Thoughts on Expansion Packs

Posted on 9th Oct 2010 at 08:36 by Joe Martin with 36 comments

Joe Martin
I completed Half-Life: Blue Shift for the first time last night and, I have to say, I was enormously disappointed with it. I’d heard it was supposed to be the worst Half-Life game by far – something which had put me off playing it until recently, when I picked it up on a whim, but even I wasn’t expecting it to be so totally…bland. It was too short, too easy and enormously lacking in character. It took me three or four hours to complete, during which I died once and didn’t get to see anything in the way of new monsters or weapons.

Compare that to Half-Life: Opposing Force, which I still maintain is the perfect expansion pack even in spite of the silly end-boss. Opposing Force has plenty of new content, including an entirely new race of aliens that have never been officially explained within the Half-Life canon. Plus, it has the barnacle gun. It’s a fantastic expansion pack.

What really makes Opposing Force better than Blue Shift though isn’t just the new guns and baddies, but the fact that it has a personality of it’s own which, while it draws on Half-Life, feels entirely distinct. Like the original Half-Life, both expansions open with the player sat in a moving vehicle, but where Blue Shift merely apes HL’s train ride Opposing Force differs in every possible way. HL opens with the start of the story, deep underground, with a sedate and lonely pace; Opposing Force’s Adrian Shepherd is in a helicopter with the rest of his squad, entering the plot at the half-way point in a rather dramatic fashion.

Thoughts on Expansion Packs
Blue Shift: Boring

So, most important thing about making a good expansion pack? Don’t be too similar to the source material. It’s an idea that Opposing Force really runs with, even going so far as to cast players as what Gordon would have considered to be an enemy; while Freeman is off saving people, Adrian is just there to kill them.

At the same time though, Opposing Force isn’t too different. It circles around the same general themes as Half-Life and, while new features are added to your arsenal, it’s a very similar game in a lot of ways. You’re still following the direction of the cowardly scientists, errands punctuated by fast, fluid firefights that rarely last more than a minute. Very few people consider how beautifully paced the combat in the early HL games was – battles would usually only last a couple of seconds and would be spread out in batches, with environmental puzzles and exploration taking up most of your time. There's a rhythm to the first HL games; staccato and wonderful. Opposing Force weighs this balance more heavily towards combat, but it’s still pretty close.

By deviating where it can and staying true where it needs to, Opposing Force feels like a much more worthwhile expansion than Blue Shift. It has it’s own mood – one based on a more colourful humour and larger-scale battles. It’s more fantastical too, with massive biodomes and underwater labs almost poking fun at HL’s canyons and corridors.

Thoughts on Expansion Packs
Opposing Force: Not boring

And what does Blue Shift have? Well, there are a lot of elevators…

There are plenty of other great expansion packs though – and far more terrible ones. Wages of Sin for the original SiN does an excellent job of refining the features of the original, for example. Not many people picked up on how many different paths there were though the original game (there were dozens of levels you wouldn’t see on your first go), but Wages fixed that while also taking the story in a new direction. It’s just a shame it was still so hideous and buggy.

The Morrowind expansions were pretty good too, offering whole new landmasses and areas to explore in the Bethesda's massive RPG time-sponge. It's just a shame that the sheer number and quality of player-made mods rendered them pretty poor value.

Nowadays, we don’t see expansion packs as much as we used to. Downloadable content (DLC) is the in-thing, instead. It cuts down on costs for developers, lets them sell directly and customise prices to the size of the content. Some games still get expansion packs released at retail (mainly strategy games), but it’s pretty rare. Personally, I think that’s a bit of a shame - but let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


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Cthippo 9th October 2010, 09:57 Quote
It's kind of a different market though.

HL:OF and HL:BS were both expansions of single player games whereas most games now at least have a multi-player content, and in many that's the focus. Despite the way some companies use DLC as a cash sponge, I think it is better suited to the modern era.

Bring on HL2e3 or even HL3!
The_Beast 9th October 2010, 09:58 Quote
Meh, I don't like them but if they are good/worth it then I will buy them
knuck 9th October 2010, 09:58 Quote
Red Alert: Aftermath ... with tesla tanks !

FooAtari 9th October 2010, 11:00 Quote
Opposing Force is easily the best expansion pack I have ever played. And I still maintain it was good enough to be sold as a stand alone title. Great game.

The problem with Blue Shift is that, as far as remember, it was never intended as an expansion pack for the PC version, but it was extra content for the ill fated Dreamcast port. And as such the probably didn't feel the need to make it longer, as you were already buying the full Dreamcast game.

As for expansion packs, I wish there was more of them. I far to prefer to pay £10 - £20 for something that provides several hours of play and really adds something new to the original game, than pay £5 for some extra maps, or a new level or whatever. Also you didn't feel ripped off with an expansion pack as the tended to appear several months after release of the original game. Not the day after it was released...
Centy-face 9th October 2010, 11:04 Quote
Yeah I miss proper expansions DLC is fine but it requires that the developers support a game longer than they otherwise would have to to work. Expansions are great for the simple reason they aren't made out of cut content especially for itself like a lot of DLC is (look at Mafia 2).

It was also a nice way of new studios cutting their teeth in the market piggy backing on the success of a major game look at all th studios who got their start that way. Gearbox, Splash Damage, Nerve, Greymatter and so on DLC can't do that but expansions belong to a different era now and we relly just have to make do with DLC unless as you said its a RTS then we get to pay 30 quid for a small expansion (thankyou relic).
jimmyjj 9th October 2010, 11:43 Quote
Command and Conquer Generals Zero Hour is an example of an awesome expansion pack.

It added to every element of the game and I dread to think how many hours I lost to it.

It provided new units, new campaigns, and a challenge mode that was an enormous time sink. Throw in some new skirmish and multiplayer maps as well and it really was good value.
frontline 9th October 2010, 12:24 Quote
Loved the original Quake 1 mission packs, great gaming when 3d graphics was starting to take off.

Opposing Force for HL was excellent though.
Kris 9th October 2010, 12:33 Quote
Brood War: made starcraft into "starcraft". :)
phuzz 9th October 2010, 12:39 Quote
For Fallout 3, Broken Steel provided the ending that the game needed, and Point Lookout was rgeat as well, but some of the other DLC just seemed quite limited in scope.
My favourite would be Yuri's Revenge from Red Alert 2, mm, chronoSEALS.
Tokukachi 9th October 2010, 14:30 Quote
The problem is a lot of modern games *are* expansion packs, the number of times recently I've thought to myself, "hey this just feels like an expansion pack for <insert previous game in series here>"

Why sell an expansion pack for £15-10 when you can sell it as a stand alone game for £40??

For an expansion pack I'd expect a new campaign, new multiplayer levels and a few tweaks here and there, but basically more of the same on the same engine etc.
Is this not the very definition of MW2? (which i liked FYI)
Bauul 9th October 2010, 15:55 Quote
The best expansion pack ever released is widely considered to be Mysteries of the Sith for Jedi Knight.

It consisted of an epic single player campaign, nearly doubled the number of weapons, enemies and force powers. In addition, it revolutionised the Mutliplayer, adding a far more powerful match-making engine and game types, as well as all the classic levels and characters from the films.

It took every aspect of the original and made it bigger, better and added more longevity. So much so it was an absolutely essential addition, and completely eclipsed the original, especially in mutliplayer.

On the flip side, one expansion packs can be brilliant, but if they stray too far from the original nobody likes them. No more so IMO than Quake 3: Team Arena. I played it and loved it, but because it was so different from Q3 original (it had more in common with Team Fortress) nobody played it.
sparkyboy22 9th October 2010, 16:26 Quote
Originally Posted by jimmyjj
Command and Conquer Generals Zero Hour is an example of an awesome expansion pack.

It added to every element of the game and I dread to think how many hours I lost to it.

It provided new units, new campaigns, and a challenge mode that was an enormous time sink. Throw in some new skirmish and multiplayer maps as well and it really was good value.

Gotta agree with this.
Fingers66 9th October 2010, 16:43 Quote
Call of Duty: United Offensive is another example of an expansion that vastly improved the original game.

I miss the sheer fun of that game online... :(
schmidtbag 9th October 2010, 16:50 Quote
expansion packs are very necessary imo. look at games like modern warfare 2 - that could have easily been an expansion. i haven't seen a whole lot of that game but from what i have seen, it seem recycles a lot of resources from the first game anyway.

expansion packs are nice because they don't waste disk space, you don't have to reconfigure anything, and the developers don't have to look like greedy assholes by trying to sell you an entire "new" game. unfortunately, consoles can't really handle expansions that well, so i'm assuming thats the reason for them not showing up.

what i've always wanted to see was a racing game with expansions. sometimes games like flatout 2 were perfectly designed, they just needed more content. sometimes i don't want a whole new racing game - i just want more tracks. considering that most games are designed for consoles and console games are essentially as detailed as they can get, i would find it pretty acceptable to take the same game and create a bajillion expansions for it, instead of what is basically re-releases of the same games over and over with a few different ideas.

keep in mind, by creating an expansion, developers won't really be criticized as badly as they would if they just created a whole new sequel because expansions aren't designed to be an entirely new game.
HourBeforeDawn 9th October 2010, 17:56 Quote
Half Life has been one of the very few whos expansion packs were really worth it, a lot of expansion packs you get a few hours of play which isnt bad but isnt great either. As others said today most expansion packs are multiplayer based and I personally hate that, would rather see single player additions or at least have both not just multiplayer
fathazza 9th October 2010, 18:23 Quote
Originally Posted by Fingers66
Call of Duty: United Offensive is another example of an expansion that vastly improved the original game.

I miss the sheer fun of that game online... :(

indeed, great expansion and probably still my fave ever online game....

Relic tend to be pretty good with expansion packs for dawn of war 1 and 2 and company of heroes

(well the first one is always worth it and the 2nd and onwards arent as good value for money)
jrs77 9th October 2010, 18:43 Quote
Borderlands! The expansion-packs were totally awesome tbh. Even Moxxi was great, if you've played Borderland in CoOp and/or PvP.

Age of Empires allways had very good expansions.

Oh and then there's MMOs like EvE Online ofc, which had lots of expansions during the last few years, which added to the game overall.

I think expansions are not a problem in general, but differ heavily depending on the genre of games you play.
CardJoe 9th October 2010, 19:36 Quote
I loved the Outlaws expansion - A Handful of Missions. Those historical missions and the whole 'Get 'em, Dead or Alive' angle gave it a real challenge and sense of style.
thehippoz 9th October 2010, 20:06 Quote
yeah age of empires rise of rome expansion made the game what it should have been..

@buaal quake 3 was imo dumbed down from quake 2.. they were trying to draw in more players while still keeping the hardcore fanbase

all the dlc nowdays =E
Farting Bob 9th October 2010, 22:00 Quote
Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction was a great expansion pack. It seems the late 90's and early 00's were the golden era of what people expect in a expansion pack. Whole new levels, new characters, new enemies, a continuation of the original story.
javaman 9th October 2010, 23:11 Quote
I dont mind free expansions but paying £8 for 3hours extra game play *cough* oblivion *cough* is awful. Some DLC's/expansions like ancorage or the pitt in fallout 3 you get more out off but its boarderline if its worth it. Personally I game on PC for extra content like mods and fixes for games so i don't have to buy expansions to get more from gaming. It just reaks of developers chancing their arm for easy cash.
Riddick 10th October 2010, 00:31 Quote
I definitely miss proper expansion packs, whilst DLC is nice it doesn't always add enough to be worth the price, especially if it's just a few more missions or something similar.
Personal favourite out of expansion packs is Brood War, new units, rebalancing, whole new story and characters. In fact most RTS expansion packs I've played have added a lot to the game (Yuri's revenge being another favourite!)
nicae 11th October 2010, 04:04 Quote
I don't buy EA products because of their way of doing expansion packs. They cripple the games to sell the content later, once you're already comitted. Lame. (And I'm not even talking about The Sims and the 200 expansion packs for each version.)

Lately, Creative Assembly is doing the same. Empire: Total War was a buggy steal. I gave up on them so no wonder I didn't buy Napoleon: Total War, which again made me feel robbed for being similar to the Win7 vs. Vista fiasco.
Niftyrat 11th October 2010, 07:52 Quote
I like expansion packs that add to both single and multiplayer (spoiled by relic with dawn of war 1) but some companies like to market there expansion packs as stand alone games (looking at you ubisoft with Vegas 2)

The key is pricing if a full game is £20 - £30 then an expansion needs to eb about £10 - £15 not £20 - £25 else it fails. DLC to me just means extra maps, weapons or people not fundamental changes. An expansion pack should also fix problems in the original if not already patched and not create more.
l3v1ck 11th October 2010, 08:00 Quote
Expansion packs are awesome. Throne Of Bhaal was a great way of finishing off the Baldur's Gate story. Whether they come in a box or as DLC isn't really an issue. For me the big issue is whether the original game is long enough. An expansion pack is one thing, but episodic gaming is quite another. (Episodic gaming sucks as the game you pay for is way too short to start with.)
impar 11th October 2010, 09:34 Quote
Originally Posted by nicae
I gave up on them so no wonder I didn't buy Napoleon: Total War, which again made me feel robbed for being similar to the Win7 vs. Vista fiasco.
NTW is way better than ETW. 7, in comparison, is just marginally better than Vista.
Unknownsock 11th October 2010, 09:43 Quote
Another vote for yuri's revenge, i wasted my younger years on that game!
Fizzban 11th October 2010, 10:34 Quote
Some expansions are good and some arn't. I know with the Bioware games I always looked forward to the expansions and was blessed with things like Throne of Baal, Shadows of Undrentide, Heart of Winter ect..
lacuna 11th October 2010, 12:23 Quote
A few mentions of Yuri's Revenge here but I didn't think it added all that much really. It was fun to play (and Im thinking of giving it a run through again, now its been mentioned) but not as good as the original game by some margin. Also, the yuri units were too powerful and nobody would play against them online -it was even worse than using france (because of the grand cannon)

Back to the main article; I also found blue shift to be bland. especially as a lot of the features were trimmed down from the original game (e.g. fewer weapons) but it wasn't a bad game overall. There were elements of opposing force that I didn't really like, such as the underground sections in the pitch black trying to fight those massive things!
Kris 11th October 2010, 12:35 Quote
Throne of Baal was also an amazing expansion.
And lets not forget the Wow expansions, they did add a lot to the game (i guess it's an eternal topic about what ppl like/don't like about them).
I'd say Blizzard has managed to create mostly superb expansions. Lets look at their track record:

Brood War: Great
Lord of Destruction: Great
Frozen throne: Great
Burning Crusade: Great
Wrath of the Lich King: Great

It tells me that they are dedicated into making their games better, not to just push out an expansion at any cost. I hope their development mentality will not change into Activision's 1 release-per-year-no-matter-what.
Omnituens 11th October 2010, 13:49 Quote
Core Contingency.

Krogoth Mission.

That is all.
Kiytan 11th October 2010, 16:29 Quote
I think the move to broadband plays the biggest role in this, when OF/BS was released i doubt many people had broadband (i know i certainly didn't) so expansion packs had to be good enough to stand on thier own (so to speak)
SaNdCrAwLeR 11th October 2010, 22:51 Quote
Originally Posted by schmidtbag
considering that most games are designed for consoles and console games are essentially as detailed as they can get

I agree with everything in your post except this...
you sir obviously have no knowledge of the amount of PC games out there...

just in Casual games alone the console market gets easilly eclipsed...

and yes, Flash games are considered games... :P
robots 13th October 2010, 08:00 Quote
I don't mind if it's DLC or a full expansion, as long as it satisfies my 3 golden rules.

1) The original game needs to be good in the first place. I am not happy if they release some mediocre game that only ends up being good once you 'expand' it. This was my main criticism with C&C Generals. The original was pretty lame, but it got really good with the Zero Hour expansion added. But at that point I had basically bought two games.

2) The price needs to be right. If all it does is add a few more hours of gameplay then I only want to spend 99p or something. And if I pay full price for an expansion pack, it better give me good value, or I'd be better off just spending an extra £5 or so and buying a whole new game.

3) It needs to be worthwhile. My problem with DLC is that most of it is a waste of time. At this point the price isn't even important, I just want to know that it's worth having. An example is Dragon Age: Awakenings. That was 'ok', and worth a play through I suppose. But Witch Hunt was a piece of crap that I finished in about 2 hours. It wasn't even worth me spending the time to install it.

With all the crappy Dragon Age DLC, I personally would have preferred them to have none of it, and just put all their efforts in to one really nice expansion that gave me a lot of stuff, and I would happily have paid more than all the DLC cost put together.

My favourite addon: Ballad of Gay Tony for GTA4. It was really great and improved on the original game quite a lot.
Kilmoor 5th November 2010, 15:27 Quote
Dude, did you write this article ten years ago?
schmidtbag 5th November 2010, 17:00 Quote
Originally Posted by SaNdCrAwLeR
I agree with everything in your post except this...
you sir obviously have no knowledge of the amount of PC games out there...

just in Casual games alone the console market gets easilly eclipsed...

and yes, Flash games are considered games... :P

i was referring to commercial games and non-indie games. pc probably has more than triple the amount of games over all other systems COMBINED
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