Crafting a great expansion is a challenge. Developers not only need to provide more content, but a worthwhile reason to return to their digital worlds as well. And this year, there was no shortage of expansions that did just that. From the revamped mechanics of a sci-fi shooter to the well developed stories of an iconic universe, 2015 gave us plenty of reasons to revisit the games we love.
Take The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, for example. It presents a living world with nuanced characters and a multitude of stories worth exploring. And although many of us have only experienced a fraction of the The Northern Kingdoms' tales, developer CD Projekt Red continues to add detail to its fantasy landscape. The Hearts of Stone expansion provides new characters to meet, more places to explore, and several new plot threads to follow. By the end of Hearts of Stone, we've attended a wedding, battled a giant frog, and left the boundaries of the physical world behind. And every minute feels worth playing.
From Software followed suit in November. Earlier this year, Bloodborne proved the developer wasn't a one trick pony, offering faster combat than its Dark Souls cousins and a detailed Victorian world for RPG players to explore. And although several of GameSpot's staff returned to Bloodborne throughout the year, The Old Hunters expansion was the best excuse to do so as 2015 came to a close. The content adds more than 10 weapons to the hunters' arsenal, each of which alters how you fight the five new bosses and the myriad enemies in between. Bloodborne's ominous tone is more apparent than ever here, giving us a glimpse at a time removed from the base game, fleshing out even more of the eerie world's mysterious lore.
2015 is also seeing the release of the first Star Wars movie in more than 10 years, so any game bearing the iconic moniker has a slew of expectations to meet. And although DICE's Star Wars Battlefront did offer the spectacle and scale we've come to associate with the saga, it was The Old Republic's Knights of the Fallen Empire that truly captured the soul of Star Wars. BioWare's excellent writing, vivid characters, and exotic locales all told a self-contained story well worth returning for, and helped shed light on the many dark corners in that galaxy far, far away.
It's one thing to grant us more content, though. It's another to change the way we play. And with Civilization: Beyond Earth – Rising Tide, developer Firaxis did just that. The expansion transforms the very mechanics of the Civilization experience, opening up each map by letting us colonize the oceans. The new diplomacy system also affects the game's layers, forcing us to evaluate our relationships with the other leaders at play. Rising Tide maintains the depth of Beyond Earth's empire building, but what's remarkable is the way it changes our strategy in the long run.
But despite the improvements to Beyond Earth's formula, it was Bungie that truly refined an existing game. Destiny may have had fluid controls and gorgeous worlds when it released in 2014, but it lacked much of a soul. With The Taken King expansion, however, that all changed. Destiny is now a different beast altogether. It respects your time. By overhauling its character progression system, and completely revamping its loot drops to be more rewarding, Destiny emerged in 2015 as both a precise shooter and a nuanced MMO.
Destiny is more than just a solid shooter now. It's an engaging multiplayer experience. And like the other great expansions of 2015, it reminded us what made its base game so good in the first place, while also giving us reason to keep playing. A slew of great games released in recent years. But only some of them proved they're worth returning to.