UPDATE: SEE BELOW
I keep having these grand plans for writing about the Dragon Age DLC. Since the game came out I've intended a Wot I Think summing up the content subsequently released for my favourite game of last year. But at every turn I have been thwarted by a confusion of DLC management. An enormous array of bugs and errors are making it near-impossible for some to access their paid for content. And the tale of Return To Ostagar, originally due out on 5th January but still a no-show, is rapidly descending into farce.
The sheer variety of problems people are having is impressive in itself. A variety of problems that so far are only being usefully supported by users on the Dragon Age forums who have put together a monolithic series of guides for addressing the spread of errors people are encountering.
Having encountered some of these problems myself (a combination of two bugs: some DLC not appearing as available for purchase, and that which is getting stuck at 100% downloaded and never installing), it was only via that (now officially stickied) thread that I was able to (eventually) solve the problems. These solutions involve procedures as complex as delving through cmd.exe to type in long mysterious glyphs, to rooting around in Windows' Services. Others have found that setting their non-US PC to think it's in the US has fixed problems. Others still discovered that changing the administration settings on various aspects of the Updater software improved things. Basically, things someone wanting to play a game shouldn't have to be worrying about.
But these problems all got a lot less technical with Return To Ostagar. Due on the 5th January for both PC and 360 it was announced that morning that something was wrong with the code and it was to be delayed. Well, "announced" is a strong term. There was a post on the forum. The game's own site simply removed the release date, and made no further statement nor gave any explanation, and in doing so gave the impression it was released. It's still in the same state thirteen days later, and that's despite the further madness that's ensued.
The 14th January is when it all went bonkers. Early in the day BioWare's Chris Priestly declared that the DLC was now "unexpectedly available" on the 360. He went on to promise the PC version for later in the day. The phrase "unexpectedly available" is a peculiar one - you would hope at least the company making it would be aware when it's coming out (although perhaps the oddness of dealing with Microsoft played a part here). They were, however, involved in its rapid recall.
Chris Priestly took to the forums once again later that day:
"This morning a title update on the Xbox 360 for Dragon Age: Origins was made available in preparation for the release of Return to Ostagar. This title update introduced a previously undetected issue that causes specialization classes to not work correctly in Dragon Age: Origins. We are removing Return to Ostagar from Xbox Live until the issue is resolved and are recommending that you do not download the title update. If you have already performed the update, we apologize for this and are working hard to ensure a fix is available as soon as possible. We will provide more information to you when it is available."
Later the previous patch itself was also pulled on 360, accompanied with the news, "Currently, we do not have an ETA for the release of Return to Ostagar on any platform." The DLC remains unreleased on any platform.
Of course, the issue highlighted so far is BioWare's bad fortune, rather than any egregious act on their part. They clearly intended to release the DLC on time, suddenly discovered a big problem, pulled it, and from then on things unravelled. And as we know all PC games generate enough technical problems across a mixture of systems to fill a thousand forums. The point of contention, however, has been the way this has been communicated.
The forum announcements are problematic. Crucial announcements such as those linked above, while stickied to appear at the top of the "General Discussion" section, aren't locked to offer only the information a reader might need to read. Instead each generates dozens of pages, the latest offering an astonishing 148 pages from the extremely prolific DAO community. According to Chris Priestly's profile page he has posted a number of times in this thread. The thought of sorting through the thousands of posts to find whether what he said was important is not one that appeals.
But further, announcing major release changes on a forum is simply not appropriate. The game has its own website. A website that, currently, appears to imply the DLC is available. It describes the product, and tells you the price. Click on the button to find out more about your system, and it takes you to the BioWare store to purchase BioWare points so you can buy it in-game. Except it isn't in the game. While clearly not deliberate, it gives the impression (to me at least) that the game can be bought, and takes your money for points via that link without warning you it isn't released. This seems a serious problem.
The last piece of news posted on the Dragon Age site's front page was, as it happens, also on the 5th January. It was to announce the confirmation of Awakening, the expansion due in a few months. It seems a little bewildering that the delay of Return To Ostagar hasn't been considered newsworthy. Especially in light of the game-breaking code released to 360 owners.
DLC is new and frightening ground for all developers and publishers. Clearly no one really knows what they're doing with it yet. But when the existence of this extra content is being waved like a 400ft flag, it has to be better organised than this. Dragon Age is a wonderful game. One of the most wonderful games to have been made. It is an enormous shame to see it tarred by this muddle. What's so maddening is (beyond the specific technical errors people are experiencing) so much of the frustration would be resolved by simply writing, "This DLC has been delayed until further notice," on the game's site. Some visible clarity, basically. It would go a long way.
UPDATE: A little thing, and it indeed goes a long way. The Return To Ostagar site now sports an "AVAILABLE SOON" next to its price: