Video game expansions are a tricky thing. They are meant to expand on the main game in a worthwhile way. Whether it be through advancements in gameplay or fleshing out the story or even tying together loose ends, expansions can make a game feel complete. Not every expansion gets the job done, however. Sometimes, they just fall flat and are a chore to chug through. Having just completed a stellar expansion, I thought I would rank my five favorites, and why they’re so good. I’ll try to make this a spoiler free blog.


5. Awakening (Dragon Age Origins)

Dragon Age was the first game I played on PlayStation 3, so it has a special place in my gaming history. I adored it from the start. From the lore and monsters to the simple combat and customization, it didn’t take long for the hooks to get dug in. I obtained all of the trophies in Origins, and even went as far as to play the sequel, Dragon Age 2, thoroughly enough to do the same. I still love the series, having obtained the platinum trophy in Inquisition as well. The series just speaks to me, and it will remain one of my favorites.


A few different expansions were released for Origins. Leliana had her own background story, the golem Shale was added to the group, Morrigans’ actions were investigated, and Bioware even let you play as the monsters that plagued the land to change history and kill the Grey Wardens. All of these were relatively shorter experiences, giving the players rewards for completing them that they could bring to the main game.


The most notable expansion for Origins was Awakening. It let the player continue playing as their Warden or (depending on the ending you achieved in Origins) make a new Warden Commander. With the Blight defeated, new darkspawn threats emerged. New weapons and armor were added, along with a new group of potential teammates and their own stories. New enemies emerged as well, from the armored ogres to the spectral dragons. Overall, it was a worthwhile offering that tied up those dreaded loose ends from the main game. And the final boss? Shiver inducing grossness for sure.

 

4. Left Behind (The Last of Us)

Many people consider The Last of Us one of the best, if not the best, games ever made. I would be one of those people, ranking it in the top ten games I have ever played. The story grabbed me from the start. Being a father myself, I connected instantly to Joel and his struggle to provide. By the end of the introduction period, I was in for the long haul. When you meet Ellie and later find out about her situation, not much is explained as to why and how it all came about. Left Behind beautifully fixes that.


Left Behind follows Ellie as she struggles to keep her protector alive. Via playable flashback sequences, Ellie’s own past is visited, as she and her best friend sneak around an off-limits area of their quarantined military zone. Ellie starts off as a naïve little girl, but by the end of her story, she grows by leaps and bounds in character and maturity. Personally, I find this expansion just as important to her development as her experience with the towns people during the winter chapter of the main game. The Last of Us is a powerful game, and the Left Behind expansion keeps with the same tone beautifully. 

 

3. Undead Nightmare (Red Dead Redemption)

For a long time, Red Dead Redemption was my favorite game. I am a fan of most Rockstar games, but RDR manages to stand out from the rest. The game follows John Marston as he travels the wild west to save his wife and son. They’ve been basically kidnapped by the government as leverage to get him to do their bidding while they take the credit for it. Their goal is to use him and his knowledge of his former friends and bring them to justice. John has little choice but to do as they say, and he sets out across southern Texas and Mexico to track down his former gang members.


Undead Nightmare, as you can probably tell by the name, introduces zombies to the game. Normally I see zombies as a cheap addition in expansions, as they usually don’t add much substance to the game. More times than not, zombies are added as a fun factor, and not much else. Undead Nightmare is different, though. Along with the dead, we get to revisit memorable characters from the main game and see how they are coping with the zombie situation. Too many times are zombies introduced to a game with no valid reasoning behind it, but Undead Nightmare does a good job of providing one that actually makes a lot of sense. You’re also able to come across and tame some pretty amazing horses that are crucial to navigating the zombie infested west, especially with ammunition in short supply. Not only is Undead Nightmare a fun zombie romp, but it adds substance to the main game.

 

2. Enemy Within (XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

Let’s just get this out of the way now… XCOM is my favorite game. I love the gameplay, strategy, customization, grid-based combat, weapons, varied enemy types, base building, difficulty… just everything. I have beaten Enemy Unknown countless times, and it was a different experience each and every time. It’s amazing. I can’t say enough good things about what 2K and Firaxis have done with it, and I am eagerly awaiting the console release of XCOM 2.


I hesitate to call Enemy Within an expansion to Enemy Unknown. If you’ve played it, Enemy Within changes so much about how you play the game, that it very well could be its own game – an XCOM 1.5, if you will. Enemy Within adds quite a bit in the way to fight against the alien invasion. You can put your squaddies into one of two special training regiments: mech and psionic. Mech warriors can pilot giant robotic suits in battle. These mech suits can act as cover for your other teammates, healing tanks, or weapons of mass destruction. Squaddies specialized in psionic combat can dictate the flow of battle with their mind.

 

In addition to your own troops upgrades, the enemies have some of their own. Human troops have sided with the alien incursion, and formulate their own army. Battles against them are some of the toughest in the game. You can’t simply let them be, either, as their activities can lessen your own base support from around the globe. The aliens themselves have their own mech units, too, adding even more layers of strategic combat. More battles are added, too, letting you recruit special characters and play through their own miniature background and story. If you enjoyed Enemy Unknown, do yourself a favor and play Enemy Within.

 

1. Blood and Wine (The Witcher 3)

I’m fairly certain that the majority of gamers know what the Witcher series is all about. For those that don’t, it’s… complicated. There’s monsters, swords, magic, sorceresses, elves, dwarves, politics, backstabbing, multiple endings, love affairs… it’s a bit of a mess. The latest installment is no different. The Witcher 3 is a great game by its lonesome, with hours upon hours of content that spans over a huge map filled to the brim with things to do. Some have argued that there is too much content in the game, but that’s neither here nor there, because opinions are things that exist.

 

I recently purchased and beat the Complete Edition of the game, and after more hours than I care to admit, I beat the main story and expansion packs. The only things I have left to do are the Treasure Hunts and clearing out the Undiscovered Locations. It’s a good time, for the most part, and I fully intend on clearing the map. It’s just that good. Don’t believe me? The game boasts over 800 awards.

 

The expansions showcased in the Complete Edition are Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine. Hearts of Stone is a fun little distraction from the grind of treasure hunting and monster slaying. It introduces new armors, weapons, horse gear, and upgrades via runestones and glyphs. Hearts of Stone ever reintroduces a pretty cool character from the past. It was fun, but nothing about Hearts of Stone was fantastic. Then, I ventured to Toussaint…

 

Blood and Wine takes place in the land of knights and royalty, balls and wine, vineyards and REALLY powerful monsters, Toussaint. It’s a vast area filled with mysteries all its own, and almost feels like playing a whole new Witcher game. The main story of the expansion is gripping and interesting, and made me want to keep doing missions associated with it instead of wandering too far into the wilds.

 

 You’re given your own home in the form of a vineyard fairly early on into the story quests. Personally, I’m a sucker for upgradeable and customizable bases and homes. It adds a touch of personality to longer games, and provides a great saving point for taking a break from the grind. While the upgrades aren’t too extravagant, they are still there. The real fun comes in the form of weapon racks and armor stands to show off your prized gear, as well as spots on the walls to place purchased paintings.

 

The main quest line of Blood and Wine revolves around vampires. I was extremely happy to see them here, having seen so little of them during the main game. They are to be feared and respected… trust me; too many times have I been killed by a Bruxa or worse yet, two at once. There’s a bit of royal family intrigue as well. As gamers know, royalty doesn’t obtain power without hiding a secret or twelve. Getting reacquainted with a friend from the past is always nice, too.

 

An entirely new Gwent deck is introduced in Blood and Wine. Skellige. I was ecstatic for this, as I have probably played more gwent than monster hunting of treasure hunting. Gwent is addictive if you like card games, and collecting and assembling the most powerful deck that you can. It’s a numbers game that is so good that it’s getting its own spinoff game. I am always happy with more gwent cards.

 

There’s customization abound in Blood and Wine. Not only are there more horse armors, but you can even dye the color of your own Witcher gear to make it truly your own. Currently, Roach (the horse) is clad in golden armor, and I am geared up with gold knights’ armor. In a game as massive as Witcher 3, having that kind of creative control is really the icing on the cake.

 

 

That’s it. My five favorite game expansions. As I look at this list, I notice that I have loved the main games that spawned them. An expansion shouldn’t be used to finish a game, rather to make a fantastic game even better. These expansions are all cherries on top of their respective delicious sundaes.