So the Steam Holiday Sale ended yesterday (6pm for GMT people round here) and during the event, my heart grew three sizes. And by heart, I mean games collection. It was bargains galore and I feasted, to a budget, which is probably the best kind of feasting to be had. I picked up some Indie classics that I’ve long overlooked, some on-the-fence AAA titles that I just wasn’t prepared to blow 40-quid on when they were first released, a strategy game I didn’t even realise had been made, a couple of FPS titles in the “don’t play them alone, with the lights off during a stormy night if you value your underwear!” variety and some DLC. That’s what I want to have a wibble about today – the DLC.
It’s no secret that I’m a little wary of the DLC bandwagon. Knowing the games industry and the people involved – I’ve always felt the prospect of withholding content that would have normally been part of the regular full-game release and later packaging it as a separate ‘added value’ release at an additional cost just seemed like it’d be too tempting. More money for the same work? Ka-as-they-say-Ching! Is it already happening? Always going to be difficult to say but we know the industry isn’t above trying it on (remember Oblivion’s Horse Armour?). Of course, not all DLC has this tainted vibe. Some of it will be honest-to-goodness extra effort, above and beyond, game expanding content. Of course, we have that murky grey area of proper DLC developed concurrently of the original game, using resources that could easily have been part of the full-game but let’s just stick our fingers in our ears and ‘la-la-la-la-not-listening-la-la’ that concept for now, shall we?
I recently purchased DLC for two of the games I own, both for slightly different reasons. The first game was Grand Theft Auto 4 which I have to say (and will probably annoy some blinkered zealots by doing so), I didn’t enjoy half as much as I did the games from the earlier GTA3 series. For all it’s shine, I felt the core was spinning slightly off-kilter. It just didn’t seem right. The main problem I’d cite would be that driving felt waaaaaaay too loose, as if I was directing barges across an ice-rink. Add to that a game design/mission layout that emphasised long-distance to-ing and fro-ing (drive across two islands to a mission hub, pick up the mission, back across two islands to the mission site, usually involving more driving). They even put toll-booths on the bridges! Throw in an over-reliance on scripted chases (“So, there was no point in me weaving about like a idiot, emptying my entire ammo supply into your vehicle for the past ten minutes – you were unrealistically invulnerable until you passed some completely arbitrary location?“). I know it’s more ‘dramatic’ to have scripted missions but if I have acquired the tools and the skill to complete the mission early, let me. It is a sandbox game, after all, FFS.
Anyway, I purchased ‘The Lost and Damned‘ and ‘The Ballad of Gay Tony‘ as every review I’d seen for them had emphasised how much they improved on the core game. I’ve already consumed the biker gang portion of the DLC but have yet to finish my night-clubbing escapades as Gay Tony’s bouncer/business partner. Of the two, I think I’m enjoying TBOGT more and for the same reason that blighted the main game for me – driving. But, I hear you cry, they tidied up the motorbike handling specifically due to all the ‘in-formation’ posturing you do in TLAD. Yeah, but the way I got around all that mind numbing commuter-sim business between missions in GTA4 was to taxi ride the entire game. Once I realised I didn’t have to endure that lousy snorefest aspect of the game, it was a revelation. One that TLAD stomped all over with it’s insistence that I needed to be staring at hairy biker arses for 90% of the DLC. So TBOGT wins big time in that respect.
The other game I purchased DLC for was Borderlands, an MMO-esque FPS that I didn’t really think would be my cup of tea but turned out to be a game I thoroughly enjoyed (and would recommend). It has four pieces of DLC out and since I’d heard that ‘Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot‘ was a bit of a weak cash-in and people thought that ‘Claptrap’s New Robot Revolution‘ was a little ‘meh’, I decided to try out the other two – ‘The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned‘ and ‘The Secret Armory of General Knoxx‘.
One thing I’ve noticed playing both these DLC and that’s the desire of the devs to pad out the experience somewhat. There are no fast-travel points within the DLC apart from the one you come in on. In the regular game, you’d wander off to a new zone, splatter whatever needed splattering and then hit the closest fast-travel point back to town to complete your mission. Since new missions would regularly send you back to those other zones, the fast travel points were also handy for skipping ahead to where you needed to be. In the DLC, they’ve tried to artificially extend the lifetime of the content by forcing you to traverse from point A to point Z and all the dreary letters in-between. I can see why they did it but they’re not really fooling anyone and all they managed to achieve is to introduce a major annoyance that hampers my enjoyment of the DLC. It’s more apparent in TSAOGK as it features highways to drive through (again… and again).
While on one mission, the happy little Claptrap announcer informed me that new missions were available to me back at the main hub, two zones away. So finishing up, off I drove. And drove and finally reached the hub, only to be told the new missions take place all the way back in the zone I’d just come from. Desire… to… finish… DLC… ebbing.
All-in-all, DLC can be fun and we’re only going to see more and more of it appearing. We buy it. If you ever get that niggling feeling that the game you just laid a wad of cash down on was a little short just as the devs announce a plethora of upcoming DLC, we’ve no-one but ourselves to blame. And padding? That’ll probably be with us forever too. Sure, there’ll be some stand-out examples of great DLC in the future but for every downloadable self-contained hunk of pure joy, there’ll be a mountain of flimsy, light-weight fluff strung out for much longer than the content can sustain. And we’ll buy that too.
By the way – Happy 2011! Hope it kicks your 2010 in the nuts like I’m hoping it’ll do to my past year.