What If DLC: Exploring Alternate Realities

Ever since we’ve had downloadable content in games, it’s always been something that would add to the experience of the game itself. Whether it’s extra content that presents additional side stories that wouldn’t warrant a classic expansion pack, or supplementary items which don’t impact the game very much, like pointless—and  expensive—horse armor, DLCs have always managed to add a modicum of difference to the core game.

Lately though, we’ve started to see a departure from these tried and true notions with DLC offering new stories, new characters, and even new forms of gameplay that serve to answer those niggling “what if?” questions that often come to one’s mind during the game.

Games rarely stray away from their game worlds to bring what would basically be fan-fiction to life — what if you took the mechanics of Far Cry 3 and changed the settings entirely, like putting an ’80s action B-movie? That’s more like something you’d probably play through in a full-scale mod than a piece of DLC. And yet here Blood Dragon is, with all its cheesy one-liners and robot-handed commandos.

Using the mold of the core game to create something entirely different is an opportunity for game developers to flex their creative muscles and think of ways to make the game interesting in a myriad of reinvigorating new ways, instead of simply rehashing old content to pad the experience. It allows developers to build new narratives without the constraints of the core campaign. Just as speculative fiction novels often provide the reader with multiple perspectives of singular events, so too can game developers, by offering alternate “readings” of a game through its DLC. While many of the events that unfold in a game are variables, the few constants that exist within the narrative are enough for developers to make use of.

In the newly released Dishonored DLC, The Knife of Dunwall, players take on the role of Daud. He is the assassin responsible for the empress’s death who, over the course of the story, must come to terms with his actions. The DLC offers players a new perspective of the game and the events that unfold throughout Corvo’s mission of vengeance, adding to the main story and making the main campaign a richer, more cohesive experience as a result. While this example isn’t exactly a “what if” scenario, showing a different perspective allows for a fresh take on the experience.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have DLC that takes canon and invites the player to think about scenarios that entertain thoughts like “What if George Washington was corrupted by the the Apple of Eden and used its power to declare himself the King of America?” That’s what is happening with Assassin’s Creed 3′s new multi-part DLC. In addition to turning one of the game’s main characters into its primary villain, the developers also take the opportunity to modify the game’s protagonist, Connor, by giving him supernatural powers that he uses to his advantage in new campaign.  The developers do not need to hold back on getting as creative as they possibly can, as they are no longer tied down by the physics of the “established” game world.

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2 Comments on What If DLC: Exploring Alternate Realities


On April 18, 2013 at 6:29 pm


So it’s ok for a PRICE to go against what many in the industry are so called calling, “Artistic Integrity”.
Really? Thats why games can never be art and will always remain a craft.


On April 20, 2013 at 1:57 pm

My interest in “what-if” DLC seems to largely turn on my enjoyment of the original. The Tyranny of King Washington at least seems like an interesting scenario, but I wasn’t that impressed with AC3, so I haven’t bought it. On the other hand, I loved Red Dead Redemption, so I found the Undead Nightmare DLC to be a blast.