Returning to Dragon Age: Inquisition was never going to be an easy move to pull off. Having pumped nearly sixty hours into BioWare’s fantasy epic, there was little in Thedas I hadn’t already seen, conversed with, or killed. Of course, I knew that somewhere down the line we’d be seeing some form of downloadable content, no doubt unlocking new areas for the Inquisition to go galavanting. What I didn’t expect was a grand return to the The Deep Roads – a cavernous network of tunnels long abandoned by the dwarves.
Impeding my excitement for The Descent was the notion of reintegrating myself into this challenging and complex role-playing masterpiece, and as soon as I took control of the Inquisitor, it all came flooding back. The detailed battle plans. The rigorous equipment checks. The specially mapped control schemes. Everything.
This all amounted to an obstacle of my own making. Having meticulously played through the game on its hardest difficulty, I had spun a vast web of customisation. Now, more than half a year since my last adventure, the memories had faded, forcing me into The Descent without a familiar thread to guide me.
This all has little to do with the expansion itself, however. Following an urgent call from the Deep Roads, the Inquisition makes its way to an underground pass where they meet Shaper Valta and Commander Renn. These two new characters will accompany you into the Deep Roads, though neither are playable. They act more as guides, talking players through the occasional bit of lore, whether that be dwarven culture or the tunnels themselves. There’s also the Darkspawn, of course.
For those who don’t remember, they were the main threat in Dragon Age: Origins – corrupted monstrosities that occasionally find their way to the surface, killing all in their path. Although the Hero of Ferelden sent them packing years ago, they still linger in The Deep Roads. Tasked with culling their numbers is a host known as The Legion of the Dead, condemned dwarves who sole purpose is to die fighting back the hordes of darkness.
Renn is one such dwarf, voiced by the instantly recognisable David Hayter. Valta on the other hand is a Shaper, tasked with exploring The Deep Roads and reporting back to Orzammar. Together, they’re an interesting pair though aren’t on par with some of the series’ more memorable characters. In fact, the same thing can be said of the overall story that takes place during this downloadable adventure.
It revolves around a series of recent earthquakes, the source of which remains a mystery. Suspecting foul play, the Inquisition agrees on sending its finest recruits to get to the bottom of it, quite literally, but the story only really picks up towards the very end with one climactic revelation. Any sense of surprise or intrigue is soon extinguished, with players leaving The Deep Roads with more questions than answers.
It’s definitely a bummer, though this has more to do with the way post-launch DLC tries to cater for everyone. By necessity it’s accessible to both returning players and those currently wading through the main story, and so The Descent is a self-contained slab of content never (or rarely) mentioned elsewhere in-game.
Instead of giving you one huge, expansive area to roam around in, The Deep Roads is basically a larger scale dungeon, split into several smaller environments. Minus the occasional landmark, they all share similar geographical features with huge drops, ancient pathways, and plenty of rock formations. Compared to other regions of Thedas, it’s nowhere near as breath-taking or easy to traverse. The dungeon-like structure also means that players will need to walk the entire way with just a handful of fast travel points. This becomes particularly frustrating when scouring The Deep Roads for secondary objectives, many of which have the playing retracing their steps to a series of locations.
Sadly, The Descent’s pack of new enemies do little to spice things up. Aside from being impervious to nearly all magic status effects, they behave like common archetypes. Genlocks are tanky and soak up damage while Shrieks stalk target from behind and Bolters keep their distance. Still, they’re a tough bunch, no matter what difficulty you’re playing on, coming in fast and furious towards the end of the story arc.
Overall The Descent is a decent expansion, yet it never feels essential. As much as I enjoyed tapping into Dwarven lore and uncovering a few of its secrets, I couldn’t recommend the DLC to anyone but hardcore Dragon Age fans. Aside from the pedestrian combat encounters, there’s the uneven story as well as the price tag to consider. For over a tenner, many will no doubt expect more than two to three hours of content, hoping The Deep Roads to be on par with the game’s sublime array of open environments.