2010: The Year in Downloadable
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For the first few years of the current console generation, it seemed like most developers hadn't quite wrapped their heads around the concept of Downloadable Content. The bulk of post-release DLC was limited to map packs for popular shooters, new outfits or skins for player-characters and new gear, power-ups and weapons to use in various games. These packs were nice bonuses for hardcore fans, but for the most part they had a whiff of the insubstantial about them, a hint of the nickel-and-dime.
Bethesda was one of the first publishers to offer any kind of substantive console DLC with their 2007 Oblivion add-on The Shivering Isles. The studio had made its bones in the PC Gaming space, where sizeable add-ons are much more commonplace than in the comparatively offline and inflexible console market. So in the true PC tradition, Shivering Isles weighed in at over a gigabyte and added an entire new world, storyline, cast of characters and batch of sidequests to the already-massive Oblivion.
Bethesda kept on doing their thing in 2009, releasing several good-but-not-great expansions for their post-apocalyptic RPG Fallout 3, and a few other games put out worthwhile DLC as well. But most console-oriented developers seemed a bit slow to catch up. Slow, that is, until Rockstar blew the downloadable doors off in 2009 with two episodes for Grand Theft Auto IV—The Lost and the Damned in the winter and the raucous, show-stealing Ballad of Gay Tony in the fall. Both episodes were extraordinarily well-received and shattered sales records.
After that, the precedent had been set—a large and growing number of 360s and PS3s had broadband access and spare hard drive space, and more importantly, console gamers had shown that they were ready to pay for more of their favorite games. 2010 seemed set to be the year that console developers would finally get it together and bring their A-game to the aftermarket downloadable space. And in many ways, it was.
Mass Effect 2 — Overlord and Lair of the Shadow Broker
It is perhaps an understatement to say that Mass Effect 2 did not feel incomplete when it launched. It was a fairly epic 30-hour adventure, replete with a large and interesting cast of characters and set within a vast, deep galaxy teeming with sidequesty intrigue. Developer BioWare was another of the PC Gaming old-guard, and had already shown their ability to release chunky DLC with March's 20-hour Awakening add-on for Dragon Age: Origins. Unfortunately, early DLC for Mass Effect 2 was fairly lackluster. The Firewalker mission pack featured a neat new vehicle but didn't feel narratively interesting or connected to the main plot. Kasumi's Stolen Memory fared a bit better, introducing an interesting new character and allowing Commander Shepard to take part in a fun heist. But it was still inconsequential enough that it didn't really merit a second playthrough.
Soon afterwards BioWare released the fantastic Overlord, a standalone mission that could be undertaken at any point during or after the game's main campaign. In Overlord, Shepard and her team followed a distress signal to a remote Cerberus base and found well, they found some very bad things. The 3-4 hour episode was well-paced, well-written and featured some cool vehicle segments using the same vehicle from the Firewalker pack. It was an addition worthy of the main storyline and perhaps more importantly, it was a critical and commercial success.
Shortly afterward, BioWare released Lair of the Shadow Broker. As good as Overlord was, Shadow Broker eclipsed it in every possible way. It was easily one of the strongest pieces of downloadable content of the year and a fine example of how to properly make episodic DLC, doing justice to a fan-favorite character while answering some of the Mass Effect universe's most longstanding questions. Who is the Shadow Broker? What would happen if I got in a fight with a Biotic Vanguard? What's the deal with Shepard and Liara? And what would it be like to fly one of those cool hover-cabs around Illium?
Although the eventual reveal of the Shadow Broker was a little bit of a letdown, the journey was more than worthwhile and the story's fantastic postscript set up some interesting developments for Mass Effect 3 while paying homage to Mass Effect 2's greatest asset: its characters. The upcoming PS3 version of the game may sport a superior graphics engine, but it's the fact that it will include both Overlord and Lair of the Shadow Broker right on the disc that will make it the definitive Mass Effect 2 experience.