I have already detailed my feelings about the epic role-playing game Dragon Age: Origins, stating in my review that “not only do I love nearly every aspect of the game, I also love how after finishing it a couple of times I am thoroughly enjoying a new play-through as I contemplate my actions and consequences from the prior runs.”
After such praise, it is a pretty easy guess that I am a lock to get any and all new content for the game. There have already been several add-ons released, from the initial Return to Ostagar DLC to the much larger Awakenings expansion. Now we get The Darkspawn Chronicles.
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!
* A look at an alternate history: what if your character had died in the Joining ceremony, and the Grey Wardens marched under Alistair’s command instead?
* A standalone adventure in which you command genlocks, hurlocks, shrieks, and even the mighty ogres.
* Complete the module and unlock an epic Darkspawn item in DA:O and Awakening.
Every story in every medium is told from a point of view – and almost always from a singular point of view. Occasionally (like the early 90’s movie He Said, She Said) you get more than one point of view in a single story, but in general when you watch a movie, read a book, listen to a song, or play a game you are experiencing things from one viewpoint. But imagine that you took a critical chunk from a famous piece of media and looked at it from the other side – that is the premise of The Darkspawn Chronicles.
That idea – playing as the attacking forces – is pretty decent on the surface. Here is the setup: you are a Hurlock Vanguard, directly hearing the wishes of the archdemon and seeking to lead the Darkspawn to overtake Denerim.
Sadly there are a couple of fundamental issues that keep this story from realizing its promise, but before we get to those let’s dig into what works well.
In terms of all of the technical details – graphics, sound and music, controls and so on – everything is identical to the main game. Through patching everything has been smoothed out a bit from the original release, but in general everything remains unchanged – and that is good since it all works great!
From the start you are able to build your party by enthralling other Darkspawn – you cast the Enthrall spell and the selected Hurlock, Genlock, Shriek, or Ogre joins your party. If you already have four in your party and need to add someone else for a specific reason, you un-enthrall a member and they are destroyed. It is a quick and efficient system that really works well and serves the particular purposes of a field commander.
You have a wide array of skills available to you from the start – this is not a ‘level 1’ module where you begin unable to protect yourself. From the start you are able to face off against multiple powerful enemies, and by building a solid party with ranged and melee warriors you can easily slice through the city.
The quests are straightforward and very linear – the entirety of the game is about the march towards the center of the city and towards the last of the heroic defenders. As noted, the leader of the Grey Wardens is Alistair, and you need to defeat him and the other members of the party (well, minus Shale who was added through DLC) you would have assembled when playing the original game.
It was fun first encountering Wynne coming through a door early in the campaign and taking her down. She behaves very much as she did when fighting on your side. From there you will find others scattered throughout the city, and you will finally meet up with Alistair as he is trying to finish off the archdemon – you need to defeat him and keep the archdemon alive – no easy feat!
Everything I have said makes this sound like an exciting combat module – and that it is. And that is ALL that it is – you get an hour of so of fierce and unabated combat from the entry to Denerim to the center and the final battle, with minor breaks to save and rest up.
As I mentioned, you play as a Hurlock Vanguard – a warrior. There are no choices in how you handle your character, since no matter what you will be a shield & blade warrior. For many that is no issue, but for someone such as myself who prefers to play as a mage, I was disappointed with the inability to choose my own path.
There is absolutely no character progression – your party members gain bonus skills based on accomplishing quests and killing loads of guards and particularly innocents (and even more particularly named innocents!). But there is no depth to these, as generally things are moving too fast to worry about the minor skill pickups.
Also, as I mentioned everything is completely linear – there is nothing to do other than kill stuff. You get a pseudo side-quest for killing enough innocents, but for the most part this is purely a main quest driven combat module.
Darkspawn Chronicles sells for $5 in Microsoft Points, and even at that low price it has questionable value. I have no regrets, but for others I would recommend weighing the value of a single-minded module that lasts about an hour, adds a single new item to the main game, and offers little replayability. For most, I would say that there are better ways to spend $5, but for the Dragon Age fanatic … oh, who am I kidding, most fans of the original game have probably already bought and finished this one!
Where to Buy: Bioware.com
What I Like:
+ Solid combat
+ Good to see old friends … and kill them
What Needs Improvement:
– Very short (makes Portal look epic!)
– No character customization
– No character choice