Welcome to The Best Games Ever Show episode 55: The best game with horse armour (but you can't have Oblivion)
2006 feels like a lifetime ago. I’m sure for at least some of you reading, it literally was. In which case you won’t remember the utter stink that was kicked up over the concept of – get this – paying actual real money for in-game cosmetic items, on top of the money you’d already forked out for the game itself. It seemed unthinkable, until Bethesda went and did it, releasing the infamous Horse Armour pack for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for 200 Microsoft Points, the equivalent of about £2 in real money today.
The DLC was fairly innocuous in itself. Though hardly substantial, it added a short quest to the game directing you to a particular merchant, and eight different sets of equine armour similar in style to the player character variants available in the game. Though these are generally believed to be purely cosmetic, they actually generously increased the health of any horse they were applied to, reducing the chances of losing your mount in a fight. Though marginally useful, the DLC was dirt cheap and completely ignorable. By today’s standards, it seems quaint that it would cause such a fuss.
But it was a canary in the coalmine for the gratuitous aftermarket monetisation of single-player games, and a fairly notable contributor to the fact that almost every conceivable release nowadays, 17 years later, is some kind of live service bollocks with three sets of premium currency and a battle pass. At the time, Bethesda was experimenting with a new idea, which had been made possible by the relatively new fields of digital distribution and microtransactions. Todd Howard probably didn’t mean for it to be a Sliding Doors moment in which the industry chose the path to hell.
And yet, the blame doesn’t sit entirely with him, because the fact of the matter is that gamers absolutely lapped it up. Horse Armour made a lot of money for Bethesda, it ranked for a good while as one of their most popular pieces of DLC, and though the flak they copped for it made them shy away from producing such insubstantial content ever again, it inspired a lucrative industry of useless cosmetics upon which empires have been forged, from Valve to Epic.
So Horse Armour may have been the butt of every joke in 2006, but it had the last laugh in the end, with the phenomenon coming full circle this week in the form of premium micro-DLCs for Diablo 4 that are absurdly priced: at the top end, they’re more expensive than a lot of new games are. You can straight up buy Minecraft Dungeons and still have change left over for a Big Tasty for what some of those cosmetic bundles are going for.
But, in the 17 years since Oblivion’s most infamous transgression, which games with Horse Armour have stood above the rest? What is the best game with Horse Armour, premium or otherwise, aside from The Elder Scrolls IV? This a question that I put to our regular panellists on The Best Games Ever Show, and in order to find out what everyone came back with, you’ll have to watch or listen to it. Luckily, you’ve stumbled upon a web page full of options for doing just that. Cor!
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You could also simply read the summary below, if you're the sort of person who skips to the last page of a book (a wrongun, a reprobate, a Bad Seed).
Tom picked Football Manager because at this point we're powerless to stop him.
Kelsey picked Return to Monkey Island on the grounds that it contains a useless horse armour item as a joke about Oblivion, which on the one hand was an extremely dated gag by the time it came out, but on the other hand, we're doing this entire podcast because Diablo 4 is now at it, so it's still pretty current actually.
James plumped for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in lieu of being allowed to pick Oblivion itself, on the grounds that W3's horse armour is actually useful, carries no extra charge, and is part of a game that is largely seen to have done DLC properly: with a litany of free add-ons alongside two premium but extremely chock-full expansions.
“What is the Best Games Ever Show?” you ask? Well, it is essentially a 30-minute panel show where people (Jim Trinca and associates) decide on the best game in a specific category. That's it. It's good. Listen to it.
Come back in a week for another exciting instalment of the Best Games Ever Show.
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