The Ten Best Game Expansions

The Ten Best Game Expansions

Whether it's a good old-fashioned expansion pack or modern DLC, spinning additional content for already-released games has been a standard practice in the industry for decades. But the best expansions do more than simply add a few extra hours of the same game for you to play.

This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK.

They enhance the ideas and systems explored in their parent games, condensing them down into a smaller, tighter package that function as self-contained entities — some go even further, enriching the player's experience of the original game itself by providing further insight into the game's world, filling voids in the game's story, or introducing new mechanics that offer fresh ways of play.

With this in mind, we've put together a list of our 10 favourite game expansions, works that happily stand as brilliant creations in their own right, but also augment the ideas and themes of the game that came before them.

Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches

Dishonored's first expansion pack, The Knife of Dunwall, addressed many of the original game's problems. Its switch of protagonist from the vengeful Corvo Attano to the amoral Assassin Daud proved a more sensible fit for the game's adaptable play-styles, while the missions expanded upon some of the less explored areas of the world's lore. But it also felt distinctly incomplete, almost like foundational work upon which to build something greater.

This turned out to be The Brigmore Witches, the culmination of Arkane's work on Dishonored. It enriches the experience as a whole, tying together Daud and Corvo's stories, and providing greater insight into the weirdest elements of Dishonored's world.

Moreover, its three missions infiltrating Coleridge Prison, exploring the factional conflicts in Draper's Ward, and surviving the dilapidated Brigmore mansion - are the pinnacle of Dishonored's level and environment design, and this is a game crammed with fantastic examples of both.

Call of Duty: United Offensive

The Ten Best Game Expansions

It's surprising that United Offensive doesn't get mentioned more often during discussions of the best expansions. This explosive expansion takes the intense action of the first Call of Duty, and somehow concentrates its essence into something even more ferocious. Within minutes of the game's commencement, you're racing through the snowy forests of Bastogne on a jeep, trees exploding around you as you're chased down by a German tank. And the fighting only gets fiercer from there.

These brutal early missions set during the Battle of the Bulge are undoubtedly United Offensive's highlight, but it also includes a fascinating mission that involves manning multiple gun-batteries inside a B-17 bomber, alongside an homage mission to the Guns of Naverone, and a portrayal of the Russian battle of Kursk, the largest tank battle in history. Indeed, much of United Offensive is stronger than the main game, and yet it is probably the least discussed entry in this long-running series.

XCOM: Enemy Within

The Ten Best Game Expansions

Enemy Within is a very different expansion to the others in this list. Rather than delivering multiple hours of extra game in a single chunk, instead it spreads itself throughout the body of Firaxis' Enemy Unknown, altering its DNA in subtle yet fundamental ways.

The most significant of these is the introduction of Meld, an alien substance comprised of nanomachines that lets players upgrade their XCOM operatives with superhuman powers. On missions, Meld canisters self-destruct after several turns, meaning you need to move fast to acquire them. This of course has to be balanced with tactically outmanoeuvring a technologically superior alien force, resulting in some agonisingly tricky strategic decisions.

Enemy Within also introduces power mech units on both sides, an extra enemy faction in the form of alien sympathisers EXALT, and reintroducing the much-desired Base Assault mission which wasn't included in the original release. Enemy Within is all about raising the stakes of Enemy Unknown, and it succeeds brilliantly.

Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker

The Ten Best Game Expansions

BioWare are probably worthy of several entries on this list. But I forced myself to choose just one. Mass Effect 3's Citadel came close, but Lair of the Shadow Broker is simply more crucial to the story as a whole.

Indeed, as story-based expansions go, Lair of the Shadow Broker is one of the most important added to any game. Shepard reunites with Liara T'Soni as she attempts to track down and kill the mysterious information dealer known as the Shadow Broker. In the process we witness a significant evolution of Liara's character, which plays into the story of Mass Effect 3.

But Shadow Broker's merits aren't simply down to its narrative consequences. It's also a fabulous little adventure in its own right, including a thrilling sky-car chase and a couple of impressively thought-out boss fights. It also concludes with a superb sequence set on the hull of a space cruiser speeding through a fearsome lightning storm. Lair of the Shadow Broker is a microcosm of BioWare at their very best.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena

The Ten Best Game Expansions

There's some debate over whether Assault on Dark Athena constitutes an expansion or a full-on sequel, but the fact that it is considerably shorter than escape from Butcher Bay, and comes packaged with a visually upgraded version of that game, hints at the former. This works nicely for us, because it's bloody good.

Dark Athena shifts the action from Butcher Bay's sci-fi prison to a mercenary spaceship, where Riddick is hunted by an army of remote-controlled cyborgs under the command of Captain Gale Revas. Dark Athena refines many of Butcher Bay's interesting but wobbly systems, particularly the stealth. Riddick can now sneak through shadows effectively, and dispatch enemies quickly and cleanly with his signature Ulak weapons.

The game also boasts a surprisingly strong story which sees Riddick protecting a young girl from Revas and her cronies. The last hour or so is a disappointment, switching out the engaging stealth for some rote and frustrating shooting, but it's a minor blemish on an otherwise excellent expansion.

Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare

The Ten Best Game Expansions

One of the most original ideas for an expansion (despite the fact that it involves zombies). Undead Nightmare takes the beautiful Western landscape seen in Red Dead Redemption and switches out its cowboys and bandits for a host of shambling corpses.

The best thing about Undead Nightmare is how it enabled Rockstar to dispense with any pretense of grandeur and simply run wild with their wicked sense of humour. The original game's wildlife, wolves and bears and such, are all replaced with undead equivalents, and wander the games world alongside mythical creatures like Chupacabras and Sasquatches. John Marston can even track down and tame the four horses of the apocalypse, using them as steeds to traverse the game world.

It's the first time in years that Rockstar have wholeheartedly embraced the inherently madcap nature of open world games, and as a result Undead Nightmare is one of their most entertaining creations.

Sonic & Knuckles

The Ten Best Game Expansions

No self-respecting discussion of expansion packs would be complete without mentioning Sonic and Knuckles, one of the earliest and most interesting examples of the form. Sonic and Knuckles was famously never intended to be an expansion pack. It was meant to be part of Sonic 3, but time and cost constraints meant the game was split into two parts.

SEGA rescued the situation through Sonic and Knuckles' ingenious "Lock-on" technology, which enables players to insert Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 into the Sonic and Knuckles cartridge, making Knuckles playable in Sonic 2 and transforming Sonic 3 into the game it was originally intended to be. It epitomises the qualities of the best expansions, not only bringing something new, but adding something significant to its parent game as well.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles

The Ten Best Game Expansions

Oblivion is often viewed as the weakest of the Elder Scrolls games, although it certainly has its share of interesting quests and locations (Hackdirt anyone?). A complaint that has endured since the moment of its launch, however, was that it lacked the weirdness of Bethesda's previous entry, the brilliant Morrowind.

Shivering Isles was Bethesda's defiant response to this, an expansion that's entire premise revolved around being weird. The Isles are divided into two clear provinces, Mania and Dementia, the former wildly colourful and crammed with strange flora, the latter a dark and swampy wasteland. It's ruled over by the mad God Sheogorath, who is obsessed with cheese and seems to view the removal of someone's entrails as a kind of compliment.

Shivering Isles doesn't make any significant alterations to how Oblivion plays, and there are times when it feels like it's trying a little too hard. But its environmental design remains delightful, and it acts as a wonderfully zany counterpart to Oblivion's staunchly traditional fantasy hodgepodge.

Bioshock 2: Minerva's Den

The Ten Best Game Expansions

Minerva's Den is a splendid example of expansion design. It takes the grandiose philosophising of Bioshock and its sequel and condenses them down into something much more personal and relatable. It tells the story of Charles Porter and Reed Wahl, two brilliant scientists who developed the Thinker, the AI machine that controls all of Rapture's automation and security measures. Wahl ultimately betrays Porter and steals the Thinker for himself.

Minera's Den sees you play an Alpha Big Daddy named Sigma, who is activated by Porter to take the Thinker's machine code back, so Porter can rebuild it and use it for its original, philanthropic purpose.

It's a superb distillation of Bioshock's best moments, tackling big ideas like the nature of free will and what it means to be human, but also finding time to reflect on more personal matters like grief and loss. It even has a twist at the end that rivals that of the original Bioshock.

Half Life: Opposing Force

The Ten Best Game Expansions

Opposing Force is a sequel in all but name. It ingeniously offers an alternative perspective on Gordon Freeman's escape from the alien-infested Black Mesa facility, casting you as US Marine Adrian Shepard, part of a strike team sent to the facility to contain the situation.

It gleefully plays with the plot established in Half Life, intersecting with Freeman's story at key moments, and adding neat twists of its own. The Marines are initially sent to exterminate any Black Mesa personnel who survived the disaster. Yet as the government's desperation to contain the situation reaches fever pitch, the Marines themselves are hunted down by Black Operations. Shepard also encounters an entirely new species of alien known as "Race X", who further muddy the waters by fighting both the humans and the Xen aliens.

As a straightforward expansion it enhances everything that was great about Half Life; offering more fantastic scripted setpieces and further exploring the Black Mesa facility's powerful sense of place. But it also broadens our understanding of the original game, showing us the motivations behind the Marines' actions and revealing the conspiracy goes far deeper than what was seen in the original Half Life.

The Ten Best Game Expansions

This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour with a U from the British isles.


    Hmm... missing a few classics!

    Warcraft 2: Beyond the Dark Portal
    Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne
    StarCraft: Brood War - arguably the best expansion of all time
    Red Alet 2: Yuri's Revenge
    Borderland 2: Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep

      Oh boy, how could I forget:

      Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
      Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction

      Also, not sure if HL2 Episodes 1 & 2 count, but they should.

        Good call on LoD.

          I've heard Reaper of Souls was also pretty good, but I gave up on D3 long before it came out and don't want to sink any more time into that black hole. LoD was just fantastic though, definitely surpassed D1: Hellfire.

            Reaper of Souls is an astonishing turn-around for a title that most dedicated Diablo fans, myself included, had discarded long ago. The even better thing is Blizz has not just sat on their laurels and are continuing to deliver exciting changes, not the least being patch 2.3 which came out a about a month ago.

            If you ever enjoyed playing Diablo I or II then you really should check out Diablo III and RoS. You won't be sorry... or you may be sorry, but you'll be playing to much to notice. :P

              Might give it a go... but then I'm never ever getting through that Steam backlog.

              Decision, decisions...

                Haha, I totally know what you mean. I have MGS 5, the Witcher 3, both Dark Souls, GTA V, Braid, Fallout NV, Pillars of Eternity, StarCraft II - including the last expansion, Bastion, Shadow of Mordor, Saints Row 4 (I loved 3), Fez, all of the Walking Dead games, Rogue Legacy, Dota 2, Antichamber, Mark of the Ninja, Arkham City, Rocksmith 2014, Banished, Grim Fandango remastered, Don't Starve, Talos Principle, Gunpoint, Anno 2070 and Civ V, among others, all sitting on my PC's screen screaming at me to play/finish them... and yet I still start up Diablo 3.

                  Well maybe I can help you out here - I played through Shadow of Mordor a couple of weeks back, I think I got through most of the content and all the story missions in about 20 hours, so it's not a huge time commitment like, say, MGSV or Witcher 3. I freaking loved it - the game has some unique and fantastic mechanics (the nemesis system is actually inspired), and the combat is very similar to the Arkham games (but with swords!). 10/10, can recommend with 0 hesitation.

                  Also, don't play Dota. Just don't f#$%ing do it. I have sunk maybe 5k hours into that game over the last 10 years, no end in sight. It's not worth it. It's not....

                  What's that, Dota? You want him to join us? Yes, yes.... joiiiinnnn uuuuussssssss

                  (seriously though, if you want to pick it up give me a yell, that game is hell to get started in)

            Just this weekend past they had a bonus weekend long event that gave extra loot. They're committed to looking after us for at least awhile longer yet. If you have a character, finish the RoS story and then just do adventure mode, which is actually deece fun, especially when playing with a pal. Pinkie promise.

        Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon was epic. Way too short, but mad fun.

        Blood Dragon was better than Far Cry 3. Same unbelievable mechanics, a less ridiculous story (I know. But it IS less ridiculous) and also way less of a "we really need a white guy to come in and save all these natives" vibe.

      I was going to say where is
      Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne & Borderland 2: Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep

      They were so great!

      Was surprised by the lack of Warcraft/Starcraft/Red alert mentions.

      Yeah was going to mention Brood War, you can't make a list of best expansions and leave that out.

      Seems RTS games have been an oversight in general, W2 and W3 are missing, as you've pointed out, as are Dawn of War, Total Annihilation, Command and Conquer, Company of Heroes and Supreme Commander.

      Last edited 28/09/15 4:30 pm

        Was Forged Alliance any good? TA is one of my favourite games of all time, and I played the s%#$ out of Supreme Commander, but oddly have never gotten around to the expansion. I heard the sequel was horribly underwhelming so haven't picked it up yet. I also haven't gotten around to installing Planetary Annihilation, which looks great but I've heard is still buggy.

        Also, how good are the DoW expansions! I just re-bought Dark Crusade and intend to have a play through in the very near future.

          The DoW expansions were great, yeah. In fact I'm pretty sure the first expansion, Winter Assault, was the first RTS expansion that actually added a completely new playable race. Then of course you had Dark Crusade and then Soulstorm that went one better and actually added TWO new races each. DC and SS were both standalone expansions too that could be played on their own without the original game, which again was pretty groundbreaking at the time.

          The single player experience in DoW and its expansions was quite lacking, it must be said though. Definitely not on the level of something like Warcraft or Starcraft. However the multiplayer was sublime (a few glaring balance issues not withstanding).

          Last edited 28/09/15 5:20 pm

            How bad are we talking... like, Red Alert 2 Prism Tanks bad, or not quite at that level?

            I quite liked the risk-style campaign on DC when I played it back in, oh, 2009? Then again, I was smoking a lot of pot at the time, so it's entirely possible that it wasn't great.

              DC and SS campaigns are pretty similar, so if you liked DC you'll like SS too. There definitely isn't much story to them though, so if that's what you are after then you'll be out of luck. But if you just want plain old RTS gameplay with no fluff they will probably suit you.

              The original DoW tried to do the story thing but it was only 10 missions and only featured one of the four playable races. WA did something similar but at least split it into "order" and "disorder", giving you a choice of races to use.

              Last edited 28/09/15 5:28 pm

      Yep, I came here to point our Yuri's Revenge too.

      I always found Warcraft/Starcraft expansions to be a little boring. Frozen Throne and Brood War just felt like rambling additions to a completed story to me. They usually refined the mechanics and add more units which is great, but plotwise they just didn't do it for me.

    Wow, this is a pretty amazing list.

    Sonic & Knuckles! Hell yeah, such a great game, and is graphically stunning on the Mega Drive, too.

    Undead Nightmare: RDR is in my top 3 games of all time personally, and UN was a simply fantastic expansion. Not only that, but the multiplayer survival mode it added was absolutely insanely awesome!

    Shadow Broker: Yep, mind blowing DLC which added a LOT to the story of the game. ME3: Citadel didn't grab me much. In the sense, that it didn't really add anything to the ME3 story or experience, and was such a huge circle-jerk of fan-servicing. I enjoyed playing with Wrex again, however.

    COD: It's a shame that CoD has become what it has today. COD1 was such a groundbreaking game. Simply breathtaking in its scope and gameplay. Loved UO just as much.

    My vote goes for Forza Horizon 2's Storm Island expansion. The map was a little small, but it felt entirely different to the already pretty out there FH2.

    C&C generals: Zero Hour. Had loads of fun, especially with friends considering specialisations of each nationality etc.

    Wasn't Baldur's Gate: Throne of Baal technically an expansion?

    Baldur's Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal. It adds enormous amounts of stuff plus a whole new campaign that's basically a cut down version of what they were planning to be Baldur's Gate 3. Stunned that it doesn't get a mention.

    Ditto Starcraft Brood War, which is probably the best expansion ever made, it's so important that it's basically required that you own it.

    One of my fav's was Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. Technically it was to be released as an expansion, but instead decided to release as a free stand alone. I'm surprised years later I still see full servers running this game.

    If Burial at Sea was a standalone, it'd have been one of the best games I'd played, much less expansions.

    Surprised not to see The Taken King on this list, given the near unanimous verdict that it makes Destiny a much better game.

    I’d have some of the Fallout 3 DLC on this list too.

    Far Cry: Blood Dragon would have made the list if it wasn’t a stand-alone thing.

      TTK is probably not on there because of it's awful pricing.

    Mildly disappointed to see the citadel DLC for ME3 trumped, but major props for praising Opposing Force, that was an awesome expansion, couldn't figure out why blue shift was so lazy afterwards, but opposing force was pretty insane as far as new content went.

    Infamous: First Light. Who would have thought a story about a homeless junkie girl with super powers would have actually worked?

    A few worthy of mention:

    * Dragon Age Origins: Awakening
    * Neverwinter Nights - Hordes of the Underdark
    * Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos

    Man, expansion packs used to be so exciting. Here's hoping the Witcher 3 brings back that sweet feeling.

    i have to admit, some of the Pay Day 2 expansions really brought the game into a new life. same with the Heist update for GTA V (dont know if you really count it as an expansion, but it didnt come out with the games release so i guess it is.)

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