One thing that people should know about me by now is that I freaking love BioWare. Every game they release is an attempt to craft something better than what they’ve created before. Even their less well received titles like Dragon Age 2 innovate in bold directions. What other collective of creative people could successfully make the leap from the real time/turn-based combat system (fun fact: that style of gameplay is called a round-based system) from Knights of the Old Republic to a third-person shooter-RPG hybrid? That an RPG-oriented developer eventually refined their third-person shooting to a point where they could build a successful multiplayer mode around it is incredible. I believe that this skill also extends to the way they’ve learned to expand their adventures through DLC.
BioWare’s first foray into downloadable content, Mass Effect’s Bring Down the Sky, went relatively well and since that decent start they’ve slowly improved from there. A few duds like Pinnacle Station or Firewalker come to mind, but for the most part BioWare delivers some pretty satisfying additions to their games that really build out their worlds in significant ways. Whether it is character building, setting up sequels, or elaborating on murkier aspects of their game worlds, they’ve learned to deliver entertaining content while eliminating a lot of fluff from their DLC offerings.
This brings me to The Descent, Dragon Age: Inquisition’s latest bit of DLC. To my mind, The Descent represents a great use of DLC. It delivers more of Inquisition’s streamlined gameplay, visits an interesting part of the larger setting, and offers some development of the game world that hasn’t ever been directly hinted at before. Some have complained that The Descent is a rather linear adventure, and it certainly is, though I don’t see that as a negative. Instead, I see it as the developers taking an opportunity to deliver a focused experience. It’s a design choice that tells us, “Hey, the stuff that’s happening is important.” It may even hint at where the Dragon Age series might be going in the future, which is a really exciting prospect. Plus, I’ll take a finely crafted linear portion of gameplay over an open area most of the time, especially when it comes to DLC. Running back and forth over the same ground for an hour or two begins to smack a little too much of padding in some downloadable add-ons.
For Dragon Age fans, there is a lot to love in The Descent. David Hayter voices one of the prominent supporting characters players encounter early in the DLC. He might not be the voice of Snake in the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V, but it is always nice to hear his grizzled growl in action. A somewhat hidden portion of the DLC includes an amazing tribute to the humble nug, the benign, rabbit-like creatures that permeate Thedas. Beyond that, The Descent tickles the lore-hound in me that has wanted to know more about the Dwarven Deep Roads since they were briefly visited in Dragon Age: Origins. There is a lot of mystery in the fallen empire of the Dwarves and a lot that remains to be discovered if BioWare decides to pursue the elements of the world introduced in The Descent.
The one complaint I have regarding the DLC is the enemy scaling. In an attempt to make the fights more difficult, BioWare decided to give all the enemies ridiculous amounts of health. Even with a team tricked out in the best possible weapons available from the previous expansion, Jaws of Hakkon it took a long time to hack down grunt enemies. It renders some of the larger encounters more tedious instead of interesting or challenging. While returning to Inquisition is enjoyable, it really becomes a slog despite the exciting highlights of the narrative.
All of this to say that I enjoyed my time with The Descent. I think it is exactly what downloadable content should be: An addition that presents unique opportunities for elaboration when it comes to world building and narrative without overstaying its welcome. It isn’t perfect, but it provides an enjoyable and informative ride for Dragon Age fans. At $15, the price might be a bit steep, but if you're interested in the turnings of Thedas and can't get enough of Inquisition's combat, it is worth the cost of admission. If you don't fall into either of those categories, wait for a sale.