By Tapkoh 0 Comments
I've been somewhat desperate for new RPGs to play and gave into temptation: I bought the DA2 DLCs. I didn't buy the weapon packs or the (suspiciously in the game code already) character, but rather the two separate campaigns (Legacy & Mark of the Assassin). I didn't go into them blind however. I had heard the spoilers and read reviews. I mostly knew what to expect from a story standpoint. What I heard that intrigued me though was that some claimed that the DLCs were better than the original game. This was not the case for Origins or the Mass Effect games, but I didn't see those sorts of claims for their DLC; at least, not in the numbers I saw for DA2. I do find the DA lore interesting and enjoyable to a degree and I knew that Legacy especially was lore-heavy. With all that in mind, I bought and played them both. Spoilers from here on.
I played through the DLC during Act I of the main game, after I had completed all other quests before the deep roads expedition. That way, I had the best possible gear, stats, and equipment for the DLC without moving on to Act II. My Hawke was a sword and board vanguard / reaver / berserker. I took Varric (concealer, CC), Isabela (aggro re-director), and Bethany (healer, elemental damager) through Legacy. I dropped Varric for Tallis in MotA and respecced her to his role, since they were both ranged rogues. In hindsight, should have had an entirely ranged party, but I'll get to that later. I hate Anders and having to take him along, so that's why I did this in Act I; so I could take Bethany instead. Assuming your sibling is alive, you can take them along on the DLCs regardless of where you are in the story, but I felt Act I worked best. Since I started a new character to test out the DLC and a S&B build, I wanted to get it done sooner rather than later, too. I was playing on Hard difficulty.
I'm of two minds when it comes to the DLC: I actually enjoyed them far more than the main game but they also angered me. I'll outline the former later. They angered me because they were, in my opinion, better than the main game and showed that BioWare could put together something far more competent and coherent than what they released as a $60 game. They could have, but they didn't. The game could have been SO much better, if the DLC is any indication. Now I'll go over the specifics to explain what I mean.
Both DLC have really lame intros, I must admit. In Legacy, you are being attacked by the Carta (dwarven mobsters basically), but no one knows why and Varric's Carta contacts have no explanation. The attacks happen before the DLC starts and you arrive at their "base" to find a way to stop them. In MotA, Crow assassins show up to kill Hawke and company when they go to meet with one of Varric's contacts and Tallis just happens to be there. The contact was going to meet you about an invitation to a party. That party is where Tallis wishes to go. The Crows are there because...I don't know. If you can get past these rather ham-fisted introductions to the DLCs, it gets better.
First, both utilize entirely new areas. You don't see these areas in the main game and the DLC doesn't make you revisit the same cave seven times over, for example. Legacy takes place mostly in desert ruins and a deep roads-like tower. MotA has indoor and outdoor areas and a cave that's NEW. I know, right? Obviously, this puts it leagues ahead of the original game in this department. In DA2 proper, you visit 1 cave, 1 house, 1 warehouse, and 1 sewer over and over and over again. The areas look nice as well and it shows some thought went into them.
Second, the story makes sense. Even as awkward as the intros are, the game gives you goals. In Legacy, you want the Carta to stop attacking you and in the course of that, you discover a mystery involving your father. The goal then evolves into unraveling that mystery and escaping the tower. Yes, you get trapped, but rather than a plot convenience, it actually makes sense. The tower is a prison, meant to keep things in and not let them out and you wandered in. They go somewhat lore-heavy and focus a lot on the grey wardens. That will be up to personal taste, but I approved. In MotA, you agree to help Tallis steal a jewel. She of course lies to you and you aren't looking for a jewel. Instead, she is a Qunari and means to kill a Tal-Vashoth (former Qunari) who intends to sell information to the host of your fancy Orlesian party; information that could end up killing innocent people. You have the choice then of helping her or not. The Duke does try to kill you anyway, but it's nice to have our illusion of choice again. MotA will give you a bit more background on the Qunari, but otherwise is more of a "fun" DLC rather than a serious lore dump.
Finally, gameplay. Whoever made these DLCs deserves a medal for the combat. The combat in these adventures hearkens back to Origins. DA2 proper had a lot of waves of weak opponents. Either after you killed all enemies on screen or after a certain time elapsed, more enemies would appear out of thin air and join the fight. Sadly, most of these would have names like "Thug" and their health bar would be shorter than their name. You could sneeze and kill them. Rarely were you given a challenge, like a wave of elite foes. As long as you killed mobs in this order: mages, backstabbers, leaders; you would win. The only times the game got difficult was when they threw bosses at you that had tons of HP and/or armour and potentially summoned normal or elite adds to deal with, but those fights were few and far between.
Combat in Legacy largely involved normal enemies or better. Rarely did I see one of the sneeze kills. I must admit that when I watched the quick look, I thought Vinny was just rusty or bad (sorry Vinny), but it turns out that the encounters were designed to be difficult. There were rarely waves. Enemies would appear when you approached, but like in Origins, not pop into existence right next to you like in DA2. In fact, there were points where enemies spawned in one section, but if you didn't go close to them, they didn't aggro. You could range down archers and the like and then move on to these oblivious ones afterward. Taking them all on at once was challenging. Another thing incorporated into the first section of Legacy was traps. There were various traps spread around the ruins and levers to activate them. If you could position enemies on top of them, the traps could destroy them. In fact, one encounter has 3/4 of the enemies spawn on top of a trap. Pulling the lever once or twice can kill most of them. These traps disappeared once you entered the tower, but it was a nice change.
Legacy also introduced the redesigned genlocks, which look like elcor, in my opinion. Anyway, the tower focused largely on knockdowns. Genlock alphas have a huge shield that your attacks will not penetrate. You must strike from behind, in which case they are quite easy to kill. They can however mow down your group with a charge attack. They also don't stop if they hit you, so if you are not hit out of the way, you can take multiple hits and two hits was enough to kill my squishy sidekicks. Hurlock Alphas were similar in that they focused on knockbacks. They have a hammer that has a column attack or can smack your tank around. Easily avoided if you circle them, but easier said than done, depending on the terrain. These guys were often accompanied by hurlocks and genlocks and sometimes an ogre too. This made party management paramount. You had to avoid the various area attacks and charges and you had to maneuver a tank around all while dealing with the less singularly threatening enemies. This is where ranged was way better than melee. I spent most of the time keeping Isabela away from fights because she liked to wander in front of the enemies, which was a no-no. The final boss fight was more a test of endurance than anything. Not difficult necessarily if you avoid the damage and have a healer or enough potions, but it was an interesting visual spectacle.
MotA had more of the sneeze kills, but not a lot. It also had the most difficult fight for me: the Sky Horror, an optional boss fight. I had to bump the difficulty down, thanks to my less than optimal party (and skills, I'll admit) in order to defeat it. The boss fights here were also largely knockdown based. The wyvern fight was painfully easy if you avoided the charge and painfully, uh, painful if you did not. The final boss was a 3-stage fight that had a fun mechanic. During the fight, a character would be marked and the wyvern would charge. If you ran your character along the edge of the arena, the wyvern would miss and almost fall off the cliff. While it tried to get up, you had several seconds to merciless wail on it without it being able to fight back. If you don't utilize this advantage, the fight can get a little hairy. Areas would also become toxic to stand on temporarily and together with avoiding the charge attacks made ranged characters much more valuable again. Yes, there is a stealth section and it does go a bit longer than I think was necessary, but it was kind of cool for a little bit.
What both DLCs had was puzzles! Oh, puzzles, how I missed you. In the entirety of the main game, there are two puzzles of the same type and they are both in one quest. Origins didn't have many either, but they had some puzzles and some riddles. These were sorely lacking on DA2. I could go on about combat positives and other stuff, but this is getting a little more long-winded than I'd like.
Now, although I praise the combat here, I do feel that the DA2 combat system was not designed to handle Origins-style combat. That's partially where the difficulty comes from. What made some fights in Origins manageable was low cooldowns on heal spells and potions, but DA2 has very long cooldowns in comparison. Origins was also not as cooldown- and stamina/mana-locked as DA2 is, which meant more abilities firing more often, allowing more crowd control and damage and healing. In DA2, you have to manage yourself better or resort to mostly auto-attacks. So while it was nice (very nice, even) to get more Origins in my DA2, so to speak, the combat mechanics of the overall game did get in the way a little bit.
In summary, the DLC was good. Surprisingly good. They did have issues, like the lackluster reasons for starting the quests, a few story beats here and there, and the unfortunate limitations of DA2 combat, but they showed what the game could have been like. The game could have had direction, more difficult combat by default, and more worthwhile lore, rather than suffering from middle game of a trilogy syndrome. Think of the lack of disappointment! The fact that DA2 as a whole is not like this DLC makes revisiting the game even less appealing than it has usually been. Knowing that I have to go back to a directionless plot, repeating caverns and buildings, and ONLY wave-based mook combat when it could have been Legacy/MotA-like is infuriating.