Mark of the Assassin is set for release today, adding a new chapter in the story of how Hawke has managed to piss off every major faction in Thedas. Slightly eschewing the renewed combat of Legacy in favor of unconventional uses of the Dragon Age engine, does MotA bring the same punch as its predecessor, or is this a campaign you can safely skip?
Dragon Age 2: Mark of the Assassion DLC
Price: $10 USD (800 MS/Bioware Points)
Similar to Legacy, the campaign starts with a new statue sitting in Hawke's abode. Selecting it will whisk you to another confrontation between Cassandra and Varric, laying the ground for the campaign proper. Though I used an endgame + Legacy save for my initial playthrough, MotA is available throughout the game, so long as you have access to either Gamlen's house or Hawke's estate. MotA is scaled for a slightly higher level than Legacy so it would be best to wait until at least the second act before trying this one.
After a brief encounter in Hightown, you meet Tallis, the much-hyped Elven rogue who travels with you to an Orlesian Duke's estate in the western reaches of the Free Marches. Ostensibly, the campaign starts to play as a heist-style story - you're there to help Tallis steal a jewel, almost certainly encounter plot twists, and step on the toes of Orlesian high society.
Tallis elbows her way into your party for the duration of the campaign - leaving you with two companions from the main campaign to bring with you. Unfortunately, this leaves less room for the particularly strong party banter we saw in Legacy. The story also suffers from a slightly lighter feel than the previous campaign. To be fair, Legacy had a particularly strong addition to the lore, as well as a connection with Hawke and family. In contrast, MotA can seem like little more than an opportunity to pick on the low-hanging fruit that is Orlesian nobility.
Once arriving at Chateau Haine, you will venture through three acts, each with a different spin on the combat engine. The hunt features you searching for and using bait in order to kill a wyvern and win an invitation to the grand Orlesian ball. Afterwards, Hawke can either slink or fight through several hallways filled with Orlesian guards in order to make way to the vault where the jewel is locked away. Finally, Hawke and Company must fight their way through to the end boss.
The hunt itself is a rather slow crawl through a quite picturesque forest, finding enough hidden objects to bait a wyvern. The more of these lures you find, the larger the wyvern you attract in the culmination of this act. Though you will find some engagements in this section - the map feels rather empty, with seemingly more Orlesians to make fun of than creatures to battle. Forunately, with some branches and loops in the map, this area lends itself more to exploration than other DA2 areas. This act also introduces you to a new enemy - the Ghasts. These impish creatures serve to fill the fantasy trope of small and infuriatingly numerous bad guys with annoying voices. This act culminates with your finding and killing a wyvern and receiving "Badass of the Year" accolades.
After regaling the Duke's guests, and chatting up a cameo or two, Hawke and Tallis are left to infiltrate the estate and find the jewel Tallis is after. This is where you'll find the stealth sections Mike Laidlaw and others have discussed. Hawke will have three options at his disposal - the shadows, distractions, and a good ol' bonk to the noggin'. Alternatively, you can choose to fight your way through - though this brings more risk as you and Tallis will find yourselves grossly outnumbered.
While this section provides a change of pace, it's clear this is a makeshift attempt in a game built around combat and not sneaking. Stealth elements are quite limited - your two abilities are on somewhat lengthy cooldowns and only affect one guard at a time. There is no consequence for being caught. Instead of having to shake pursuers or deal with an increased guard presence, for example, you simply teleport back to a chiding Tallis to start the sequence again, breaking any immersion. Enemy AI is virtually nonexistent - there is no heightened sense of alert, and guards will not notice a comrade sprawled out on the ground in front of them. They will not even react when they awake from receiving a blow to the head. It's an interesting idea, but the implementation is incomplete.
The final third of the game plays like a more traditional Dragon Age experience, and it's certainly fun. This is where you'll find the improvements made in Legacy, and the story and action pick up in a way that ramps the intensity. The battles show the same tactical approach we saw in Legacy, and culminates in a 3-stage endboss that combines positioning consideration, increasingly tough adds, and a quite literal monster of a boss.
So, what's the verdict?
Playing through this campaign took me somewhere between 5 and 6 hours, so in terms of length you can expect around the same amount of meat as Legacy. At the same price point, you won't feel cheated if you decide to drop the ten dollars for this as well.
However, Mark of the Assassin feels a bit more disjointed than Legacy. The Wyvern Hunt felt like a drag at times and the Infiltration Scene was a rather shallow experience. Though the final third is certainly fun, the rest feels like imperfectly-implemented ideas that would likely be cut from a more substantial project. I'm certainly a fan of the ideas and the fact that the team is exploring them, they simply need more seasoning before they can sell a campaign.
In short, if you already have Legacy, or feel like having a new Dragon Age experience, you won't go wrong with Mark of the Assassin. Overall, the DLC is fun and worth the adventure. However, if you're strapped for cash, then I'd recommend going to Legacy first for your DA2 needs - it's a more solid experience with stronger storytelling for the same price.