Today BioWare released it’s recent installment to the Dragon Age franchise, downloadable content titled Darkspawn Chronicles. News broke about this a couple of weeks ago, but details were sparse. Finally getting my hands on it, I have mixed emotions.
Months ago, the Return to Ostagar DLC was released, amid much hype and lots of drama. Unfortunately, it failed to deliver, and it flat out failed. Shortly after that in March, the Awakening expansion was released, and it was fantastic, but that’s to be expected. Darkspawn Chronicles is the first DLC to be released for Dragon Age: Origins following the success of Awakening, and I was a combination of excited and scared. After playing it, I honestly don’t know what to think.
The entire concept is that you are in an alternate universe. The original main character from Origins died during The Joining to become a Grey Warden, and the Darkspawn are kicking ass throughout Ferelden. It’s a nifty concept, but the execution is something to be desired. Upon starting the game, you are thrust into the final battle of the game, at Denerim, and you are playing a character, Hurlock Vanguard, but given absolutely no backstory. Nothing. Your task is to battle through Denerim, with your fellow Darkspawn, and prevent the Archdemon from being overthrown. Sounds pretty simple, no?
Well the controls are a bit strange when commanding Darkspawn to be in your thrall (party), and should you want to swap a Darkspawn for another, you have to select which one, confirm that you wish to kill them (since that is the only way to get rid of them), and then go and select which Darkspawn you wish to take the former ones place. Too much hassle just to swap around characters. Unlike Origins, the Darkspawn aren’t plentiful, so being forced to kill one, and reducing your army considerably, is kind of bullshit. Another downside is that only certain Darkspawn can be healed by health poultices, whereas the other ones can only be healed by a Hurlock Emissary….which you don’t get until a few sections in. The game also doesn’t inform you of that, so when your Ogre is going down in the beginning levels, and you try to heal it with a poultice yet start wondering why in the fuck it’s not working….THEN you find out, and you lose your Ogre.
Everything is the same in terms of graphics, sound, controls, etc…but because you are the Darkspawn, there is absolutely no dialogue. You play throughout the entire hour and a half DLC with no conversation at all. All you hear are the grunts and strange sounds the Darkspawn make, and to be honest, I missed dialogue. Character interaction, whether it be playful banter, taunting, or spouting menacing threats, is fun and helps the player get immersed into the game. Something else that I felt was missing was a proper opening sequence. Upon starting the game you aren’t given a prologue, you aren’t given an opening cinematic, nor are you given any spoken dialogue. What is shown is a short, blink and you’ll miss it part where a shitload of Darkspawn march towards Denerim, and there are about 3 lines of subtitles, again blink and you’ll miss it, of the Archdemon telling you what to do. That’s it. I should add that I am not exaggerating when I say “blink and you’ll miss it” because I actually did, and had to restart.
Many familiar faces are in Darkspawn Chronicles, and the great part is that you get to kill them all. If you didn’t like them, you get to kill them. If you did like them, you still get to kill them. It makes it kind of interesting, especially when killing Alistair’s bitch of a sister Goldanna, because she actually tries to run away from you. Stupid girl. The entire DLC is almost non-stop fighting which can be great, but if you are starting to dwindle down on Darkspawn, it creates a huge problem.
When I was at the Palace section, every single Darkspawn in my thrall and around me was dead, there weren’t any new ones coming, and I was surrounded by loads of Dwarves, several Steel Golems, and a pissed off Sten. Needless to say I didn’t last very long, and it was very frustrating. I should also add how important it is to save a lot in Darkspawn Chronicles. Unlike Origins, your characters don’t accumulate experience, so you never get to level them up. Better weapons rarely pop up, and the only armor I ever came across was a mages cowl. Other than that, I think I found a few accessories and that’s it. The strength of your Army stays static, so don’t be surprised if you die a few times. I know I did, and I got pissed for not saving sooner.
Most of the fights are easy, and most of the main character fights are easy, except for Oghren and Sten. Hell, even the ending was easy. When you finally get to the top of Fort Drakon to aid the Archdemon, you are surrounded by Werewolves, and have to worry about Morrigan, Lelianna, Alistair, and a delightful Mabari named Barkspawn (best.name.ever.). Wanting to go off a strategy, I went for Morrigan. If they have no mage to heal them, then the rest will go down faster. I then went after Lelianna because I find archers to be incredibly annoying, and I didn’t feel like having to deal with her shit. Then I took out Barkspawn, and set my sights on Alistair. Fortunately he had his ass kicked before I got to him, so I just had to throw in a couple of good hits and that was it.
A major letdown was the ending. The Hurlock Vanguard is shown walking up to Alistair, who is face down on the ground, and he plunges his sword straight through his back killing him. Then the Archdemon is shown flying away, and I kid you not, the credits start to roll. There is nothing after the credits either, and we aren’t even given an epilogue to find out what happens. For all we know some people could’ve traveled from Orlais and kicked the Darkspawns ass, or the Archdemon chose to take a vacation to Mexico or whatever. Either way, it was a shitty ending.
Some big problems I kept having to deal with were these strange glitches, and annoying lag. My Hurlock Vanguard would be in the middle of doing something and then the game would freeze (still running music though) for about 3 seconds and then resume with whatever I was doing. If I had to take a guess, I’d say that it happened easily between 15-20 times throughout the hour and a half. That to me is a little excessive. Another problem I had was how accurate you could select a Darkspawn to add to your thrall. There were times where I would clearly have the reticle under whatever Darkspawn I wanted, my Hurlock Vanguard would stomp his feet like he was having a bit of a temper tantrum, but the Darkspawn wouldn’t be added. Add that to the fact that if I was hit it would cancel me adding anybody to my thrall, so I’d get more frustrated.
Right now there are three achievements you can earn from playing through this DLC. All are worth 25 gamerscore points, and obviously you earn one for completing the DLC. The others sound easy, but if you play Darkspawn Chronicles, you will quickly realize they are kind of difficult. One is earned by keeping the original Ogre you save, way early in the DLC at the Gates, alive throughout the entire thing. Since you can’t heal the Ogre with health poultices, you better hope you can keep him alive through the rest of Gates, Market District, and to the beginning of the Elven Alienage where you can add your Hurlock Emissary. The other is by maxing out the approval for each type of Darkspawn you can add to your thrall. When I went through Darkspawn Chronicles I picked up a few gifts, and since the Darkspawn aren’t nearly as picky as the party members in Origins, you can give any gift to any Darkspawn. It will always give them +20 approval, and with almost each enemy you kill, members of your thrall will earn +10 approval. Keep in mind that Genlock Sapper will count as one of those, but you only get him briefly in Market District, so before you take him to the Elven Aienage gate, you better try and hurry up with maxing out his approval.
All in all, this DLC was significantly better than Return to Ostagar. Granted not much had to be done, with the exception of changing the characters you get to play, some actions/spells, etc…but no changes were made to actual Denerim itself, so maybe that’s why BioWare was able to churn it out so fast. I didn’t mind that it was only an hour and a half, because I expected it to be a little less than an hour, but for 400 Microsoft Points (the equivalent of $7.00) I think I should be able to get more than just an hour and a half. There are some 360 titles that we’ve picked up for $12.00 more and they are significantly longer, and then to compare it to some Xbox Live Arcade titles for around the same price, the cost to time ratio doesn’t match. I adore BioWare, I love the universe they’ve created with Dragon Age, and I’ll keep buying whatever content they release for Dragon Age because I am that big of a fan…..but hopefully they know that quality counts just as much as quantity.
If you are a fan of RPG’s then I suggest you get a copy of Dragon Age for 360, PS3, or PC right away because it’s so much fun. If you already have Dragon Age, then go out and get Darkspawn Chronicles right now. I believe it’s free for PC players, so you have no excuse to not get it. If you don’t have the PC version and have to pay for it, just do it anyways. It won’t break the bank, and it was loads of fun being the Ogre – kicking names and taking ass!