Thus far, the DLC addons to Dragon Age: Origins have received lukewarm reviews from reviewers and players alike, so it was with few expectations that I started up the third addon for the game, Leliana's Song. This addon stars the lovely Leliana during her days as a bard for Orlais, fulfilling contracts of dubious legality on behalf of the nobility while working under her mentor and lover, Marjolaine. It is structured as a story that the older Leliana is telling, with her narration bookending the game's action scenes. This gives a unique atmosphere to the addon, as the quotes between scenes and many of the Codex entries found during gameplay contain Leliana's later comments on the proceedings.
" Overall, Leliana's Song is a high-quality diversion, if quite short and without much replay value."
The story begins as a lark, with Leliana and her two companions, the gung-ho dwarven warrior Tug and the reluctant elven spirit mage Sketch, bringing the Orlesian game of intrigue to the Ferelden capitol of Denerim. Instructed to cause havoc in Denerim's marketplace, the player has the opportunity to indulge in theft, mischief, and murder, all while dodging or killing the local guards. Jolly medieval faire-type music plays in the background, though the frequent laughter of the invisibly watching Marjolaine lends a slightly sinister air to the proceedings. There are a number of choices that the player can make during this section of the addon, and though they mean little in the long term, it's fun to come up with different ways to fulfill the contracts Leliana has been given.
After this beginning sequence, the proceedings become increasingly serious as Leliana discovers the downsides of the life she has chosen. Anybody who has done Leliana's personal quest in the main game will know that Leliana's life of crime doesn't end well for her, but learning exactly how things go down is an interesting experience. The story proceeds quickly, with the player popped from area to area without the ability to explore freely or backtrack. That lack of freedom was a good design choice for this particular addon, however, as Leliana's situation spirals increasingly out of control as the story proceeds. Despite the fast pace, the story is lent emotional resonance by good writing and strong performances by the voice actors.
Combat hasn't changed from the original Dragon Age, though if the player didn't play the original game with all the latest patches, they will find it easier than it originally was. I played on Easy, which was fine for me in the original game, and found myself wanting a bit more challenge. Leliana and her companions are given the opportunity to level up after every major quest development, allowing the player to customize their skills and abilities. It is recommended that Leliana's lock picking be levelled up as quickly as possible in order to complete the addon's biggest sidequest, but otherwise customization is completely up to the player.
The addon's production values are quite good. The graphics look nice, and the more intimate scale of the adventure allows the PC player to position the camera in an over the shoulder view, thus feeling fairly immersed in the world. It is fully voice acted, with Leliana's original actress returning, and with the same level of quality performance from the minor characters that Dragon Age players have come to expect. The music does an excellent job of conveying a feeling of dizzy descent from the life of a freewheeling scoundrel to one of despair and vengeance.
Overall, Leliana's Song is a high-quality diversion, if quite short and without replay value beyond the first section in the marketplace. The entire addon takes four hours at most, if the player is very thorough, explores everything, and reads all the Codex notes while playing. The story and character interactions are the high point of the experience, though it could have been improved if Leliana and Marjolaine's relationship had been developed a bit further at the beginning. As this story occurs in the past, there are no major decisions that can be made to alter its outcome, and the entire addon is very guided and linear. If the player doesn't mind that Leliana's Song is more like a novel than an interactive role-playing experience, she or he will find it worth picking up for an experience full of mischief, intrigue, tragedy, and ultimately self-discovery.