The Joy Of Expansions And Enhanced Editions

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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  1. DrWayward says:

    Enhanced Editions are one of the few bonuses of not having enough free time to play everything I want. On the PC especially, waiting 6 months to a year is often going to give you a vastly better experience, especially when it comes to larger RPGs where a lot of bugs are going to be ironed out and content added and balance tweaks made.

    A couple of the best examples of this for me have been Mount and Blade Warband (if that counts as a remake, it’s not exactly a sequel) and the Witcher 2, which had a huge amount of changes and updates and fixes in its later edition.

    I’d like to say it’s my reward for being patient, but its often got nothing to do with patience and everything to do with having too much that I want to play. Divinity was one of the few massive games I did play at launch, but I’ve still got Wasteland 2 and Pillars of Eternity to even start yet, and I only started playing The Witcher 3 on patch 1.08, so plenty more to see there.

    • FeloniousMonk says:

      You’re making a very good case for not buying games at release, especially given the hyperactivity of Steam/GOG sales and the relative frequency of teeth-grinding bugs – even those well short of the Batman style show-stoppers can be pretty damned frustrating.

      But then you have to listen to everyone talk about how great The Witcher 3 is for six months before you can play along.

      “Man, the Bloody Baron thing was the most nuanced depiction of domestic violence in any video game ever!”

      “Dude, we’re moved on to talking about Quiet’s bikini.”

      (six months later)

      “Man, I don’t get what Kojima was thinking! The whole idea of breathing through your skin suggests something like linen, not a thong!”

      “Dude, we’ve moved on to talking about how great it is that you can download a Fulton Extraction Mod for the Elder Scrolls VI, which is somehow back in Morrowind.”

      (dare to dream!)

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        But then you have to listen to everyone talk about how great The Witcher 3 is for six months before you can play along.

        Sure. But as DrWayward says, it’s not like I have the time even if I did run out and buy it. My brain can only deal with one big story-based RPG at a time, and I already own at least a half dozen worthy contenders in that category.

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        kfix says:

        you can download a Fulton Extraction Mod for the Elder Scrolls VI, which is somehow back in Morrowind

        I think I had this dream.

      • wraithgr says:

        This pretty much happens to most people over 30… But then again it’s not like I have people I regularly talk to about games in real life… Nowadays I just “wishlist” new titles I want to play and pick them up during sales (some don’t even get picked up until they’re more than 50% off). I have so little time* for games that I haven’t ever played through a full xcom campaign…
        At least this way I don’t get the “by the time I got to this game it’s been on sale forever and offered for free in bundles twice” feeling. Also sometimes the enhanced edition isn’t free, that sucks when it happens.

        *: It would be more accurate to say I have too little time for games that require uninterrupted attention for long (more than 1hr is “long”) periods of time

      • aleander says:

        Fulton Extraction Mod for the Elder Scrolls

        That’s vanilla.

  2. caff says:

    I faced an annoying game breaking bug in Divinity:OS which put me right off returning to it. I’m sure it’s been fixed by now, so the enhanced edition is enough of a reason to return to it.

    If it hasn’t been fixed though, I shall go spare and smash up all the internets.

  3. csbear says:

    “…when the Enhanced Edition comes out next week.”
    Typo? Divinity OS: EE has been out, right?

    • tigerfort says:

      D:OS:EE came out about a week after the article was originally published as part of the supporter program.

      • csbear says:

        Thank you! Sorry for that, I see how the supporter-posts work now!

    • Meldreth says:

      This article was originally a supporter-only post, and so was released more than two months ago :)

    • Assirra says:

      Yea it has been out since end October.

  4. poliovaccine says:

    It never really occurred to me before, but the bit about the worlds seeming more alive if buts are liable to have changed is an excellent point, and one I hope debs take notice of and capitalize on. Imagine if all these grand open world RPGs had one mutually exclusive DLC pack for each of the four seasons, to make requisite annual changes… or stuff along those lines. I like the idea of game worlds reaching the same level of maturity as novels, and receiving the same level of care as a result.

  5. Tacroy says:

    To be fair Miyamoto comes from a time when there were no do-overs if the code you burned onto the cartridge was fatally flawed.

    • epeternally says:

      And Nintendo are determined to pretend they’re still living in that time.

      • Assirra says:

        Yea how dare they live in a time where you had to make a working product from the go! Everyone should make broken crap instead with the excuses of “we fix it later, but first buy our DLC”.
        I take the old age over this nonsense anytime.

  6. Fnord73 says:

    Got Heart of Stone *and* the Gwent deck for christmas. (Having a non-gamer PC, Witcher 3 was a reason to buy PS4, Im sorry to say to you purists. For those of us with less money its a rational choice when the AAA games are crossplatform and the investment is so different.)

    • Unclepauly says:

      Witcher 3 needs almost zero cpu performance so can run on a toaster. All you need is a half decent GPU that costs less than a PS4 or xbox one to run it. For example an nvidia 960 on an old dual core with 4gb ram or more will run it at PS4 settings.

      • epeternally says:

        And that 960 will only run new games for two years where a PS4 will run them for at least six. And includes a controller. And means you don’t have to worry about bad ports. And has some nice exclusives. Not to mention those multi-console releases that won’t come to PC. And has much better resale value over time. And requires no manual setup. No fussing with drivers. Easier troubleshooting because there’s less to troubleshoot. Need I continue? I hate that I’ve become the anti-PC gaming PC gamer (2133 on Steam, including Witcher 3), but from a cost-benefit perspective, choosing a PC over a Playstation 4 is simply daft unless you have a lot of disposable income or (like me, playing since DOS) are already invested in the ecosystem.

        • UncleLou says:

          “And means you don’t have to worry about bad ports.”

          You have to worry about badly performing games where you can’t do bugger all about it, though. I’ve bought some right stinkers on the PS4 and really wish I would have gone for the PC versions in hindsight.

          “And has some nice exclusives.”

          Of course. So does every platform, including the PC.

          “Not to mention those multi-console releases that won’t come to PC.”

          Let’s be honest, multi-console releases without a PC version are all but dead. Right now, I can think of … Destiny? Anything else out there of note this generation? Serious questionn.

          “choosing a PC over a Playstation 4 is simply daft unless you have a lot of disposable income ”

          This also depends on how many games you buy/play. For the average console-only gamer, it would be pretty daft, yes. People reading gaming forums though? Games simply are a lot cheaper on the PC. And the “resale value” of PS4 games is, at least where I am, pathetic. I think I got a tenner for the PS4 version of Castle Wolfenstein within a month of the game’s release. I ended up paying more for the game than I would have for the PC version, and without a game still in my posession to show for it…

        • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

          Other than what already expressed above me, how many people rocking arguments like yours are really honest enough to make comparisons at the same settings?

          Thing is, with a PC you might end up wanting more, because if you simply wanted to emulate the experience of, say, a 360, and you ran all your games at low settings and resolutions sometimes below 720p, then yes, it wasn’t hard to have a PC that performs like a console.

          Everytime i hear this argument all i’m seeing are people comparing the hardware requirements for full ultra settings at 1080p/1440p against whichever crap the consoles are doing with the same game.

          Eitherway, many titles on console land don’t run that well, but the problem is that they’ll keep on doing that forever.

          • Archonsod says:

            To be honest the argument only held water back in the days of the great Intel / AMD rivalry. Since everyone and their dog are doing cross platform (and not just console and PC, most developers have half an eye on mobile too) it’s rare you’d need to upgrade to play a game if your PC is roughly concurrent with the console generation (Haven’t done a major upgrade myself for the past seven years. I’m still playing things like the Witcher 3 on full settings without much problem). It even wins in terms of cost – I’ve spent £200 on the PC since I got it, including a Windows license; a console on the other hand would have required £250 or thereabouts for a brand new console when it came time to upgrade.

          • Apocalypse says:

            Not many, but all, there is not a single console title in
            t this generation that runs above 60hz. The only console which offers consistently at least 60 is the freaking wii u, meanwhile I struggle in my ego shooters since 1996 or so to keep the settings in a fashion that gets me above 100fps on my 100hz crt. ;-)

            (admittedly there was a time when I stopped playing FPS and LCDs were limited to 60ßhz, but that time has long gone for PC gamers)

        • SuicideKing says:

          That’s completely untrue. I’m using a GTX 560 and it’s beginning to strain now, at 1080p, with “high” settings and AA, in the latest games (by strain, I mean drop below 30 fps). Or in some cases, the 1GB of VRAM is a problem.

          This GPU was launched in 2011, and was basically an overclocked, power efficient version of 2010’s GF104. So this card belongs to the time line of the previous console generation, yet manages games of the new one.

          The assertion that, within the same console cycle, a 2GB or 4GB 960 will be rendered inadequate and obsolete in two years is utter nonsense.

          And as people above have said, at the same resolution and settings as the PS4, the 960 is way faster and will remain that way in the future.

          And since the Steam India store has opened, console games are an order of magnitude more expensive than PC games.

  7. FeloniousMonk says:

    I suppose this is an obvious and inevitable point, but it’s hard to find a principled divide between the completely worthwhile Heart of Stone and/or CKII’s world-building expansions and the cynicism of the pre-cooked dribble of Horse Armor-esque non-features that should’ve been included with the core game. The examples listed here are carefully curated – none of them strike me as exploitative. There are, of course, the innumerable cash grabs.

    All that being said, I still remember BG2’s “Throne of Bhaal” expansion as the highlight of 2001, and 2001 was a pretty good year all around. There is a right and a wrong way to do these things.

  8. Viral Frog says:

    Cheers to those 5 points! Any Enhanced Edition, expansion, or DLC that brings meaningful content and extends my gameplay time without gating me out of the new content until I reach X milestone is okay in my book.

    Too many developers nowadays trying to use their players as ATMs. It’s despicable. *COUGH*—-> OVERKILL <—-*COUGH* I don't buy into any DLC that doesn't provide me a meaningful experience anymore. (Yes, I fell for Overkill's crap at first. Completely uninstalled come pay2win skins -_-)

  9. DanMan says:

    1) Totally agree. These yearly releases (be it sports games like Fifa or MP online shooters like Battlefield) need to stop. Just keep updating them. For money, if you must.

    2) It’d be great, if every dev supported their game after release like that. But I get why they sometimes don’t. Reviews are usually not updated over time, so additional investment into improving a game for free doesn’t make financial sense. It’ll only earn you good will among existing customers.

    5) That’s probably one of the main reasons why extensions exist. It’s much cheaper to extend an existing game than starting from scratch. That plays into point 1). Why start from scratch in the first place? Is it even true, or are you just selling us an extension for full price?

    • caff says:

      I think a lot of people, like me, hold off buying some games at launch. And the developers are more aware of this nowadays, so they go in for a second round of sales during the next set of sales (e.g. 25% off) which provides a nice boost of income.

      Personally I’m glad because seeing games like Divinity: OS, Witcher 3 and Cities updated constantly has provided me with a ton of fun for no extra money.

    • Unclepauly says:

      Battlefield comes out every 2 of 3 years.

      • mt0s says:

        2002 Battlefield 1942
        2003 ■ Battlefield 1942: The Road to Rome
        2003 ■ Battlefield 1942: Secret Weapons of WWII
        2004 Battlefield Vietnam
        2005 Battlefield 2
        2005 Battlefield 2: Modern Combat
        2005 ■ Battlefield 2: Special Forces
        2006 ■ Battlefield 2: Euro Force
        2006 ■ Battlefield 2: Armored Fury
        2006 Battlefield 2142
        2007 ■ Battlefield 2142: Northern Strike
        2008 Battlefield: Bad Company
        2009 Battlefield Heroes
        2009 Battlefield 1943
        2010 Battlefield: Bad Company 2
        2010 Battlefield Online
        2010 ■ Battlefield: Bad Company 2: Vietnam
        2011 Battlefield Play4Free
        2011 Battlefield 3
        2011 ■ Battlefield 3: Back to Karkand
        2012 ■ Battlefield 3: Close Quarters
        2012 ■ Battlefield 3: Armored Kill
        2012 ■ Battlefield 3: Aftermath
        2013 ■ Battlefield 3: End Game
        2013 Battlefield 4
        2013 ■ Battlefield 4: China Rising
        2013 ■ Battlefield 4: Second Assault
        2014 ■ Battlefield 4: Naval Strike
        2014 ■ Battlefield 4: Dragon’s Teeth
        2014 ■ Battlefield 4: Final Stand
        2015 ■ Battlefield 4: Weapons Crate
        2015 ■ Battlefield 4: Night Operations
        2015 ■ Battlefield 4: Community Operations
        2015 Battlefield Hardline
        2015 ■ Battlefield Hardline: Criminal Activity
        2015 ■ Battlefield Hardline: Robbery

        • Premium User Badge

          kfix says:

          I’m not actually sure what argument this supports, but if it’s a new engine every major version with *actual* improvement to the engine then isn’t that pattern since Battlefield 3 kind of what DanMan wants?

      • DanMan says:

        Let’s not get caught up on the game I picked. Could have used CoD or AssCreed as an example as well.

    • Nereus says:

      I disagree with this. I don’t want freemium style gameplay from sports games. I’m in the position where I would like to pick up a few of the sports titles, FIFA, NBA2k etc. I will probably update them every few years. If I had to both purchase the base game and 3-4 years of DLC to do that it’d put me right off. This might work better for hardcore players who buy every year, but it certainly isn’t better for the casual gamer who doesn’t care so much for things like updates, as companies will inevitably find ways to incentivise paying for the updates from people who really don’t need the most updated version.

  10. haldolium says:

    To be fair though, DoS EE introduced a huge amount of new bugs (some game breaking) and Larin is awfully slow to fix them, not to speak of adding features or ease-of-life options which are desperately needed.

    But in general it is nice when even SP games are getting some long time care. I also continued TW3 after it recieved both patch-love and new content.

  11. teije says:

    Yes, I really like seeing these solid expansions and appreciate how they can really extend the life of games. EUIV being a great example of how how much richer it is now as an experience than at first release.

    The “problem” however is that I’m now quite reluctant to play something on initial release – I think to myself “it’ll be so much better in a year or two” (not to mention on sale) and hold off. If that attitude becomes too much of a trend, how will developers who put all that care into extending and expanding their games get paid for their initial release? Or maybe that will always be a minority approach, in which case we’re good.