Jaws of Hakkon Review - In the Footsteps of the Last Inquisitor
Dragon Age: Inquistion is an endless well of discussions. Benevolently received by the press, fiercely defended by its fans and disappointedly condemned by all of those who wanted the game to be something else - opinions couldn’t be more diverse. And now Bioware delivered us the first DLC, Jaws of Hakkon, and all those buried emotions are resurrected, as we get more of exactly those parts which have been the critiques' main target.
Personally, I don’t really find myself in any of those camps. I will honestly tell you, that if I had tested the main game, my score would have been lower than what most of my colleagues ranked it. But I’m also far from condemning it. While I liked the open word aspect and even though I did everything doable because of my completionistic compulsion, I got bored by sealing the hundredth rift and collecting the thousandth shard. Why am I telling you this? Because for me, the main problem was BioWare’s complete inability to combine this open world content with the spectacle-filled story missions – it felt like playing two totally different games in parallel and therefore made the fetch quests feel entirely un-immersive and meaningless. Funny enough, Frostback Basin, the new region of Jaws of Hakkon, might be the first area that manages to give the open world exploring a believable underlying story. However, the bulk of the content of this DLC is exactly this: exploration and fetch quests. Again.
I took me slightly over ten hours to complete the whole expansion, and as I know myself as a comparably slow player, I could imagine that others do it in 2 to 3 hours less. Still, in terms of play time that’s quite good value for the money – in DLC standards, at least. Nevertheless it depends on your expectations if you will find it disappointing or not. There isn’t much “flesh” to it, as the actual story plays only a minor and rather short role. Don’t expect a bunch of dialogues and cutscenes, as there just aren’t many of them. Still, Jaws of Hakkon is far from being some randomly assembled pile of content, presented without any love to details.
Actually, Frostback Basin might be considered one of the most varying and beautiful areas. My adventures led me through a tropic wood with giant trees and exotic birds, up onto frightening high tree camps, over a foggy swamp with huge twisted plant roots and branches and to sun-drenched shores and the cliffs which are home to the Avarr. Also, the design of the region does a good job in making you feel the history beneath your feet. This is the initial reason why you are making the journey there, namely to find out what happened to the last Inquisitor, 800 years ago. Soon you realize that his tale is somehow connected to the friendly Avarr tribe and their hostile cousins, the Jaws of Hakkon.
As far as the story goes, following in the footsteps of the previous Inquisitor is clearly the main focus, and while it provides a feeling of discovering ancient history, the quests are taking this trail-following almost too literally in some cases. As you are discovering the history of somebody else, your own hero and your party fade into the background. There are however some really snappy and entertaining banters going on and at least the character of Scout Harding gets a little bit of spotlight and interaction. While I like the toned-down, subtle way in which you experience this story, I can’t help noticing that again most of the time I did tasks that were hardly connected to the story. If you have the same playing style like me, which means doing all the “unimportant quests” first and keeping the story-relevant things for the end, you will end up running around in the area for six or seven hours to get around two hours of the really interesting stuff.
However, there is more than only fetch quests. Codex-collectors and lore-interested players will find a lot of background information on the region and the Avarr and their history. I really appreciate the amount of thoughts and work the writers of BioWare are putting in establishing a complex background for their world. If you on the other hand are just seeking for a new challenge, then Frostback Basin is also the place to go. Packed with level 24 to 27 enemies, there is now finally a high level region, which you could do either before the final battle or after you finished the game. Without spoiling too much, there are at least two battles that were among the hardest that I fought in Inquisition.
Of course a DLC wouldn’t be complete without some new shiny toys to make it more attractive for potential buyers. Jaws of Hakkon is very generous in that regard by offering a whole new tier of schematics for crafting even more powerful equipment. If my memory serves me right, there aren’t any new visual armor models, but at least the better stats help in overcoming the new challenges. A couple of unique weapons and a new Inquisitor ability add nicely up to the mix.
Overall, Jaws of Hakkon is definitely not a bad DLC, but it also won’t be the one people will remember and talk about for years. It is a tale of nostalgia, of revisit and of missed opportunities. Our hero revisits an ancient place, holding an almost forgotten legend, and we are revisiting a game, most likely untouched for months. And while the Inquisitor has a hard time to find out what happened 800 years ago, I found it similarly difficult to get excited again for continuing the sort of content I was kind of happy to have finished a while ago. Admittedly, the beauty of Frostback Basin made it after all a pleasant trip, but personally I would have wished for something more emotionally involving to get me back into gear. But then again, in my case the same might be true for Dragon Age: Inquisition as a whole.