Dragon Age: Origins –”The Darkspawn Chronicles” is the newest downloadable adventure for Dragon Age: Origins, BioWare's tactical fantasy RPG. Unlike previous downloadable adventures, “The Darkspawn Chronicles” allows players to control the evil darkspawn faction (rather than their player character from the original game) in an isolated adventure that is not part of the main campaign, or the extended campaign in Dragon Age:Origins-Awakening, the game's first full expansion. While the concept is intriguing, it is underdeveloped, and the short scenario offers comparatively few of the things that make Dragon Age: Origins a successful RPG.
The scenario takes place in an alternate reality where it is assumed the player's character from the original campaign did not survive to spread their heroic influence across the land of Ferelden and win the day. Instead, the player takes the role of the Vanguard, a principle leader in the evil darkspawn army, and replays the assault on the capitol city of Denerim from the perspective of the invading army. The Vanguard is a sword and board defender type with preset abilities, and unfortunately this is the only option the player is given. The player must lead darkspawn troops through the city, cutting down any defenders, engaging in sinister side-missions like “Slaughter the Innocent,” and eventually coming to the aid of the darkspawn Archdemon itself.
There's not much in the way of story to “The Darkspawn Chronicles”. Along the way the player will encounter new darkspawn troops to “recruit”, and familiar faces in the form of NPCs and even former teammates from the main campaign, who now stand in the way of the Vanguard's dark objectives. There is no interaction to be had with your former comrades, but a brief codex entry for each will detail how their lives evolved somewhat differently, and typically less nobly, without the player character's heroic influence.
Dragon Age: Origins-”The Darkspawn Chronicles” is rated Mature (17+)
Gameplay - 75 / 100
To assist the player in their conquest, various types of darkspawn minions will be encountered during the mission. Evil creatures that formerly existed only to torment the player, from genlock grunts, to shrieks, to the fearsome ogres, can all now be made into the player's willing thralls. Once made into a thrall, the creatures occupy a party slot just like a party member in the main campaign, and they and their unique abilities can be controlled directly. If all party slots are filled, any additional minions encountered will follow the player around and offer support, but cannot be directly controlled. If the player encounters a minion they'd rather have in their party, but the slots are full, they simply “retire” one of the existing party members...by killing them, of course.
If players were ever frustrated in the main game by some of the nasty abilities the darkspawn horde brought to bear in combat, they can now turn the tables. Knocking the city defenders down and shredding them with a howling shriek, or holding a guard captain helpless in the air while they are pounded senseless by a giant ogre, can be very satisfying. It is advisable, however, to adjust the AI tactics of any new minion as soon as they are recruited. The A.I. tactics are set to make some really poor decisions by default, such as hurling devastating area affects at targets surrounded by allies. This was perhaps done to emphasize the brutishness of the darkspawn, but mostly, it is an annoyance. You wont last long if your new pet ogre keeps scattering your party like bowling pins, with giant boulders.
The tactical combat experience is still up to the Dragon Age standard, however, that is really all players can expect out of this DLC. “The Darkspawn Chronicles” is a simple, straightforward, combat scenario. The traditional rewards system that helps drive the game, in the form of acquiring better gear or a choices of new abilities for characters, has been diminished or disabled entirely. While the Vanguard may occasionally come across a few items that represent minor increases in effectiveness, the other minions will likely be unable to equip items, or too fragile to make doing so worthwhile. For the most part, the best loot found is going to be healing items or other useful consumables. Experience gain and leveling-up has been disabled, not that the adventure is really long enough to make either worthwhile in any case. While the player's thralls may gain modest stat increases from watching the Vanguard kill his foes, or from receiving battlefield trophies ( the “gift” and approval system from the main campaign), the player is stuck with the abilities he is given at the start of the mission.
On the positive side, the fact that players aren't using characters with an excess of abilities or decked out with top end gear, makes for a few reasonably challenging encounters, unlike Dragon Age: Origins-Awakening, which offered little combat challenge to its high level adventurers. Depending on the difficulty setting, players will need to proceed cautiously, and make good use of their thrall's abilities to keep casualties low. When a minion dies, they can't be revived, and not all minions can use healing items. There are usually replacement thralls available before too long though.
Graphics - 70 / 100
“The Darkspawn Chronicles” uses the same graphics as Dragon Age: Origins. Players have already participated in the assault on Denerim from the other side, so the maps will be familiar. The most impressive animations come from the hulking darkspawn ogres and vicious shrieks, but again, this is nothing that players haven't seen before.
Sound - 60 / 100
In addition to rich tactical combat, Dragon Age: Origins is also know for its compelling characters, and quality dialogue with top notch voice work. Unfortunately, there is none of that to be found in “The Darkspawn Chronicles”. Aside from the occasional vocal cues the player receives from their evil master, and grunts from their thralls, there is no dialogue, spoken or otherwise, in the add-on. Even though the player may encounter familiar faces, that is all they are. There is no interaction that really gives the impression that any of these characters players have come to know, are actually there, beyond a recognizable floating name.
Value - 65 / 100
“The Darkspawn Chronicles” retails for 400 BioWare points ($ 5 USD). The adventure itself can be completed in an hour to two, depending on difficulty setting. This is roughly on par with similarly priced DLC. However, those other scenarios supported some of the features not present in “The Darkspawn Chronicles”. Dollar per hour is not the only measure of value. The quality of those hours, and how much lasting appeal the content adds to the core game, are important factors as well. “The Darkspawn Chronicles” unlocks a high end sword able to be used in both the main Origins and Awakening campaigns, though neither one is really suffering from a lack of swords of this nature.
Lasting Appeal - 55 / 100
“The Darkspawn Chronicles” is an isolated combat scenario, outside of the main storyline. It provides no flexibility or choice in the way players proceed through it, other than, perhaps, minor strategic decisions. Unlike other scenarios of this type, it is not part of the main game, and so adds no additional depth or replay value to the core campaign. Players can never really experience it with a different main character, or choose different abilities for the Vanguard. While the concept may be interesting enough for players to explore it once, there is very little reason to revisit the adventure.
Pros and Cons
- Intriguing ability to play the evil faction, and fight former comrades.
- Tactical combat only--no dialogue, very little story, no level ups, and little meaningful loot.
- Little replay value...adds nothing to main campaign other than bonus weapon.
“The Darkspawn Chronicles” teases at a concept with real potential. It makes it easy to imagine a full expansion where you can play through the main campaign as an evil hero of the darkspawn, constantly recruiting new thralls and a mob of surly minions,while you pillage your way across the land, perhaps in a somewhat similar fashion to games like Overlord. If it had a fully developed story and character interaction, and fully supported the advancement of the character with experience gain, player choice, and a satisfying stream of nefarious loot, it could really appeal to players who were disappointed that simply being amoral and “self-interested” was about as evil as you could get in the game's core campaign. Unfortunately, “The Darkspawn Chronicles” isn't that game.
Players who can't get enough pure tactical action from either Origins or Awakening, may enjoy exploring this adventure's interesting premise. However, “The Darkspawn Chronicles” lacks a number of things that makes gameplay elsewhere in Dragon Age as appealing as it is. It also fails to add a number of the things to the main game that players hope for from expansion content, like new abilities, classes, art assets for the toolkit, or just more adventure for their player character's to experience during the core campaign. As it is, the sparse experience, short length, and little replay value leave “The Darkspawn Chronicles” as something of a novelty.