Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Mini-Review: Return to Ostagar

So the Dragon Age DLC Return to Ostagar has finally been released for PC. Not that it was immediately apparent; the announcement was made on the Bioware forums and left for the people of the Internet to disseminate. Anyway, review time. I'll assume you know what Dragon Age is and are aware of the events of the first act, otherwise not much of this will make sense and spoilers!

Return to Ostagar allows the your hero and companions to journey back to the site of the game's opening battle. A survivor of the battle reveals the location of a stash of arms and armour the king left for the Grey Wardens in the event of his death. In the process of recovering this cache, your hero is provided the opportunity to fight their way through the camp they prepared in (now suitably devastated and nicely dusted in snow), through the beacon and down, down to the battlefield below.

And that's pretty much it. There is little more to discuss. No new characters or interaction to speak of. The remarks of existing characters to the situation and location are few and far between. There is a immersion-jarring moment when an NPC recommends you choose to take companions who were present at the battle of Ostagar, suggesting that if anyone else you choose will be tight-lipped on the matter at hand. Personally, having started a new character and only just having finished Lothering, I took Morrigan, Alistair and the dog with me. Alistair had literally a handful of new lines and Morrigan, usually delightfully sardonic and scathing, was strangely silent.

A major selling point of RTO is the opportunity to retrieve King Cailan's arms and armour. This is at least as much a blessing as a curse - the collective items easily overpower most other high level items, only really being edged out by the free Blood Dragon Armour DLC which comes with the full game. Retrieved early on in the campaign, their high attribute requirements render them unusable and just fill up precious inventory space.

The main bulk of the add-on is in the combat which is actually a subtle improvement over the original game.There are plenty of varied scenarios ranging in difficulty requiring intelligent use of your party's abilities, as good missions should. I was pleasantly surprised to find the return of darkspawn 'grunts' (low-health versions of normal enemies) in one location around half-way through, allowing for a bit of wholesale slaughter to reset the stress levels. The final 'big boss' went down depressingly easy however and was something of a damp squib compared to what had lead up to it.

Return to Ostagar lasted me not so much as a couple of hours. Perhaps the best thing about it was it gave me an excuse to go back and try out the Dalish Elves origin for the first time. Having played it, and paid for it (having bought the BioWare points a while back when I was feeling particularly flush) I cannot say it is worth  even just $5/£3.10. It is far from an essential experience and completing it may even screw up the balance of the continuing game. Maybe start with a new and different character build, play the game again. Or just wait until the proper expansion pack comes out.

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