Review: Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin (Sony PS3)

Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin
Developer: Bioware
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 10/11/2011

Although Dragon Age II has been a very polarizing game, everyone here at Diehard GameFAN seems to enjoy it. Mark gave the game pretty high marks in his original review and I enjoyed the second expansion pack, Legacy, a lot. Now the third pack, Mark of the Assassin is out. MotA is a tie-in with the new Dragon Age webseries, Dragon Age: Redemption starring Felicia Day (writer/star of the web series The Guild). Both Redemption and Mark of the Assassin feature Day’s elven rogue, Tallis, prominently. For those interesting in watching Redemption, click here. For those interested in seeing if Mark of the Assassin is worth your $9.99, keep reading.

Let’s Review

1. Story

So a warning: if you’re not a fan of Felicia Day and/or Mary Sue characters, you’re probably going to hate this DLC on principle. It’s all about Tallis, her story, and how great she is at everything. From the beginning of the adventure where she almost single handedly takes out a group of assassins that are after Hawke to the fact she treats Hawke in a very condescending manner throughout the adventure, it’s almost as if the writers behind Mark of the Assassin are saying, “Who cares about the Champion of Kirkwall” now that you can have TALLIS on your team. It’s more than a little annoying, especially since the Tallis character is a pretty unlikeable douchebag to everyone she encounters. I was honestly half tempted to take the option to murder her even though I was playing a strictly “Neutral Good” Hawke. You do get the opportunity to romance Tallis if you play your cards right, although much like another DLC based ally (Sebastian), you don’t get to “bed” her.

The good news is that outside of Tallis, the core adventure is a lot of fun. It’s much longer than either of the previous expansion packs and you’ll find yourself on a Wvyern hunt, at an Orlesian gala, engaging in stealth missions, escaping from a dungeon, and solving a few puzzles straight out of a point and click adventure game that unfortunately don’t translate all that well into a 3D action RPG. The content is quite varied and there are roughly a dozen quests (both main and sub) that you can take part in. Many are the usual “find object X” or “kill enemies,” but several are unique to Mark of the Assassin, really letting the piece stand out.

The core plot revolves around Tallis asking Hawke to help her retrieve “the heart of many” from an Orlesian Duke. Of course, the quest isn’t that simple and it will turn out that Tallis has lied to you about well…just about everything actually. From there it’s a set of madcap shenanigans and all the stuff I mentioned earlier. Like Legacy some of the content changes based on who you have with you. Each ally (aside from Tallis) has their own sub-quest available to them. Having Varric with you, for example, will net you a quest where you track down forgery “romance writing” based off one of his previous books. Isabella and Bethany seem to give you the most actual story content instead of fluff, so you might want to go with those two your first time through. You are locked into Tallis as your third partner for 95% of the DLC.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with Mark of the Assassin. Yes, the adventure shoves Tallis down your throat even though she’s underpowered compared to your other allies and she’s not at all a likeable character, but the rest of the adventure is a lot of fun and has some laugh out loud moments. You’re definitely getting more substance than in Legacy – that’s for sure.

Story Rating: Enjoyable

2. Graphics

Legacy had some noticeable visual issues compared to the main Dragon Age II game. Mark of the Assassin is actually even worse visually. Now that doesn’t mean that the DLC is ugly mind you, just that it isn’t as good as the core game. For example, all of the new character models have issues. Tallis’ face looks downright terrible. The programmers were trying to make her look as much as Felicia Day as possible, but the end result looks quite bad as well as noticeably out of place when standing next to other characters. The Duke has even worse issues. The animations for him are neither fluid nor lifelike and he is often put into weird angles. An example is that before the Wvyern hunt, his neck is at an angle that implies it is broken and he appears to fluctuate between having a hunchback and not. His movements are like those of a marionette being used by a less than marginal puppeteer and his face too is definitely out of place alongside older character models. It’s a turn for the worse and then some. Not all new models look bad though. The Wvyerns and Ghasts look pretty good and you’ll be seeing a lot of both. Still, character design will, for the most part, make you wince. Especially when new characters stand next to older, better looking ones.

Background visuals are great. Shadows suffer from the same “black blob” issue that plagues Legacy, but I really loved the new environments, especially the Duke’s castle – be it inside or out. You will encounter some slowdown in battles – so just a head’s up there.

Basically, the new backgrounds and monsters are wonderful while the new character models feel sloppy and rushed. The game still looks nice – just not as good as the core DAII game or Legacy

Graphics Rating: Above Average

3. Sound

Aurally, Mark of the Assassin is a mixed back. I loved all the Orlesians and their French accents. It was all very, “I fart in your general direction” and it never failed to make me smile. It’s all very over the top but some people might find it to be an unflattering portrayal of the French and thus insulted by it.

Felicia Day however…well, she simply doesn’t do a good job with Tallis. She delivers every line with the same wooden monotone nasality which makes her character sound like a female Ben Stein. I’ve seen Ms. Day in several things and she’s able to emote and enunciate normally, so I’m not sure if she was just phoning it in here or was actually directed to lack any range whatsoever. Nevertheless the big name actress brought in specifically for this part is the worst voice actor/actress in the entire DLC and that’s really disappointing. It’s even worse when you realize she has the majority of the lines here.

Music and sound effects are great as always but unfortunately Ms. Day’s sup-par performance brings down the overall quality here. Thankfully everything else manages to keep Mark of the Assassin an enjoyable aural experience, but this honestly could have been a lot better.

Sound Rating: Enjoyable

4. Control and Gameplay

Both the core game of Dragon Age II and the previous two DLC bits played wonderfully. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for Mark of the Assassin. Sure the usual wandering around and occasionally killing things plays as well as it usually does (aside from the slowdown in this DLC package), but there are a few issues here that highlight things Bioware simply isn’t good at.

First up, the stealth mission part of the adventure. This gives way to two new abilities which are distract and blindside. Distract has you throw a pebble to distract a guard. When activated, you’re given a little circle with in a ranged area similar to a distance based attack. Unfortunately instead of throwing the pebble from where you area, roughly half the time Hawke will walk out from where you have him hiding in the shadows. He won’t throw – he’ll just walk to that location as if you were moving the joystick. This puts him in the visual range of the character which means you fail and thus have to start over. It’s a good idea and the stealth bits are fun -it’s just that they aren’t very well done and they should have spent a bit more smoothing the process out. Kudos to Bioware for trying something new though, even if they couldn’t implement it as well as they should have.

Then there are the puzzles. If you go into the vaults a second time (Second is optional while the first occurs for a story reason), you’ll discover several optional puzzles straight out of point and click adventure games for the PC. These puzzles are commonplace in that genre of gaming and there is a reason they use a mouse instead of a controller for them. Mark of the Assassin shows us exactly why. You’ll find four different “tile flipping” puzzles here. Three of them involve flipping tiles to turn off fire traps while the fourth is one where you have to make a picture and any tile you touch also flips over any tiles adjacent to it as well. All four work fine under their normal circumstances, which again are on a PC with a mouth. Here however, there are a LOT of problems. First up the game has a VERY hard time deciding what tile you want to turn. You could be standing on a tile and sometimes the game will decide that’s the one you want to turn over, while other times the game will decide you want to turn over an adjacent one. It would be nice if there was a uniform process here. You’ll have the little eye icon, but that can flutter around and it tends to do so a nanosecond before you press a button, causing you to flip the wrong tile over. Then when you press the button again to try and flip things back, the game will now decide you want to flip over a DIFFERENT tile, making a mess of everything. In order to do this one specific puzzle, you’re going to need to be patient and exacting. What should be a (at most) five minute affair via a mouse can take up to thirty minutes (if you don’t notice the reset lever) due to the way it’s implemented here – even if you know the solution after decades of playing things like Maniac Mansion or DarkFall. As a developer that knows PC gaming better than most, Bioware really should have known how to implement this better.

So, the game plays like it normally does, albeit it with more slowdown than usual, and the new things added are done poorly, but at least are still playable. Thumbs in the middle here as I like the idea and found the overall experience to be fun, but the adventure does feel slapped together rather than with any real attempt at quality.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Decent

5. Replayability

Like Legacy and any adventure in Dragon Age II, you can’t go back and replay Mark of the Assassin unless you have a different saved game to do so with. That can be a bit of a bummer, but the adventure can play out in a lot of different ways, meaning it’ll be worth coming back to several times over until you’ve tried every possible outcome. Remember each ally gives you a different sub-quest so you’ll have to see what happens with each one. Remember you’ll be missing either Sebastian or Anders based on choices you made at the end of DA:II, so to honestly see everything in Mark of the Assassin will take a lot of work. Or if you’re like me, you saved the game right before you made that choice.

As well, you also can complete the last battle with or without Tallis at your side (keeping my mouth shut beyond that) and you do have a romance option for her, so there’s honestly a lot of content here. Mark of the Assassin is about as long as most of the Fallout 3 DLC pieces, so although ten dollars may sound like a lot for an add-on, you’re getting several hours of game time here, all of which changes noticeably based on who you bring with you and the decisions you made in-game. Pretty nice, all things considered.

Replayability Rating: Enjoyable

6. Balance

I really liked Legacy in that it finally gave me a bit of a challenge. Until then Dragon Age II was a total cakewalk. Unfortunately, Mark of the Assassin is back to the same lack of any actual challenge. You should get through MotA with nary a scratch and with nothing but button mashing. Enemies are a joke and the boss fights are just too easy to be rewarding.

The puzzles and stealth bits can be challenging, but only due to shoddy controls. Otherwise the puzzles are pretty easy. It’s kind of sad when the only actual challenge in the game comes from the controls working against you, but there it is. Puzzles are old hat and have been countless times before (albeit not in RPGs) and combat is far too easy. I was really hoping for a nice challenge straight out of Legacy, but Mark of the Assassin requires neither skill nor effort to get through it.

Balance Rating: Bad

7. Originality

I was happy to see that Mark of the Assassin felt very different from the usual dungeon crawl missions of Dragon Age II. I got to explore a forest, save a poisoned dog, use stealth, intrigue my way through a large social gathering, and solve half a dozen puzzles or so in addition to the rigmarole hack and slash. It’s a nice change of pace and unlike anything else in Dragon Age II so far. Add in the background of Tallis and how it reflects on a certain faction and you have something that definitely stands out.

The downside is that the puzzles and stealth missions are all but ripped from other games and although they may be fresh to Dragon Age II, they are definitely considered overdone elsewhere. So what’s new to DA2 is old elsewhere, leaving me to give this a thumbs in the middle for originality.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

8. Addictiveness

I realize a lot of people don’t like Dragon Age II for some reason, but I’m definitely not one of them. Like with Legacy, I really had a hard time putting Mark of the Assassin down once I started playing it. I liked a lot of the story, I’ve always enjoyed the gameplay and although there are some issues with the new content and characters, I still had a lot of fun playing this. I burned away an entire afternoon just exploring every nook and cranny of the Orlesian countryside and castle. So far I’ve enjoyed all three DLC packs for Dragon Age II so far and I’m sure the same will be true for any others that come my way.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor

Did you like Dragon Age II? Then you’ll like this. Did you despise Dragon Age II then this won’t change your mind. Do you love Felicia Day? Then you’ll probably like this just because she’s in it. Do you hate Felicia Day? Well, her acting skill (or lack thereof) and the Mary-Sueness of Tallis won’t make you budge on that anytime soon. Mark of the Assassin is basically more of Dragon Age II – take it or leave it. Besides, if you really disliked DAII that much, I can’t imagine why you’d consider paying an extra $9.99 to play more of it in the first place.

I had fun with Mark of the Assassin and I know a lot of people that will have fun with it too. At the same time it’s just more fuel for the fire regarding those that hate the game. Another thumbs in the middle here if only because of how polarizing this game is.

Appeal Factor: Mediocre

10. Miscellaneous

Although ten dollars for DLC might sound expensive, it’s pretty common place these days – especially with Western developers like Bioware and Bethseda. Mark of the Assassin might not be as challenging as Legacy, but it is a lot longer and offers a lot of new characters and locations. Unlike Legacy, Mark of the A0ssassin is mostly bug free (Remember the trophy/achievement glitch in that?). The addition of Felicia Day as Tallis and making MotA a tie-in for Dragon Age; Redemption will further polarize gamers over Dragon Age II. At the end of the day, Mark of the Assassin is an enjoyable but flawed expansion for Dragon Age II, but thanks to all the different paths within it, it’s something I know I’ll come back to several times and still find it fun. That, to me, makes up for the other issues and lack of challenge here. Besides, any chance to come back to the Champion of Kirkwall and his/her motley crew is well worth it.

Miscellaneous Rating: Enjoyable

The Scores:
Story: Enjoyable
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Enjoyable
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Enjoyable
Balance: Bad
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Enjoyable
FINAL SCORE: Above Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin isn’t going to change your mind on whether you love or hate this game or not, as much of it is more of the same. However this expansion does introduce you to stealth based missions and abilities, a few badly implemented point and click adventure game style puzzles and for those who care, Felicia Day as a monotone elf. You also get to explore Orlais, attend a large party and kill a bunch of Wyverns. DAII fans will find Mark of the Assassin fun but flawed and worth the $9.99 purchase price. People that didn’t like DA2 won’t find anything here to change their mind about the game, so there’s no reason to spend the money on it.



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