam Ross

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