The Games Improved The Most By Free Updates
Video games have changed over the years from the one-and-done packages of the early console heyday. Now games almost have more in common with television, as many operate as a service, consistently updating the original release with new content and tweaks to improve the original version. While this shift to the serialization has many drawbacks (chief among them players' dissatisfaction with developers releasing "unfinished" games), it's hard to deny that many games have benefited from a digital model that allows them to receive content packages and quality of life improvements months, sometimes even years after their original release.
From hero-oriented multiplayer shooters to epic adventures, here are the games that have improved the most through free updates.
Assassin's Creed Odyssey
Release: November 2018
Ubisoft just doesn't want you to run out of things to do. Despite launching an open-world game packed to the brim with activities to do and an engaging storyline, the content has just kept coming since. Free additional features like New Game Plus, difficulty modifiers, and gear have given players multiple reasons to keep exploring Ubisoft's take on Greece.
Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4
Original Release: October 2018
Sure Black Ops 4 has only been out since October but since then the game's premiere battle Royale mode has gone through some considerable shifts — all of them for the better. Treyarch added its own take on Fortnite’s battle pass tiers, which showers players in cosmetics, tags, and even weapons for simply playing the game regardless of win or losses. The mode has also received custom game options as well as limited-time game modes like Down and Out that vary things up. The amount of unlockable costumes, weapon skins, and game variety is frankly staggering and will likely keep players coming back for a long time.
Original Release: January 2016
Supercell's addictive, real-time strategy delight has only grown since its launch, with continuous content drops (including cards and tournaments) as well as more modes to gently bring new players into the fold.
Original Release: September 2017
It’s true you need to buy expansions and season passes with real-world money to keep up with all of Destiny 2’s content. However, there’s still be more than enough solid support for players who have stuck with the base game since launch thanks to fixes, events, weapon additions, and even seasonal events. Destiny 2 is a better game with its expansion packs, no doubt, but the base game’s ability to stay consistently fun and lively is impressive as well, and players who've been away for awhile will be impressed by the current game's expansive activity options.
Original Release: May 2012
Blizzard has found myriad ways to give players a reason to return to the third outing of its popular hack & slash RPG series. Most importantly, Blizzard listened to player feedback and cut out elements that just don't work, like the much-hated auction house in the original release. In the years following its releases on PC and console, Blizzard has continued to support the game with a season structure, offering time-limited quests, cosmetic items, and goodies like The Darkening of Tristam, a free yearly event that lets players go through a recreated version of the original Diablo.
Original Release: November 2016
Dishonored 2 made its mark as one of the best modern games tailored to player choice, and its updates have only emphasized this. From expanded difficulty options to New Game Plus modes and the ability to give both protagonists access to the whole suite of powers, Dishonored 2 continues to be one of the most beautiful and twisted playgrounds for inventive players. In December 2018, over two years after its release, Arkane also added a classy looking black & white mode and an overdue but appreciated mission select option.
For more on Dishonored 2, read our review of the original release here.
Original Release: March 2016
The Division and its wintry, post-apocalyptic take on Manhattan was a robust title at launch thanks to its balanced leveling system, fun combat, and the seedy allure of the Dark Zone, where players could betray and deceive one another for top-notch loot. In the months following release, The Division grew in audience and content offered, with free updates adding new areas, global events, and endgame content for solo, co-op, and PVP play.
You can read our review of the launch version of the game here.
Original Release: July 2013
As one of the biggest (and most complex) games in the world, Valve has maintained Dota 2's popularity over the years with constant changes and support.
The Elder Scrolls Online
Original Release: May 2012
Despite a rocky launch, The Elder Scrolls Online has done a fascinating 180 by going free-to-play and giving its players a bevy of content and things to do in order to get them to pay for the numerous expansions that have been released over the years. Given how well the game has done since, it's hard to argue with the process.
The Evil Within 2
Original release: October 2017
The Evil Within 2 might not have lit the world on fire when it came out, and it might not have had that many updates. However, it did add a free update that lets you play the entire game in first-person, dramatically boosting the already significant scare factor and making the world more immersive. That's pretty impressive and the sort of post-release content we'd love to see more.
You can read our review for The Evil Within 2 here.
Final Fantasy XV
Original release: November 2016
Back in 2016, you probably wouldn't have expected Final Fantasy XV to be a game that's radically shifted due to content drops, and yet here we are. From basic tweaks that improve driving mechanics to constant quest drops, added minigames, crossover events (including a festival centered around Assassin's Creed!?), Final Fantasy XV continues to be a strange, vibrant road trip with no end in sight, and we couldn't be more thankful for that.
For more on how far Final Fantasy XV has come since release, you can check out Kim Wallace's great article about the state of the game a year after its release here as well as Joe Juba's argument that the game deserves more credit.
Original Release: February 2017
For Honor launched early last year with plenty to offer: a decent story mode, fantastic and meaty close-quarters combat, and engaging multiplayer modes and event. However, the game struggled to find a thriving multiplayer community due to Ubisoft's Achillies heel: server issues at launch. However, For Honor has slowly managed to crawl back up with tweaks that have made servers much more stable as well as map editions and new heroes.
For more on For Honor, you can read our review of the original release here.
Original Release: July 2017
As the biggest game in the world, Fortnite hardly needs any introduction. However, part of the reason the game manages to stay in the spotlight is because of its changing landscape. A season structure means that the game is constantly shifting and introducing limited time events, like the Thanos event that coincided with the release of Infinity War. Whatever you may think of Fortnite, Epic keeps it relevant thanks to constant content updates, a trend that's unlikely to stop as the developer now has to to contend with others like Apex Legends entering the battle royale realm.
For more on Fortnite, be sure to read our review.
Ghost Recon Wildlands
Original Release: March 2017
Ghost Recon Wildlands was massive on release, encompassing more than 50 hours of gameplay if you only did a little bit more than the critical path, and yet since release Ubisoft has added a buffet line of content including PvP modes, difficulty options, reworked helicopter controls, nifty tweaks like the ability to customize your A.I. teammates' clothes, and missions featuring Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher, Rainbow Six operators, and even The Predator. Now, if only you could make those A.I. teammates shut the hell up.
You can read our review of Ghost Recon: Wildlands right here.
Grand Theft Auto Online
Original Release: October 2013
Grand Theft Auto V was already a success when it launched multiplayer-free in September 2013, selling countless copies and earning its reputation as one of the greatest open-world games ever made. The online component came a month later, letting players roam Los Santos with their friends and teaming up to hold up liquor stores, race cars, and complete missions. For the past nearly five years, Rockstar has constantly updated its online world, making it much more stable and dropping a huge amount of content for free, including weapons, houses, heists, and a ridiculous amount of things to do. GTAO has grown by leaps and bounds since its release and even years later offers an alluring world that's easy to lose hours, if not days and months, to exploring.
For more on Grand Theft Auto Online, be sure to check out our feature on the game's past, present, and future.
Original Release: November 2018
Another relative newcomer here, IO's sequel to its soft reboot of Hitman wisely builds upon the what worked about the service model structure of the first game. Constant content additions in the way of seasonal events, limited time targets, challenge packs, and new weapons and costumes make Hitman 2 one of the slyest live service games out there. IO Interactive's constant communication with its fanbase is also exemplary, with the developer constantly putting out content roadmaps so players can see what's ahead.
Kirby Star Allies
Original Release: March 2018
We weren’t in love with the pink puff’s latest adventure. As fellow editor Kyle Hilliard wrote in his review, “Star Allies demands so little from the player that it sometimes feels like you're barely involved at all.” However, since then the game’s received a load of free content additions since its launch that have ironed out a lot of the difficulty issues. Heroes In Another Dimension, the last DLC update for Star Allies, is essentially a sub campaign that challenges even the most talented Kirby experts. Not bad as far as rebounds go.
League Of Legends
Original Release: October 2009
League Of Legends might not have techincally been the first MOBA but it wisely combined a freemium model with that design to create a cultural phenomenon that has continued to be successful for nearly a decade thanks to strong support and content additions from Riot Games.
Marvel Strike Force
Original Release: March 2018
Mobile turn-based RPG Marvel Strike Force is one of the younger games on this list, having launched in early 2018. However, the roster for Strike Force has grown ridiculously in that small amount of time, adding classic Marvel universe characters from heavy hitters like Jessica Jones and Captain America to fan-favorites Shuri and Carnage as playable characters by the fistful.
Monster Hunter: World
Original Release: January 2018
One of 2018's best co-op multiplayer experiences, Capcom hasn't stopped the producing content for its monster-slaying experience. Outside of a constant flow of limited events (including a permanent crossover with Final Fantasy) and monsters, the game even had some free content featuring everyone's favorite monster hunter from Rivia.
No Man's Sky
Original Release: August 2016
One of the most controversial games of its (or perhaps any) time, No Man's Sky launched with a lot of ambition and hype, and questionable execution. Players en masse accused developer Hello Games lying, even filing false advertising complaints with agencies in the United Kingdom (the developer was eventually cleared of such allegations). Through all the drama, Hello Games has provided major updates that have added questlines, base-building mechanics, sandbox mode, and now, at long last, proper multiplayer. Sure, the game might still suffer from tiresome resource management and aggravate focused players with its aimlessness, but there's no denying No Man's Sky is a much a better game now than when it initially launched.
For more on No Man's Sky's improvements, check out this journal I kept as I played through all the improvements over the course of a week.
Original Release: May 2016
Overwatch launched strong, earning a Game Of The Year nod from us, and has only gotten better since. A seemingly never-ending line of limited time events, cosmetics, new characters, maps, and controversial tweaks makes Blizzard's hero-oriented shooter one of the most talked about games in the world for both hobby players as well as those deeply tuned into the Overwatch League scene.
For more on Overwatch's changes, check out Brian's piece on the 10 biggest changes that have hit the game since launch.
Path Of Exile
Original Release: October 2013
An action-roleplaying game that makes no bones about showing its love for Diablo, the free-to-play Path Of Exile has excelled since its launch in 2013 with consistent quality content drops. The game has millions of registered players and enjoys a healthy community on both console and PC thanks to the support from developer Grinding Gears Games, which has released seven expansion packs for the game that introduce a plethora of gear, story content, missions, and more. The game's five-year growth from enjoyable, solid homage to an epic in its own right is frankly astonishing.
For more on Path of Exile, check our Cork's review.
Original Release: July 2016
Despite a rocky launch filled with server and performance issues, Pokémon Go has evolved to mostly live up to the promise of its original pitch: letting you capture and battle with Pokemon in the real world. Constant events, tradings, and (of course) the consistent addition of more Pokemon throughout the years has made this sensation remain at the forefront of mobile gaming since its release.
Rainbow Six Siege
Original Release: December 2015
The king of the comeback, Rainbow Six Siege launched with a plethora of server-related issues and a dearth of content. However, the game now has a strong community that appreciates the game's hardcore tactical combat thanks to Ubisoft consistently introducing new maps, heroes, and limited modes. Ubisoft has also added numerous tweaks for server stability and management tools for player toxicity. The result is a title that's built a sizeable following and continues to chart on the NPD's top 20 nearly three years after its release.
To see how far Siege has come, check out our feature on how Ubisoft improved the game over the years.
Original Release: July 2015
Three years in and Rocket League is still going strong. While its appeal is rooted in the strength of its combination of straightforward soccer with goofy racing kart mechanics, it doesn't hurt that Rocket League has enjoyed a number of brand relationships that have decked out the cosmetic parts of the game. Add the arenas and tweaks that have been put in since launch (as well as a lively tournament scene) and you have a quality family friendly game that's only gotten better since release.
You can read our review for Rocket League here.
Original Release: July 2017
Splatoon was one of the most promising new IPs for Nintendo's flagging Wii U. However, the game didn't reach its potential until it became a series, with a sequel launching on the Switch. Since release, Nintendo has supported the game with a flow of costumes, weapons, and live events that force players to pick a side in a goofy battle (like ketchup vs mustard). If Nintendo keeps supporting its multiplayer shooter with content like it has, we imagine Switch players will keep painting it up for quite a while.
For more on Splatoon 2, check out our review of the game's recent Octo Expansion here.
Original Release: February 2016
The valley has grown quite a bit since its release more than three years ago. Constant free content additions, adding festivals and quests, alongside a patch that added multiplayer has made Eric Barone’s quiet little masterpiece even better.
Original Release: March 2013
Once upon a time Warframe was probably best known as "Oh yeah, that free-to-play game you can play on your new PS4." However, it's been a long time since 2013 and the game's improved quite a bit since then. Constant updates, including free expansions, and a steady drip of content and quality of life upgrades has made Warframe one of the most popular multiplayer free-to-play games out there.
For more on Warframe's popularity, you can read about how its latest expansion broke records for the game here.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Original Release: May 2015
CD Projekt Red has long been ahead of the game with keeping a community happy with incremental quality-of-life updates. Back in 2009, the developer rereleased the Witcher "Enhanced Edition" that added over 200 modifications and tweaks to fix the original release. The update was free of charge for owners of the original as well, and earned the developer a huge amount of goodwill and respect from its growing fanbase. Since then, CD Projekt Red has kept the free content train going, releasing an enhanced edition for The Witcher II and a frankly ridiculous amount of updates for The Witcher 3.
Not only has Wild Hunt received free quests and costumes, but the game's also nabbed countless quality-of-life updates over the years including UI tweaks, New Game Plus, hairstyles for Geralt, extended finishing animations, and visual enhancements for PS4 Pro/Xbox One X. It's clear that keeping their fans not just happy but ecstatic has become part of CD Projekt Red's legacy, and it's something we'll likely see with the developer's games going forward.
For more on The Witcher 3, you can read our Virtual Life on the game's interesting take on violence.
Update 3 (5/03/19): We've removed Assassin's Creed Origins since Odyssey's improvements dwarf it by a fair amount. We've added Stardew Valley, Marvel Strike Force, Clash Royale, Dota 2, League Of Legends, Hitman 2, Destiny 2, Pokémon Go, and made changes to various entries.
Update 2 (1/24/19): We've added Black Ops 4, Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, Monster Hunter: World, Kirby Star Allies, The Elder Scrolls Online, and more content to Dishonored 2's entry.
Update 1 (8/7/18): We added Grand Theft Auto Online to our list due to Rockstar's constant support of its enthralling online version of Los Santos.