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Off TopicJun 4, 2019 4:00 pm CT

Off Topic: Games that break DLC into episodes create an annoying cliffhanger experience

I love Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and I’ve been loving The Fate of Atlantis DLC so far. Chapter one was fantastic, and Chapter two comes out today  — and I’ll likely write up a review as soon as I can — but there is a problem with it. The more I play through this DLC, the more I realize just how frustrating I find it to play what amounts to a mini-expansion to the game and then have to stop playing, not because I’ve finished it, but because the rest of it isn’t here yet. I found it frustrating when I played Legacy of the First Blade and I find it frustrating here as well.

Now, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is hardly even close to the first game to do their DLC in an episodic format, and players have been complaining about it for as long as it’s existed. Look, here’s an article from 2010. I’m not even trying to pretend I’m making some fresh new observations here, but I do have some significant problems with the episodic format and I wanted to put them all down for you to either agree with or utterly scoff at. What exactly are the cons — and maybe even some pros — to episodic DLC?

It breaks story flow

Look, games aren’t movies, or TV series. I’m not binge watching Game of Thrones or The Expanse here. The act of playing a game is just that — active. I’m doing, I’m not watching. As a result, being suddenly unable to continue playing, not because I’ve completed the game or come to a point where I’ve decided to stop, but because there’s more story but I don’t have it yet. “Stay tuned” just doesn’t work.

It feels jarring, like we’ve been riding on a roller coaster and suddenly the track stops and there’s a big sign To Be Continued across them.

I found this really annoying in part 2 of Legacy of the First Blade — the story gets up to a certain climactic moment, you find out your character has made a major life changing decision — and then for five weeks you just sort of go back to what you were doing? With no more explanation of what happens next than the occasional visit to a farmstead to check in on everyone? It was bizarre and I think it caused quite a few people to make assumptions about where the story was going that wouldn’t have been made if we didn’t have a big five week lull between story beats.

It can undermine the main game

I really disliked Mass Effect 2‘s DLC Arrival. While in itself it wasn’t episodic the way The Fate of Atlantis is, it very much felt like an episode — a bridge between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, and one that went out of its way to do things like keep Shepard from actually being Shepard. By having Shepard walk into a trap and get stunned unconscious, an artificial time constraint was created that drove the narrative of the DLC — one that, ultimately, I felt really resentful for instead of excited or energized by.

Likewise, while I enjoyed Legacy of the First Blade quite a bit, I know many players who felt like the whole point of Odyssey was the ability to make choices and decisions about what Alexios or Kassandra would do, and that a mandatory child and an equally mandatory opposite sex relationship weren’t in keeping with those choices. Ubisoft went back and added options to make it possible for you to clearly choose that you weren’t in a relationship with your child’s opposite gender parent, but that didn’t fix the situation for players who felt like their character wouldn’t have gone there in the first place. And having to wait over a month to find out what happens next only compounds these kinds of problems.

To be fair, there are good points

While I’ve been ragging on the concept, one of the things I’ve liked about episodic DLC so far is that it can take chances the main game can’t or won’t. Legacy of the First Blade didn’t really capitalize on this possibility, but The Fate of Atlantis already took some steps towards new modes of gameplay and Torment of Hades looks to be going even further to differentiate itself from the main game. Because Episodic DLC can naturally break itself into chapters, it sort of comes with a built in act structure, and there are interesting mechanical ways to reflect that kind of structure that The Fate of Atlantis seems to be fully committed to. It’s nice to see DLC that experiments with the form and makes use of how it diverges from what you’ve already done.

And frankly, one of the best things about Episodic DLC is that it comes out on a schedule. There’s new content on a regular drip, and while I find it maddening to have to stop knowing that I haven’t completed the story, at least I know I’ll get more story. In that way, episodic DLC reflects a similar structure to games like World of Warcraft with their patch cycle bringing a continuation of the storyline, and I learned to accept that, so I can probably adapt to this.

Still, I have to admit, when given a choice between the Citadel DLC from Mass Effect 3 or Legacy of the First Blade, I would have preferred the Citadel model — dump it all on me at once and let me play through it at my own pace.

Getting to a key moment in the story and then having to wait five weeks to find out what happened to everyone is never going to do less than drive me up a wall.

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