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Dragon Age: Origins DLC – The Darkspawn Chronicles

September 2, 2010

The Darkspawn Chronicles is the first real DLC module that Bioware released – I find it difficult to really acknowledge the existence of Return to Ostagar and Warden’s Keep given how insultingly bad they were, and will be leaving them for last. DC takes place in a bizarro alternate universe where the Warden Commander (i.e., you in the main game) died or perhaps never made it through the joining. Alistair has been crowned king, and has somehow managed to, in between feeling sorry for himself and lusting after Morrigan, accomplish all that your character would have in the normal game. You play a Hurlock Vanguard, who, for all intents and purposes, is just a sword and shield warrior in heavy plate armour. Your task is to lead the assault on Denerim and ensure victory for the Darkspawn.

You now fight as the Darkspawn! The city of Denerim, jewel of Ferelden, girds itself for war. As a hurlock vanguard, you alone hold the power to make thralls of your fellow darkspawn and drive them into the heat of battle. Heed the archdemon’s call Denerim must burn!

– Official Blurb

My happy Darkspawn family, me, "Crush Face", "Ghargh" and "the Irritating One"

Now, anyone with two brain cells to rub together should be pretty put off by this concept immediately – not only are they stripping all the non hack-and-slash mechanics by making the quest star a bunch of literally brainless, mute monsters, but they’re also replacing the (broken and badly balanced) player skill tree with the super limited monster skills of the Darkspawn. This entire module has no progression, no characterization, and no role playing at all. It’s a poorly implemented strategy game, more than anything else.

The game sets you up at the city gates with your Hurlock Vanguard. You have to punch through the defenders (led by notable characters from the game), and complete several minor quests for the Archdemon. These quests are all very simple, such as “kill the gate guards”, “kill the nobleman”, and, to mix it up a bit, “murder 10 innocent civilians”. It’s made slightly irritating by having constantly respawning mobs of enemies, but because Bioware have, over subsequent patches, progressively lowered Dragon Age’s difficulty from “respectable” to “console gamer friendly”, they prove to be little more than an annoyance.

Throughout your murderous rampage, you can “recruit” other (constantly respawning) Darkspawn minions using your enthrall power, which adds them to your party. While the Vanguard is basically a level 10 warrior with useless skills, the thrall Darkspawn are all effectively level 10 gelatinous cubes with no skills whatsoever, except their signature attacks. They are unable to use any items (even healing items), and upon dying, they get removed from your party.

I wish I had a capture of my ogre repeatedly punching Oghren in the face. That was the best moment of the entire game.

Fair enough, I suppose. It seems that I can’t really pick which I prefer – the thrall Darkspawn feel totally under-developed as classes (no surprises there), while the Vanguard is a vanilla human warrior with no discernible character or personality beyond a bitchin helmet. Each of the thralls has a different set of four or five skills, but the important thing to remember is that Ogres crush faces, and Shrieks are the cheatiest bastards ever, attacking about 2x faster than anything else. I pretty much completed the latter half of the game controlling the single Shriek in my party while telling the rest of my group to hold position at the gates.

You fight through the main Denerim districts, murdering the innocents in the market district (including Wade!), setting fire to the Elven Alienage tree (serves it right), and facing a preposterous number of respawning bastards in the palace district. While this is going on, you encounter members of the Origins party strategically placed (Oghren was in the market tavern – and before you get excited, no, you couldn’t go inside – but I made sure to kill him as brutally as possible) in the city. They must all be defeated. Especially Oghren. I can’t believe they brought him back for Awakening.

The final stand. See the fear in their eyes.

It ends with the showdown on the top of Fort Drakon, only you play as one of the Darkspawn mobs that comes in to help the Archdemon. There, you must defeat Morrigan, Alistair, Leliana, and “Barkspawn” the war-hound (I am so glad they chose that name to become canon). Naturally, if you have a Shriek or Ogre (or, better, both) you should have no difficulty crushing their puny human bodies and ensuring that the Archdemon reins supreme.

So. Overall? Well, I suppose in terms of sheer time to money ratio, it wasn’t bad. Sadly the whole affair was half-baked. It involved no (obviously) new assets, and, frankly, could have been thrown together by a junior using the toolset without any issues. The levels are all reused from the final battles of the main game, there is no dialogue at all, no meaningful choices, and really, no effort from Bioware.

Gameplay
Same mechanics as Dragon Age: Origins, only without the “RPG” bit. I guess they were practicing for DA2. 4/10
Art Direction
Nothing new here at all. N/A
Story and Writing
No. 0/10
Sound and Music
Reused from DA: O. N/A
Longevity
I got bored with the DLC about 20% of the way through, so I’d say there isn’t much. -2/10
Technical
I had to restart two areas because of buggy quest triggers. FPS was weirdly terrible. 2/10
VERDICT:
23%

An absolute rip off. The whole idea was doomed to failure from the outset – you can’t just plug in the underdeveloped antagonists as the stars of an expansion module. The module was disappointing, but at least I was prepared for it. The whole sordid experience lasts for about 2 hours, and costs $5 worth of magical Bioware points.

Links: Bioware DLC Information

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