Monday, 7 September 2015

Game Review - 'Dragon Age: Inquisition - The Descent'

A plea for help from the dwarves of Orzammar, combined with rumours of devastating earthquakes ravaging the surface world, leads the Inquisition deep underground in The Descent - the second piece of DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Journeying to a newly opened entrance to the Deep Roads, the massive network of caves and tunnels constructed by dwarves long ago, the player will be tasked with the formidable task of finding the source of these earthquakes and, if possible, putting a stop to them.

In their efforts, players will be joined by two new characters. Shaper Valta is a dwarven historian sent into the Deep Roads to recover long lost history - she's a scholar, basically, though that doesn't mean she can't hold her own in a fight. Renn, on the other hand, is a veteran of the Legion of the Dead - dwarven soldiers devoted to keeping the monstrous Darkspawn away from the dwarven capital. In the company of these two new companions, players will be required to descend beyond the dwarven-made Deep Roads, and into the natural caves beneath, as they work to track down the source of the earthquakes - fighting their way through the seemingly required hordes of Darkspawn, before finding encountering potentially more dangerous foes deeper underground. And, at the end of it all, there is the possibility of new discoveries which could have a profound impact on people's understanding of the world of Thedas. The party soon learns of the existence of massive creatures called Titans - creatures who seem to possess a natural affinity for stone that even the dwarves, themselves, can't match. And, it seems that one of these creatures must be responsible for the earthquakes plaguing the surface.

You could probably make a fairly compelling argument that The Descent is an overly linear experience set in an overly claustrophobic, and perhaps overly familiar, environment. And, this might be true, to an extent. The DLC does, after all, concern itself with an expedition into the Deep Roads (a location which should already be familiar to players of the previous games) - so, it was always unlikely to be the open-ended experience that players might have hoped for. In terms of its basic structure, The Descent very much follows in the footsteps of the 'Deep Roads' related segments of previous games in the series - taking the player through a series of narrow corridors and tough fights as they work their way to their destination.

Honestly, if you disliked the 'Deep Roads' segments of previous games, then you're likely to dislike The Descent just as much, and for much the same reasons - so, if that's the case, you can probably safely skip this one and hope that the next is more to your liking. If, on the other hand, you happened to enjoy the tense and claustrophobic atmosphere of the Deep Roads in previous games, and the tough tough challenge that your journeys there provided, then you might get a fair amount of enjoyment out of The Descent, also. For my own part, I have always enjoyed these segments - so, this new DLC did appeal to me. It also doesn't hurt that the Deep Roads and the caverns below, as they are shown here, remain the same fascinatingly bleak creation that they have always been - and, there are even moments when this claustrophobic network of caves are actually oddly beautiful.

The inclusion of two bonus party members, too (Renn and Valta journey alongside your existing party, rather than replacing members - meaning that you, essentially, have a party of six for much of the DLC, instead of the usual four), means that Bioware aren't shy about throwing more tougher fights than usual at you. The Descent is intended to be a challenge - but, coming in to the new DLC with a well-geared and high-level party, I never found it to be overwhelming.

Much like with Jaws of Hakkon, The Descent tells a story that is, essentially, self-contained. It is another new side-plot which doesn't attempt to address any lingering questions that you may have - instead focusing on adding to, and expanding on, the fictional world that Bioware have been creating since the release of Dragon Age: Origins. What is added, though, is definitely interesting, if a little vague - rising new questions for players, but not necessarily offering clear answers. There are revelations about the exact nature of the Titans, here - and, hints at what their discovery means for Thedas. But, it's all rushed over so quickly that it's likely to leave the player feeling a little confused. Whether that's a good thing or not, though, is probably a matter of perspective, though. It's fairly clear that we aren't supposed to come out of the DLC with a clear idea of how all the pieces fit together - but, the ending is so rushed that we aren't even given enough time to properly process the information that we are given. The DLC raises more questions than it answers - but, the ending is so rushed the the player might come out the other end not quite able to properly articulate what those questions are.

Valta and Renn, as guest party-members for the new DLC, have quite a bit to live up to when compared to the characters we have already met. Unfortunately, while they both seem like genuinely fascinating and well-rounded new characters, and the way that they bicker with each other throughout the new story is certainly entertaining, the DLC is simply too short to give either the attention that they need and deserve. Because of this, neither of them quite manage to level of complexity that you can find with the cast of the main game - which is a shame, because the potential is definitely there.

Again, much like with Jaws of Hakkon, The Descent isn't an essential purchase. It's a side-plot designed to slot neatly into the existing game - but, one that can be safely skipped without missing anything of actual importance. It's designed for player's who still enjoy the base game, and who want more of it. It's not without it's problems, of course. It is a very linear experience - lacking anything resembling the sort of choices you might expect to be able to make in a Bioware game. And, the way that it seems to muddle its own plot is likely to frustrate some players. But, if you happen to find yourself wanting a bit more of Dragon Age: Inquisition, then this new DLC still has plenty to offer.

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