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Can DLC change the experience of a game?

After playing Batman: Arkham City, I was hungry for more. The challenge map DLCs were okay, and the additional characters were cool, but I'm a story kind of guy, and that's what I wanted more of. I wanted to see the repercussions the end of Arkham City would have across the rest of Batman's world. When Harley Quinn's Revenge was announced, I was excited to play it- doubly so when they mentioned Robin would be getting some time in the spotlight. As soon as it came out, I downloaded it immediately.

Two hours later, I was finished with it, and a bit dissapointed. There wasn't anything outright bad about the content, it played very well and it was certainly more Arkham City, with story included, which is what I wanted. But it just wasn't up to par, it didn't match the quality of Arkham City itself. There I was, fully expecting the game to pull me back in and get me to finally play that New Game Plus, when... it didn't. I just turned it off and went back to playing other games.

I was a bit worried later on- would the dissapointing post-game experience Harley Quinn gave me make me feel worse about the game overall? Would it sap some enjoyment from going back and reliving those final moments facing off against Joker's crazy plan if I knew that, afterwards, there was a second ending waiting for me too that I didn't even feel like playing a second time?

So I sat back down and dug into Arkham City and found that, in this case at least, no. The game hadn't magically gotten worse due to the DLC, and I felt silly for even entertaining the notion that it could have unearthed previously unseen flaws in the title. Harley's problems were her problems alone, and the original game remained immaculate.

But that got me thinking about other titles, Mass Effect 3 in particular. With how people were upset with that game's ending and demanded DLC that changed it to be more satisfying for a variety of reasons, would something like that really overwrite what was already experienced? If players were allowed to explore the post-game situations, would anything satisfying really be possible from those narrative opportunities? It's no secret that, at that point in the game, you can't play as Commander Shepard anymore. Shepard's story is over. But there's still a whole universe. It left me sort of torn over that idea, loving the Mass Effect setting as much as I do, but not wanting anything to get worse with the ending already in as bad of shape as it was. Could that ending be improved without ripping it out and changing it entirely?

But games with a narrative focus aren't the only ones who run that sort of risk. The first title to come to mind, for me, is Gotham City Impostors, because I am a huge nerd, and how it's post-release content has been strange. They add lots of free content like new maps, outfits, voices, and weapons... but then gate other content behind purchases. There's quite a few weapons they've released that you have to buy, and these aren't just different types of shotguns, but wholly unique items specifically designed to counter problematic balance issues that have cropped up over the course of the game's release. And then some of them are simply better versions of currently free items. The Glider, for example, lets you fly but locks you out of shooting weapons while doing so, and makes you rely on air vents to gain altitude. Or, you could buy the Jetpack, which not only can lift itself up into the air for flying around sans air vent, but allows you to fire weapons while doing so. In a Free to Play game, you'd expect this kind of nonsense, but Gotham City Imposters is a $15 downloadable title, and this behavior would sour anyone who tries to play the game regularly on the whole experience.

I think that, overall, developers need to be very careful when making additional content for their games post-release. In cases like Portal 2, it can work very very well, but it's incredibly easy to drop the ball on these kinds of situations, as Gotham City Impostors can attest to. And the higher the quality of your base product, the more scrutiny the eventual DLC is going to be subject to, as is the case with the widespread dissapointment with Harley Quinn's Revenge in relation to the base Arkham City game. The team working on the Mass Effect 3 DLC has to be as aware of this whole balancing act as I am, and I imagine they're far more invested in getting it right- but there's still the very large possibility for them, or other developers seeking to add new content onto their successful titles, to get it wrong.

And once you've added a bad chapter onto the end of a good game, you can't really take it back.