One of my favorite things is when a great game gets an expansion or DLC. It allows the developers to play around with the foundational mechanics they already made and know work well. Expansions can also help broaden the game’s scope or mechanics, adding replayability or expanding on a narrative to explore new ideas, perspectives, or events for fans that were invested in the original. There have been a lot of great expansion releases throughout the years, but there are also some that show just how impactful and captivating an expansion has the potential to be. So, here are some of the very best video game expansions and DLC.
Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep
Before Gearbox released Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands in 2022 it released the Borderlands 2 expansion that inspired it, Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep. Framed as franchise characters playing an in-universe parallel of Dungeons & Dragons, the expansion takes the series to the realms of high fantasy. There are skeletons, dragons, references to franchises like Dark Souls, and a ton of fun gear themed around the new setting.
Changing up the expansion’s setting delivered a breath of fresh air to the franchise. The exaggerated tone of the franchise allows it to take the fantasy setting to the extreme. There is even a shotgun that shoots out flaming swords in a perfect distillation of what makes Borderlands stand out as a setting.
Civilization V: Brave New World
Civilization is, at its core, a long-running strategy series at the forefront of the 4x genre. As such it has iterated on itself repeatedly throughout the years of its numerous releases, allowing each game to offer a slightly new spin on the genre. Each release incorporates elements like combat, world religions, great people, and numerous other aspects of the real world in unique ways. Civilization V offered its own take on those mechanics only to then expand on them greatly with its Brave New World expansion.
What really makes Brave New World the best amongst the series’ other DLC expansions is how it expands the base content of the game while overhauling the content that was already there to properly integrate it all. Its focus on foreign diplomacy, trade, and cultural development deepened the strategy of every game and helped add complexity to interactions with the game’s AI-led civilizations.
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty
The launch of Cyberpunk 2077 was legendarily rocky, but the developers at CD Projekt Red have proven able to turn the game’s public perception around through diligent updates and patches. This effort climaxed with the release of the game’s 2.0 update and coinciding Phantom Liberty expansion.
Even without considering the release of the 2.0 update at the same time, Phantom Liberty stands on its own as one of the best DLC. It’s a tight expansion built on the foundations laid by the base game. What really helps it stand out from the rest of the game’s content is its spy-thriller narrative. It keeps players on the edge of their seats and shows the world from a new perspective. Add on its great acting, great score, new mechanics, and expansive additions and it is another standout release from CD Projekt Red.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
When Diablo III first launched, it was in a rough state. It was plagued by poor difficulty balancing, an in-game auction house that let players trade items for real money, and its first two days were laden with server issues. The developers did release patches to address many of the issues players had with the game at launch, but it was the release of Reaper of Souls that reinvigorated the title completely.
Not only did Reaper of Souls overhaul the game’s loot system, but it also vastly increased its replayability, a core tenet of the series. Through the addition of seasons, adventure mode, and bounties, the expansion allowed players to stick with characters for much longer. If you include the expansion’s higher level cap, new Crusader class, new equipment types, and additional skills for every class it quickly becomes apparent why Reaper of Souls was such a successful addition.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – Shivering Isles
The fourth entry in the Elder Scrolls series, Oblivion was capped off with the Shivering Isles expansion. Shivering Isles takes players to an entirely new area: the mind-bending realm of the Daedric Prince of Madness, Sheogorath. The new setting offers players strange characters, new items, loads of quests, and an inventive main storyline. Shivering Isles also excels at bringing every aspect of itself together under its main theme: the dichotomy of mania and dementia that make up Sheogorath’s psyche. Its content is delightfully strange and even became iconic enough to reappear in multiple ways in Skyrim: Anniversary Edition more than a decade later.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
The success of Far Cry 3 upon release in 1012 has seen it largely defining the series’ shape ever since. From making players climb countless towers to bringing one of its best villains, Vaas in Far Cry 6 as DLC, the game has proven itself a cornerstone of Ubisoft’s flagship franchises. Far Cry 3 even received the bizarre and unique Blood Dragon expansion.
A large part of what makes Blood Dragon so special is how it distills the Far Cry 3 experience into a tighter, more concise package. It has all the elements of the base game: open-ended strongholds, an array of fun guns, crafting upgrades, and bloody first-person takedowns. Add on top of that the expansion’s unique setting as a neon-drenched 80s action film filled with tongue-in-cheek references and jokes. After the much heavier tone of the base game, it gives fans a much more laidback way to play around with Far Cry 3‘s mechanics.
Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony
Rockstar Games hasn’t seemed interested in single-player DLC or expansions since the financial success of Grand Theft Auto Online, but there was a time when the studio supported each of their releases with post-launch campaigns. This was mostly seen after the release of Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption. Both titles are great in their own right and received some of the best DLC there is, but none of the others measure up to GTA IV‘s The Ballad of Gay Tony.
What is special about this particular expansion is how it expands every element of the base game. Not only does it do so with the typical additions of weapons, vehicles, missions, and even a couple of mechanics, but it also expands its story. While Gay Tony takes players through an entirely new story of tension, gravitas, and a colorful cast of new characters, it also ties into the main narrative of Grand Theft Auto IV. It is interwoven with the game’s main story and that of its first expansion The Lost and the Damned, making it feel like a pivotal inclusion to the whole package while still offering players new elements to explore and standing by its own merit.
The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine
As one of the most critically adored RPGs of all time, the expansions for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt had an extremely high bar to meet. Amazingly, both expansions managed to do so with Hearts of Stone delivering an intricately layered and complicated narrative while Blood and Wine offered players an experience on the same scale as many stand-alone modern RPGs.
Blood and Wine also did a great job of expanding the world of the series by taking players to the land of Touissant, a France-inspired land of twisted fairy tales, chivalry, and a vampire threat bubbling just beneath the surface. It gives players gorgeous vistas to explore on top of new mechanics to continue expanding their builds and some great tie-ins to the books for dedicated fans. Perhaps most impressive is the expansion’s ending, which gives Geralt a perfect send-off and serves as a great goodbye to CD Projekt Red’s trilogy.
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
World of Warcraft was a runaway sensation when it was launched in 2004. Blizzard Entertainment’s foray into the MMORPG genre built a foundation for the studio to continually build upon. This was first done with the expansion The Burning Crusade in 2007 and then Wrath of the Lich King in 2008. With the release of Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard managed to get as close to perfecting the game’s formula as they ever have.
There is a lot behind why Wrath of the Lich King is still so popular among WoW fans, but there are some standout reasons. One of the biggest is the expansion’s story. The main questline marked the end of a plotline introduced in the RTS Warcraft 3, rewarding dedicated fans of the franchise. “Wrath” also expended on all of the mechanics and fundamentals introduced through the base game and first expansion.
These are just some of the multitude of great expansions out there and there are plenty I didn’t talk about that deserve to be recognized. There’s Red Dead Redemption‘s Undead Nightmare, Cuphead‘s The Delicious Last Course, and Prey‘s Mooncrash just to name a few. I’m sure there are plenty of others that you could put out there as well; but hopefully, this selection gave you a few new expansions to check out for yourself.