Tag Archive: dlc

BioWare are by far one of my favourite developers of the past decade; their track record of great RPGs is untarnished, and I can’t help but feel excited whenever I hear they’re releasing a new IP or a sequel. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect 1 & 2, Neverwinter Nights; all gold. Whilst I tend to appreciate the more sci-fi offerings from them, I tend to shy away a little more when they venture into the realm of fantasy, such as with Neverwinter Nights and the more recent Dragon Age Origins; this is simply because the genre has never appealed to me as a whole, whether it’s in literature or film, but since it’s BioWare, I cast doubt aside and took the plunge, and they did not disappoint.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, Dragon Age: Origins was released all the way back in November 2009, when Barack Obama was still president of the United States, the Twilight series was catching the attention of millions of teenage girls interested in destructive relationships, and global warming threatened to destroy the world. Of course now, Wesley Snipes is president, the cast and creators of Twilight were destroyed in the great sensible people uprising in January ’10, and global warming turned out to be an ill-timed April fool’s joke by Al Gore. Dragon Age: Origins followed the last two Grey Wardens in the land of Ferelden, an order dedicated to the eradication of the imaginitively named Darkspawn, led by the Archdemon; a colossal dragon creature brought to life with the soul of an old god.

Now first let me say, I loved Dragon Age: Origins, the story and characters were both incredibly well crafted, and the world they inhabited was lovingly crafted with a rich heritage behind it. Combat and character development was very well-balanced and fun, it looked fantastic and the score was suitably epic. Every member of your party had a great personality and interacted wonderfully with one another, and in time you grew an affinity with them. The game lasted me a good 90-hours, and in that time I managed to do nearly everything, and when I reached that all too familiar point in a BioWare game where I realise the end is nigh, I didn’t want it to end, but luckily there was so much unfinished I could delay the inevitable (and to me, that’s the sign of a great game).

On a side note; Velanna's a bitch.

Now before DLC was commonplace, developers released expansion packs to increase or revive a past title. Dragon Age has had three DLC quests since release (two of which were on the day of release, and one even gave you another party member, and that was the free one!), whilst these were great in their own right, they were ultimately incredibly short, lasting about an hour or so, and sometimes had some very underwhelming rewards (I’m looking at you, Return to Ostagar. King Maric’s blade sucked!), but Awakenings is an old-school expansion pack, in the truest sense of the word.

Awakenings takes place after the defeat of the Archdemon, and your character from the first game is now the commander of the Grey Wardens (or, you can start a new character who’s from Orlais, but your decisions from the Origins doesn’t translate into Awakenings). Commonly, after the defeat of an Archdemon, the Darkspawn retreat into hiding, usually for over a century, but Darkspawn attacks occur on villages, which brings the Wardens to question whether the threat has gone.

With Awakenings, your original cast of characters do not join you this time around (apart from Oghren, the loveable drunken warrior Dwarf). You come across four new characters, each with their own past and personalities (although it could be said Anders is basically the mage version of Alistair, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as he was a great character). At first you feel a little postpartum being surrounded by the new characters, but once you get to know them, the old group are soon forgotten. The level cap in Awakenings has been risen from 25 to 35, and a huge amount of new abilities have been added, along with two new specializations for each class. These new options were very welcome, and well thought out. My first playthrough was as a Mage, and I found the new abilities to be very useful, especially when combined with my original specialization of Arcane Warrior (which is basically a mage who can hold a sword and wear armour), by the time I reached the final boss, it felt like my party was unstoppable, and with BioWare’s level based challenge curve, it made combat very fun and varied.

Of course, being an expansion, the graphics remain the same as Origins, which were great to begin with. The environments share the same textures and colour palettes as Origins too, but are nicely varied; the City of Amarantine is reminiscent of Denerim in the first game, and the Blackmarsh has a nice creepy, supernatural feel to it. You do run into some old enemies, of course the Darkspawn still remain, but you encounter some more vicious variations, including an Armored Ogre, which honestly nearly made me crap my pants, remembering my first encounter with an ogre in Origins.

This isn't an enemy really, it's what a static shock from a shopping cart looks like when seen through a microscope.

The story as expected expands upon the tale from Origins, making the land of Ferelden a more colourful and interesting place. It gives you the feeling that you’re actually ‘revisiting’ the game since you already have knowledge of the history of the land. The expansion lasted me a good 25 hours, which if you think about it, for an expansion that’s impressive; most full retail games don’t even last that long, and if you’ve read my previous features, you’ll know I like a good lengthy game.

The expansion isn’t perfect though. As I said, there’s very little new in terms of presentation, like in two of the areas you visit in side quests, they’re marked as different areas, but they’re the exact same map, which to me seems just lazy. There are a couple of issues with sound, like mis-loading voice tracks, and some skipping in the music, which normally wouldn’t bother me, but when you’re pulled into this whole world where atmosphere is so important, it can somewhat detract from the experience. Also, there are a couple of broken quests, which for a completist like me really irked me, and a couple of other bugs (which I won’t say, as they’re plot related and I don’t want to spoil it).

Overall though, it’s great to see BioWare so dedicated to the Dragon Age franchise. It was my favourite game of last year, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store next. It’s also really cool to see a classic expansion pack being released, as opposed to heaps of hour-long DLC packages, which don’t really contribute to the story. BioWare are really dedicated to their gamers, and Awakenings is a great example of their continuing efforts.

Rating: 85/100


DLC for you, not me

One of the great things about the current generation of games consoles is how well they’ve integrated with online features; the Xbox 360, PS3 and (to a certain extent) Wii all have their own marketplace where one can download anything from video clips to demos to full games, all of which are great perks. Personally I love being able to download demos for absolutely free. I haven’t bought a games magazine in ages because of that very fact.

One of the most popular uses the marketplaces have for both users and developers is downloadable content (DLC), which often comes in the form of additional levels, challenges, new modes, expansion packs, multiplayer maps, etc. Since the release of the current generation of consoles dozens of DLC have been released allowing gamers to expand upon their playing experience, meaning that their games don’t simply gather dust months after completion and breathe life into a product that was otherwise finished.

Halo 3: popular for its abundance of multiplayer map downloads

Halo 3: popular for its abundance of multiplayer map downloads

Before I go on any further, allow me to say that I like DLC, that the concept behind it is excellent and a true signifier that gaming has evolved from its quaint beginnings. I myself have downloaded various DLC; one of my favourite games this year Fallout 3 has had five expansions released for it and I downloaded every one of them. Whilst admittedly they weren’t all brilliant, it gave me the opportunity to re-live the sensation of playing a game which I knew I liked, but without having to repeat the process again (if you’ve been reading my previous posts you’ll know I don’t particularly care for ‘moral choice’ games). I got them, finished them, got new items, weapons, armour, got the level cap removed and thoroughly enjoyed the fact that the Broken Steel add on actually gave you a prologue to the original ending.

The apocalypse has never been so much fun!

The apocalypse has never been so much fun!

Upon finishing the final add-on pack Mothership Zeta, I took a moment and thought to myself “I’ve pretty much spent around £80 on one game” and whilst it was a worthy experience and one which took over a hundred hours of my life (believe it or not I have a job as well…) it made me think how much money other people will have spent on one game for downloadable content.

Two particular games come to mind when you think of DLC; Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. I have played both these games and rarely went anywhere beyond the single-player experience, so perhaps I’m a little unjustified in saying that I wasn’t very impressed by either of these games, and though I am aware that some gamers would be willing to bludgeon me to death with collectible Master Chief helmets for saying such a thing, I found Halo 3 to be an underwhelming and short lived experience, and CoD4 to be no more than a carbon copy of its World War 2 based predecessors, albeit with shinier guns.

Basically what I’m trying to say is, I’m not a huge online gamer, and even if I was there are far superior online games that have been and are still out there, such as the Battlefield series, CounterStrike and Team Fortress 2. One major leg up these games have over Halo 3 and CoD4 is that they never charged for additional maps, and that factor alone leads me to believe that game developers may be taking advantage of their fans.

Eight quid for two multiplayer maps... no clever caption here, that's just mental.

Eight quid for two multiplayer maps... no clever caption here, that's just mental.

What I’m trying to get at here, is what about us gamers who want to add life to our games but don’t play multiplayer. To me, the multiplayer side of a first-person shooter has always felt like an additional part to the game, unless it’s a game like the aforementioned Battlefield where the experience has been designed for multiplayer. A lot of people upon purchasing Call of Duty 4 will have probably ignored the single-player side for the first few months and maybe tried them after failing to find any functional servers, but I got it to play a game where I could get involved in a crafted experience, one that would unfold with progression and require skills and reactions to develop. I don’t really find the multiplayer experience of CoD4 rewarding, rather frustrating; I don’t think getting constantly killed and having 14 year old American boys with barely broken voices shouting through my TV speakers constitutes as a gaming experience, more like an excercise in tolerance.

First person shooters aren’t the only guilty parties in the great DLC rip-off experience; Grand Theft Auto IV charged gamers £20 for their recent add-on pack ‘The Lost and the Damned’ and will be charging a further £20 upon the release of ‘The Ballad of Big Gay Tony’ in October. Street Fighter IV charged gamers an additional £2.39 PER costume pack, this meant that you wouldn’t get a one-off charge for unlocking all the costumes, just SOME of them. Not only that, but that fact that these downloads were no more than a few Kilobytes suggests that the content was already in the game, therefore you’re paying for something that’s already there (remember the days when you played a fighting game and actually completing it opened new costumes? How about that Capcom you f*cking thieves?). Little Big Planet for the PS3 is also guilty of such a crime, whilst there are a few (emphasis on the ‘few’) free costumes out there for you to download for the lovable-but-thank-god-you-can’t-smell-him Sackboy, the majority of them will cost you £1.39, and there are a lot of costumes for him now. These are COSTUMES, they don’t expand the gameplay experience, they don’t add to anything or open up new features, so why charge?

He's so sweet he'd give you the shirt off his back... mainly because you paid for it.

He's so sweet he'd give you the shirt off his back... mainly because you paid for it.

Don’t we get ripped off enough in this society as it is? I mean we pay so much in taxes, in insurance, in utilities, you even have to pay to park your car, yes, you pay money just so your car can BE somewhere, and it may or may not be stolen. In some places you even have to pay to take a PISS! Why should video games be the same? They’re one of the last great refuges in the world and it’s slowly being overcome by useless frivolities and additional costs which come from nowhere and can’t be justified.

I’m not so naive as to say that additional content doesn’t require extra money or manpower to create, but when PC gaming still had some relevance, developers released patches, maps and additional content for free, so why not now?

As a side note, I’d like to give Microsoft a big ‘F*ck you’, since I repaired my own Xbox 360 after it got the Red Ring of Death. If you think I’m gonna pay £78 to repair something that’s a couple of weeks out of warranty from its previous repair, then you can kiss my balls.