While its other qualities may be less evenly distributed, I can say this about the new Dragon Age: Inquisition expansion The Descent: The title is accurate. You spend the whole thing going down, down, down.

Now, to be clear, we’re not talking about this kind of Descent:

We’re also not talking about this kind of Descent:

And we’re certainly not talking about this kind of Descent:

No, the descent in The Descent is more straightforward. There are mine shafts, ladders, and elevators. All of them lead down. At the story’s start, your Inquisitor receives a call for help from a dwarven city located above an entrance to the dangerous, monster-infested Deep Roads that twist and criss-cross beneath the whole of the Dragon Age realm. The dwarves say their city has been struck by massive, mysterious earthquakes. You choose your three favorite henchmen, make a vain attempt to reacquaint yourself with Inquisition’s convoluted control scheme, and dispatch to the area.

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Shortly after arriving you begin to work your way downward, cutting through the dangerous darkspawn who live in the Deep Roads. As you go, you discover some hidden side chambers occupied by bigger, more dangerous monsters; you assign operations at a mini-Inquisition table and open up new side areas to explore; and eventually, you go beyond the deep roads into the uncharted darkness, seeking out and identifying the mysterious source of the quakes.

It’s a good setup for a standalone side-story, and for a lot of its run, The Descent is well enough done. There’s quite a bit to explore, and the scenery is certainly more interesting than previous Deep Roads excursions from the first two Dragon Age games.

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There are a number of optional side tombs and chambers located off the beaten path. To open them up, you’ll have to find a variety of ancient gears, which have been left lying around in the most unlikely places. That means you’ll be constantly clicking the “search” button to highlight nearby objects, which is a goofy mechanic that I had almost completely forgotten about since I last played the game.

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The side rooms often contain monsters, and at least one had a little puzzle. The reward for clearing a room is usually some sort of new weapon, schematic, or armor, which didn’t do much for me, given that I haven’t played Inquisition in months and have no real interest in crafting and upgrading new gear for my heroes. Still, it’s nice that there are things to hunt for and find off the beaten path, and in addition to the monsters and loot, there are some fun (strange) easter eggs tucked away for hardcore fans of the series to discover.

The Descent took me five or six hours to play to completion, which includes taking the time to explore a lot of the early side areas and getting stopped cold by a couple of wild difficulty spikes. Two of the battles in The Descent—a grueling wave-based fight (with no checkpoints) midway through and a hilariously unbalanced and weird final boss—feature eye-watering leaps in difficulty. I bumped the difficulty down to its lowest setting midway through, and even then, I found myself unable to defeat the final boss with a team of four. Instead, I resorted to a cheesy solo strategy in which my mage would stand just out of the boss’s range, slowly pegging its weak spot with spells while chugging potions to stay alive.

Enemies in The Descent are tough, but I didn’t have all that much fun fighting them. Thanks to the closed-in nature of the caves, things often felt crowded, and I was repeatedly reminded what a headache it can be to manage your four-person team in up-close fights. Here’s a sample screenshot from a closed-in miniboss fight partway through the game:

The word “elegant” doesn’t come to mind. It’s plenty engaging—and the animations are as punchy and satisfying as ever—but once I knocked the difficulty setting down, I chewed through most enemies and didn’t really look back.

This DLC is not, unfortunately, a joyful reunion with your favorite party members. While you can bring whomever you choose and each character is given a few new lines, the tale is mostly told by two new characters—a pair of dwarves who accompany your team on their journey. They seem like nice enough people, but I’m never going to be as interested in the fate of some dwarf I just met as I am in hearing more casual banter from Varric, Dorian, Iron Bull and the rest. Varric made a few quips over the course of our journey, and once or twice Iron Bull would pipe up to agree or disagree with something one of the dwarves said, but that’s about as far as it went.

The story itself is framed as a mystery, so I’d be ruining things if I said too much. The gradual descent through the Deep Roads and beyond is appropriately compelling, and things get much more interesting the deeper you go. The big reveal at the end—what was causing those earthquakes?—has some interesting connotations for the overarching lore behind Dragon Age, though the denouement is rushed and haphazardly explained. What actually happened at the end there? I can’t really say. “I’m leaving with more questions than answers,” my Inquisitor said, just before she returned to the surface. You and me both, sister.

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If you’re a big Inquisition fan who wants to spend more time exploring and learning about the game’s world, I’d say sure, play The Descent. It has some cool moments, and while its quality is uneven, there’s more good than bad. If you’ve moved on to other games and can’t remember when you last thought about Thedas, Lyrium, Darkspawn, or the Grey Wardens, you can safely skip it.


To contact the author of this post, write to kirk@kotaku.com.