Dragon Age: Inquisition was my Game of the Year for 2014. A fantastic RPG, Bioware reversed all the bad blood dredged up by Dragon Age II and Mass Effect 3, providing not only an excellent gameplay experience but a deep and colorful world to explore. With their DLC plans, Bioware sought to expand this already huge world.
Their first attempt, Jaws of Hakkon, offered more of what made DA:I great. The environment was gorgeous and stretched on for ever, providing a changing tapestry of biomes within the same named area. It provided a similar variety of quests, asking the Inquisitor and his friends to explore in the name of impressing the local tribe of Avvar while searching for information on the very first Inquisitor. What was missing, though, was anything truly new. As a package, Jaws was DA:I in a microcosm, but didn't do much to expand the experience or offer something different then the main story. As a paid extra, DLC has to do something different, has to find a new way to bring you in, and while Jaws didn't feel lacking, it also didn't feel necessary.
With the tempo set, my expectations for something different, something that stretched what I had experienced so far in game, were at a high for The Descent, the second and penultimate story DLC. Found on the war map just like the rest of DA:I's missions, The Descent began with a plea from Orzammar to help with a collapsing lyrium mine invaded by Darkspawn. With earthquakes plaguing the region, and no sign of the Grey Wardens, the Dwarves were forced to ask for the Inquisition's assitance.
As if to set the pace, seconds after arriving in the mine one of the walls bursts open and an Ogre charges in. One of the toughest Darkspawn, their presence was missing in the Inquistor's battle against Corypheus and I guess it felt slighted, as it attacked with a ferocity missing from many of the game's other foes. It was an excellent opening salvo, and set the tone for what was to come. The next room featured the Legion of the Dead, the famed Dwarven warriors who commit themselves till death to the defense of Orzammar, under siege by waves of darkspawn attackers.
As the first of several wave based battles, this initial group of Darkspawn drove home just what I was dealing with. The Deep Roads are, as their name suggests, deep underground, and movement is generally kept to tight quarters. Fighting a large force here was different then in the wide open expanses DA:I previously provided, as the darkspawn could come from anywhere. These tight spaces allowed for different tactics, many of which involved filling the hallway with Blackwall and Iron Bull, while I peppered the gathered crowd with explosive arrows and elemental grenades.
Finishing the fight opened up The Descent's first camp, a welcome sight, which also came with it's own war table. Focused on Expeditions, the Inquisitor could request additional assistance, most often in the form of construction assignments, which more often then not expanded the area you could explore. I was amazed at some of the areas that those Expeditions were able to open. With bridges that stretched across huge chasms, what initial felt small and claustrophobic quickly grew into some truly monstrous expanses that rivaled some of Dragon Age's largest vistas. In fact, without spoiling anything, it felt like the deeper I went, the bigger things got. Well, with one exception.
That exception was probably one of the best moments in all of Dragon Age, and managed to utilize some excellent lighting effects. For all that it's worth, the Deep Roads themselves had always felt well lit, as even their darkest corner were touched by some form of torchlight. The Descent expands on this idea with some excellent cavern filling fires, but was at it's best when everything was stripped away, offering a true glimpse at the utter blackness of the underground. The set piece is a tense few minutes, and leads to a surprising revelation regarding what lives in the deep recesses of Thedas.
Besides darkness, baddies of all shapes and sizes, and plenty of rock, The Descent also expands on the schematic system DA:I uses for crafting. While nothing truly extraordinary stands out, there are plenty of tier 4 schematics to find. While some feel worth building out, they also felt a tiny bit pointless, as by the time you can find them, your team is pretty decked out, leaving room for only marginal gains in both defense and dps. Easily the weakest portion of the DLC, the loot left a lot to be desired, and I ended up dropping most of it into my valuables pile to be sold upon my return to camp.
With a running time between 4-6 hours, The Descent is one of the strongest pieces of post game content Bioware has ever offered. Through a good story and inspired environmental choices, Dragon Age's Deep Roads becomes the dark and deadly place the Dwarves of Orzammar always speak of.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!