Simply put, “The Descent” is a great, intriguing piece of DLC, full of fun places to go, interesting enemies to fight, and fascinating things to learn, but misses the mark in the final moments. For fans of the series as a whole, be they lore-junkies or those purely eager to jump back into the familiar world of Thedas for another six hours, “The Descent” is worth checking out. That said, and with as much as I enjoyed my expedition into the Deep Roads, the trip was unfortunately not without its problems.
As the DLC begins, the Inquisition receives word that violent, relentless earthquakes have broken many of the seals the dwarves had in place in the Deep Roads to keep the Darkspawn hordes at bay, allowing the foul beasts to basically run rampant. And thus, into the Deep Roads you go. Once there, you meet the two new faces for the DLC, Shaper Valta, a dwarven historian, and her appointed Legion of the Dead bodyguard, Lieutenant Renn, voiced by the no-nonsense growl of Solid Snake’s David Hayter.
Right from the beginning, Valta explains her theory for where exactly the earthquakes are coming from. According to the text she found and has been researching, there are ancient creatures, simply referred to as Titans, which live far below the Deep Roads and process the ability to sing through the stone. From there, the mystery unfolds and, as Bioware promised with the DLC, some pretty hefty, fundamental lore insights start popping up. If you can picture the tectonic shifts that were the revelations from Mass Effect 3’s “Leviathan” DLC, you will start to get an idea for the lore implications at stake in “The Descent.”
As for the characters however, with only a few well written moments, like Valta avoiding patches of sunlight for fear of seeing the sky, it’s nicely established who Valta and Renn are and just what their place is in the world. While ultimately there to explain the intense amounts of lore being laid down, both characters were interesting enough. Valta’s reckless curiosity is a good contrast to Renn’s soldierly gruffness, to make their presence enjoyable.
Since Dragon Age Origins, Darkspawn and the Orzimmar dwarves just haven’t really gotten a fair chance in the Dragon Age games, the enemies and locals moving on to other things. If nothing else, “The Descent” aims to make up for that, bringing back the Darkspawn in all their glory, even shrieks making a return, and the Deep Roads being done better here than in any other Dragon Age title.
For those interested in such things, “The Descent” manages to ramp up the difficulty and deliver some fairly intense fights. From a purely aesthetical point of view, the simple addition of Vatla and Renn managed to make the fights seem bigger and more epic. As for the difficulty though, from the opening moments, an ogre waiting for you just as you reach the Deep Roads, the difficulty doesn’t let up. With a couple new enemy mechanics, ogres picking up characters and not dropping them until hit with a stun effect for instance, the fights required a bit more attention and planning than those in the core game. It was unfortunate then that many of the early boss fights, and even later normal enemies, tipped far to heavily towards backing something into a corner and smashing it, endlessly, until it died. For every fight that presented a new challenge, there was a handful that just presented a damage sponge.
When it comes to the Deep Roads themselves however, as I said, they have never been done better. The crumbling ruins of the once great dwarven civilization have made an appearance in all three Dragon Age games and many pieces of DLC, but never before have they felt as open and full of strange secrets as they do in “The Descent.” Upon setting up your first camp, you also receive access to an expeditions table (much like the war table in Skyhold, just made specifically for the Deep Roads area.) From there you can initiate roughly a dozen operations to build bridges, clear tunnels, or even just collect resources, unlocking new areas to go back and explore.
This is made all the better by a number of doors scattered throughout the area, requiring gears to open. Much like the shards of the core game, these gears can be found tucked away in almost every nook and cranny you come across. While, again, like the shards of the core game, what is behind the doors is hardly worth the work it requires to open them, the act of discovery, and having that reason to explore and jump to all the hard to reach places is worth it on its own.
And that brings me to the single greatest improvement the Deep Roads have ever had: the ability to jump. While in previous games the dwarven ruins have mostly been hallways and large, moderately hilly caverns, the Deep Roads of “The Descent” are ruins, broken walkways, deadly chasms, rocky outcroppings, and treacherous terrain all around, the kind of thing you only ever see in a game with ‘jump.’ All this, coupled with some truly impressive vistas, varied environment designs, and even a handful of puzzles and easter-eggs to discover, makes exploring the Deep Roads a pleasure instead of a chore.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with “The Descent,” which is unfortunate, because it made the ending feel like that much more of a cheat. The DLC raises some legitimately interesting lore questions, some pretty massive ones in fact. Multiple times, I found my self completely taken by surprise by the things I was seeing and learning, with more and more questions piling up, as they do with any good mystery. But then I came the end, out of nowhere, and hardly any of those thundering questions were answered. It left me wanting more, but not in a good way. It left me wanting more in a “Seriously? That’s it?” sort of way.
This, paired with a handful of glitches I experienced throughout my time with the DLC, all the NPC’s in a camp being offset by ten feet or so, enemies getting stuck so far into walls I couldn’t reach them, 3-4 second long lag in conversations, and even the game full-on crashing once, I find myself hard-pressed to recommend “The Descent” unequivocally.
For those that can look past the DLC’s shortcomings, there is a lot to like, and have fun with, in “The Descent.” Frustrating lack of solid answers aside, a lot of interesting lore is introduced, and it does fundamentally change the way you will view a few good size pieces of the Dragon Age world. In the end, “The Descent” managed to be a good reason to revisit Dragon Age Inquisition, but, ultimately, just didn’t quite land on all four feet.