Downloadable content is a contentious issue. That we all know. Seen as many as an easy way for developers to get some extra cash out of us, the willing gamers, in exchange for more slices of a game that should have been part of the original recipe to begin with. For others, getting to play a whole new section of their favourite game months after release is in reality a small treat!
DLC ranges wildly from huge 20-hour+ quests on a whole new island, to new weapons and even (somewhat infamously) armour for your horse. I recently indulged in two portions of DLC, both similar in length yet wildly different in execution. The two games in question are Dragon Age: Inquisition and Shovel Knight, two massively popular games from 2014, with differing approaches to their extra content.
First up was Dragon Age’s effort, their final piece of DLC for this outing titled ‘Trespasser’.
Bioware, the creators, released three main DLC packages for the third installment of their fantasy RPG adventure, along with some extra free bits and bobs. The ‘Mass Effect’ developers have a decent reputation for DLC, with ‘Lair of the Shadow Broker’ for Mass Effect 2 one of my personal favourites from any game. Of course, there are many doubters out there due to the sheer amount of extras we have had to pay for, from all of their main titles.
This package was entitled Trespasser, following The Descent and originally Jaws of Hakkon. In Britain these would strip the player of £12 for each episode, therefore £36 altogether (Note: a Game of the Year edition has just been announced including all three, and a bunch of pre-order extras, to be released October 6th. Presumably for the normal new-game price). For the die-hards buying each part separately at each release, they would be looking at around £80, assuming the main game was around £40-£45. Herein lies the main problem with DLC, but more on that later. As an aside, I skipped ‘The Descent’ only.
As for Trespasser itself, it is set after the events of the main game therefore it’s tough to explain too much of the goings-on. The lore behind Dragon Age is vast to say the least, enough to fill many novels. The three games, plus DLC, each clock around 100 hours. My final count for DA:I was just over 150 hours! A basic run-down of ‘Inquisition’ is that the main protagonist, whose race/gender/abilities are of the player’s choice, is chosen to bear the ‘Mark of Andraste’ (Andraste being the ‘God’ of Thedas, which is the world of Dragon Age). There is a tear in the sky, named the ‘Breach’ which needs to be closed in order for the world to be saved, and an evil demon is in control of it and wants to create destruction and havoc etc etc. You, the player, known as ‘The Herald of Andraste’, or simply ‘The Inquisitor’, are tasked to bring together a group of merry men and women (called, wait for it,the Inquistion!) to stop it.
Still with me? Well done! I am massively simplifying the story but that is the gist of the main game. Suffice to say, you win. However one of your party members mysteriously goes his own way before the finale, leaving the door open for DLC. We had yet to see him in the previous missions until now. This may seem like a spoiler, but the trailers for Trespasser gave his return away in any case, which took away the surprise. However being the final piece of the DA:I puzzle, it was quite obvious anyway.
Trespasser takes place two years later. With the threat from the Breach long gone, a council is summoned to decide the fate of the Inquisition. At this council a Qunari soldier is found dead (Qunari, pronounced ‘Koo-nar-ee’, is a large, fantastically horned race of Thedas) so the Inquisitor decides to leave the council meeting to investigate. The best thing for me and most others about Dragon Age, and Bioware games in general, is the interaction and camaraderie of the team members and how your choices affect each one individually. They are all back with you in this swansong, and it’s interesting to see how your choices affect this story by your conversations with each. More choices are made within this DLC too, creating a lovely ending sequence showing everybody’s (mostly positive) fate.
There’s plenty of fighting and talking as you’d expect, as well as some decent unique loot (but not an abundance. This is the finale after all). As always, despite the council’s arrangement, it is you who decides the outcome of the Inquistion after the fighting and your story is complete. Dragon Age Inquisition is definitely over, Dragon Age the series however, most definitely not. A fun, rewarding end to a slog of a game that requires many hours to see through. Is it worth it though? For me, yes. This was my game of 2014 after all.
Next I moved swiftly on to Shovel Knight’s brand new DLC, called ‘The Plague of Shadows’. I reviewed Shovel Knight not too long ago, so my opinions can be read for yourself. In short: I liked it! I don’t tend to play DLC for games I don’t like.
The main difference between the two DLC’s however is the price. The Plague of Shadows is absolutely free.
Backed by a Kickstarter fund, like Shovel Knight was originally, so technically not completely free for everyone if I’m pedantic, POS takes you through all the levels of the original game again only this time with Plague Knight, one of the original bad guys and a member of the Order of No Quarter. The story in short is he wants to create the Ultimate Potion, and basically rule the world. In order to do so he requires the essence of all the other enemies from this whimsical world.
Playing as a bad guy is a nice twist, and as the story progresses you become much more attached to the masked villain for reasons I won’t go in to. Shovel Knight’s story was one of love, and let’s just say Plague Knight’s story is surprisingly not too different from that of his nemesis.
At first, playing through exactly the same levels again, with the same bosses seemed a bit, dare I say, repetitive. I even took to social media to voice my concerns. After another hour or so, I massively regretted that premature opinion. Plague Knight not only looks different, he fights different, he moves different, and his dialogue and actions with the other characters is much more diverse, and actually funnier than Shovel Knight.
As opposed to Shovel’s melee style of combat with his signature weapon, Plague relies on ranged combat, with a vast array of bombs at his disposal. There is a multitude of options available to unlock, with various throwing, explosive and tracking styles to mix and match, as well as his ‘power weapons’.
Shovel Knight’s movement was much slicker and, in hindsight, easier to use. He could jump further, use his down-attack constantly and take enemies out that were right next to him. Plague Knight however has a much more limited jump, and no wall-climbing abilities to speak of. In his favour however is the ‘burst jump’, used by holding down the attack button, which supplies a massive jump that can damage enemies as well. At first, the transition is a tough one, with Plague Knight appearing incredibly sluggish and frustrating to master. Over time, as with many games, you become accustomed to it and by the end you are taking out bosses at a whim (well, not really. This is still as painfully difficult as the original).
The story, I believe, takes place just before Shovel Knight’s. At times the two will cross paths, for fantastic fan service. Technically you must complete Shovel Knight to unlock the DLC, however Yacht Club Games have let slip a Konami-style unlock code to punch in on the main menu if you prefer.
My opinion by the end had changed so drastically, that I now believe this DLC ranks up there among the greats. Despite using the same level design, it is a completely different game, and takes as long to complete as the original game. On top of this we are also rewarded with a Challenge Mode for those who are glutton for punishment. This sets the benchmark for future indie DLC, and even competes with the AAA games in terms of execution. Plague of Shadows is, after all, completely free.
To compare the two is unfair, but I’ll do it anyway on only the meaningful aspects (graphics for example is a pointless issue to discuss).
Length: Practically the same. Around the 10-hour mark. A good size for any DLC.
Price: Obviously it’s no contest, but to seriously suggest Bioware could make this available for free would be foolish. The production values pumped into Trespasser are far superior to Plague of Shadows, with the animators and designers creating whole new areas, as well as the voice actors needing to be looked after (a very topical issue right now!). £12 is probably still a bit steep though, considering they don’t really market it very well, and considering how much has already been paid up until this point.
Enjoyment: Personally, about the same. Two very different games, with very different audiences. Trespasser is more about the conclusion of ‘your story’, a big-budget RPG finale with lovely graphics and plenty of action. Plague of Shadows is a fun-filled nostalgic platformer for all ages that can be played at any time and is designed for the pure enjoyment of the player. If I had to pick the one I enjoyed more based purely on the content, it would have to be Trespasser purely because of its scale and polish.
Overall: If I was to recommend one to someone who has the original of both, I would probably opt for Plague of Shadows, swayed mainly by the price. If you love DA:I, which not everyone did, I would say Trespasser. I’m yet to meet anyone who has played Shovel Knight and not enjoyed it.
Back to the issue of Downloadable Content as a whole to wrap up. The emergence of Destiny and it’s extra package ‘The Taken King’ upsets me. I’m not a fan of Destiny anyway, and the amount of money required to play all it has to offer is obscene. Due to the popularity and sheer scale of Bungie’s intergalactic FPS, the way it goes about its business blankets over many other games. For example, now when the ‘average gamer’ (a term I don’t like but I’ll use it in this instance) thinks of DLC, their mind will direct straight to Destiny, or COD or other over-priced add-ons. This gives the idea of DLC an unfair summation. Shovel Knight along with many other games, even the top-end ones like the Fallout and Witcher series, show that it can be done effectively. There is a place for DLC in games, with replayability and longevity a tough nut to crack with developers considering their competition nowadays.
Any excuse to go back in to the worlds we love has to be a good thing, just as long as we don’t have to empty our wallets for it, again.