Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin review

BioWare had a lot to prove after its last Dragon Age II DLC offering; Legacy was a short and insubstantial adventure unworthy of both our time and money. So back they went to the drawing board where none other than Felicia Day was waiting, ready to lend her likeness. Yes, the lovable queen of all things nerdy has joined BioWare to produce another chapter of the Hawke legend that is, thankfully, much better than Legacy. That’s not saying much in itself, so we’ll go further and call Mark of the Assassin an entertaining and well-written four-hour adventure that earns its $10 price tag.

Mark of the Assassin begins with Hawke being lured into an ambush only to be rescued by Tallis, a rogue elven assassin voiced by and modeled after actress Felicia day. She’s looking to steal a jewel from the Orlesian Duke Prosper, and conveniently Hawke has an invitation to an upcoming hunting party at said Duke’s chateau. Though you still play as Hawke throughout this quest, Tallis is the center of attention. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a brand new character (and Day’s performance, seeing as she is the DLC’s main draw), but we found her to be interesting and likeable from start to finish, especially as elements of her personality and background are gradually revealed by a story that unfolds in unexpected ways.

After seeing her badass intro sequence filled with cold, bloody violence, we worried Tallis would be a dark and serious character, but minutes later we discovered that despite her penchant for vicious murder, Tallis is very much the same sort of semi-goofy, affable character Day usually portrays – at least in part. Tallis is quick to throw out a sarcastic remark or make a joke, but as evidenced by a plot twist she’s neither predictable nor shallow. This complexity kept us engaged and caring about Tallis, and ultimately drives the story.

BioWare didn’t bring Day in for all that mo-cap and voice recording without first having some solid writing. The adventure, which eventually expands far beyond a simple jewel heist, has much more weight to it than Legacy did. We found ourselves interested in not only what was happening at each moment, but how it related to the established Dragon Age mythology. But there’s also a healthy dose of comedy throughout, giving the story a good emotional flow, and the abundance of conversation trees offers incentive for multiple playthroughs.

So if Tallis is driving this DLC chapter, and entertaining dialogue is in the front seat, then stealth and puzzles pulled combat out of the back and threw it in the trunk. There’s simply not a lot of fighting, and we didn’t mind one bit. In fact, the reduced bloodshed was refreshing and better fit the story. Instead of Hawke and Tallis slaughtering their way through the Duke’s chateau, they can sneak through using distractions and incapacitations. Later, you’ll run into an enticing treasure obtained only by solving a series of challenging puzzle rooms nearby. You can bypass all of this if you’re in a hurry, but should you want the achievements/trophies – and the most out of your money – it’s better to play the DLC as it was intended.

Even with the strong story and varied gameplay, Mark of the Assassin is not without some sigh-worthy weaknesses. There are just two new enemies (only one of which is remarkable enough to provide any sort of challenge), and the rest are the same token baddies fought in wide open (read: boring) spaces. There’s also a bit too much wandering along invisible borders of familiar wilderness sections picking up meaningless, invisible side quest materials. That kind of gameplay is pure filler, and BioWare does little to mask it.

While the stealth sections are a welcome respite from the repetitive combat, BioWare’s not exactly encroaching on Splinter Cell territory. Guards are ridiculously stupid: they can’t see in anything less than direct torchlight, have small cones of awareness, and will attribute your beating them unconscious to simply passing out from the heat of their armor. Still, even if these sections should have been better, we can’t emphasize enough how relieved we were to have something different.

Above: Mark of the Assassin is funny in all the right places

Half of Dragon Age is listening and taking part in conversations; when that half is more engaging than most combat scenarios, we really appreciate it. This is absolutely the case with Mark of the Assassin. It doesn’t stray dramatically from the established Dragon Age II formula, and it’s not perfect, but it’s still miles ahead of BioWare’s previous DLC offering and a must-have for fans of the game.

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