It's no secret that I was less-than-enthused by Asura's Wrath, Capcom's rage-fueled QTE-fest masquerading as a game. There wasn't anything functionally wrong with it, but the repetitive action quickly wore thin and the story, which composed the bulk of the game, failed to grab me. Of particular note, however, was the ending, which left a sour taste in my mouth as it immediately nullified the entire journey upon which I had gone and introduced a new plotline that would, it seemed, be left unresolved until a sequel could be produced.
The announcement of DLC for the game was not entirely a surprise, as images of Asura and Ryu squaring off with a Street Fighter IV-esque HUD had been leaked prior to the game's release. The DLC trailer, unveiled earlier this week, contains a schedule for five separate releases. Nestled between the two animated vignettes, which expound on the events immediately following episodes 11 and 15, and a pair of tongue-in-cheek crossover battles between Asura and Street Fighter mainstays Ryu and Akuma, there is a seven-dollar package titled "Part IV: Nirvana." It consists of episodes 19-22. Yes, four additional episodes for the game.
Capcom is selling the game's ending as DLC.
In the wake of scandals tied to its on-disc DLC characters and gems in Street Fighter X Tekken and updated rereleases of its barely-a-year-old fighting games that arguably manufacture the original versions' obsolescence, this immediately comes off as the darkest of DLC nightmares. It metastasizes that seeping fear gamers have harbored since post-release content first became a thing consoles could do with any degree of consistency and regularity: Developers would take to releasing incomplete titles, with content left on the cutting floor either in the rush to make deadline or culled from the main game as a ploy to weasel more money out of gamers. How can Asura's Wrath sit there on the shelf and claim to be worth your $60, tout itself as a complete experience, when seeing its ending requires an additional purchase and an Internet connection to download it?
The thing is, there's precedent for it.
Enter Fallout 3, winner of our 2008 RPG of the Year award and honorable mention for Game of the Year. In the year following its release, it saw five content expansions, the third of which, Broken Steel, both raised the level cap and ret-conned the game's original ending such that players could continue on, experiencing a new coda. It was met with positive reactions by the gaming public—better than either of its predecessors—despite stumbling with what to do in a narrative sense, since the game's main quest had already concluded.
Further, there's Mass Effect 2, which builds to a crescendo of tremendous scale over the course of its run, culminating in a pulse-pounding sequence that had players on the edges of their seats. While much of the game's DLC preceded this event, this culmination of all that the player had been working toward, there were also subsequent arcs released that were designed to help bridge the gap between it and its newly released sequel, Mass Effect 3.
And stretching even further back, we have the traditional expansion packs from days of yore, sold separately, yet requiring the base game to play. These were the Secret Missions of Wing Commander and the Brood Wars of StarCraft. They picked up wherever their base game left off, continuing the player's tale within that universe.
The thing is, in all the best of these examples, the base game still contained a full story, from its beginning through to its end. Though players of Wing Commander's Secret Missions were still flying out of the TCS Tiger's Claw, continuing the war against the Kilrathi, the original game's specific plot had reached its conclusion, that chapter in the player's life firmly closed. Broken Steel actually falls somewhat flat in this regard, because, while offering a look at the results of one's final act in the main story and some new adventures from there, it handily neuters the impact of Fallout 3's original ending. Mass Effect 2's post-game DLC doesn't continue the same plot thread at all, tying up other loose ends in the universe as it helps prepare players for the final chapter in the Mass Effect trilogy.
Asura's Wrath shipped with 18 episodes, divided up into three "parts." It also, if one actually invested the time to raise one's score enough to unlock its "true" ending, provided a less-than-satisfying conclusion, purposely left open for further explication. It is a game that is all about story, possessing almost nothing else to draw in and entertain a player—the reason to keep going is to see the next cutscene, to find out what happens next—and that story's payoff, in the retail product, is non-existent. What is being offered as DLC isn't an example of an expansion, of "the further adventures of Asura and company." Part IV: Nirvana is the ending that the game should have shipped with from the beginning, but for whatever reason didn't. Maybe it was held out with the intention of a DLC release like this, or maybe it was meant to be part of a full-on sequel to the game (pulled, perhaps, due to sluggish sales; under 200,000 units sold to date). Either way, the fact that it exists in this form comes across as a slap to the face of those individuals who already purchased the game and were left wanting, only to be told that their satisfaction would require an extra investment.
DLC is not an exact science. Since the onset of this generation, developers have struggled with producing engaging and useful downloadable content at fair prices. For every "Lair of the Shadow Broker" there has been a "Horse Armor," an experiment in producing and marketing extra content that has proven laughable or ill-informed. It's been the better part of a decade, though, and it's time to start looking back and seeing what has, over this generation, worked, and cull that which hasn't. Instead, we have the latest DLC scandal waiting to happen, as those who did find themselves invested in Asura's quest for vengeance are left knowing that the demigod's story is incomplete unless they shell out that extra cash.
Date: April 2, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*