Thursday, March 1, 2012

Master & Commander

After reviewing the main adventure of Dragon Age: Origins some time ago, I had the chance to play some of the add-ons, yet on a different platform. This series of expansions, particularly Dragon Age: Awakening, may in fact, stand as Origins 1.5, both in style and substance, as DAII was initially not well received. As well, it represents a nice break from the usual Bioware formula.

As stated, the main course is Awakening. You can create your Grey Warden from scratch or import, that which will become the Warden Commander, in order to deal with the aftermath of the victory over the Archdemon during the blight, as was told in Origins. The new team may lack the charisma of the original one, but there are brief cameos from the first one, plus a playable Oghren, and new brand of darkspawn to battle against. Awakening is also more plot-driven than interpersonally explorative in contrast to its predecessor. It may also teach you a thing or two about going against local aristocracy.

Ferelden is now something of a no-man's land, as a powerful new alliance lurks. There's not much to be said about the quests; as in any RPG, you are still required to solve everyone's problems. Yet some levels are particularly well made, such as Kal'Hirol; gaudy but rather well designed. The obligatory visit to the Fade is also quite enjoyable. The battle synergy between your party of four, as in Origins, teaches you by painful example that your team should be well balanced. A considerable problem with triple A titles is their brief length; Dragon Age Origins and its expansions are an exception to the rule, along with The Witcher.

Leliana's Song tells the story of series' regular Leliana and her bard and burglar past, which is alluded to in Origins. Here, she has a wilder, sultrier look, which reflects her life at the time. The fact that you can play with a secondary character here is fairly significant, as in the add-ons from Bioware's Mass Effect series, this was not possible. The adventure is more upbeat than is usual for the goings-on in Ferelden, with quips, stealth, jealousy, and a tight team which dispatches enemies in a breeze. Of note is the presence of Leliana's mentor Marjolaine, whom she confronts about the events from this add-on in Origins.

This particular adventure brings me to the "tricky spot" many RPG developers introduce in some games. For instance, the very character of Leliana could be entirely missed in Origins if you didn't go into an inn in Lothering at one point, as her town would later be decimated. Ditto for having to stock up the ship with minerals in Mass Effect 2 before the "suicide mission." And what to say of The Witcher's fight with the hellhound in the first chapter, which is nigh on impossible unless one prepares well. Just a few examples, though these tend to render the games more interesting.

The unfortunately titled Witch Hunt presents the idea of going after an ex original-team member, Morrigan. As you arrive in her empty house, you realize you are not the only one looking for her. It's not overly exciting, yet there are a few good quips courtesy of the mage du jour. It is, however, the most cinematic, as it plays like a treasure hunt; from inspecting a library to going from one mysterious site in Ferelden to another to gather magical artifacts. In her monologue, Morrigan actually sets things up nicely; considering also Origins, for a sequel. Alas, this was not followed through.

Finally, the Golems of Amgarrak spices things up granting you a Golem and a big Bronto on your team, making it the biggest departure from the usual, but often amusing, team banter. Taking place in the dwarven Deep Roads, there is a bit of puzzle-solving, with switches as well as though opponents. It is somewhat harder than the others, and doesn't offer much story-wise. This may be the least satisfactory of the add-ons here presented.

Add-ons also include Return to Ostagar, Warden's Keep and The Darkspawn Chronicles, among others. While the PC version has more tactical options, some players may lean towards the console ones, as those versions are also quite good. Dragon Age: Awakening brings home the magic yet again.