Catching up with 'Dragon Age' DLC

Before the release of Dragon Age II, Rick Dakan reacquaints himself with the full spectrum of Dragon Age DLC -- resulting in a mixed response to the potential represented by them.

Only two weeks! Only two weeks until a new Bioware RPG comes out, and I can sink dozens of hours into another sprawling, epic narrative and then do it again for another dozens of hours so I can see what I missed the first time through. These are the games that I game for and even did the usually unthinkable for me: I pre-ordered the limited, special, fanboy edition of Dragon Age II. Despite it's somewhat clunky combat and less than stunning animations, I loved the first Dragon Age, playing through the whole main game twice, including the massive Dragon Age: Awakenings mega-DLC pack both times. I'd also devoured the earlier small DLC additions, most of which added content to the core game. But then came Mass Effect 2 and other, alarmingly non-Bioware made games, and I lost track of my old friend.

But with just a month to go before new, Dragon-sequel goodness, I thought that I'd catch up on what I've missed since I last slipped that disk into my Xbox. I wanted to both reacquaint myself with the game and its story and stoke the fires of my own anticipation for the coming glories. And so I played them all, and now, depending on what your own preferences are, you don't have to. In some cases, that's my recommendation exactly.

In almost alphabetical order (because that's how they show up in my New Game menu), here are some thoughts on the DLC that you might have missed for Dragon Age: Origins:

Darkspawn Chronicles

This is the worst of the bunch. It promises to let you play as a Darkspawn, which seems cool enough. After playing through Awakenings, which introduced talking, complex Darkspawn characters like The Architect, I figured this would be an actual story. It is not. It is just one giant battle -- specifically the final battle from the core game, but played from the bad guys' perspective. There's no story at all, just a long series of fights strung together as you recruit your squad of monsters and cut your way through computer controlled versions of all the characters that you played as a good guy. It's kind of fun to control a giant ogre -- but only kind of. Combat is not Dragon Age's forte and constantly getting new characters with unfamiliar special moves just slows things down. Blech.

Leilani's Song

Now I know why Bioware chose to follow the Mass Effect model with their new game and have a named player character with a voice actor. Giving voice to your character in the dialogue scenes really is much, much more engaging. Here you play Leilani, the god fearing bard from the core game. If you never did her side quest (which I didn't my first playthrough), you probably had no idea that she used to be a thief and a spy. This game flashes back to those heady days of yore and reveals how she became the repentent songstress of the core game. It's fine as far as it goes, but the ending is weak.

The Golem of Amgarrak

A dwarf writes your character from the main game a letter and off you go on a grand adventure through abandoned Dwarven caves. It's the hardest of the bunch and works fine as a dungeon crawl that adds some more contextual information about dwarves and golems in the game's universe. Since I wasn't ever much interested in either of those things in the core game, this didn't do much for me. Plus, I played it last and was suffering from some serious Dragon Age fatigue.

Witch Hunt

This was the one that I wanted to play most. I liked the character of Morrigan from the core game, and I was especially intrigued with the open ended way that her story ended (I won't spoil it here). This adventure lets you bring in your character from the core game as you search for the absconded witch. Unfortunately, despite the core game's statement that Morrigan disappeared into far off lands, all the environments that you'll travel through are familiar. And if you do find her (spoiler: you will), the occasion doesn't amount to much and closes with a moment so cryptic and unsatisfying that I thought that the game had crashed.

Really, one of the problems with all of these packs is that they mostly re-use locations from the core game. That can be interesting, and sometimes is, but it also means none of it feels particularly fresh. Some of it feels pretty lazy. I liked revisiting the Mage's Circle tower in Witch Hunt because this time it wasn't overrun with monsters, which was different. But in Leilani's Song you break into a location that is clearly just chosen because they already had it, not because it made much sense.

Looking back over my last week of Dragon Age DLC, I honestly can't recommend any of it with much enthusiasm. Leilani's Song is the best of the bunch, but I think that I liked that character more than most people that I've talked to. And yet, I'm still excited for the new game, maybe even more so. I think that probably makes me a fanboy, doesn't it? Well, what do you know! Dragon Age rulz!!!11!!1! Just not the DLC . . .

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