The Best Game Expansions Of 2019
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Improving on Excellence
Over the years, the line between a game expansion and a game update has increasingly become blurred. While there have been some solid updates for games that introduced some new features, an expansion for a game makes it clear that you're in for something larger in scope and out of the ordinary. A clear sign that you have a good, worthwhile game expansion on your hands is if it's able to continue what the original game excelled in while also fundamentally changing it for the better.
Though we're often accustomed to seeing new content thanks to the more online nature of modern games, we still see the occasional full-sized expansion that causes many in a game's community to take notice. Some games have managed to live and die by how often and how substantial their new content has been. For instance, No Man's Sky saw a significant change in its fortune thanks to some stellar expansions, making for one of the biggest comebacks in recent years.
In 2019, GameSpot saw several expansions that greatly enhanced the solid groundwork set by their base games. Below, we have our selection of best game expansions released in 2019. In addition to this selection, we also have another round-up of best mobile games and best evolving games.
If you're curious about what else we've highlighted as the best games in other categories, be sure to check out all our end-of-the-year coverage collected in our Best of 2019 hub. You can also check out our top 10 games of 2019. Over the next few days, we will offer further insight into why we picked them as the best of 2019, with a standalone article going live on-site in order of the games' release dates. Then, on December 17, we will reveal which of them gets to take home the coveted title of GameSpot's Best Game of 2019.
Civilization VI: Gathering Storm
Whether it's dealing with thermonuclear warfare or minor disagreements about trade routes, the Sid Meyer's Civilization series has always focused on balancing the smaller choices of the moment with the more significant dilemmas that could irreparably alter the state of your world. The series has seen its share of expansions that offer a new variable on the strategic dynamic, yet in Civilization VI's Gathering Storm expansion, the added twist makes you more aware than ever of how your decisions in the present will affect the world further down the line. As its name implies, Gathering Storm deals with the impact that an out-of-control ecosystem has on your growing human settlements and the political ramifications that follow. While the Civ games have always honed in on politics through the ages, Gathering Storm offers up a remarkably timely change to the strategy dynamic.
By forcing you to deal with climate change, the gravest existential threat that humankind has ever faced, you have to confront the consequences of human consumption and excess on your interpretation of Earth. While weighing the environmental cost of increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere against the political ground you could lose by investing in solar power, you could slowly tip the balance toward environmental ruin and the collapse of your civilization. Gathering Storm is not only one of the more chilling expansions to Civilization to date, but it's also one that has a lot more to say about the current state of the world than it lets on.
Destiny 2: Shadowkeep
In 2019, Bungie's online shared-world shooter went through the largest change in franchise history. Following a split with Activision, the developer of Destiny 2 made numerous sweeping alterations--adding in cross-save, ditching Battle.net for Steam, overhauling the power growth system, changing its gear system toward a more RPG-like focus, and (its most significant change yet) making it free-to-play. It was essentially a soft-reboot for Destiny 2, and the following expansion, Shadowkeep, would reintroduce returning players to a more open and diverse universe.
What made Shadowkeep a robust expansion was that it not only highlighted Destiny's stellar combat design and character growth, but it also leveraged the more relaxed and open-ended approach to ensure that the time players invested was well worth the effort. In addition to adding a collection of new weapons and armor, a new raid, and a satisfying campaign that took veterans down memory lane through the trenches of the returning locale on the Moon, Shadowkeep also introduced a new approach to seasonal content like the Vex Offensive, offering valuable rewards in new activities that changed over time. Destiny 2 has always been about growing your Guardian in strength and amassing a powerful arsenal of weapons, and Shadowkeep did a fantastic job of showing that off in an online world which will no doubt grow even more in the months ahead.
Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers
In Final Fantasy XIV’s nine-year history, the MMORPG has gone through drastic changes. Despite a tumultuous launch and a subsequent reboot, FFXIV continued to succeed, solidifying itself as a great MMO with the expansions Heavensward and Stormblood. This year, with Shadowbringers, it not only kept the tradition of building upon its strong foundation, but also brought to light how FFXIV can capture large-scale and emotional storytelling on the level of its single-player predecessors.
Shadowbringers nails all the essential marks for MMO expansions by delivering a new plot with compelling characters, a new realm to explore, and two new jobs to master, one in the form of the Gunbreaker--one of many callbacks to other Final Fantasy games. But Shadowbringers differs from others by putting a remarkable focus on storytelling, revealing more of your hero's role in the larger picture. Shadowbringers adds a new spin on the traditional hero's journey, inverting the familiar conflict between the forces of light and darkness, and recontextualizing much of FFXIV’s existing lore in smart, powerful ways. Portraying a meaningful narrative in an MMO where hundreds of other players are experiencing the same story beats at the same time can be a challenge. Yet it hits some remarkable highs that not only show off the growth in your long journey, but also emphasize the importance of friendship and community with your fellow heroes. With the Shadowbringers expansion, Final Fantasy XIV is running on all cylinders, showcasing why this particular MMO is such a standout.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne
Releasing a little more than a year after the launch of the original game, the expansion to Monster Hunter World offered new content for a game that seemingly had more than enough to keep players occupied. Previous Monster Hunter games have had a standard approach to new expansions--adding in extra gear to craft, some new areas, and, of course, additional monsters to hunt. But with Iceborne, Capcom not only offered all of those different things, but it also evolved the base game's open-world design in a meaningful way.
What truly made Iceborne such a noteworthy expansion, along with its many new additions and quality-of-life improvements, was that it offered returning hunters new ways to tackle their approach on the various monsters. In addition to increased performance and better tactics for your existing arsenal, the new Clutch Claw--allowing hunters to grapple onto moving targets at a distance--would be a game-changer. It opened up fresh strategies when setting up traps and other tactics during challenging hunts. For a game that focuses heavily on lengthy, elaborate encounters against resilient monsters, Iceborne was what the game needed to liven up the world while introducing returning players to new ways to engage in hunts.
No Man's Sky: Beyond
To make a long story short, No Man's Sky, as it was in 2016, fell well short of expectations. Following the tepid launch, Hello Games hunkered down to continue work on the game. Thanks to a bevy of updates and large-scale expansions--a testament to developer tenacity and the impact of significant improvement--No Man's Sky is now the game that many hoped for. The previous expansion, No Man's Sky: Next, introduced several features that significantly increased the scope of the universe and the finer details therein. But with 2019's Beyond expansion, Hello Games leaned further into offering a more immersive experience.
In addition to strengthening the core gameplay loop of crafting and building structures, No Man's Sky: Beyond greatly expanded the online co-op from the Next expansion, making it more akin to the seamless approach from Destiny. However, Beyond's biggest achievement was the introduction of VR for the PC and PS4 versions of the game, allowing those with headsets to play the entire game in a new perspective. While the Next update was the game that made No Man's Sky good, Beyond is what ended up cementing the game as a fun and exciting space adventure to trek through--which opened up brand new ways for players to engage with others online and connect with the larger universe.