With Dragon Age II right around the corner, I recently found myself playing Dragon Age: Origins again as well as the various expansion packs available for the game. Now, before you think I just play epically long RPGs over and again for no reason (which I do), you should know that my XBox 360′s hard drive went down some months ago and took all of my save games with it. Therefore, I’m playing back through games whose sequels will likely look for previous saves to inform their worlds (i.e. Fable 2, Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age, etc.)
I wrote a fairly positive review of Dragon Age: Origins back in May of last year, but I barely touched upon the downloadable content at the time. Now I’ve had a chance to play through the initial batch of DLC again as well as experience new expansions to the already enormous game. Here are some thoughts and impressions of those additional pieces of content.
Please note that I’m reviewing these expansions as if you would be purchasing them separately from the retail version of Dragon Age: Origins. If you pick up Dragon Age: Origins Ultimate Edition, every one of these expansions is available in the box with no additional purchase – completely worth it if you haven’t played Dragon Age yet.
The Stone Prisoner -$15
(Free with a retail copy of Dragon Age: Origins.)
This is the most difficult of the expansions to review. If you purchased Dragon Age new at retail, then you got this expansion for free. If you have a used copy of this game, however, is it worth the $15 entry fee? On the one hand, The Stone Prisoner only adds two new (decently-sized) locations to the world of Ferelden – hardly justifying the asking price. On the other, this DLC adds a completely fleshed out character to your party with lenghty dialogue trees, an individual quest, and unique reactions to every setting and quest in the core game. The character of Shale adds far more to Dragon Age than Zaeed or Kasumi add to Mass Effect 2, for instance.
The depth of Shale’s character and how deeply she’s integrated into the entire game makes the asking price understandable, but such a small additional quest makes it difficult to really recommend this one. If you do pick it up, get Shale early in the game to make the most of her. Otherwise, you might not want to bother.
The Warden’s Keep -$7
The Warden’s Keep adds one new environment to Ferelden and a small quest to go along with it. The quest nabs you some unique items, fills in some history about the Grey Wardens of Ferelden, adds two new shops, give you the chance to forge a powerful new weapon, provides a couple powerful new abilities, and gives your party a storage chest. Overall, it’s a decent addition to the plot, and it creates a useful location to offload some inventory without selling it, especially useful before you can afford the backpack upgrades.
The only thing I don’t like about The Warden’s Keep is the way the DLC is shamelessly plugged early in the game. Except for that annoying aspect, it’s a worthwhile addition to the game. I recommend picking it up.
Return to Ostagar -$5
Return to Ostegar also gets a recommendation from me. You get to tie up some loose ends from the game’s prologue here, and, again, you get some great new armor and weapons from the adventure. Also, if you missed your chance to add the Mabari War Hound to your party in the prologue, you now get a second chance. And who doesn’t want a dog in the party? In the end, though, Return to Ostagar provides an emotionally satisfying addition to the story. Just be careful if you bring Wynne and Alistair along for the quest. Some of their banter becomes…disturbing.
The Darkspawn Chronicles – $5
Not only is this expansion incredibly short, but it’s also disappointingly shallow. The premise is interesting. Instead of leading the forces of good against the final Darkspawn onslaught at Denerim, you get to command the Darkspawn forces against the armies of Redcliffe and the Grey Wardens. The execution, however, falls flat. While you can recruit various creatures to your party, none of them level up at all. There is no customization of skills or abilities. There are few upgraded items available, and nothing you do here provides any bonus to your main quest.
Instead, The Darkspawn Chronicles provides thirty or so minutes of hacking away at the same human, Dwarven, and Elven warriors over and over. And while it can be fun to finally crush Morrigan with an Ogre, the tedium involved with reaching that magical moment robs the experience on any joy. Skip this one.
Leliana’s Song -$7
Leliana’s Song is a surprisingly lengthy look into Leliana’s backstory. The events center around Denerim and happen some time before the events of Dragon Age: Origins. Rogues are fun characters to control to begin with, so creating mayhem with Leliana is genally enjoyable. It’s interesting to see her complex relationship with her mentor and how that fell apart into a story of betrayal and revenge. If it contradicts what Leliana tells of her story in the main quest to some extent, that’s okay. After all, the assassin bard does enjoy embellishing on her own tales.
Not only is this a well-crafted, self-contained adventure, but you can assemble some pretty great rogue armor that will then appear in Origins and Awakenings. In short, Leliana’s Song is worth downloading.
The Golems of Amgarrak -$5
The Golems of Amgarrak is insanely tough, even for experienced players. In it, though, you can earn some powerful abilities and rewards for your character that will transfer to Origins and Awakenings. You also get to put your party management skills to the test while facing new and more powerful enemies in this expansion. If you had a difficult time defeating the archdemon in Dragon Age: Origins, The Golems of Amgarrak may not be for you. If, however, you took that dragon down in one of the harder difficulty levels while hardly breaking a sweat, this one might be a fun challenge. Give it a try. Just don’t be surprised if your party dies a lot.
Witch Hunt -$7
I want to like this one. With Hunt is the final piece of downloadable content for Dragon Age: Origins, and it serves as an epilogue to the choices you made with the witch Morrigan in the main quest. Unfortunately, the whole experience is terribly short and a little anticlimactic. Yes, there’s some closure with Morrigan at last, and yes the conclusion gives some answers about the Dalish Elf origin story, but those details just aren’t enough to keep this one afloat. The whole thing feels half-baked, and I couldn’t help thinking that Morrigan deserved a better conclusion to her part of the story. Unless you are dying for some foreshadowing to the sequel, Witch Hunt is skippable.
Dragon Age: Awakenings -$30
Awakenings is the largest expansion available for Dragon Age, and it features a quest about one-third the size of the original game. If you enjoyed Origins, then Awakenings should be a no-brainer. It allows you to create a ridiculously powerful Warden (even giving you a chance to completely reset points, skills, and abilities for an existing character). New weapons and armor is available. The new characters are compelling, though you never get to develop as deep a relationship with any of them as you could in Origins, and the story creates a whole new line of possibilities for the franchise. If Bioware had been feeling lazy, they could have stretched this out a bit more and simply called it Dragon Age II. It’s a great continuation of Origins’ story, and it also stands well on its own as a self-contained adventure.
If you enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins, most of the DLC is worth getting. A couple, like Witch Hunt and The Darkspawn Chronicles, feel phoned-in, but most offer a decent value for what they are. If you haven’t played Dragon Age yet, picking up the Ultimate Edition is worthwhile as it comes with all of these packs alongside the full game for a price less than the downloadable content purchased individually. Dragon Age: Origins is one of the most engaging and captivating RPGs I’ve played in a while, and, with few exceptions, more of Dragon Age remains a good thing.