There’s a temptation, always, to suspect that a game’s first piece of DLC is something that had, at some point, existed as part of the full experience. Often, it comes a little too quickly, or a little too fully formed, to evade suspicion. That Jaws of Hakkon, Dragon Age: Inquisition’s inaugural story expansion, comes replete with chewy new content isn’t what has us sniffing for clues, however.
A fat new swathe of Thedas, the Frostback Basin, a new Inquisitor power and, fresh baddies in the clan of god-forsaking, Saxon-derived pricks the pack takes its name from are everything we’d expect. Rather, it’s Bioware’s secret weapon that’s aroused our suspicion - the studio’s seemingly undousable burning to create new lore.
The main game skips fairly quickly and obviously over the history of the Inquisition - suddenly you’re searching a hostile land for hints of your predecessor. Likewise, our previous contact with the mountain-dwelling Avvar people was relegated to a single questline in one of Thedas’ least interesting locales, the Fallow Mire - now we’re entering Avvar country, with the promise of understanding and immersing ourselves in their culture.
Two major strands of blank storyline filled out, tied together and thrown to the fans just as the hype dies down? Something smells odd here, and it isn’t because we only just emerged from our bedrooms after the 300-hour first stint with Inquisition.
It’s certainly designed for those who’ve put in a fair bit of time with the game. Your enemies - from the Jaws of Hakkon themselves, to the various wildlife old and new (many seemingly designed to offer crafting items you find rarely in the rest of the game) - are about as highly-levelled as anything you’ll have faced previously, meaning you’ll need to have finished the campaign or spent an inordinate amount of time doing side-quests to even attempt taking them on.
The loot and crafting schematics you’ll find make that effort worthwhile - any enemy of note will fart out a unique item upon death, and some of the equipment rewarded for the DLC’s main plotline is better than almost anything we found or crafted in our first runthrough.
Frostback Basin itself is an odd area, swinging back and forth from bland familiarity (you’ll get a piney whiff of humdrum Hinterlands when you begin) to grin-wrangling idiosyncrasy constantly. Perhaps that’s the point - maybe you need a few acres of green-brown forest to have your breath taken away by setting up camp in a tree and seeing a full village pop up among the canopy. Similarly, another few hours in Dragon Age’s favoured late afternoon lens flare timezone is what makes it so special when the Basin pulls a Crestwood on you and changes completely towards the end of your time in it.
There are the requisite shards to collect, Fade Rifts to close, and a set of quests tied into impressing a local Avvar clan - learning about whom is the highlight of the DLC. Unfortunately, the heart of the expansion lies in discovering the fate of the last Inquisitor. Far from gleaning a crucial piece of Thedas’ history, Hakkon tells a drawn-out story we might have expected from a side-quest, intended to cleverly reflect your Inquisitor and their party but ending up closer to one of the game’s easily skipped history books. It ties in the Avvar, but in such token fashion as to make their inclusion a side-note - it’s totally inessential stuff.
There’s no doubting Jaws of Hakkon’s generosity, its various distractions offering hours for seasoned players to enjoy. There’s no suspicion that this was held back from the main game, either - the story told is too rushed, too inexpertly handled for it ever to have been considered a true draw.