When Xbox Live and the Playstation Network first began releasing downloadable content for it’s titles, the packs usually consisted of gamer pictures, themes, costumes, weapons and for music games, additional songs. What’s now being released is far beyond what gamers in past years may have anticipated: gameplay. While past downloadable content sometimes added minigames to existing games, the downloadable content released in 2009 seriously lengthened games with hours of new areas, new quests and in some cases, what seemed like an entire new game added on to your existing title. In this feature I want to highlight some of 2009’s best downloadable content for hit games such as Fallout 3, Grand Theft Auto 4, Borderlands and more.

In the fifteen years up to 2009, Bethesda Softworks worked on the highly acclaimed Elder Scrolls series, so naturally three years ago when it was announced that the company would be developing the next installment in the Fallout series, fans were skeptical. Everyone was not sure what to expect, but to fans delight the game was easily one of the best of the year. The action role-playing shooter took from it’s ancestry (the first two classic Fallout games) and expanded into a huge open world game with a great story, innovative gameplay and a campaign which consumed many hours for many players. The original game itself took many gamers over 100 hours to fully complete, so when it was announced that downloadable content would be developed for the game, players did not really know what to expect. To date, there have been five downloadable content packs released for Fallout 3.

Operation: Anchorage” (Jan. 27, 2009) throws players into a military simulations and fight one of the greatest battles of the Fallout universe - liberating Anchorage, Alaska from communist Chinese invaders. It also gives you a chance to obtain unique armor, weapons and gadgets. “The Pitt” (March 24, 2009) allows the player to travel to the post-apocalyptic remains of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that throws your character into a conflict between slaves and their masters. The content allows the player to explore a large new area full of quests that are morally grey: a chance to make decisions that effect your gaming experience. “Broken Steel” (May 5th, 2009) effects the game much more than any other downloadable content packs currently, allowing you to actually change the ending of the original game and extends the storyline past the main quest. Your character’s level cap is increased from 20 to 30 and more perks and achievements are available. Next on the list, “Point Lookout” (June 23, 2009), the most open-ended Fallout 3 area yet. It opens up a huge new portion of the Wasteland after you simply hop on a ferry to the seaside town of Point Lookout. Lastly, “Mothership Zeta” (August 3, 2009) defies all you’d expect by throwing you into a planetary war above Earth, fighting your way through the massive ship with other exciting new characters in your bid to escape. Powerful new alien weapons and armor became available as well. As you can see, for a game that was originally over 100 hours long, Bethesda seriously showed off in 2009 by releasing tons of extra content for the Fallout universe. Can we expect more in 2010? I wouldn’t doubt it.

The hugely popular Grand Theft Auto series was continued in 2009 by downloadable content for 2008’s huge hit Grand Theft Auto IV. Grand Theft Auto IV broke ground by being the first ever GTA game to be released for the Xbox 360 console. Taking strides in the body of a brand new character, Rockstar Games showcased a more impressive addition to their series than ever before. The game allowed you to step into the shoes of Niko Bellic, an Eastern European man who comes in search of “the American dream” but becomes enveloped into the series trademark themes of gangs, crime and corruption. Unlike the Fallout 3 series, where the downloadable content continued the path of your former character, the Grand Theft Auto DLC of 2009 was instead marketed as “episodic content”, allowing you to explore new central characters and their respective stories. “The Lost and Damned” (Feb 17, 2009) throws the player into the world of a biker gang called “The Lost” (who are featured in several GTAIV missions”. You take control of Johnny Klebitz, a member of the gang who was the vice president of the gang, but due to the leader being incarcerated is the acting president. Your character establishes many deals and truces throughout Liberty City until the former president is released and the violence escalates. Many plot points intertwine with the original story and some surprises even occur (not going to post spoilers for those who haven’t yet played!) Not pertaining to the story itself, many new multiplayer modes were also added for online play and new songs become available for the in-game radio stations. Next, “The Ballad of Gay Tony” (Oct 29 2009) puts you in the shoes of Luis Fernando Lopez, personal bodyguard of Anthony “Gay Tony” Prince. Rockstar Games themselves said that The Ballad of Gay Tony would “inject Liberty City with an overdose of guns, glitz and grime…” and that “players will struggle with the competing loyalities of family and friends, and with the uncertainty about who is real and who is fake in a world in which everyone has a price.” Aside from the main storyline, the gameplay introduces new elements including the parachute (returned from the Grand Theft Auto: San Andres game), a driving range activity and entrance to Tony’s two nightclubs where players can play drinking and dancing-based minigames. Also released on October 29, 2009 was Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City, a standalone compilation of the Xbox 360 DLC episodes for Grand Theft Auto IV. It does not require a copy of the game to play and it isn’t necessary to have online capabilities. Rockstar’s 2009 downloadable content not only extended playtime but allowed players to step into the world of two new characters.

One of the surprises hits of 2009 was 2K/Gearbox Software’s Borderlands. The combination of a fast-paced first person shooter with RPG elements was innovative and received well by critics. The original story was however criticized for being short and not very well thought out. Thankfully, the gameplay spoke for itself and Gearbox decided it would be good to release downloadable content for the game. “The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned” (Nov 24, 2009) unlocks a new playable area in the Borderlands’ world of Pandora. The storyline takes place in an area known as Jakobs Cove where Dr. Ned had been in charge of keeping the workers of the town alive, but ended up transforming them into abominations. The content includes new quests, items and enemies as well as a very fun and visually-pleasing new area which complements Borderlands art style. “Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot” (scheduled for release on Dec 29, 2009) unlocks three new areas in the Borderlands’ universe and adds a very important banking system to the game that claims to have millions of possible guns. The new areas are additional arenas which allow you to challenge waves of the toughest creatures and bandits available, much like Halo 3: ODST’s “Firefight Mode” and Gears of War 2’s “Horde Mode”. This exciting news will add hours of gameplay to Borderlands.

As you can see, in 2009 games were forever changed by DLC. Picture packs aren’t bad, but hours of new areas and gameplay? I’m sold. Developers who released their games in 2008 continued to bring them back to their games and introduced new stories and characters. Developers who released their games in 2009 hammered us with DLC soon after the games release but nevertheless it’s new material. With downloadable content already announced for Assassin’s Creed 2, Left 4 Dead 2, LittleBigPlanet and more, hours and hours of entertainment are scheduled thanks to the innovations of downloadable content. Way to go 2009!

This blog posting is part of TheWirebot End of the Year Special.

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