Saturday, August 15, 2015

Dragon Age Inquisition: The Descent

On August 11th, Bioware released the latest DLC for Dragon Age Inquisition to all platforms (I'm not bitter or anything, not at all. You're dead, Microsoft). The Descent brings back everyone's favorite Dragon Age buddies the darkspawn, as the Inquisitor is sent into the deep roads to figure out what's been causing a bunch of earthquakes.

I'm going to split this review up into two parts. For the first it'll be spoiler free, just a few shiny pictures and my overall impression without giving any of the plot away aside from characters run around doing things!

The second half will be spoiler central for everyone who's finished the DLC to try and figure out what the hell just happened. I've played through twice and I'm still just as confused as before.

On to The Descent.

First things first, this place is gorgeous:

Seriously gorgeous:

Unbelievably gorgeous:

I personally loved that this was more like Dragon Age of old. No open world that everyone just had to have after Skyrim. Which meant a lot less having to run a few miles while killing a couple dozen spiders just so you can find that last stupid shard up a tree. There are still quests to collect shit and Bioware puzzles because of course there are, but they aren't that bad. Maker knows I've seen worse.

We get two new characters to meet and travel with you as well.

The first is Valta, a shaper from Orzammar who sounds really familiar (hint hint Liara):

The other is the hardened warrior Renn. He leads the Legion of the Dead when not fending off the idiocy of a giant cat named Stimpy.

I love these two. While Valta could easily fall into the "nerdy one who gets into constant trouble and you have to save her" trope, and Renn the "grumpy, never smiles old warrior" neither do. And best of all they're obvious friends, picking on each other that way only people who spent years together can. It was so refreshing to see the rare male and female relationship that's just friends.

But, because they gave us these two characters to get to know, we got no new party banter. I can't help but want to compare this DLC to Legacy which may not be fair since Legacy was clearly a "we're so sorry for rushing 2" apology, but...

Would it really have killed them to give us more than the cursory comment for the entire 3-4 hours delve into the deep from the companions? Varric was the one I found who talked the most, and even then he had maybe five lines. Why bring back such an expansive cast if that's all you're going to give them? I feel like in general Inquisition really dropped the party banter ball, which kills me. Origins was crazy expansive with multiple branching points depending upon not just choices but where you were in the story. 2 was a bit less (surprise surprise), but Legacy and Mark of the Assassin helped to draw out more to learn about the characters.

Maybe it's because it became so much harder to trigger in Inquisition, but I never really found favorite the lines the same way I did from the others. I must have been the only person in the world who liked the fact Hawke would actually interact with party banter at times. I always thought it funny that out of all the playable characters, Hawke was probably the most like Commander Shepard. They both had a distinct character that fueled interactions beyond "oh, that's interesting." The others being left as mostly blank slates made them more two dimensional.

Another possible problem with the Descent, despite what you may have hoped, this DLC adds nothing to the darkspawn lore. We're still as much in the dark as we always were. Everyone was hoping and praying to fill in a few questions but nope. It's about dwarven stuff, but I don't know if I'd call it interesting dwarven stuff. It sort of answers a question I don't think anyone was asking, but I'll save that for the spoiler section of this review. Point being, you do get to kill darkspawn but you don't learn anything new about them.

But, we've got shrieks back! And ogres (which I think Bull wants to have sex with. I don't know with that Qunari). They gave Renn a pretty good line the first time shrieks appeared about everyone having a favorite darkspawn, which sounded a bit like the devs wondering what the hell was up with people's fascination with shrieks. I think it comes down to the simple fact we know humans = hurlocks, dwarves = genlocks, and qunari = ogres, so what about the elves? Bring back our darkspawn elves!

They're looking a lot more elf-like too, moving like the ancient elves from the arbor wilds. No more paralyzing screams, so their name seems rather superfluous, but eh. We've got shrieks!

Gameplay-wise, this is a grinding game. I came in at the level cap of 27 (if anyone figures out why the level cap is 27 please tell me. 25 makes sense. Or 30. But why 27?). Freaking everything had about a gabillion hitpoints. They test your mettle when you first start the DLC with a boss level Ogre which can take a good 3-4 minutes to kill. It's that kind of game.

Oddly enough, wave combat is back. Sort of. There are a few levels where you have to take out a shit ton of never ending darkspawn or other things before you can advance.

My overall opinion, if you're a Dragon Age nut you should probably play it. There are some lore additions/changes that could have repercussions. After all, we did meet Corypheus in DLC even if, like Varric, we all knew that was going to bite us in the ass.

But it doesn't come close to touching my favorite Dragon Age DLC - Legacy. There isn't any connection to the Inquisitor and even the danger feels rather minimal for Thedas to the point I'm questioning the idea of sending the only person who can close rifts into the deep roads. Oh, well, if she gets the blight she could always become a grey warden and...uh oh.

Given the lore feel and the level of puzzles, I'd put this one on par with Golems of Amgarrak. Not bad, not great. The Descent's Decent. Ba-dum-tish.


All done?

I'm giving lots of space for the coming spoilers.

Seriously. This is only for people who finished the DLC. I'm not going to recap the storyline or what happened. If you want to know find another review or play it.

I warned you.

There's still time to turn back if you want.


Here we go.

What the hell was all of that? So we've got Titans that created/are creating the stone/world and if you go down deep enough you climb inside one. And their blood is lyrium. Which means if you mine it, it's titan blood. But it's cool, the titan doesn't mind that at all. It was only pissed because of the breach. Or one of its guardians was, which means there are probably others around.

At some point in the past, the titan's guardians also got all huffy and destroyed another lyrium mine. I turned to Solas during that reveal and asked if he had anything to contribute to the discussion. Of course he stayed silent because they have no idea what to do with that character after spending his dime. Come on guys, we all know who he is. Slip in some winks and nods in dialogue. It'll be funny!

I wasn't lying when I said I liked Valta, I really did...right up until she became some chosen one of the titan who was called by the stone. That felt like a tacked on "we need an ending, and we killed off our Legion of the Dead guy so..." If she said she wanted to stay and study it, cool. She seemed the type. But the whole look I can maybe cast a spell, or not, who knows but I'm above you all in my awesomeness now was pretty damn cheesy. The only way you could get more Mary Sueish would be:

So Valta can maybe become a guardian now? because she has more stone sense, which might mean dwarves are children of the Titans despite the fact that Titans look like giant floating cities inside?

I know Dragon Age is renowned for raising more questions than it answers, but this is ridiculous. Shit, this was the rare time my Inquisitor said exactly what I was thinking.
 Did anyone really care about if the stone sense was real? Or where it came from? Honestly?

I want to know what the hell lyrium is beyond titan blood. We already knew it was alive and could be corrupted. And at some point the ancient dwarves turned that corrupted lyrium into an idol - raising a whole lot of other questions. I want to know why, if we're gonna keep acting like the whole Magisters invading the black city caused darkspawn is true, the darkspawn started in the deep roads. I want to know what happened to the elves that fled the fall of Arlathan and stayed with the dwarves in the deep. There's so much to build off there and instead we got giant hearts that turn into monsters and dwarves that drink its blood turning into monsters themselves.

Speaking of the guardian, there's been a few calls lately for video games to step away from the violence. To give not just an occasional opportunity to talk yourself out of a fight, but to eliminate it all together. I do love the times my character can wiggle out of killing someone, but normally I'm cool with the big boss battle and using of my daggers. Shooting lightning at fools is part of the games.

But Maker did I think the Inquisitor was being a complete moron here. Not only are you risking your life and the lives of your companions with possible corruption, (They seem to have really backed off on the virulence of the blight. I swear to god, no one gets it anymore save random character in the background) after you found out that titans are real and shape the world, your first thought is "Let's kill it!"

Come again?

Not everything needs to be stabbed to death. What if that wasn't just some guardian that went a little earthquakey, and instead you somehow killed a real Titan and caused a complete collapse of the deep roads or of Thedas itself? You had no idea what you were dealing with beyond some moldy old pages and what a person you met a few hours earlier was telling you.

And the dwarves that were no longer dwarves...Why did we fight those guys? I know, I know, they attacked us first. But what happened to the Bioware of old that gave us talking darkspawn and a geth companion? In the last DLC we had friendly Avar that everyone fell in love with, but this one it was just dwarves with lyrium in their skin and because of it they must be evil. That's it. Can't speak to them, or ask them, or bargain with them, they're evil. No point. Stabbings all around.

Despite giving us this world shattering (literally) lore, I have a sinking suspicion the titans are going to be another cul-de-sac like the harvester. There was another abandoned thaig discovery which should have shattered some perceptions but I guess the Warden forgot to tell anyone. You break into it to find dwarves were messing around with blood magic of a sort (not to mention weird color dimension stuff). Then you unleash a horde of those things on the world and all we see of them again is Orsino seriously overreacting and doing something stupid.

What I really want to know about is the Architect. Yes, he might be dead, but who's to say he's alone? And we know he created talking darkspawn. They can easily still be around doing what? He knew where all the old gods were buried. Do his minions? Are they trying to do the same thing he did to free the old gods from the calling or is it something new? Solas sure as shit implied that killing all the old gods won't stop the blight but probably make it worse (in his Fen'harel side speaking way of course).

I wouldn't be harping on all the questions if there was more to this DLC beyond "Look, shiny new scary thing for you to kill and be a bad ass about" disguised as lore. What I loved about Legacy was the connection to Hawke. It wasn't just about stopping Corypheus (and failing at it), it was learning about your father, reconnecting with your sibling, and, through party banter, sharing concerns and fears of the darkspawn.

There hasn't been any connection to the Inquisitor with either of these DLCs. The first was all about the Avar. Even finding the Inquisitor of old felt like something they slapped on so we could have an ending involving fighting a massive god dragon. It was really to explore these Viking Inuits and their connection to the fade.

And The Descent was "Look, darkspawn!" except not really because we're never gonna explain what darkspawn are. Suckers!

I'm hoping and praying that we'll get a third DLC that will finally take place after you kill old Cory so the Inquisitor can learn about Solas. All the pieces are there. It's easy to see an army marching against the Inquisition. You grew so big so fast, people are going to get twitchy about an army squatting between Ferelden and Orlais. Add on the fact you seem to be able to open and close the fade at will and assassins are coming. Break the Inquisition up, send the Inquisitor hunting for the fabled person that started it all and finally let her learn the truth. Give some real connection beyond "Yeah it sucks when friends die. Anyway, on to the next chamber to stab more monsters. Dum de dum."

But really, what the hell was that?

1 comment:

Wyn said...

**SPOILERS** I know I'm coming in late to this post, but I've just played through The Descent for a second time and had a few more thoughts on it in the aftermath than I did in the first play through when it was released. This is the only article I've found that delves into concerns that are the same as mine regarding implications of unavoidable actions in the storyline. So I'm really glad you wrote this. The biggest problem I have with this DLC is the encouraged genocide of the ancient race of dwarves (yeah, they attacked on sight etc etc) and the overarching tones of discovery doctrine (in claiming land for the inquisition, finding out lost info about things that have obviously been hidden from history, blah blah). Like, they went down there to find out what was causing trouble for Orzammar (fair enough) and it turns out to be an ancient life form (titan) and ancient protectors of the life form (shar-brytol) which you never find any concrete answers about and end up JUST KILLING EVERYTHING. BECAUSE. INQUISITION. ADVENTURERS. SOLVING *OUR* PROBLEMS! I really don't know what the writers were trying to do here except support a terribly privileged view of the world and destroy what they don't know enough about to make it easier for the protagonists. And we didn't even have a choice. This is the story and that's it. Usually Bioware at least lets you know that genocide isn't the only option (hey Mass Effect). Pretty disappointing considering I've loved everything they've done in all other aspects.