Battle of Forli & Return to Ostagar

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.

Comments

Certis wrote:

I'm just glad to have a reason to revisit games I'd likely never have played again otherwise.

Funny - without context, one could almost assume this statment was not about DLC, but achievements!

Certis wrote:

I find it kind of sad that in general, DLC without achievements is a disincentive for some people. They're a meaningless number that does absolutely nothing. Who cares if you're not getting a pat on the back for passing the tutorial?

Certis, you dastardly curmudgeon! Just because points can't be redeemed for anything doesn't make them meaningless.

Count Elmdor wrote:

Achievements are a game unto themselves, and to question them is to question the very nature of play.

I love this sentence.

I'm speaking less about achievements in general and more about the lack of a few points on some small bit of DLC rendering it not worth buying. Is the 50 points worth more than the two hour playing experience? Is it REALLY the difference between buy/not buy? If so, I remain flummoxed.

MrDeVil909 wrote:
hubbinsd wrote:

I think Bioware needs to beef up these DLC to be more in-line with the vale of rest of the game. I try not to think of the DLC in coldly economic terms, but I found the Warden's Keep content to be a poor value compared to the core DA:O game. It was much less substantial than I expected - and at $7 for 1.5 hours of gameplay vs. $50 for the other 75 hours, it just didn't feel like money well spent. I'm not complaining, because obviously there is more than enough gameplay there, but I find myself less enthusiastic about the DLC.

We discussed it a bit in the main game thread. I think the problem with that idea is that the main game is actually a ridiculous amount of value in dollar per hour terms.

Dragon Age $50/80 hours=$0.625 (my personal play time after finishing)

Warden's Keep $7/1.5 hours=$4.67

Most other AAA single player games $50/8 hours=$6.25 (most times you are lucky to get that amount of play)

Why do people think of DLC in absolute economic terms? If I were to think that way I would NEVER buy a DVD box set. Babylon 5 and Boston Legal are my 2 favourite TV shows of all time. I watched both on free-to-air and still bought the box sets when released. Why didn't I just record them on VHS? Better yet join the ever-growing throng of people who DL stuff from torrent sites? It is a simple answer, I valued them at $AU 30-60/season. Mathematics and economics do not figure in this.

To date I have purchased a variety of DLC including:
Dragon Age - Return to Ostagar
Fallout 3 - Operation: Anchorage / The Pitt / Broken Steel / Point Lookout / Mothership Zeta
Mass Effect - Bring Down the Sky / Pinnacle Station
Borderlands - Zombie Island / Madd Moxxie
--> Maybe others I can't remember.

Were they all of equal "value"? No way.
Do I regret buying any? No way.
Would I advise against buying some? Absolutely.

I choose to try these DLC's because I generally love the games they are for and wish to continue my experience within these "digital worlds".

If the asking price is beyond what you think it is worth then for heavens sake, speak with your wallet and don't buy it. That kind of behavoir will provide better feedback to the developer / publisher than simply complaining about it on their forums.

The $5 coffee is the single most valid point regarding DLC.

Certis wrote:

I'm speaking less about achievements in general and more about the lack of a few points on some small bit of DLC rendering it not worth buying. Is the 50 points worth more than the two hour playing experience? Is it REALLY the difference between buy/not buy? If so, I remain flummoxed.

It's not really a straightforward dichotomy.

I can't speak for every cheevbag, but I chose to pass on the DLC because it wasn't especially well reviewed, because I just finished ACII the other week and don't really want to get back into it right now, because I know this DLC will be on sale some point down the road, and because they could've spent a day or two putting achievements in but didn't for some reason.

Just one of a number of factors, but a factor nonetheless. And if these reasons seem ridiculous, you should see some of the hoops people jump through to convince themselves they don't need to buy another $2 game in a Steam sale.

Clemenstation wrote:
Certis wrote:

I'm speaking less about achievements in general and more about the lack of a few points on some small bit of DLC rendering it not worth buying. Is the 50 points worth more than the two hour playing experience? Is it REALLY the difference between buy/not buy? If so, I remain flummoxed.

It's not really a straightforward dichotomy.

I can't speak for every cheevbag, but I chose to pass on the DLC because it wasn't especially well reviewed, because I just finished ACII the other week and don't really want to get back into it right now, because I know this DLC will be on sale some point down the road, and because they could've spent a day or two putting achievements in but didn't for some reason.

Just one of a number of factors, but a factor nonetheless. And if these reasons seem ridiculous, you should see some of the hoops people jump through to convince themselves they don't need to buy another $2 game in a Steam sale. :)

This sums up my feelings about it as well. I liked the game enough that I would play the DLC, even if it was a bit lackluster, just for a few extra achievement points. Without them, I am not sold on the content.

Certis wrote:

I'm speaking less about achievements in general and more about the lack of a few points on some small bit of DLC rendering it not worth buying. Is the 50 points worth more than the two hour playing experience? Is it REALLY the difference between buy/not buy? If so, I remain flummoxed.

What, you see a problem with paying real money for imaginary, useless points?

I think even the most hardcore achievement hunters would agree it's all pretty silly and should only influence your buying habits if you're this guy.

If I'm wrong, though - and lots of people do consistently purchase DLC they wouldn't ordinarily buy just for the points/trophies - what a massive coup for the business model.

Oh Certis. Playing games for fun is so last gen.

Crazy Clem wrote:

just one of a number of factors, but a factor nonetheless. And if these reasons seem ridiculous, you should see some of the hoops people jump through to convince themselves they don't need to buy another $2 game in a Steam sale.

Those reasons are certainly not ridiculous, I'm just saying there's been a few (half-joking) nods to not buying Battle of Forli here and elsewhere on the Internet solely because it lacks those 50 extra points to justify the $3.99 cost. I'm assuming that opinion would be the outlier, but now I'm not so sure. You people are crazy.

Which leads me to wonder - why not put in achievement points for it? I'd imagine that the cost of putting them in would be negligible, and so even a microscopic increase in sales (say from a few people who are currently on the fence) would still be worth it.

Return to Ostagar was fun, albeit a bit short. It struck me that it would have best fit into the game some time after gathering your first ally, but of course as DLC there's no controlling when exactly a player will encounter it.

Unlike Warden's Keep, it has a connection to the main plot, which makes me think it loses something by being DLC. I'm OK with standalone DLC adventures that exist in their own neat compartments, but this is something that feels like it belongs in the main game to me.

Spoiler:

And yes, Alistair does whine about wanting something from Duncan, even when holding his sword and having received the joining chalice as a gift. What a prick.

Doesn't Microsoft have a policy about how many points can be assigned to a game in total after the initial 1000?

Certis wrote:

Doesn't Microsoft have a policy about how many points can be assigned to a game in total after the initial 1000?

I think it was 250 per DLC.

Certis wrote:

Doesn't Microsoft have a policy about how many points can be assigned to a game in total after the initial 1000?

It used to be a max of 1250 per game, but Halo 3 blew that out of the water, so I think they loosened up the strings a bit. Fallout 3 has like 1500 achievement points with the DLC.

Edit: Link

Apparently, this stuff is complicated.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

For Dragon Age, have a short story where you play Leliana in Orlais, Zevran as a member of the crows, or Sten coming to Ferelden. Have them as a mid-level character and have short adventures in their shoes.

Wuppie wrote:

Why do people think of DLC in absolute economic terms? If I were to think that way I would NEVER buy a DVD box set... I choose to try these DLC's because I generally love the games they are for and wish to continue my experience within these "digital worlds".

I would tie these two comments together: I'm feeling the same about DLC as about games generally, now -- which is that I don't want to pay for hours of gameplay but rather for quality of experience.

A lot of people are now talking about how video games have somehow morphed into a shadow work world -- for whatever cog-psych reasons some of us derive pleasure from grinding. That's just not my personal cup of tea.

DLC assumes that I actually care about game object acquisition. While in-game I do become obsessive about collecting the shiniest sword, I actually hate myself for doing it later. I would actually pay money not to be forced into OCD mode.

And from a business standpoint, DLC that turns on selling objects rather than experiences just doesn't seem attractive for people who've finished the game.

By contrast, MrDeVil909's proposal would bring me back in - all the more so if I don't port back and forth all my stuff. A self-contained storyline that relates to the main game's plot and character strikes me as a winner -- and if it doesn't sell, it'll probably be because the story just isn't strong enough to carry it (and therefore in my book, the game doesn't deserve a DLC expansion).

El-Producto wrote:

I bought DA used, and want to get the Shale DLC, but they want 15 bucks for it! 5$ I can stomach, but 15 for an NPC is crazy.

To be clear, Shale is a PC (ie he can go into your party). In the DLC you get Shale who is as much a character as any other you can recruit (far more so than Zaeed in ME2). You also get about 1.5 hours worth of quest time to recruit Shale and about an hour to 1.5 hours worth of quest time later on in the game (though that only shows up if you bring Shale to a specific boss battle). I think the basic idea was $3.50 for the first quest, $8 for Shale and $3.50 for the second (very missable) quest.

Yaz wrote:
El-Producto wrote:

I bought DA used, and want to get the Shale DLC, but they want 15 bucks for it! 5$ I can stomach, but 15 for an NPC is crazy.

To be clear, Shale is a PC (ie he can go into your party). In the DLC you get Shale who is as much a character as any other you can recruit (far more so than Zaeed in ME2). You also get about 1.5 hours worth of quest time to recruit Shale and about an hour to 1.5 hours worth of quest time later on in the game (though that only shows up if you bring Shale to a specific boss battle). I think the basic idea was $3.50 for the first quest, $8 for Shale and $3.50 for the second (very missable) quest.

I tend to define "PC" as the one protagonist, not party-members. But that may not really be a worthwhile debate.

What I wanted to say is that Shale is awesome--perhaps my favorite party member.

wordsmythe wrote:

I tend to define "PC" as the one protagonist, not party-members. But that may not really be a worthwhile debate.

What I wanted to say is that Shale is awesome--perhaps my favorite party member.

Yes.

I love Shale; "it" has one of the most fleshed out and interesting back stories of any party member. Sadly, Shale's combat abilities lag a bit at later levels in nightmare, but I take "it" with me anyway because I like the character.

One other note; the Stone Prisoner "DLC" does include more than just Shale. There are at least two new areas unlocked, which is more than you get from "Return" or "Warden's Keep." In theory I dislike the anti-used-games "0 day DLC" concept, but since I play on the PC (and, moreover, on Steam) it's not like I even have property that can be resold to begin with.

gore wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

I tend to define "PC" as the one protagonist, not party-members. But that may not really be a worthwhile debate.

What I wanted to say is that Shale is awesome--perhaps my favorite party member.

Yes.

I love Shale; "it" has one of the most fleshed out and interesting back stories of any party member. Sadly, Shale's combat abilities lag a bit at later levels in nightmare, but I take "it" with me anyway because I like the character.

My party's around level 16 and Shale's still a regular in my party for damage dealing, damage soak and emergency ranged rock-hurling.

wordsmythe wrote:

My party's around level 16 and Shale's still a regular in my party for damage dealing, damage soak and emergency ranged rock-hurling.

I don't mean to say that Shale is bad, just that "it" doesn't quite keep up with other characters in some respects. The most obvious way to allocate points to Shale trades excelling at any particular aspect for versatility, which (depending on your play style and the rest of your party composition) may well be a worthy exchange.

There is a slight design flaw in Shale that only manifests late in the game. Unlike every other party member except Barkspawn, Shale does not have any exceptional items or armor beyond the final "tier" of crystals. Shale is pretty much at peak power right after "it" acquires "Brilliant" Crystals in the late teens, whereas other party members will continue to improve through better Tier 7 armor/weapon variants up until the end.

Another thing that keeps Shale back is that improved armor requires large investments in CON, unlike with other classes who only require STR for both weapons and armor. One thing I haven't tried with Shale is investing solely in STR, ignoring CON and the higher armor tiers completely; I imagine "it" would become quite an impressive damage dealer without all the wasted CON points.

I've been dumping about one point in Shale's CON for every two in STR. My PC is the party's main tank, though.