It's always a bit upsetting when the credits roll on our favourite games. Whether it's those short and sweet adventures that're wrapped up in ten hours or less, or the social life-devouring days-on-end epics—craving more when it's all said and done is sadly part of the process. Of course, that's where expansions come in.
And the best do more than simply extend their base-games' battery life—they develop existing ideas and features, fix what was previously broken, push plot lines in unexpected directions, and add to the original experience in such a way that the expansion stands alone on merit and in its own right. In this list, we've gathered our favourite expansions that've added meaningful mileage to some masterful PC games over the last couple of decades. Enjoy!
Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches
Arkane builds beautiful levels, so all we needed from a Dishonored expansion is more Dunwall. Brigmore Witches is the second chapter in the two-part story expansion that starts with Knife of Dunwall. Both cast you as the assassin Daud, who has a few extra abilities, such as the ability to summon assassins and to speak out loud—something Corvo never does in Dishonored. Mainly though the appeal of the Brigmore Witches is those new places. The new Dunwall zones are just as intricate as Dishonored’s levels, but the real treat is the witches’ mansion, a weird departure from anything you see in the base game. Knife of Dunwall is great when it’s not repeating levels you’ve already been through as Corvo, and it’s definitely worth playing through to reach the richer, stranger half of the expansion.
Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction
When people reminisce about Diablo 2, they’re often reminiscing about the game Diablo 2 became after the Lord of Destruction expansion. LoD added two classes and a fifth act policed by the demonic tentacle spider Baal. More importantly, it added new jewels, runewords and expanded the horadric cube recipes you could build, giving players more character-building tools and a new endgame. You could even hire underlings to fight alongside you and—gasp—run the game at 800x600 rather than 640x480. Diablo 2 was great, but it’s Lord of Destruction that made it incredible.
BioShock 2: Minerva’s Den
Minerva’s Den is an additional one-off story set in Rapture that sees you hunting the blueprints for The Thinker, a supercomputer at the heart of the underwater city’s functionality. During this journey you discover the story of its creator and your guide, Charles Milton Porter, and his obsession with using The Thinker to bring back some essence of his deceased wife. It’s like an anthology story set in Rapture—which I personally think they could make a whole series of as the next BioShock—with a few neat story twists, as you’d expect from a BioShock game. But it also adds a new Big Daddy type to contend with, a new part of Rapture to explore, as well as a new plasmid. It’s as essential as each entry in the main series.
Half-Life: Opposing Force
The marine grunts of Half-Life were complete assholes, mowing down hapless scientists instead of rescuing them and declaring war on misunderstood nerd Gordon Freeman. But when Gearbox and Valve teamed up to let us experience the events of Half-Life from the perspective of those grunts, a fan favorite was quickly born. As corporal Adrian Shephard we got to play with a few new weapons plus an alien barnacle grappling hook, visit new areas of the facility as well as some familiar ones, and even catch a glimpse of Gordon Freeman himself as he leapt into the bouncily irritating alien dimension of Xen.
Opposing Force felt like a complete game in its own right, a mix of the delightfully familiar for those who had obsessively played Half-Life yet with plenty of new tricks up its sleeve. It also gave us another completely mute character who somehow still developed a personality, and some of us are still waiting—without much hope at this point—that we’ll someday learn Shephard’s fate or maybe even get to tromp around in his boots again.
Command & Conquer Red Alert 2: Yuri’s Revenge
I struggled to pick a Command & Conquer expansion because I love a whole bunch of them (particular how missile subs in Red Alert: Aftermath basically make the Soviets unstoppable). Yuri’s Revenge added a new faction, commanded by Yuri, which forces you to rethink how you deal with his more unusual, science fiction-y units. The combination of unit-dragging Magnetrons, UFO-style Floating Discs and mind-controlling Yuri clones means he’s a little harder to counter than the Allies or Soviets.
I remember the two new campaigns in Yuri’s Revenge being significantly trickier than anything in the fairly easy (but still brilliant) Red Alert 2 campaigns, plus the addition of a third faction mixes up the skirmish and multiplayer modes in colourful ways. Just writing about it makes me miss playing C&C, validating my decision to buy the Ultimate Collection after a few beers last year.
Arma 3 Apex
Arma 3's first and only expansion is a $35/£25 upgrade to a new setting, new weapons and vehicles, new factions, new multiplayer scenarios, and a too-brief single-player/co-op campaign that takes those toys for a spin. Mostly, though, it’s a ticket to Tanoa—100 square kilometers of tropical terrain and a cover album of real-life locations like Lihir Island and Fiji: huge swathes of jungle beside a variegated mixture of plains, shoreline, and scrubland. Populating the archipelago are farms, refineries, mines, beachside villages, logging camps, ancient ruins, and a dead volcano, details that create a canvas for mission-makers and modders.
It's a nice bit of earth. Arma maps like Chernarus and Altis have personality, but they aren’t atmospheric in the way that Tanoa is. Step into the forest in the afternoon, and you’ll hear birds and insects chattering. But at nighttime, it’s a different sound: unsettling owls and other nocturnal things punctuating a constant cricket hum. Thunderstorms drop piercing rain and sky bass, imbuing any mission with drama.
In the sun, Tanoa is vibrant and fertile, but without feeling too much like a vacation resort, one of my criticisms of Arma 3’s base map, Altis. Tanoa’s overgrowth is paranoia-inducing and hard to navigate, even in the light. In this way, one of the best things about Tanoa is the way the jungle cancels some of Arma 3’s fanciest gear. Thermal goggles and remote-controlled drones kind of suck when you’re inside a tropical forest, and helicopters have a hard time landing or spotting anyone hiding in the stuff. I like the way that Tanoa encourages gritty, grounded encounters—a lot of the missions in Steam Workshop are ‘drug raids’ or a similar theme, taking advantage of two of the new factions, Syndikat (local drug dealers) and Gendarmarie (militarized police, basically).
BioShock Infinite: Burial At Sea
This seven or eight hour crossover of 2007’s BioShock and Infinite is essentially an all-new BioShock game in itself. In the first episode, you get to sample Rapture before the fall for the first time, and then explore a department store that’s been left to the splicers in more familiar fashion. The second, superior episode is a proper stealth game, putting you in the shoes of Elizabeth, minus her powers, with a crossbow. Being able to use traps, draw out enemies with noisemaker darts and use silent takedowns means it’s more tactical than Infinite. Alongside that, Burial At Sea offers an exciting, comic book-y mash-up of the game’s two stories that you can take or leave as canon.
XCOM: Enemy Within
Unlike its successor XCOM 2, XCOM Enemy Unknown was notoriously difficult to mod when it launched in 2012—which makes sophisticated projects such as Long War all the more impressive. In lieu of modifications, though, Firaxis' first take on the sci-fi-inspired series spawned the expansion XCOM Enemy Within—an impressive add-on which fundamentally alters the base game's makeup, while preserving pretty much everything that makes its source material one of the best turn-based strategy games around.
New maps mark new environments for sectoid slaughter, and a reworking of Enemy Unknown's pretty unintuitive inventory system makes redistributing equipment a whole lot easier. Beyond the subtle adjustments, the introduction of Meld—alien nanomachines that bestow superhuman abilities upon regular human soldiers—adds an element of risk versus reward which, against the game's permadeath functionality, in turn demands players to deftly balance ambition and greed.
In essence, Enemy Within takes an already superb game and improves upon both its obvious shortcomings, and the areas you didn't necessarily realise needed improving. Throw power mechs into this mix (on both sides), and you've got a fun but at times painfully challenging expansion. I dare anyone to try Ironman Mode and live to tell the tale.
Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City
Some of the expansions on this list, particularly those of The Witcher and BioShock Infinite, arguably do a better, more concise job of distilling what’s great about those games than the main campaigns do. They’re not necessarily challenged by the same notion of ‘hours played equals value’ that comes (perhaps wisely) with most £40/$60 games. I would add GTA IV’s two expansions to that list. While Niko Bellic’s story is at times dreary in exploring how tough his life is as a criminal—both endings in GTA IV have him lose someone close to him, which is such a depressing capper to a 30-plus hour game—the Episodes From Liberty City expansions offer lighter and more enjoyable angles on Rockstar’s version of New York.
In The Lost and Damned, you play as biker Johnny Klebitz, a member of a gang called The Lost which is on the verge of collapse thanks to its volatile leader, Billy Grey. Rockstar put a noise filter effect on Liberty City and let you cruise around with your fellow bikers in formation, while cleverly setting missions in locations that aren’t used much in the main GTA IV story. It successfully offers a new angle on an existing game location, and makes me think Rockstar could probably make about five expansions like this for GTA V’s Los Santos if they wanted to. I love the idea of taking an existing rich game setting and putting new stories there.
The Ballad of Gay Tony, meanwhile, goes ahead and re-adds a whole element from GTA: San Andreas by letting you base jump throughout the city. They also tweaked a filter on the sunset to turn it pink, which I like. Both campaigns added a heap of missions that were better than most of those found in the main game, particularly in Gay Tony, which in one mission has Luis fend off multiple military helicopters with an automatic shotgun while crouched on a moving train. It felt like Rockstar were answering the critics who complained GTA IV wasn’t enough like San Andreas.
Episodes From Liberty City also adds new radio stations to the game, which is a typically lavish and generous touch from Rockstar—including a brilliant revamp of Radio Vladivostok which is basically just so-bad-it’s-good European club music from the mid-’00s.
The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine
Geralt has nothing left to prove when you ride into the gorgeous land of Toussaint at the start of Blood and Wine. He's saved the world and his friends multiple times. He's travelled the northern kingdoms fighting the most feared monsters in the world. For him, and for us, Blood and Wine is an adventure holiday in the sun.
Toussaint is the perfect destination. The rolling vineyards and fairytale castles evoke the gentle climes of continental Europe, but it has its share of dungeons and weird creatures. It's a glowing backdrop to a perfectly paced eight-to-ten hour vampire yarn that manages to be dark, funny and surprising in turn.
The Witcher 3 is already the new gold standard for swords 'n sorcery genre, but Blood and Wine delivers greater tonal variety, and shows a new lightness of touch. It's the work of a team completely at ease with their world, secure enough in their characters to know when to crack a joke, and when to get serious. The swordplay is still pretty rough, but that's easily forgiven in the context of an expansion that so admirably refines the base game.
Mass Effect 3: Citadel
However you felt about the conclusion of BioWare's sci-fi trilogy, this was Mass Effect's real ending. It's a substantial new adventure with two parts: the first is a standalone story set in the second half of the main campaign, a 2-3 hour romp with a brilliant twist. I won't spoil it, and it's so silly that it's probably better thought of as non-canon, but it enables a dozen brilliant moments that the game's writers must have had a huge amount of fun putting together.
Citadel is self-aware in a really endearing way, essentially a comedy revue starring a cast of characters that you've come to love. There's a moment when Shepard and crew find themselves facing (another) dangerous all-or-nothing mission, and Shepard wearily suggests that (yet again) perhaps a three-person strike team would be better than just sending everybody in. Screw that, they decide. For once, let's just send everybody. And for the first time in a Mass Effect game, every single companion accompanies you on a mission at the same time. (Even if, for engine reasons, you're separated into—that's right—teams of three.)
And that's only half of it. The other part of Citadel is a sprawling denouement to the series, a run of short adventures with every surviving companion from the series that help to tie off relationships in sweet, silly, and touching ways. And then, at the end of it all, you throw a party. Everybody comes, and you can choose whether to pump up the music and drinks or go for a quieter, conversational atmosphere. It's grade-A, electrifying fanservice full of in-jokes (Shepard can't dance) and long-teased payoffs. You even get to see the hungover aftermath.
Then, when it's all over, the crew return to the Normandy with that one desperate final mission ahead of them. "We've had a good ride", Shepard's love interest says as they look out over the Citadel. "The best" Shepard replies.
And they're right! This is the best of the game, the relationships and humour and slow-burn warmth that BioWare specialise in. It might not be the chronological end of the story, but this is a long fond farewell to Shepard, the Normandy, and her crew, and to the fan community that grew up around the series. You'd have to be extremely angry about star children to not smile at this wonderful curtain call.
Command & Conquer Red Alert: The Aftermath
It's been so many years since I played Red Alert's Aftermatch expansion I couldn't tell you if it was any good or not. I have no idea if the new units it added were balanced, or if the new multiplayer maps were geared towards smart competitive play. I played The Aftermath for only one purpose, and that was the Demolition Truck.
The expansion added a new unit for both teams, a truck that casually carted around a nuclear warhead. As soon as it made contact with a building—or took even the slightest damage—it would set off a devastating nuke. Over and over again, I would turtle up against the AI and construct a fleet of a dozen Demolition Trucks. I'd build an airfield of Russian Migs and a nuclear silo. And then when it was all ready—when everything was perfect—I'd send my convoy of Demo Trucks driving into the heart of an enemy base, timing their arrival with the detonation of my even bigger nuclear launch and my air force targeting the construction yard.
My computer would inevitably freeze for at least five seconds as a hundred units and buildings detonated simultaneously. God, the carnage was beautiful. I did this over and over again, delighted every time I could pull off a perfectly synchronized massacre. Sometimes the AI would catch my Demo Trucks in transit and they'd ignite one another in a nuclear chain reaction as I howled at my desk. But when it worked, it was so worth it. Oh, and Tesla Tanks and Chrono Tanks? Those owned, too, and morphed into Red Alert 2's coolest units.