What If DLC: Exploring Alternate Realities
Developing a different storyline from the normal one puts full creative power into the developers’ hands while allowing the gamer’s thoughts to run wild. It’s is a powerful tool, and can have different effects from game to game. Sniper Elite V2, for instance, has a DLC scenario in which you are to assassinate Hitler himself. That’s not something that happened, neither in the real world nor in the fictional one of Sniper Elite, but why not have it?
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.
This could be seen as a return to form — this trend of alternate story DLC reminds me of the ancillary worlds and levels in older shareware games, like the new worlds in Jazz Jackrabbit or the expansion packs to Duke Nukem and Doom. On the other hand, it can be seen as the natural evolution: a game with a tight story that would not allow for any real detours during gameplay could benefit from a non-sequitur DLC much more than a game in which there’s a huge amount to explore, whether that be real estate, questing or gameplay.
Alternate reality DLCs allow developers to deliver new, story-driven content to gamers without putting players who don’t buy the DLC at a disadvantage for sequels. If you don’t know what went on in the King Washington DLC, it doesn’t matter in the context of how AC3 and AC4 are tied together. Likewise, there’s little reason to think that Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon’s story is going to matter all that much in any sequel to Far Cry 3 that Ubisoft may have planned.
Marketing also plays a part – a piece of standalone DLC can actually be powerful enough to increase interest in the main game so much to sell another copy. A very popular example of this is the Last Stand DLC in Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War 2, or even Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, which is being marketed as a 1980s action movie spoof as it has absolutely nothing to do with Far Cry 3, apart from sharing the same name and game mechanics.
Whether done well or badly, this trend of exploring alternate stories and fiction from large publishers and developers is here to stay. It’s an extremely useful tool that can allow the developers to do different things creatively, let the players experience the wonders of mods while actually playing official content (perhaps opening them to modding as well?), and sell more copies of popular games and make an extra buck from the DLC sales themselves. And most importantly, more developers should consider this approach to DLC, because it expands the games in question without leaving players behind. What’s not to like?