Sunday, September 7, 2014

Dragon Age 2: Mark of the Assassin review

    Felicia Day is one of my five geek crushes along with Grey Delisle, Gates MacFadden, Claudia Black, and Jennifer Hale. I've loved her characters since Doctor Horrible's Musical Sing-A-Long-Blog and enjoyed her character in Supernatural. I mean to get around to watching her World of Warcraft-inspired webseries or her channel but I haven't had time for that.

    One thing to say about Felicia Day is she's a polarizing figure in geek fandom. Supernatural fans, for example, have a very vocal segment of their fandom who positively loathe the character of Charlie (LARPing lesbian geek hacker). Likewise, there's a segment of the Dragon Age fandom which strongly dislikes her due to her prominent role in both the Dragon Age: Redemption web series and this piece of DLC.

    You may wonder why I'm starting my review talking about Felicia Day versus the DLC itself but it's impossible to separate the actress, her Dragon Age avatar (Tallis), and the adventure. If you like Felicia Day's characters, you will like this DLC since Tallis acts much like the actress' public persona.

You can tell a lot of attention went into capturing Felicia Day's likeness.
    If this sort of thing sounds like it will break your suspension of disbelief, then consider yourself warned. I happen to like Felicia Day, love Tallis, and really enjoyed Mark of the Assassin but it's not difficult for me to see where detractors are coming from. One can enjoy a piece of art while recognizing its flaws and I think Bioware should have seen the controversies regarding this work coming.

    The premise is Hawke, protagonist of Dragon Age 2, is contacted by the Qunari assassin Tallis. Tallis wants Hawke's help in recovering a rare and valuable relic being kept at a Orlesian Duke's palace. This is a cover for Talli's true mission on behalf of the Qunari. There's a lot of intrigue, double-crosses, triple-crosses, and sneaking around. In the end, the player characters may part with Tallis on amiable or hateful terms but she'll have accomplished her mission.

    The actual adventure is astoundingly well-done and probably the best one in the entire franchise. The locations are absolutely beautiful, the Boss fight at the end is incredibly fun, and has several changes in game-play with an optional stealth mechanic I loved. There's even a very clever puzzle which challenged my problem-solving skills. I loved-to-hate the villain too, which made the conflict with him all the more entertaining. If not for a few missteps, I would say Mark of the Assassin was a 10/10 product.

My favorite boss fight in Dragon Age, matched only perhaps by the wizard duel with Corypheus.
    Unfortunately, these missteps are grave.

    The first is the character of Tallis, herself, as mentioned above. Tallis is a funny quirky character who flirts with Hawke (regardless of gender) and makes all sorts of adorable commentary on her surroundings. The problem is the Qun is, in-universe, a religion embracing rigid conformity and seriousness in all things. It also practices strict gender segregation with  all mating being arranged by priestesses.

    In short, Tallis is the most un-Qunari ever conceived and the game seems unaware of this. Worse, she prattles on about the Qun's virtues despite practicing none of them herself. Tallis even has the audacity to preach them to Hawke regardless of whether they are a mage (which the Qunari abuse) or have just survived an invasion by the religion's warriors.

    It can be jarring.

Duke Prosper is such a detestable scum-bag, I think I enjoyed killing him more than Handsome Jack. Well, almost.
    The next flaw is the game is extremely railroaded. If your character is not sympathetic to the Qunari, or Tallis, then you have no option to work against her until the end. Worse, you are unable to make any significant impact on the finale. Either way, Tallis will be able to escape alive with her mission accomplished.

    For a game series which has prided itself on choice and multiple avenues of proceeding through a game, this is troubling. It makes Hawke (and, thus, the player) feel like a sidekick in their own story--and that just won't stand.

    Despite this, I enjoyed Mark of the Assassin a great deal. My Hawke was the sort of fellow who liked quirky characters and had encountered plenty of them in the past. If he could accept chipper elven blood mages and lovable abominations, he didn't have a problem with smiles and sunshine Qunari.

    As a player, I've had plenty of experience in real-life with fundamentalists who ignored the fact they weren't taking their religion very seriously and often preached its virtues to those who might not necessarily feel welcome (particularly gays or people of a multicultural bent). Others may have more difficulty with this.

     My favorite part of the DLC is the introduction of Wyverns, who serve much the same purpose of dragons but seem like better cannon fodder. I also enjoyed the party at the Duke's palace, which involves social interaction with elitish snob Orlesians. You can meet a couple of very entertaining characters there and some of their reactions are priceless.

     The party banter for MOTA is hilarious too, some of the best-written in the franchise. This is very much a heist-meets-spy-movie type of adventure and that's not something we've seen before in Dragon Age. I hope we'll see similar efforts in the future.

Sneaking around a castle and bashing guys in the heads is a fun new mechanic for the franchise. Albeit, it can be frustrating at times.
    This is a DLC which isn't for everybody. The guest star is both its selling point and it's biggest weakness. I also think this should have been a part of the main game. If they'd added Duke Prosper's estate as a re-visitable location, the game might not have felt nearly so monotonous.

    I also think Tallis would have been an interesting party-member, giving a much-needed perspective on the Qunari while also possessing both a Rivalry as well as Friendship path. Neither of which are present here. Still, I don't recommend playing Dragon Age 2 without this DLC and that's its biggest endorsement.



  1. Agree with your points above, Felicia Day is one of those celebs that I like, she really is passionate about what she loves, come off as a charming, polite and fun person. I can see why she wanted to have a part in a game she loves. The problem that rose here was that the idea of her role and character was good, the execution not so much. Tallis feels suesih, she always made out to be right, her flaws don't affect her at all in the dlc. She get's away with what she wants too easily, she preaches about the qunari without even thinking of the contradictions they can represent, etc. Again it can make her feel suesih to some players, canon sue is what I have heard some call her, which has some validity I feel, your right she would have been a better as a companion in the main game, especially if she had Fenris, Isabella etc. to quarrel with some of her views. But this dlc is as you say quite fun and seems to set some thing up for future like perhaps what Orlais and the qunari involvement in Inquisition along with what Asunder and Masked Emprie have set up already. I'm looking forward to playing Inquisition, with a decent amount of development time, more plots and as well more places to travel it really could be the moment that defines Bioware in the eyes of many people after a rough few years that was caused in part by them, in part by EA and in part by some more zealous and unpleaseable fans.

    1. While Tallis can be very annoying for the reasons you express, I still have an affection for the character. I also hope she shows up in future installments of Dragon Age. I do, however, hope we'll have the option to argue with her. I agree with you about Inquisition, though, and also can't wait to explore the continent.

  2. Yeah I hope that she turns up in Inquisition, hopefully she will be better developed there.