Love it or hate it, downloadable content (DLC) in video games isn’t going anywhere. It’s part of the new gaming economy. It exists in large part because video games cost more than ever to make, but the standard $60 price tag hasn’t gone up in over a decade, despite inflation. Publishers need more money to keep making great games, so they keep a development team on hand to crank out extra content months after their games come out.
Maybe you always tack on the season pass for games you buy. Maybe you’ve never sprung for DLC even once. Some games have better DLC than others, so let’s take a look at some of the best DLC ever released.
1. Red Dead Redemption – Undead Nightmare
Perhaps the best DLC ever released for any game, Undead Nightmare takes the serious Wild West setting of Red Dead Redemption and injects it with hordes of zombies. The result is a hilariously campy expansion that just keeps on giving. It takes place before the game’s epilogue, as John Marston is settling back in with his family for a quiet, restful life. That life is upended when the dead rise from their graves, hungry for brains. Thankfully, you have access to a few new weapons to help stay alive, including holy water and a blunderbuss.
2. The Witcher 3 – Blood and Wine
The Witcher 3 had already delivered many games’ worth of content with the core game and the Heart of Stone DLC. When Blood and Wine came out, it might have seemed excessive — except that it’s some of the best Witcher content in the whole game. This DLC brings monster-hunter-for-hire Geralt to the land of Toussaint, a sunny place inspired by France that’s much more cheery and wealthy than most of the settings in the core game. The expansion takes about 20 hours to beat, making it more content-rich than many other full games. It also delivers a perfect send-off to a character gamers have grown to love.
3. Destiny – The Taken King
For such a high-profile game, Destiny got off to a relatively rough start when it first launched in 2014. The game’s thin story took heat from critics, as did the leveling system, which turned into a time-draining grind once players reached level 20. Previously, leveling up beyond 20 required players to find specific pieces of gear. But because gear drops were randomized, you could spend hours playing and re-playing through the same mission, hoping for a lucky drop.
Developer Bungie addressed both of those problems at the same time, by releasing a major 2.0 update alongside the meaty Taken King expansion. With a tighter focus on story and a totally revamped leveling system, the new Destiny experience turned out to be the game many players hoped it would be originally.
4. Fallout 3 – Point Lookout
Aside from Point Lookout, the DLC released for Fallout 3 is enjoyable enough, but by and large it doesn’t feel like fresh Fallout 3 content. It either takes place far away, like in Alaska or in an alien ship, or it blends in with the rest of the game, like Broken Steel. Point Lookout, on the other hand, gives players a whole new island to explore, filled with new missions and side quests. It’s like a miniature version of the main map, but more manageable. And since it takes place in a swampy marshland and has all kinds of kooky characters, it’s some of the best video game DLC ever released.
5. Bioshock 2 – Minerva’s Den
It’s true today, but it was even more true when Bioshock 2 came out: Shooters usually don’t focus on story. The Bioshock series was one of the few exceptions. In Minerva’s Den, you play as a Big Daddy who runs missions for the disembodied voice of Charles Milton Porter, the creator of the underwater city’s AI. How he came to do that is the story you’ll get to experience as you make your way through this touching and well-told narrative. It’s no surprise, then, that some of the creative minds behind this DLC went on to create the fantastic narrative-driven game Gone Home.
6. The Last of Us – Left Behind
The Last of Us is a bleak post-apocalyptic story about a man named Joel and a girl named Ellie as they travel across the country. The Left Behind DLC gives players a flashback that shows a story that happened before Joel and Ellie met. It centers around Ellie and her friend Riley as they sneak into an abandoned mall and try to evade the rampaging Infected. We know Ellie’s fate, thanks to the core game, but this DLC shows what happens to Riley, and how it affects Ellie, giving players insight into how she became the character we know so well.
7. Mass Effect 3 – Citadel
The original ending of Mass Effect 3 didn’t sit well with many gamers, leading to sustained online campaign asking the game’s developers to change it. The team at Bioware heard the complaints and whipped up a proper capstone to the series that ties things up in a neater way, while allowing gamers to spend more time with the characters they’ve gotten to know over the course of all three games.
8. Borderlands 2 – Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep
Most video game DLC takes place in the world of the core game. Not Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep. This DLC puts you in a Dungeons & Dragons-like fantasy game that’s being run by Tiny Tina, a 13-year-old bad-ass who narrates the events as you and a team of vault hunters embark on a quest to rescue a queen from an evil sorcerer.
9. New Super Mario Bros. U – New Super Luigi U
Nintendo doesn’t give Luigi much respect, instead shining the spotlight on his shorter, stouter counterpart. That changed — if only marginally — in the 2013 “Year of Luigi,” during which the company released a handful of Luigi-centric projects. Among them was an add-on to New Super Mario Bros. U in which Luigi takes center stage. Basically, it’s a set of challenging side-scrolling levels much like the core game. But because you play as the more athletic Luigi, you can jump a little higher.
10. Batman: Arkham Origins – Cold, Cold Heart
Anyone who grew up in the early ‘90s may remember watching Batman: The Animated Series, an influential take on the beloved superhero. One of the standout stories from the show was “Hearts of Ice,” which told the origin story of Mr. Freeze. The DLC Cold, Cold Heart dives into the same story, showing how Victor Fries became Mr. Freeze by trying to cure his terminally ill wife. It’s a touching story that ends in tragedy, and it’s depicted effectively here. Plus, the thermal Batsuit you get to wear in this add-on looks awesome.
11. Forza Horizon 2 – Fast & Furious
Racing games in general and the Forza series in particular don’t get the widespread adoration they deserve. To help bring new players into the fold, Microsoft released this standalone expansion that merges Forza Horizon 2 with characters and cars from the Fast & Furious movies. This DLC is an open-world racer set in the South of France, where you “source” cars for the Fast & Furious crew’s next big mission. It’s a lot of fun, thanks to its tight racing controls and its extended Ludacris cameo.