Last week saw the release of the first substantial bits of downloadable content for two of my favorite games in 2009: Assassin’s Creed 2 and Dragon Age. Both are dipping their toes into the shark infested waters -- shoehorning new chapters into a book that’s already been finished. Public opinion has generally been pretty positive when it comes to multiplayer addons like map packs for Gears of War 2 or new cars for the Forza series, but try to insert a little more story into a single player game and the water starts to get a bit choppy. The arguments are generally that the game wasn’t finished when it shipped or even worse, finished content was held back to get a little more scratch on the back end of the deal. Since these are two of the best games of the year and both represent a substantial amount of play time right out of the box, they’ve earned their due.
I’d be a hypocrite to complain about spending five bucks on a couple hours of content as I sip my five dollar latte, so let’s have a look at whether or not these two downloads are worth your time.
Assassin’s Creed 2: Sequence 12: Battle of Forli $3.99 (360, PS3)
Caterina Sforza of Forli makes a triumphant return after being woefully underutilized in the main game. Like most of the women in the series, Caterina is no shrinking violet, mocking her enemies with her dress hiked up around her ears from the castle walls with reckless abandon. After reading her bio in the full game I was glad to see she’s as much of a spitfire as her history suggests – she ends up making what would otherwise be a two hour helping of standard gameplay worth revisiting.
There’s a good mix of chases, escorts, assassinations and outright brawls to play through in Forli. One area they stepped up on was the amount of enemies coming at you at any given moment. I don’t remember most of the scrums in the main game being so large, which really just means you have more freedom to play angel of death and pick your enemies off one at a time. While not essential, you also get more opportunity to use your wrist gun -- something I rarely did before.
I was glad for the opportunity to revisit Forli and immerse myself in the world again for a while. New story, voice acting and a couple gameplay wrinkles made this a worthwhile experience.
Dragon Age: Return to Ostagar $4.99 (360, PC)
With Alistair, Wynn and Morrigan by my side, I made a return trip to Ostagar. As expected, the darkspawn have taken the former human stronghold and made it their own with the usual assortment of burned things, arbitrary barricades and unburied bodies. Alistair and Wynn have plenty to say as you pick through the rubble for King Cailan’s armor and whatever else may be lying on the snow covered ground, but it was all a bit jarring considering I’d finished the game already and this DLC assumes the final battle hasn’t happened yet.
One of the common problems with new content being wedged into an already finished game is that your characters are often at the peak of their abilities. Ostagar is no exception; the whole area is a cake walk for the veteran player. What you ultimately get from the experience is a new set of armor, some swords, a few cutscenes and some new dialog. The final fight also brings something new to the table that I won’t spoil, but whether or not it’s worth $4.99 depends more on your affinity for the Dragon Age lore than the combat encounters. It was nice having some closure on elements of the story that were left hanging in the main game, but it also felt a bit like a cold turkey sandwich long after the feast was over. On the other hand, if you’re still working on finishing Dragon Age, this new content will slot in quite nicely.
I’ll be looking forward to the Dragon Age: Awakening expansion which takes place after the main story is finished; I’m not so sure I want to see anymore DLC that takes place before the final battle. Assassin’s Creed 2 handles this new chapter idea better because it’s couched in a context that supports the idea that old memories can be unscrambled and made available for Desmond to experience. Dragon Age asks the player to pretend certain things didn’t happen yet and it just doesn’t work quite as well.
Now that both games have had their kick at the can, I'm left feeling cautiously optimistic about the future of single player downloadable content. In this case, both companies seem to understand that you can't launch new DLC without a solid, content rich foundation to work from. I'm just glad to have a reason to revisit games I'd likely never have played again otherwise. Beats having a two year dry spell while I wait for a sequel.