Though it could have been much more, it's still a fair deal.
It's such a shame that Dragon Age carried so much depth in a sole game that only had one surplus version until it fell in the black abyss of mediocre releases. Dragon Age had way too much potential that it could feature at least two expansions with little to no problems while still carrying a heavy-weight brand name for the future. Provided, of course, that Bioware wouldn't mess things up, like they probably have.
In this expansion you can load up your character from Origins or create a brand new one to once again face the darkspawn, race of the primary antagonists and main threat for mankind's existence. You play the role of a Grey Warden who just happens to be a hero, having saved the land from a hellish create a few months early in game time. Upon receiving the sad news that the once buried darkspawn menace had flourished to whole new heights, the Warden gather forces at Vigil's Keep to maintain the foe at bay.
Your best option here is having a character loaded from Origins, some of your actions are carried to this title, revealing different responses from familiar allies made during the original game. While it's not at all a problems starting all over, it seems the actions chosen for any newborn Warden are the worst possible, which feels a little out of place, especially since the character returning are the ones closest to you in Origins.
The whole system which is based upon real-time action and a pause mechanism for managing most decision-making processes is intact. You level up, improve stats, choose which skills your character might need to learn, choose which spells and special attacks you want to focus on, start dressing up with armors, robes, swords, shields, and fight your way to the top.
There's an insane amount of lore to be processed. The quests generally yield most of the stuff that are happening in the world as you venture. This turns out to be a bit more focused than other RPGs that tend to present this kind of text-heavy stuff like The Elder Scrolls or Mass Effect.
Dragon Age features three main races. The humans, the elves and the dwarves. All of them are self-explanatory for anyone who is at least a bit involved with fantasy settings. They have different backgrounds, different customs and history. Depending on the character you choose the ramifications differ slightly. It's not as stark as Origins's beginning where the background of your built character would influence the whole thing, but it certainly has its share of particularities.
The effects of your character's build also affect pretty much everything you do. While having a determined set of skills could make you a more persuasive character, having a completely different set could instead make you a more intimidating one. It also happens that both may be absent, representing in a character that basically goes with the flow of conversations and can't really make a difference, most interesting dialogues are triggered by a strong personality, whatever the kind you might choose to have though.
The length is pretty satisfying on all ends. Completing most quests and taking your time might squeeze out 15 to 20 hours of content. This is still an RPG that focuses on story and character development so most of these hours will be at medium pace. Still, Dragon Age doesn't feature long walks between areas, they're transitioned instantaneously, so it's not something as apparent as an Elder Scrolls game, for example.
The possibilities are endless. While you might be a little more familiar with all the attacks and different builds a character can ultimately have, it's still pretty hard to keep track of all your abilities and use them accordingly. Some of them are active, which require an activation and a restoration period until it becomes available again. Some of them are passive, taking place instantaneously on your avatar's persona. And others are sustainable; meaning that once you trigger them, they'll be active until you deactivate them. Sustaining abilities can be a bad idea if you plan on using lots of active attacks since they still require magic points, which are taken off for the duration of the effect.
The puzzles are something that don't really get much attention in Dragon Age, it's not news in any shape or form because Origins had the same problem, but most of them are just there to justify some action in order to unlock any kind of secret or resuming the quest at hand. It's definitely not the focus of the game but still, they're there, and since they will be there a little more imagination could go a long way to at least make them worth your while.
Also, the fact that a few quests are completely glitched if you don't actually take the "right" path goes absolutely against any sense of role-playing and the very soul of Dragon Age, it just manages to fuel the fires of hate from naysayers that argue that Bioware simply pulled a Bethesda and released a broken game before testers could even have a say on insanely simplistic matters. Worse, they didn't even bother fixing it, ever.
The variety of quests is also pretty mundane. Depending on your build some quests might become unattainable if the time has passed. For example, your character has the possibility of choosing abilities like rune-crafting, coercion or herbalism (making potions). If you focus on combat skills you might have a hard time having at least one character with each of these skills to help in your adventure. It becomes clearer that you'd need to invest in these skills during a second play-through, for example, but having to set the combat skills to a secondary role in such a combat-heavy game almost feels like a shame.
The scale of grandeur is certainly there, the graphics are amazingly detailed, superbly atmospheric. The symphonic soundtrack sure fits right in, providing just the medieval tracks you'd expect to hear in a game like this one. They tend to stay in the background, this is not a Nintendo game, so you probably won't find yourself whistling any of the battle tracks out of nowhere because of how catchy they sound.
You have two main locations that you can peacefully walk around and solve/gather quests. The first is Vigil's Keep itself, which needs to be fortified to withstand the ferocious attack of the darkspawn. The other is the proud city of Amaranthine, bound to be the first target of the hordes of enemies. The city works as the primary location for talking to people and learn about the locale. A few key points are found there, like the Chantry -- Dragon Age's equivalent of a church --, a bar and an inn. I can't help but feel like this place was underused. The superior catwalks are basically useless and could feature a lot more live in them.
The destinations for main quests are basically three, and though you can go about them in any order you might choose to, game-breaking bugs can and will definitely occur if you're not caring enough. Unfortunately the best sound advice I can give to newcomers is to research a bit about these glitches before choosing your path, it will hinder a few headaches along the way.
This expansion pack is not as groundbreaking as the original but I'm guessing everyone kinda expected that. It's got a few moments of good action, nice lore, new weapon tiers and even some new skills. Nothing really helps it take a step forward in what Dragon Age Origins did. The glitches are pretty annoying but unless you're a contemptuous eccentric completionist that will throw fits upon realizing that all you did to get everything has gone to waste you might be fine. Sure, the game has a few technical problems but that's almost how RPGs work, right. Fans of Origins will have a decent farewell, it's not the pompous farewell they had hopped, but at least it's something.