Brace yourself for a dazzling and oh-so-original video game opinion: I hate DLC. We throw a lot of acronyms around these parts – RPG, MMO, FPS (that’s one of my favourites given it can mean one of two video-game-related things*) – so, for the uninitiated, DLC is “downloadable content”, the extra stuff that becomes available in the months and years after a game has been released.
Sometimes it’s an extra story mission or two, sometimes it’s an entirely new mode, and a lot of the time, it’s a smorgasbord of “cosmetic” weapon and character skins that ostensibly only affect how your character looks, not how they play. Sometimes you have to pay for it, and sometimes you don’t. How you feel about DLC probably directly correlates to whether or not you believe those “extra” pieces of in-game content really were developed post-release, or if you think they were neatly chopped out during development and sold back to us six months later. (Me? I’m somewhere in the middle, I guess.)
I have no idea how we got here, by the way. I grew up at a time when DLC did not exist, and though it feels like the advent of DLC was a step-change of such significance it should have been burned into our brains, I don’t recall the first time a game wanted money from me after I’d completed it. Like the old adage of the boiling frog, I suppose it was slow and insidious, creeping up on us slowly and carefully until it’s 2021 and I’m being shanked for £60 twice a year for a “must-have” expansion I really don’t want.
It’s not the money that bothers me most, though. It’s not even the crafty pay-to-win bollocks (although I’ll admit I find those kinds of “harmless” “timesavers” astonishingly perfidious). It’s the fact that DLC tends to drop several months after I last played that game and I have completely forgotten how to play it.
I can even give you an example. I recently returned to PCF’s looter-shooter Outriders in anticipation of the upcoming update that’s supposed to land later this month, but a quarter of my four-hour session was spent trying to remember what all the fucking buttons did.
I’m ashamed to say that I don’t really recall what happened in the story, either. An unscientific Twitter survey suggests there are a number of games – The Witcher 3, the Telltale games, Alan Wake, Lost Judgment – that will offer you a neat little story summary between missions or if you’re booting up for the first time in a while… but that list is a long way from exhaustive, isn’t it? First-world problems, I know, but there are so many games all making a play for us these days. There are so many titles elbowing past each other, trying to get our attention – so why do developers make it so bloody hard for us to come back to a game after a long absence? Why don’t we get a little “previously…” prompt or even a tutorial mission if we’re returning after an extended break?
A quick peek at my PS5’s transaction history tells me I’ve purchased or saved to my library 27 PlayStation games since I first tried Outriders back in March. While it’s certainly fair to assume I haven’t touched most of them – the majority are from the monthly PS+ line-up, which I download religiously but almost never play – not all are, though.
In the time between downloading Outriders for the first time and revisiting it last week, I’ve played and completed Guardians of the Galaxy, Resident Evil Village, Deathloop, and Far Cry 6 on my PS5 alone. That’s four massive games for which I’ve had to follow their stories, their economies, ranking-up systems, and their control schemes. My head’s so full of all these other games that I don’t think I could remember Outriders story if there was a gun at my head, let alone what buttons do what.
And herein lies the problem, I think. Even though you might have once known a game really, really well, even a break for a couple of months can make us feel horribly out of the loop. Without a story refresher or – wish list time – a brief tutorial to help me refamiliarise myself with my stats page, special abilities, and/or weapons – I’m going to do what I always do when I return to a game after a long absence: suck, get frustrated, lose interest, and/or ragequit. No, not everyone should be compelled to sit through them if you don’t want to – this is one of those times when the “skip” button should apply – but why the hell isn’t it an industry standard that all DLC and major expansions come with story recaps and a handy combat tutorial?
*First-person shooter (FPS) or frames per second (FPS). I like the former. I don’t care very much about the latter. That is why I am very bad at the former.
Vikki Blake is a video games journalist and regular contributor to NME.