With this exception of the launch-day DLC, this is the first extra content I’ve played for Dragon Age: Origins. Why did this one appeal to me so much? I’m a big fan of extra content that explores the back-story of various characters, especially ones that were focused on to some extent in the main story. Leliana’s background was hinted at during the quest to quell the Blight during the main game’s story, but it was always shrouded in mystery. She was actually one of my favorite characters throughout the game because of this. I was pretty stoked, then, to find out that Bioware had worked up a DLC story just to flesh out her life before the events of the main game.
Leliana was a thief (or bard, depending on how you look at things), who worked with a group of people headed up by Marjolene. Her and Marjolene were close to some extent – as friends or lovers, the story hints at both. The events that transpire during this story take place several years before the main game’s event, and are what eventually lead Leliana to join the Chantry, which is where we find her during Dragon Age: Origins.
Of course, the story takes center stage here. The first quest you take establishes Leliana’s “trade”, as well as introduces you to a couple of her colleagues, conveniently a warrior (tank) and a mage (healer). This will also end up being your primary group configuration by default during the entire story. The bulk of the story deals with some documents from Leliana’s homeland, a bit of treason, some betrayal and a whole lot of moral choices. Hey, it is kind of like the full game’s story, I suppose.
There isn’t a whole lot to talk about in regards to the game play, because it is exactly the same as in the main game. Combat takes place in the same manner, you level up and assign abilities in the same manner and you equip weapons and armor you find in the same manner. There are a couple things I think should be taken into consideration when designing stand-alone DLC like this (and by “stand-alone”, I mean that it doesn’t necessarily have to do with your character from the main game, not that you can play it without the Dragon Age: Origins or Awakening discs).
First off, I spent way too much time leveling up, assigning abilities, setting up tactics, equipping gear and just general busy work, this probably extended the length of the DLC by half an hour, sure, but I don’t think it is needed. Partly it’s my fault, as I’m sure you can breeze through all that set-up in some manner. My suggestion would be to not even have the player bother with that at all. Like I mentioned, story is front and center here, and likely that is why people are buying this. I would just rather have pre-set abilities, a constant set of armor and weapons and have the game play focus on combat and the overall story rather than all the micromanagement.
Along with that, you have an NPC that is pretty constant throughout the story here which offers you equipment and items, purchasable with your own gold. Most of these items are useless, because they’re so expensive. You only have so much gold to start with, and gain only so much throughout the course of this story, that it seems pointless to bother buying, equipping and optimizing weapons and armor. The only thing I purchased were health poultices.
Another downside is that this mini-expansion uses a lot of recycled content. Denerim Market and the Arl’s estate in that Ferelden city are prominently featured, and were over-used locations in the full game itself. I would have liked to see some new and interesting areas. The one new area we did see was far from interesting. However, on the positive side, there are new characters (like Tug and Sketch, Leliana’s companions), as well as a lot of new voice work and music.
From a story perspective, you have everything you want here, including a couple pretty hefty moral choices near the end. The biggest payoff – regardless of what decisions you make – is that you learn more about this great character and what led her to be the person she is in Dragon Age: Origins. In fact, I think, in games like this, the developer should focus on making character backgrounds the focus of DLC – it helps you understand the characters you play and gives you a greater overall connection to the world in which you’re spending so much time. This piece of DLC is priced at 560 Microsoft points (or $7.00 on other platforms), but that is probably worth it for fans of the game, especially if you would enjoy learning more about Leliana’s background. Clocking in at about 2.5 hours for my playthrough, it is pretty substantial, but a lot of that depends on how much running around and exploring you do (there isn’t much exploring, but there is some, and there are crates and treasures to find here just like in the full game). Ultimately, if it is worth it to you to play an “origin” story for Leliana, it’ll be worth the price, and that is all that really matters.