A reminder for those who need it: announcing DLC before your game’s out still sucks

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is nearly here! Hooray! We’ve had a bunch of new details about the game as well as some lovely gameplay footage! Hooray! Nintendo has confirmed there will be an Expansion Pass, providing paid DLC for the game which, let me remind you, isn’t out yet! H-hooray? (No – Ed.)

Yes, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is the latest in a long line of games where the developer and/or publisher have effectively said up-front “this game won’t be complete when it’s released”. In order to get that complete Xenoblade Chronicles 3 experience, you’ll have to shell out some additional cash — £26.99, to be exact — to get DLC in the form of “helpful items”, outfit colour variants, special challenge battles, new playable characters and quests, new outfits and, by the end of next year, a “brand new story scenario”, presumably similar to what Torna: The Golden Country offered in relation to Xenoblade Chronicles 2.

Now, chances are the bulk of that £26.99 will be paying for the “brand new story scenario” DLC because the majority of the other stuff included in the Expansion Pass sounds exceedingly underwhelming. But if that’s the case, why announce — and make it available for purchase — right now, when you could just simply release a completely separate, self-contained Xenoblade Chronicles 3: Brand New Story Scenario as a standalone thing rather than DLC when it’s actually ready, and bung all the additional bits and pieces into the game proper?

Ideally, all of these Challenge Battles, colour variants, new characters and quests would be in the game right from the get-go because heaven knows it would be nice to be able to play a game at launch and have all of it available to enjoy for once. But in a pinch I’m sure no-one would complain at them being major updates or free DLC that came down the pipe at regular intervals — they’d even be a genuinely nice surprise if they pulled a Mario Golf and just said “hey, surprise, here’s some new Xenoblade Chronicles 3 stuff, it’s available right now” rather than announcing them up to a year and a half in advance.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3, of course, is far from the only game to do this — it’s simply the most recent, high-profile example at the time of writing. More broadly speaking, it’s a symptom of what a significant proportion of “consumers” seem to expect from games these days: a perpetually incomplete experience that they will be quick to declare “abandoned” if it doesn’t receive new updates on a regular basis. And I guess if that’s the way you think about games, the fact you know Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is getting some new bits and pieces peppered throughout the rest of this year and next is probably a good thing.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 DLC
See that thing in the distance? You can actually go there… if you pay a tenner.

But for people like me, who grew up buying games in boxes and quite reasonably expecting the game in that box to encompass everything it was possible to do with that game, this sort of thing is frustrating for a number of reasons. Not only does it feel a bit cheeky for them to ask for additional money up-front — before the game’s even out, let’s not forget that part — but it also makes it feel like there’s never an “optimal” time to play the game in question.

See, now I know that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is going to be getting new stuff throughout the rest of 2022 and 2023, I’m disinclined to pick it up at launch because of the prospect of some sort of “complete edition” come December of 2023 — or perhaps a separate, self-contained, packaged release of the “brand new story scenario” as they ended up doing with Torna: The Golden Country.

To put it another way, picking up and playing Xenoblade Chronicles 3 at launch given this knowledge will make me wonder if I’m having a suboptimal experience with the game because I’m not enjoying it with the additional characters, new quests, new outfits and challenge battles in place. There’s certainly precedent for this — look how much Final Fantasy XV changed between launch and the eventual end of its DLC cycle, for example. Final Fantasy XV today is almost completely unrecognisable from how it released — so much so that I’m fully intending to replay it at some point.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 DLC

That, of course, is the endgame for this sort of thing: making a game continue to be “relevant” long after its original launch date. And it has been determined that the most efficient means of doing that is through updates and DLC. But it sucks from a preservation perspective, and it sucks as someone who just wants to settle down with a game and know they’re getting the full experience right from the opening moments.

I will almost certainly end up snagging a copy of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 because, behaviour like this aside — which I suspect is more Nintendo than Monolithsoft — it’s a magnificent series that consists of some of the greatest RPGs that have ever been released on any platform. It’s just a shame to see it blighted by the curse of triple-A marketing men looking for that ever-elusive “long tail”, and refusing to believe that sometimes it’s just as simple as a good game always being a good game.

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Pete Davison
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