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The Joy Of Expansions And Enhanced Editions

Return Trip

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As the year draws toward its final frosty furlong, I’m slightly surprised that one of the games I’m most looking forward to playing is also one of my favourite games from 2014. It’s Divinity: Original Sin, a game that I adored when I played it last year and that I expect to lose myself in again when the Enhanced Edition comes out next week. It’s not the only RPG that I’ll have revisited this year – both Pillars of Eternity and The Witcher 3 sucked me in at release and then lost me for a while when I realised they were going to require weeks of attention, but I used their expansions as an excuse to pick up where I’d left off. Here are five reasons to love digital expansions.

1) Your favourite games are now sequels to themselves

Crusader Kings II is the best example of this. The game, with all of the currently released DLC, is what I’d have expected Crusader Kings III to look like when I first played the original release of II. Features have been added, the world is bigger, there are loads of new factions to play as, all with their own rulesets and roleplaying styles. I play a bunch of games that receive annual sequels, mainly sports titles, and I’d love to see them adopt similar models, adding and expanding to a strong base whenever the features are ready rather than releasing an entirely ‘new’ experience once a year.

2) Mistakes can be erased

There’s a Shigeru Miyamoto quote that does the rounds whenever a release date is postponed: “A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever.” I’ve always thought it’s apocryphal, or at least paraphrased, but it’s a useful reminder that a delay of a few months can be a good thing. The nature of digital expansions and updates means that a bad game might only be bad for a while though. Well, maybe not a bad game but a decent game with flaws might see those flaws erased as time goes on. In the case of Divinity: Original Sin, the Enhanced Edition will resemble Larian’s intent far more closely than the game they released – it wasn’t rushed but its success has allowed the team to return to their work and improve the elements that they weren’t entirely satisfied with, as well as applying the lessons they’ve learned since release.

3) Games are alive

Not ‘alive’ in the sense that they’re going to start raiding your fridge and sleeping on your couch as soon as you invite them into your home, but ‘alive’ in the sense that they can continue to grow and develop after release. I have eleven installed pieces of DLC for The Witcher 3 and most of them were free. When I load up the game, I might find new quests, characters or cosmetic updates in areas that I’d assumed were complete. Knowing that an area might have changed makes me less likely to think of a world map as something that I move across, erasing icons as I go.

4) Expansions aren’t just extra portions for high-level players

I will always appreciate developers who don’t expect me to dedicate my life to their games. Sure, sometimes I want to spend every waking hour playing, but that’s not always possible. Both Pillars of Eternity and The Witcher 3 catered for every kind of player. Whether it’s Obsidian’s approach to difficulty options and UI customisation or the way that new Wild Hunt content doesn’t always take place in an exclusive end-game. Both games have full-fat expansions (The White March and Hearts of Stone) that don’t expect me to have a save game with super-powered characters in order to play them. And that’s why I’ve been playing both whenever I can find spare time.

5) Developers revisiting their own work makes perfect sense

An astonishing amount of time, effort and cold hard cash goes into the development tools and worlds that are the building blocks of the games we play. It’s easy to take these things for granted but, if you own the game, load The Witcher 3 right now and just look at it. It’s preposterously beautiful and detailed. If developers spend so much time and money making a game, it feels a shame to move on from it and onto the next thing without fully exploiting all of that work. That’s not to say I want to see hundreds of bland quests plugged into The Wild hunt but I’m delighted whenever I find an excuse to revisit such a spectacular world, and for the level of investment required to be sustainable, it makes sense for the developers to revisit and reap the benefits as well. Give me more.

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