Major new releases dominate mindshare in the games industry, as is often the case in any entertainment medium, but more and more these days, games tend to have more to offer long past their initial releases. 2021 saw the release of expansions and new content for several games that had already been out for a while, and more than a few of these DLCs or expansions wowed us with their new offerings. Here, we’re going to recognize some of the best that we played all year, before picking one of them as the best of the best.
NOTE: The nominees and winner were decided by an internal vote held among the entire GamingBolt staff.
ANIMAL CROSSING: NEW HORIZONS – HAPPY HOME PARADISE
Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a monumental success for Nintendo, and while there were legitimate criticisms against the game for its lack of proper post-launch support in the year or so following its launch, most of those criticisms were swept away when Happy Home Paradise launched in 2021. Absolutely brimming with new content, quality of life improvements, feature additions, and so much more, Happy Home Paradise crammed addictive, well-designed content into a game that so many had already poured dozens (if not hundreds) of hours into. Doubling down on the creative freedom, extensive customization, and addictive charms of the base game, Happy Home Paradise was a timesink that we were all too happy to lose our lives to.
OUTER WILDS: ECHOES OF THE EYE
Outer Wilds has established itself as a one-of-a-kind achievement in the time since it’s been out. Those who’ve played it have consistently sung praises of its genius, its uniqueness, how it pulls its world, mechanics, and story into a single, cohesive package unlike any other. Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye was, in many ways, more of the same- which instantly makes it one of the best gaming experiences of 2021 by default. Of course, on top of being characterized by the same superlative strengths that made the base game so good, Echoes of the Eye also attempts to carve out its own identity by bringing a very distinct and effective horror twist into the proceedings. The end result is an absolutely unmissable expansion.
GHOST OF TSUSHIMA – IKI ISLAND
Ghost of Tsushima was easily one of 2020’s standout releases, and in 2021, it continued to grab headlines. With the launch of Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut, Sucker Punch delivered another healthy chunk of new content in the form of the Iki Island expansion- which delivered in all the ways that the base game itself did a year prior. Another gorgeous new island to explore, a much more personal story that delved into Jin’s past, new threats and enemies to encounter, incremental additions to progression and customization, and about 10-15 hours of new content- with all of this and more, Ghost of Tsushima’s newest piece of content was an excellent reminder of just why we all fell in love with this samurai epic when we first played it in 2020.
DEATH STRANDING DIRECTOR’S CUT
Death Stranding Director’s Cut may not have been as meaty of an upgrade over the base game as the aforementioned Ghost of Tsushima was, but it was still a solid package that expanded upon Kojima Productions’ unusual open world game in interesting ways. New tools, items, and touches of polish improved upon the base experience, while additions like a race track and training missions allowed for the kind of arcade fun that was missing in the base game. In the form of the Ruined Factory, the game also added a completely new area with its own set of missions and stealth-focused gameplay. Though not necessarily comprehensive, Death Stranding’s Director’s Cut’s additions to the game were still valuable.
FINAL FANTASY 7 REMAKE INTERGRADE – EPISODE INTERMISSION
After the way Final Fantasy 7 Remake ended, fans have been waiting with bated breath for the full sequel to come along and answer many burning questions. The wait for that continues, but thankfully, in 2021, Square Enix gave us an appetizer of sorts with Episode INTERmission. Starring two great leading characters in Yuffie and Sonon, the new expansion was a surprisingly meaty piece of new content with more of the excellent combat that we all loved in the base game, and other compelling content additions, like the surprisingly addictive minigame called Fort Condor. How important Episode INTERmission is to the larger story of this remake saga remains to be seen- it certainly has some important story nuggets. Either way, if you’re looking for more of what FF7 Remake intergrade had to offer, Episode INTERmission delivered that in spades.
GHOST OF TSUSHIMA – IKI ISLAND
Ghost of Tsushima’s Iki Island expansion was a resounding triumph by every metric. It was a sizeable new chunk of content, its story – while not crucial to the main plot – was compelling and well-told, a number of additions like new abilities and enemy types spiced up the base game’s tried-and-true combat system, and Iki island itself was absolutely gorgeous. Large and beautiful in all the ways that Tsushima itself was in the base game, and then some, it was a stellar sandbox that was begging to be explored. Whether you look at it as a half-step between Ghost of Tsushima and its sequel or simply as an extension of the former, there’s no denying that for anyone who enjoyed the base game, this was an unmissable experience.