A great expansion instantly compels you to re-enter a world you’ve already spent countless hours in. It entertains and fascinates you with new ideas and mechanics that elevate the base game it builds upon. An expansion–when done well–can be an amazing way to engage with a game you already deeply love.
But expansions didn’t have it easy this year, what with the embarrassment of fantastic new games in 2017 that were all vying for our attention. Fortunately, there were numerous top-tier expansions that were well worth jumping into to return to some of gaming’s most beloved worlds. In no particular order, here are our picks for the best expansions of 2017.
Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood
Beyond its level cap bump from 60 to 70 and a new campaign playtime of 50 hours, much of Final Fantasy XIV’s new content is the result of fan feedback while also offering a host of accessibility options for newcomers without over-simplifying the experience. Even adding the seemingly basic ability to dive and swim goes a long way in expanding the world of Eorzea, allowing Stormblood to feature an undersea world, fishing, swimsuits, and submersible mounts.
Aesthetically, Stormblood adds diversity to Eorzea, leaning toward an predominantly East Asian look. This is true of not only the new environments but also the addition of a Samurai class, which excels in consistent damage-per-second offense. Stormblood’s other new class, the destructive and agile Red Mage is the unofficial ninja of FFXIV.
Alongside all these new content additions is a story that maintains the series’ narrative strengths. This, in turn, adds gravitas to many of the mainline missions which unfold through harrowing story-focused moments. Whether you’ve played consistently since the first day of A Realm Reborn or you’re an MMORPG fan who’s never touched FFXIV, Stormblood enrichens an already attractive proposition thanks to a strong base game and the Heavensward expansion.
Horizon Zero Dawn – The Frozen Wilds
If you fell in love with Horizon Zero Dawn earlier this year, the Frozen Wilds expansion was the perfect excuse to revisit the rough-and-tumble wilds with Aloy. With the help of a tribe known as the Banuk, Aloy’s selection of weaponry was expanded with magical casting staffs–to go along with plenty of new challenges that put them to good use. But these tools and the newly expanded skill tree prove useful in the rest of the game’s map as well. It’s easy to imagine how a new player, after making a trip to the frozen north halfway through the campaign, would re-enter arid deserts and shady forests more confident than ever in the face of Horizon’s giant mechanical beasts.
Guerrilla Games also used The Frozen Wilds as an opportunity to flex its technical prowess in new ways. Snow was present in the main game, but the snowy mountains in the frozen north are a different beast. As Aloy trudges through blankets of snow, she leaves tracks behind that persist for quite a while, and they are more detailed and nuanced than simple paths carved for a basic effect. Likewise, snowfall is prettier than ever, with each flake reflecting nearby light sources. If you were already impressed with Horizon’s sunsets, just wait until you see them punctuated with pink and blue hues. Horizon didn’t need an expansion, but Frozen Wilds’ additions make an already strong game even better.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind
What makes The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind truly special is that it’s just nostalgic enough to appeal to OG Morrowind fans while still being inviting to first-time players. 2016’s One Tamriel update to the main ESO game eliminated level requirements on quests and replaced the previous system with level scaling, so no matter if you’re level one or 50, it’s accessible to every player.
With roughly 30 hours of new content to play through, the Morrowind expansion feels like a well fleshed-out story. You’ll assist the legendary warrior-poet Vivec as his power is being sapped away. At the same time, a meteor is heading towards the capital–in short, Vvardynfell’s impending doom is nigh, and your choices are all about figuring out how to save it. This is the first time we’ve seen this sort of urgency in ESO’s questlines, and it’s the first time that it’s ever felt like your choices truly matter.
Aside from the massive improvement in writing, ESO: Morrowind also introduces the first new player class since the game’s initial launch: Wardens. It’s a well-balanced class with a focus on nature magic, perfect for beginners or current players who want to focus on an alternate. The Warden is a little weak at first, but a versatile build and great addition to the classes that already exist within the ESO universe.
It can be difficult to keep the magic of a 20-year-old-plus franchise alive, but this expansion’s beauty, endless number of things to do, and small details make it a solid and meaningful addition to the world of The Elder Scrolls Online.
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen
Firaxis Games is a master of expansions. Whether it be for the long-running Civilization series or the modern XCOM games, the developer understands what makes its games tick, and what changes will make it do so even more smoothly. XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is the best evidence of that yet.
WotC introduces new friendly units, enemy units, relationship-building, and progression options, but perhaps the greatest addition of all is the campaign’s vastly improved pacing. For maybe the first time, Firaxis has found a way to make the middle turns of a strategy campaign fun. WotC’s mission structure and overarching strategy decisions are more varied throughout the entirety of your fight against the Advent aliens, providing a new experience each time you play.
The expansion also adds the titular Chosen, alien bosses that hunt your XCOM team both in tactical situations and through the strategic overlay. They gather knowledge about your missions. They ambush your soldiers at critical times. They literally extract intel from your officers’ minds, using all of it to develop new powers and perks to more effectively fight against you. They’re major threats in battle, yes, but also major threats as commanders. War of the Chosen does what only the best expansions can do to already amazing games: It makes you play XCOM 2 differently.
The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild Expansion Pass
If replaying The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild from the beginning sounds like a daunting task, then you’ll take comfort in knowing that Breath of the Wild’s Expansion Pass completely justifies starting a new adventure.
In the base game, the lack of a linear quest line allows you to freely explore Hyrule, consistently rewarding you with unique moments and adventures. But with the expansion, you’ll notice your story changing even further. Master Mode, for instance, drastically shakes up combat as enemies regenerate health, have increased strength, and detect Link faster. The increased difficulty furthers your appreciation of the game’s mechanics, often encouraging you to utilize tactics and maneuvers you may have taken for granted.
If you’re uneager to start Breath of the Wild over, the Expansion Pass still offers plenty of new content to tackle. Trial of the Sword itches that desire for more survival-permadeath challenges, like the one seen on Eventide Island. The Hero’s Path feature tracks your last 200 hours, tracing your footsteps on the map–and possibly revealing areas you haven’t visited. The expansion even delivers a plentiful number of new armor pieces that lead to new areas and quests.
After beating the game’s four main dungeons, you gain access to a dozen more shrines, a fifth dungeon, and fantastic boss fight. And the reward for all this? A motorcycle that completely changes the way you view Hyrule’s landscape.
It’s fairly easy to discover an awesome new experience in Breath of the Wild, but its Expansion Pass offers an abundance of rewards that make exploring the land of Hyrule even more riveting.