(Mild spoilers ahead)
Expansions for big, open world role playing games have always been hit or miss. For every Fallout 3: Point Lookout there’s inevitably the next Horse Armour right around the corner. Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s second expansion, The Descent, is placed in the impossible position of following up both a stellar game and a previously disappointing expansion, The Jaws of Hakkon.
The premise for The Descent is simple: a enormous earthquake has opened up a chasm in the Storm Coast region, and the Inquisition are the first port of call for the Dwarves that inhabit the region. Things quickly escalate from there, as upon arriving at the scene and descending into the unknown, speculation arises from the Dwarves that this could be the work of ancient, now awoken Titans, threatening all of Thedas.
To say that The Descent poses ten times the questions that it answers is putting it lightly. By the end of my near 6 hour playthrough I still had no clue as to why the Titans had awoken in the first place, but as you could probably have guessed heading into the expansion, the Inquisition once again rights things that have been somehow been set wrong by some unseen force at work.
The plot tries its best to hook the player on the mystery surrounding the earthquakes, and for the first hour or so it easily held my attention. However after hour number 4 of exploring dead end caverns and collecting cogs to open doors for no reason, I can safely say I no longer gave a damn about the earthquakes. The trouble The Descent faces is ever getting players to believe that the fate of Thedas hangs in the balance, as the caption for the product would have you believe, since the Titans are never truly brought into the focus of the plot, just used in the background as a catalyst.
The Descent introduces two new Dwarf characters into the party, that join you for the majority of your foray into the unknown. They’re actually interesting, fairly well written characters, but the plot never actually gives them a chance to develop outside of a sidekick, which is something the main game excelled at. You may notice I’ve left out the names of said characters, and this is because I can’t actually remember them. Seriously, I just finished playing the damn thing, and put a gun to my head and I honestly can’t remember their names, or their defining personality traits.
Outside of the characters introduced through the expansion, I’ve been hearing and experiencing varied results from the party I brought with me to share in my quest. I brought along Sera, Cassandra and Dorian, and while they might not be the most interactive bunch, you’d expect a lot more than 20-ish lines from them over the course of 6 hours. In some cutscenes they’d even stand with their backs to me and the Dwarves whilst we talked, completely shutting them off from the experience, which is again something that the main game hit right on the nail.
Where The Descent misfires in plot and character, it only slightly makes up for in combat and exploration. The combat is solid, not amazing, but solid nonetheless. This was the case throughout Dragon Age: Inquisition, and the combat, and subsequent loot, is mainly what made me explore every nook and cranny in the expansion. The enemies in The Descent include spiders and Dwarves, and both make for some fairly varied combat, even if Bioware did decide to give the Dwarves actual guns in a sword and shield game.
The environment of The Descent produces very mixed results throughout, mainly due to the lack of variation. I suppose you can’t complain when you receive caves from something titled “The Descent“, however the lack of larger environments definitely gave me the feeling that this was a strictly linear expansion, particularly since there were very few winding roads and tunnels leading off the beaten path.
All this adds to the sense that The Descent really doesn’t offer up the exploration aspect that we’ve become used to from the main game, and say what you will about The Jaws of Hakkon, but at least it gave us a large new area to explore. What few tunnels there are to explore lead to dead ends with considerably useless items, and taking the time to collect every cog and unlock every single door really doesn’t pay off in any way (trust me, I’ve been there, done that).
Also lacking from The Descent is a distinct lack of side quests, and other missions to perform. The expansion brings with it a new requisitions table, in which the player is tasked with exploring to unlock new operations which subsequently lead to new areas. Having explored a few of the little new areas on offer, I can safely say they offer up nothing outside of the standard darkspawn infested holes we’ve become acquainted with. The only other quests The Descent offers is to collect manuscript pages and tankards, both of which are entirely boring and monotonous.
The Descent definitely wasn’t cut out from the main game to be sold separately, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was. The entire plot theme would work so much better if it wasn’t constantly being stated how “under threat” Thedas is from the earthquakes, since when you’re picking between the demigod Corypheus and earthquakes to deal with, I know which I pick every time.
The Descent offers very little outside of the main game. The new area is bland and unrewarding, the new characters barely developed, and the intrigue of the plot quickly fizzles out. Coming off of the main game and then experiencing this, you can easily see how the expansion doesn’t play to the strengths that Dragon Age: Inquisition worked so hard to establish. The main game had deep, well rounded characters, a sense of purpose and story, and overall drive to it, whereas The Descent really does feel like a weak sidekick in comparison to what we’ve come to expect from Dragon Age: Inquisition.