Steam announced yesterday that they had partnered up with Prima, long the purveyor of official "strategy guides" for games like Mass Effect 2 and Prince of Persia, to offer downloadable versions of their guides through Valve's platform. At first glance I liked this idea a lot– as a perfectionist, especially with RPGs, I have a tendency to run after every side quest possible and my total-time-played variable skyrockets as a result. I've always enjoyed the depth of information available in Prima's guides; they're thick books full of information for all quests, monsters and items and whatever else you'd ever need access to.
I didn't know that Prima already had electronic variants of their guides available through their site, but when I heard about the Steam promotion I figured I would take a look. I decided to pick up the one for Dragon Age: Origins because it wasn't available here in Australia when I bought the game itself, and because at hour 130 I'm still not even finished with my first playthrough. After purchasing the guide for the base game and its Awakening expansion, I wandered around the Steam interface for several minutes of confusion wondering where the guide itself actually went. Expecting a file download, I couldn't find anything in my available files that belonged to the guide, and I had to hunt through the official support forums to see that it was accessible through right-clicking the Dragon Age: Origins game in Steam's list and choosing "Guide"– makes sense once I knew where it was, but there wasn't any indication that you access content this way when I purchased it.
Steam opened up an external browser window bringing me to a wiki-style guide replete with Dragon Age information, which was when I realised what it was I'd actually paid $9.95 for– not a PDF of a scanned version of the original guide, or even a archive of HTML files, but merely an access code for a paywall URL on Prima's official site.
While the guide itself was full of information, all interest and enthusiasm died for me right there. All the content is stored online, meaning you have no access to it when you have no internet connection, and there's no way to download anything. Prima is known for the meticulousness of content in its guides, but if I've got to be connected to the internet anyway it's just as easy to use the free-to-access fan-run Wikia page for the game.
If you're in a game already, you can launch the guide within Steam's webkit-based browser overlay (and you could also access the above-mentioned Wikia page too, if you prefer) which is convenient, but in the end I was left feeling underwhelmed by the purchase; $9.95 is its 50% off promotional price, as well– I certainly don't think it's worth the full cost. Even though the guide itself was easy to navigate and laid out well enough, I came across a number of formatting issues and glitches both in Firefox and within Steam's internal browser. The detail I find the most maddening is that Prima does actually offer ebook versions of their guides for around $25 a piece, or just five bucks more than the eventual cost of the Steam versions. I didn't see any information on the Steam product description stating that I was just getting access to a website link online, or I would've avoided the purchase in the first place.
The guides might be handy for people who don't care about the necessity of an internet connection, but you're probably better off using Steam's in-game browser or just alt-tabbing to Firefox if you need to look a hint up.