A mysterious woman hoping to use you for a heist during a rich guy's party, her motivations much more complicated than they initially seem... wait a minute. Dragon Age 2: Mark of the Assassin, the second major DLC release for Bioware's current fantasy RPG series, has a strikingly familiar premise. Similar, even, to Mass Effect 2's Stolen Memory downloadable add-on, which also featured an enigmatic female thief looking to use Shepard to robin-hood somebody.

But that's where the similarities end. Where Stolen Memory felt like a tight, fast, well-paced attempt to tell a character's story, Mark of the Assassin is a much more sprawling exercise. Unfortunately, that's generally to its detriment. We've already covered the premise of Mark of the Assassin, but the short version goes like this: Tallis, a mysterious elven rogue, asks Hawke to attend a wyvern hunt thrown by an Orlesian noble in order to steal back a valuable artifact. Things unfurl from there.

The story and characters of Mark of the Assassin are where the fun is. Tallis is voiced by some person named Felicia Day – maybe you've heard of her. Even if you haven't, she brings a lot of charm to Dragon Age 2, and an awful lot of humor as well. Mark of the Assassin is downright goofy at times, and more subtly referential of pop culture than the main game and the original Dragon Age were with regards to their stories. As an example, there's a strong Holy Grail sensibility to the Orlesians that's hard to ignore.

Whether this is a pro or a con is largely dependent on what you really want from Dragon Age. I enjoyed the levity, given how heavy so much of Dragon Age 2's main story was (and the pretty major downer that Dragon Age 2's previous DLC, Legacy, beat you over the head with). You may not enjoy that. If spending six or seven hours with a very modern, quippish companion amidst exaggerated impressions of the French doesn't sound like a good time, then there might be a problem.

That problem being Dragon Age 2. Personality is Mark of the Assassin's main selling point, because from a game design perspective, it's practically a case study of everything that went wrong with Dragon Age 2. Battles often devolve into survival scenarios with your party ridiculously outnumbered by enemies that are bafflingly adept at murdering you and your companions in short order. Much like Legacy before it, Mark of the Assassin is clearly geared towards players who have finished the main game, so if you intend to jump into it earlier than that, you might be bumping the difficulty down to casual if you want to make it out alive.

Otherwise, Mark of the Assassin is plagued by Dragon Age standbys like the tile puzzle and following conversational red herrings. There's a brief moment where it seems like Mark of the Assassin will do something genuinely different involving stealth gameplay, but the execution is lacking. The artist in me did appreciate the color-mixing puzzle, though I'm loathe to say more about it than that.

There's an interesting story running through Mark of the Assassin, but it's bogged down in more of the same things that grew tiring and predictable in Dragon Age 2 proper. If you're willing to grind through monotonous encounters to see a goofier, lighter Dragon Age 2 quest, then Mark of the Assassin might be worth a look. But if you've had your fill of Dragon Age 2's repetitive combat design and limited environments, this is a party you can probably skip.



This review is based on the Xbox Live Marketplace release, using a redemption code provided by Electronic Arts. Dragon Age 2 -- Mark of the Assassin is currently available on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 for 800 MSP ($10 USD).

Note: Joystiq does not provide star ratings for downloadable content reviews with the understanding that the quality of the core game's experience is unchanged from the retail release to DLC add-ons;
see: Deus Ex: Human Revolution review.

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