15 August, 2015

Review - Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Descent Into Inconsequential Tedium

Slayed all the dragons? Located all the mosaic pieces? And used up all your save slots? Well there’s still more to be done in Dragon Age: Inquisition, but maybe give my thoughts on the new content a read, before picking up The Descent.

Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Descent

Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Descent

Just as Dragon Age: Inquisition strayed quite far from the games Bioware made in the past, The Descent is structured very differently than the content in the base game and indeed the previous downloadable content, Jaws of Hakkon. Whereas Jaws of Hakkon was effectively endgame content; another region playing host to a main quest line and a wealth of side quests, The Descent feels far more traditional. Accessed through the war table like any other area, The Descent features no open-world elements, it is a linear path; you carve your way through six discreet levels of the Deep Roads, completing a handful of side quests along the way. However, there is a second region-specific war table, albeit very limited, that grows as you explore deeper into the Deep Roads. This exists purely to allow you to undertake a few generic timer-based tasks, and to effectively, repair bridges. Handled the same way as the main game, the bridges and steps laid down by the busy hands of the unseen Inquisition troops, unlock small areas to explore, though explore is perhaps too generous a term. We’re talking a minute or two of opening chests in each area, that’s all. As I said this content not open-world and that does diminish a lot of what I enjoyed about the new approach that Dragon Age: Inquisition introduced to the series. Despite being linear it is not, on its face, a terrible value. There are traditional cinematic cutscenes, where Jaws of Hakkon was sadly lacking, and there is a good amount of new art assets; some very different environments and new enemy variants.

Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Descent

The rough premise of the DLC, is that a band of Legion of the Dead dwarves are venturing into the Darkspawn-filled Deep Roads, to find something called a ‘titan’. This titan they think, could be responsible for a recent surge in earthquakes. The actual existence of this titan is a matter of some debate for the dwarves, but it quickly becomes clear that earthquakes caused by singing cannot be natural.

The main storyline, which took me perhaps four to five hours to complete, is to put it mildly, generic and honestly not at all interesting from a writing perspective. However, taking a world view of Thedas, the revelation you bear witness to is radical, it fundamentally changes the way one views large parts of the Dragon Age lore. The problem is you have to care about the lore in the first place to get anything from it, because it's not like the story concludes in a way that feels worthwhile or epic on its own. My character and party were like, ‘Uh, cool. Now excuse me while I get back to hunting Dragons.’, while I was caught up in the moment, genuinely intrigued by what the game was putting down. It is not often, especially with story heavy role-playing games that I can say that I’m more interested in the world, than the characters in it are. At some point I had to ask the question, if the people in the game don’t care about what's happening, why should I? It’s troubling and profoundly disappointing.

Perhaps some of the lack of enthusiasm could be a result of The Descent’s place in the Dragon Age: Inquisition storyline. The content can be unlocked and played any time after the player has reached Skyhold, a pivotal event in the base game’s main story. It therefore scales to the player’s level, unlike Frostback Basin, the area added in Jaws of Hakkon. Rather than write and record a wealth of dialogue that could perhaps cause timeline continuity problems, the developers simply chose to write very little, and certainly nothing of consequence at that. Or perhaps, this is all that their budget allowed, we’ll never know. Ultimately, the reasons don’t matter, only the result, which is sorely wanting.

Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Descent

One would expected that the Deep Roads, now home to the Darkspawn, would offer some pretty challenging fights, presumably increasing in difficultly the further in you were to venture. And that’s partially true, I was indeed challenged during the journey, but oddly only in the early levels. Initially, your expedition butts heads with the Darkspawn, it turns out though, that since the events of Dragon Age II, the Darkspawn have beefed up a little. Remember those pesky Ogres the Hero of Ferelden and the Champion of Kirkwall slew into dozens? Well, now killing single one takes longer than slaying the main game’s antagonist, and not in a good, epic way either. These fights are grueling and worse still, they become quickly boring; the Ogre’s ability to grab party members and constantly knock you to the ground, loses its novelty quickly. In contrast, The Descent can offer some of the more interesting combat scenarios; there are legitimately thrilling fights lasting longer than you would expect, as you press through seemingly endless waves of Darkspawn. But when you get to the end of a ten-to-fifteen minute battle and find yourself in an antechamber facing two ogres and half a dozen endlessly respawning enemies, that epic feeling is rapidly lost. This frustration was compounded by a repeating bug in which Cassandra, my tank; would get knocked down, then get back to her feet with no health, leaving me no way to actually revive her, and no way of getting her to take part in the combat. This exact scenario happened a few of times, as you can see in my two videos linked below. It was perhaps the only time I remember wishing Inquisition hadn’t done away healing magic, because unlike the Jaws of Hakkon, there isn’t a surplus of supply chests.

In the second-half of the DLC, you encounter a new foe, the implications of which are exciting from lore perspective, though they bring nothing new to the combat. With perhaps the exception of the final boss encounter, the combat scenarios in second-half are considerably easier than that of the first. That's more than a little weird and it certainly doesn't help the pacing, already hampered by the anticlimactic writing.

Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Descent Nug

There is a humorous edge to what little writing there is. Strangely, a lot of the dialogue takes place when riding lifts between levels, lifts that have short loading screens before them, but still make you watch them descend. It is the oddest thing; someone at Bioware clearly acknowledges the company’s dark past with lifts, but that doesn’t make them any better here and the dialogue isn’t at the Mass Effect 3: Citadel level of quality to make up for it. Additionally, there is one short, very weird quest that can be easily missed, which isn’t as funny as it is bizarre, but certainly worth seeking out. I won't spoil it here of course.

Cassandra wasn’t the only bug (you know I didn’t mean it that way) to pop up multiple times during my play through. In several different areas I encountered enemies becoming trapped inside the environment, and thus unhittable. In addition, I experienced some lighting issues, with random light sources flickering on and off, depending on the angle of my camera.

Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Descent score 2/5 poorThe Descent isn’t the next exciting chapter of the Inquisition’s grand tale. Rather it is a stepping stone that doesn’t make any progress forward, but should be worth exploring in its own right. Should. The Descent goes to one place specifically that I don’t think I could have predicted, and reveals some shocking truths about Thedas. But it is one of those rare times the game cares less about its own content and story than me. It’s combat heavy, with minimal and inconsequential dialogue, though some of the combat scenarios are quite creative and unlike those in the base game. These are however, often undermined by irritating difficulty spikes and needlessly long Ogre battles. Furthermore, the new enemies second half look cool, but add nothing new to the gameplay. Like the large majority of the Dragon Age series’ DLC, The Descent is terribly middling.

Related videos -
Kyle Plays - Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Descent Episode 1
Kyle Plays - Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Descent Episode 2

Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Descent

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