Some DLC is minor–new character skins, a new weapon, a random new mode thrown in for fun. But other DLC and expansions are game-changing, letting you experience a game from an entirely new perspective or vastly improving what was already there. In 2018, the best expansions reinvented games for the better. This includes Destiny 2, which had a rough time earlier in the year and got just the boost it needed, as well as Civilization VI, which had a strong foundation and whose first DLC refined it in a number of ways. All the expansions on this list were released in the calendar year, though some of the base games were released earlier. In no particular order, here are the best expansions of 2018.
Destiny 2: Forsaken
After two mediocre expansions, Destiny 2 was struggling going into the final quarter of 2018. It had a good foundation in its outstanding shooting and movement mechanics as well as a variety of activities for different types of players, but it was lacking a compelling endgame for the most dedicated Guardians. Forsaken finally answered the call–so much so that it took weeks for us to properly dive into all of it. A fun new mode in Gambit, extensive endgame activities like the Ascendant Challenge, and a new Raid added a much-needed layer of satisfying things to do and powerful loot to chase. Forsaken both filled in what was missing from Destiny 2 and reminded us what we liked about the game in the first place.
No Man’s Sky: Next
When it released in 2016, No Man’s Sky was caught between what it was in reality and what people expected it to be. The Next update not only added a number of things that had been promised at launch, but it also doubled down on the best parts of No Man’s Sky as it’s always been. Next introduced true multiplayer–a much-requested feature–as well as base building and other sandbox-y elements. It also brought with it a number of improvements, namely visual enhancements that made the already ethereal world feel even more alive and look more beautiful. Perhaps most importantly, Next made us give No Man’s Sky a second chance–it reminded us of the awe-inspiring, breathtakingly lonely game that No Man’s Sky had always been.
Prey was a divisive game for us in 2017, as its outstanding level design and rewarding combat were somewhat let down by uneven pacing and a lackluster story. The Mooncrash DLC capitalizes on all the best things about Prey–meaning its immersive sim elements–by recontextualizing them in the structure of a roguelike and keeping the story to a minimum. Because Mooncrash takes place in a simulation that you can reset, you’re encouraged to experiment and find creative solutions to problems in the environment. That is, after all, what we liked about Prey in the first place, and Mooncrash allows us to enjoy it all over again.
Civilization VI: Rise and Fall
As the first expansion to Civ VI, Rise and Fall faced a difficult challenge: How do you add to a game that’s already deep to begin with? The base game has plenty going on, and any new features could have been in danger of bloating its systems. But Rise and Fall added smart tweaks and improvements that complemented the base game while changing it for the better. The headlining feature, the Ages system, introduced rewards for improvement and consequences for stagnation. This in effect helps prevent players from coasting to victory on a strong lead and gives an edge to underdogs who play smart. That, alongside smaller improvements, make Rise and Fall a standout expansion in 2018.
Sonic Mania Plus
Sonic Mania had both the nostalgia factor and smart design, making it one of the best–if not the best–Sonic games ever made. Sonic Mania Plus, an update to the digital version that was included with the physical one, made it even better. It added new characters with their own unique abilities as well as Encore mode, which takes you through remixed versions of the base game’s stages. Both the new characters and the new mode let you experience Sonic Mania differently than you did before, and that in turn showcases what’s so great about the game to begin with.
GameSpot will be unveiling our picks for the best games and entertainment of 2018 throughout December. Head to our Best of 2018 hub to see all the winners so far.