EA's Free DLC Giveaway Is Nice, But Its PC Platforms Are A Mess
EA's PC platforms are so confusing that you may still end up paying full price for content that's officially free.
I’ve spent more time than I would have like these past couple of weeks lambasting Ubisoft for their abandonment of online components in some of their games, then their revocation of access to single-player games (before having to amend that latter condemnation the following day after the sneaky sods amended the Steam page to say that in fact the game will still be accessible).
After that rollercoaster, it was nice to see another of the big publishers do something fan-friendly in response to shutting down one of its outmoded ecosystems. EA announced that as of October 1, it would be getting rid of the crappy Bioware Points currency that it used for players to buy DLC for games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age: Origins, and Dragon Age 2. But instead of doing something bonkers like making that DLC no longer available to play or download (*ahem* Ubisoft), EA has made all DLC – expansions and all – for those games free for everyone.
Finally, finally I might get round to playing the unloved but apparently underrated Dragon Age 2 now that I have it with all the ‘bits’ (because if you can’t play the game in ‘Ser Isaac Armor’ – a mediaeval twist on the Dead Space protagonist’s outfit – why play it at all?).
There are parallels with Ubisoft here. Both publishers had stodgy systems that sought to entrench players deeper into their respective ecosystems – EA’s was a pointless currency for Bioware RPGs, Ubisoft’s was an online-based DRM and server infrastructure. Now that both of these things are ceasing to function, the result is that with EA you get a bunch of free stuff, and with Ubisoft you lose access to key features in certain games that you’d really have expected to be unaffected by online technicalities (such as co-op play in Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and even single-player DLC in Assassin’s Creed 3).
It’s a good move by EA, who have been doing their fair share of penance since the whole loot box debacle from a couple of years ago. Say what you will about Battlefield 5 and 2042, but their decision to include map pack DLC within the base game price and stagger it out over the following couple of years was a fan-friendly move. They’ve also gone through phases of making DLC for older games like Battlefield 4 and Battlefield 1 free to download.
But with the praise out of the way, my attempt to claim the free DLC for Dragon Age 2 highlighted the sorry state of EA’s PC platforms. Currently, EA has not one but two apps – the older Origin app, and the new ‘EA’ app, which came out in 2020 as an apparent replacement for Origin. Nearly two years on, the EA app is still in beta (not that that’s stopping Origin from throwing down big pop-ups beckoning you to go over and use that instead).
Ever eager to stay on the cutting edge of bloated publisher-run PC storefronts, I deleted Origin and for my EA kicks have been trying to exclusively use the EA app (which is also required if you want to play EA Play games through Game Pass). However, when I went to claim my Dragon Age 2 freebies on the app, they were nowhere to be found. I could install the base game (which I already owned), but the DLC simply was not there.
After some futile scouring, the rather absurd thought entered my head that perhaps the DLC is only on Origin – y’know, the platform that EA seem to be doing everything they can to move people away from. So I installed Origin, and my search for the free treasure trove began anew.
Typing ‘dragon age 2’ into the Origin search box, the first thing that pops up is the DLC Bundle, which contains exactly the stuff that’s recently gone free. I clicked the thumbnail victoriously, believing my journey had come to an end, and was taken to a page where I could buy the bundle for $30/£22. It was the same story for Dragon Age: Origins.
Something is very wrong here.
I tried a different approach, going to Dragon Age 2 in my library, clicking the thumbnail there, then going to the rather tiny ‘Extra Content’ tab. Here, finally, I found the promised list of free content, but only after scrolling past the offer to once again buy it all for $30.
What’s more, even though back in 2020 EA took the wise decision to bring all its games to Steam (which caused an impressive resurgence for titles like Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 1), the Mass Effect and Dragon Age freebies aren’t available there. Or rather, they are available, but you still need to pay full price for them.
So essentially, even though EA has made a bunch of DLC free, it’s so heavily obscured beneath the publisher’s pile-up of platforms and bad design that there’s a good chance you’ll still end up paying full price for it. This applies especially to those people who missed EA’s original announcement, because there’s absolutely nothing on the platforms themselves to direct you to the free stuff.
Now, this probably isn’t a nefarious ploy to get people to continue paying for DLC bundles that are now free – the goodwill of free content is worth far more at this point than the few DLC bundles of Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect they’re likely to shift. It does however, put into perspective the tangle that EA’s got itself into with its pair of PC platforms – one outdated and obscure, the other still in beta – that don’t even contain all the same content.
I encountered similar issues last year when I downloaded It Takes Two on Game Pass (via the EA app). Even though installed games sync between Origin and the EA app, for some reason I couldn’t run the game through Origin.
So the question is: what’s going on with EA’s PC platform situation? The EA app has been loitering around in beta for going on two years now, and even though it’s a requirement for services like Game Pass, it still isn’t in a position where you can comfortably delete Origin and manage all your EA games from the one place (as evidenced by this DLC giveaway).
On a somewhat related note, you’d have thought that the massive revival of EA’s older games like Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 1 when they came to Steam would’ve given the publisher some pause for thought – that maybe they’re better off on Steam rather than getting into a muddle with their own platforms.
The PC platform space is already plenty fragmented. With EA, Ubisoft, Steam, Game Pass, Blizzard (for now), Epic, and GOG (who in fairness have made the most effort in letting you manage all your games from one place) all having their own digital spaces, it feels a little profligate for EA to make us use two different ones for years on end.
They need to make the games library on the EA app self-sufficient, they need to finally migrate over from Origin to the EA app, and how about stop foregrounding the option to buy DLC when a couple of clicks later it can be acquired for free?