Last year, I played (and reviewed) Dragon Age: Origins, an absolutely superb RPG by BioWare. Why did I love Dragon Age? Let’s review:
- Rich story, setting, and characters
Okay, I guess that didn’t really require a bulleted list. Say what you will about any other part of Dragon Age, it always delivered on story, and if you didn’t feel like you got your money’s worth out of that game, it is this writer’s opinion that you may want to reconsider how much enjoyment it is reasonable to expect to squeeze out of $60.
However, Return to Ostagar rubbed me the wrong way.
Let me clarify here: the content itself was not bad. Matter of fact, it gave you a little closure on some of the opening events in the game, and a few neat items that might trigger a little nostalgia from the beginning of the game. The level design was spartan and kind of boring, but that is to be expected. You’re revisiting a reasonably wide open area. It’s not some evil beast’s dungeon. It’s a camp and a battlefield. They throw one new monster at you, and by “new” I mean “it does the same stuff pretty much as other monsters you’ve seen but it has antlers”. I beat the crap out of everything, got all the items, and was done in under an hour. Nothing to write home about, but it would have fit in just fine with the game at release, and nobody would have thought much about it.
Except, as you may have noticed, Return To Ostagar is paid downloadable content, clocking in at 400 Microsoft Bucks (or about 5 American Rubles). To start off, that is about 1/12 the retail cost of the original game. Playing 1/12 of the original game should theoretically take you somewhere between 3 and 5 hours. This took me one, and for the money it was a pretty bland hour at that. I’m guessing 35 minutes of that hour was beating up the same old darkspawn guys you’ve seen the whole game, 20 was running around, and 5 was doing anything else interesting.
There is very little story and almost no dialogue to speak of in this content. You find a dying man that says, effectively, “gaah I am dying and I have the keys to a treasure chest in Ostagaaarrrrrr…“. Then you take the keys and, well, return to Ostagar. Then everybody decides to stop communicating for awhile in lieu of breaking hurlock skulls, with the notable exception of one disturbingly hilarious bit of dialogue where Wynne hits on Alistair. (I know what you’re thinking, right? That’s so gross. Mages should never do it with Templars.)
As for the other 55 minutes of the expansion that didn’t follow my comprehensive bullet-pointed list above of things I liked about Dragon Age — you run around picking up things, chase a little annoying guy around between fights, slaughter the crap out of a tepid boss, and then get some items. I’ll admit that the history behind these items and getting closure on this part of the story are appealing. What’s here is good, but there needs to be a lot more.
The end of the regular campaign (especially depending on how the story ends!) means that all expansions take place chronologically before the big final set of battles. This means you can’t beat the game and then go back and play this in the game you saved when you won. You’ll have to start a save point before the end, play the expansion, and then redo the ending if you want it all included. Not that you would really want to, except for the sake of completeness. None of the plot in Return To Ostagar has any impact on the story, and the items are not as good as what you’ll have at the end of the game from a regular playthrough. From a roleplaying standpoint they are interesting, but I’m not real happy that I paid real money for items that I’ll never actually use. You go ahead and try them out against the Archdemon. Let me know how that works out for you.
At the end of the day, that is what is lodged in my craw about Return To Ostagar — it’s not bad, but paying $5 for it is a lot to ask. I can’t use most of the equipment unless I play through again, it’s a bunch of bland fighting, there’s not much dialogue or story, and it’s really short to boot. Though perhaps not as much so as my other Xbox Marketplace regret of the week, a $5 lightsaber for my Avatar, this feels like a money grab, an example of paid DLC just because they can. If I’m expected to pay money over and above the cost of a game that I bought, I at least expect a good amount of value for my money. Return To Ostagar, unfortunately, does not deliver in this respect. I really feel as though it should have been included with the game, as The Stone Prisoner was (though I thought its price for non-owners was a bit steep too).
Nobody is more surprised than me at me giving a BioWare product a negative review. They’re my favorite game company, hands down. At the end of the day, my issues with this expansion are almost exclusively with the decision to make something this minor into paid DLC. My recommendation: skip this one and go get Awakening instead. I like some meat on my expansions.