Can You Download Happiness?

On June 30th, Nintendo did something a bit unorthodox. It released downloadable content (DLC) for the most recent entry in the Legend of Zelda franchise: Breath of the Wild. The game itself breaks from the traditional model of Zelda games of a sequence of large dungeons in favor of a more open-world feel, complete with more realistic weapon physics, i.e. weapons that can break, and actively replenishing health by cooking instead of using potions or finding health containers around the environment.

Most simply, DLC offers a player the opportunity to purchase additional (ideally optional) weapons and tools, characters, or story side-quests for a given game.  Since its inception, it has been divisive among the gaming community.  Some praise it for giving new life to beloved games, while others look at it an excuse for greedy companies  to charge more for a complete experience.

Over the years, Nintendo has been willing to innovate with its major franchises, but it has been loath to offer DLC for its games, only having done so a handful of times. This decision plays to Nintendo’s general philosophy that a game should be fun and a full experience upon taking it out of the box. If they offer DLC, it is as an attempt to make a game more expensive without radically changing how it plays or markedly improving it.

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To be honest, when I see the letters DLC, I immediately become somewhat hesitant. It is easy for DLC to feel like a money-grab from publishers, especially when it comes shortly after the game is released (or even on the release day). Keep in mind that a typical video game costs around $60 on its own, ignoring any additional features a player can buy with DLC.

DLC is often superficial and appeals only to certain players. Examples of this include increased multiplayer content. For me, unless I truly enjoy a game’s multiplayer experience, I am unlikely to consider purchasing this sort of DLC. It adds nothing for me if I prefer a game’s single-player experience.

However, I realized that DLC has its place in the world of gaming, too. When DLC is done right, it expands a player’s experience of a game, whether in the single-player or multiplayer realm. It adds non-essential content to a game, such as a new quest or a new area which ultimately does not affect the main plot of the game. If new characters are introduced here, they do not impact the main storyline, or if they do they do so in a way that their absence does not cause the story to feel incomplete.

Good DLC allows the player the chance to connect with a game’s world, characters, and mechanics once again in a meaningful way. The protagonist(s), side-characters, or even antagonist(s) become more fleshed out through new interactions with other characters. The world becomes more vibrant and complete with new stories, areas, and characters. The game’s lore is expanded in a way that rewards a player for their engagement and exploration. If only it were that easy in real life!

Who hasn’t read a story or watched a television series that they wished was just a little longer or went a little deeper? It’s complete on its own, yes, but you’re left wanting more. Not a full sequel, but just one more chapter or one more episode. What about that conversation with a good friend you hoped lasted a few more minutes or the long run you hoped was just one more mile?  This is the feeling DLC aims to address. All of these beautiful experiences are fleeting, but the DLC allows me the chance to linger just a little longer with a game I have come to love.

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And this brings me back to Breath of the Wild. I admit that I am a big Zelda fan and am somewhat biased towards the franchise. The game itself has been universally praised for its innovative gameplay. Just completing the basic game on its own can easily take 40 or 50 hours, without looking for extras and collectables, which can double its length. Nobody would say that this game is incomplete or needed something extra to be fun.

Breath of the Wild’s DLC allows players to attempt a more difficult version of the same game, as well as an extra (optional) part of the story. The Trial of the Sword pack allows players the opportunity to increase the power of the franchise’s iconic weapon, the Master Sword, by completing a difficult dungeon. However, it doesn’t seem that the players who failed to purchase the DLC will lack the ability to complete the game. It instead serves as an additional quest, akin to other optional ones in previous games.

I am hopeful about this DLC pack, because it will breathe new life1 into a game that took the gaming world by storm. If DLC continues to be a source of hope and excitement to players, like this one has been, then perhaps the term will stop being mired in controversy and instead be a way to extend the life of games in a healthy way. Journey on, my friends.

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Image courtesy FlickrCC user Brett Chalupa.

  1. Pun intended, by the way.

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