All in all, Bioware has presented some pretty lukewarm DLC as of late – especially in the case of Dragon Age. For $5, Darkspawn Chronicles single-handedly seeks to dispel the notion of throwaway content, with an “alternate timeline” story that puts you in charge of the evil Darkspawn army, and asks the question, “What if the hero of Ferelden died before he could start his quest?”
Does it succeed in justifying its existence, or would you be better off skipping yet another piece of paid content? Read on to find out.
Unlike the other DLC, Darkspawn Chronicles is not a quest that’s activated by a random NPC in the main story. Instead, you actually select it under the “New Game” option on the main menu, and it folds out in an entirely different way. Unlike Origins, the narrative progresses via the Archdemon, as he commands you with telepathic visions and mystic murmurs, showing you what your next course of action is. It’s kind of a shame your character doesn’t have a unique name (or talk); then again, the naming of Darkspawn doesn’t really come until the events in the Awakening Expansion, so it makes sense from a canonical perspective.
As the game begins, you are placed in control of a Hurlock Vanguard right in the middle of an assault on Denerim, near the end of Origin’s story. The Vanguard starts with a skillset identical to a Warrior, but with one exception: you have an ability called “enthrall”, which forces other errant Darkspawn to join your party. Using this skill, you can invite up to three other grunts (Warriors or Archers), Emissaries (Mages), Ogres (with a Giant/Shale type skillset), Wolves (Pets) or Shrieks (Stealth Rogues).
If you get bored of one of your units, you can lop their head off and choose another one. Unit wise, I found the Ogre to be the most entertaining. Remember when you were picked up and repeatedly bashed in the cranium for what felt like eternity? Well, now you can repay the favor.
As fun as it may be to play as an Ogre, after the initial shock of playing as the villain sets in, you’ll quickly realize that you’re basically playing a dumbed down version of Origins. Unfortunately, there are no unique characters to control, no dialogue choices, no new areas, no dialogue during cutscenes, no leveling up or skill development, and your mapped hotkeys and tactics will revert back to default settings if anyone but your main character dies.
I am pretty particular about my hotkeys, so having the game wipe them every time I requisition a new unit is a bit frustrating. The DLC also haphazardly includes various other game mechanics for the sake of fitting them into the core engine. For instance, in a comedic fashion, your squad mates will gain approval ratings if you kill a bunch of humans. Imagine that – evil beings who approve of mass genocide!
There’s another section that requires you to break through a gate in a certain way, but doesn’t actually have a tutorial for it until the next area. Additionally, recognizable characters from the main story will attempt to stop your invasion, but they won’t really say anything, and so they feel tacked on.
Also, make sure you save before every new section, since you immediately enter perpetual combat as soon as you enter a new area! There are hardly any auto-saves at all, so if you die, you might find yourself restarting fifteen to twenty minutes behind.
Darkspawn Chronicles is surprisingly challenging on Nightmare Mode, and has a decent amount of length for a $5 purchase. I immediately set the difficulty to the highest setting (Nightmare), and I was able to complete it in a little over an hour, although playing it again on a lower setting took me forty five minutes.
Since it is an alternate timeline, you won’t pick up any gear for your Grey Wardens during the mission, but completing the DLC does net you one unlockable sword (it’s worse than Starfang, but better than your standard fare) for use in Origins and Awakening. So, if you’re a Mage or Ranger, you can forget about getting anything out of it, which is really disappointing.
The separation from Origins also doesn’t sit well with me, primarily because once you’ve beaten it and unlocked that one item, there’s no reason to go back. With the Ostagar, Warden’s Keep, or Stone Prisoner paid content, at the very least you can optionally replay them every time you start a new Grey Warden, adding to their cumulative replay value. My suggestion would have been to make Chronicles a special “vision quest”, accessible from a new area on the world map, and after completion, your Grey Warden would gain a special Darkspawn ability for that playthrough.
In the end, Darkspawn Chronicles is a cheap piece of DLC with a number of issues, but if you enjoy Dragon Age’s combat system (or the prospect of two more achievements), you might some enjoyment out of it, especially if you read the codex entries that explain what happened while the Wardens were under Alistair’s employ.
Gamer Limit gives DarkSpawn Chronicles a 6.0/10.