Sunday, 6 September 2015

Game Review - 'Dragon Age: Inquisition - Jaws of Hakkon'

Dragon Age: Inquisition was a huge game. It might even be possible to make a convincing argument that it was a little too big - what with its occasional over-reliance on classic 'time-wasting' game-play that wouldn't look out of place in an MMORPG. There was simply too much time spent gathering resources, or collecting items for side-quests which may, or may not, turn out to actually be worth the time invested. There was, perhaps, a bit too much time needed to be spent running back and forth through the game's various regions - essentially going through the same process of establishing camps, and spreading the influence of the Inquisition, in each new zone. Sure, much of this was entirely optional side-content, and the main quest-line was always much more involved and interesting - but, it was always easy to see why some players may eventually get burned out on the whole process, even if it never quite got to that point for me, personally. And, it is easy to see, now, why the option for more of the same may not be as appealing a prospect for players as Bioware may have hoped.

But, Jaws of Hakkon, the latest piece of DLC for Inquisition, is very much more of the same. What it adds is, essentially, a new zone to explore - a zone filled with the sort of content that you either still enjoy, or have grown to hate. There are new rifts to close, more shards to gather, more resources to hunt down, and a new selection of side-quests which will have you running back and forth through the game's new locations. Of course, along with all of that, there is also a new, self-contained, story-line to follow - and, an opportunity to finally learn more about the Avvar, one of the many cultures which make up this increasingly complex fictional world.

Things get off to a surprisingly low-key start, though. There's no rumours of a new looming threat to draw you into the new content, here. Instead, it all begins with a request to take part in what is, essentially, an archaeological expedition. A professor from the University of Orlais believes that he may be close to discovering the location of the remains of the previous Inquisitor, who died centuries ago - leaving behind little more rumour and speculation regarding who he was and, more importantly, what he was doing in the days before his death. So, naturally, in looking to secure assistance and resources for his expedition, it only makes sense that he would turn to the current Inquisition. And, that's where the player comes in. Drawn by the promise of detailed knowledge of the Inquisition's past - or, if that isn't enough, the promise of the selection of artifacts that such a renowned warrior as the previous Inquisitor must have had on him at the time of his death.

From there, receiving direction and guidance from both Professor Kenric and the Inquisition's lead scout, Harding, you will begin to track down rumours of the events that lead to the death of Ameridan, the previous Inquisitor, make contact with a friendly Avvar tribe, and have the opportunity to explore ruins left by the Tevinter Imperium. Then, there's the Jaws of Hakkon, itself - an Avvar cult devoted to the worship of Hakkon, the Avvar's god of death and winter. Is it just a coincidence that this dangerous cult seems to be active in the same region where Ameridan is believed to have died? Well, of course not. Just like there's no real coincidence in the fact that Ameridan's last quest was to track down, and slay, an ancient and powerful dragon. It may be a bit predictable, but that doesn't make it any less interesting to watch it all play out.

Given the innocuous start, though, it does feel a little odd to get involved in something like this while still dealing with the looming threat of Coryptheus. If that sort of thing is likely to bother you, than it can easily be left until after you have finished the main story-line. Given the difficulty of the new zone, and the recommended level, it seems as though that is what Bioware had in mind, anyway - though, you're free to take on the new challenge whenever you want.

The Frostback Basin is a beautiful new location to explore, even if so much of what you will do there will feel very familiar. The Avvar are a fascinating culture, as well developed as anything else in the Dragon Age franchise - and, the opportunity to learn more about them should appeal to lore-fans. Most importantly, though, the mysteries surrounding the previous Inquisitor and the Jaws of Hakkon are also well worth exploring.

The increase in difficulty is also a welcome addition, should you find yourself in a position where you have out-levelled most of the content in the base game - the Frostback Basin is built for characters of level 20+, and it definitely shows. After getting into the habit of simply steam-rolling over everything with my primary character, it was actually refreshing to suddenly find myself in over my head once more.

All of your party members will have new dialogue here, too - so, you don't need to worry about anyone becoming suspiciously silent. Some may have more to say than others, of course - but, if you just want to stick with your preferred party, you can at least go in knowing that they will all have some commentary to offer. Of all the returning characters, though, it is probably Scout Harding who receives the greatest focus, her - with her position as the Inquisition's lead scout naturally placing her in an integral position in this expedition. While, previously, Harding acted as the player's introduction to each new zone, before going off to do her own thing, here she will be involved throughout. If you happen to count yourself among the many (many) fans of the character, then the opportunity to speak to her once more would have to count as another plus for Jaws of Hakkon.

Of course, in the end, Jaws of Hakkon is still just a side-story. None of the lingering mysteries left over from the base game will be resolved here - all of that is still, presumably, being saved up for future DLC. That means that, if you do decide to skip this one, you wont be missing out on anything essential. Whether Jaws of Hakkon is worth your money really comes down to your impression of Dragon Age: Inquisition as a whole. In terms of actual quality, the new content manages to match the best of what was included in the base game - but, it doesn't really bring anything new to the experience. If you've found yourself feeling a bit burned out on the occasionally 'grindy' nature of base game, then there might not be enough here to renew your enthusiasm. If, on the other hand, you never quite reached that point, then Jaws of Hakkon makes a perfectly respectable addition to Dragon Age: Inquisition.

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