Because I can't get enough of Dragon Age...

Something I can't stress enough to people who haven't played Dragon Age or didn't give it a try on the 360 because they were put off by the graphics and controls is this: play it on the PC. Seriously. You can't tell me this doesn't look fantastic. 
 

    




  



It makes me sad that Bioware took criticism of the game's graphics to mean they should completely change the art style, but I still hope the new style they've chosen turns out to be great. There are very few screenshots out at the time of this writing, so I can't really give a solid opinion on what I think of it.
 

Hunting a Witch

Now, the sad part of this blog. This will be regarding the newest and last piece of DLC for Origins: "Witch Hunt." If you haven't played it yet and want to avoid spoilers, well, my reaction would be to tell you to not bother playing it at all and to just look up a plot synopsis and a youtube video of the last 5 minutes and imagine your grey warden in their place. But if you don't want to heed my warning, then at least you've been warned. 
 
I expect a lot from Bioware. Perhaps I expect too much. I've been outspoken about the quality of much of their Dragon Age DLC, and was put off by it enough to skip the two latter packs they released: Lelianna's Song and Darkspawn Chronicles. Against my best judgement, I slapped down the $7 for Witch Hunt on the promise that it would bring some conclusion to the most interesting plot point left open at the end of Origins: the fate of Morrigan and your character's child, were you to have gone down that path in the multiple-choice ending to Origins. Yes, it definitely delivers some closure to that plot line, while also leaving it wide open still with its own multiple choices and endings we can only hope are leading somewhere (more on that later). My problem with the DLC comes from how shallow the rest of it feels. 
 
 Revisiting old locations can make you feel nostalgic...
  Let's not beat around the bush. The number one reason I'm disappointed with Witch Hunt is that every single area is recycled in an obvious fashion. Not only will you be revisiting areas you've already been through in the main game (with a fresh batch of monsters which have mysteriously cropped back up), but areas that are supposed to be new are very obviously recycled level geometry and art assets from other bits of the game, and worse yet, they feel completely out of place. It screams "hey, I'm DLC built on-the-cheap to sucker you out of one last bit of cash before the next game" and embodies why I hate the DLC model compared to the more lengthy and meaningful expansion pack of olde or, better still, next full game. Because honestly, I'd much rather have had those extra hands working on the development of Dragon Age 2 to get it out sooner than to play much of the Dragon Age DLC released to date.
  
 Until it devolves into clearing out old dungeons you've already emptied...
And then there's the combat. Oh, the combat. This is where I'm not exactly sure how much of a personal issue this is, because I admit to rushing through the DLC to get to the story bits. But that's the thing: after all this time, the combat feels like merely an obstacle in between different cutscenes. After hundreds of hours with the game, its expansion, and all the DLC packs I've purchased and played, I find the actual game part of Dragon Age tiring. Besides that, every encounter seems so contrived in that video-gamey way. For example, you'll return to the Tower of Magi for a stint in the library, eventually being tasked with entering the creepy tower basement. It's a place you already cleared out in the mage origin story (come to think of it, all the DLC locations are specifically recycled from other origin stories you may or may not have seen depending on how many characters you created). But of course, the story here is that the lower guardians have been angered by something and you have to clear them out before you can continue, so down you go for some tedious combat to prolong the hour count. Even then, 90% of the combat feels like a cakewalk for a character fresh from the main campaign; not including Awakening and the increased level cap, and on normal difficulty. Yes, I could have bumped up the difficulty, and should have, but that doesn't change the fact that the combat situations felt obviously less balanced than in the retail product.  
 
And nostalgia is replaced with a bitter sense of deja-vu. 
Despite all of this, I couldn't help but smile and feel relieved seeing Morrigan and hearing her voice again. For a brief moment there at the end of the DLC, I felt satisfied. This is what I'm here for. Some closure. I half expect to have to battle Morrigan, but after interrogating her and hearing many elusive answers, I get a nice warm fuzzy feeling when my character proclaims his love and insists on joining her through that magical mirror/portal, without a clue as to where it leads nor what might become of them, and that final warm embrace between the two and fade-to-black that draws the curtain down on Dragon Age in a fitting way. Sure, there are many questions left either partially answered or  still up in the air, but what you get is fulfilling enough while leaving you wanting more in the fashion of any good storytelling. 
 
And yet, it leaves me wondering something it probably shouldn't; because with oh-so-many decisions (the multiple choice path being very popular at Bioware these days), I really worry that most of it will be meaningless. After all, Bioware didn't do the greatest of jobs integrating some key plot branches into DLC packs and Awakening. Awakening ignores that your warden might have died in the final battle of Origins in favor of actually letting you play the game, but I argue that choices like that should have a lasting impact, and you can still create a new character and have him bumped up to the appropriate level. Yeah, there's a lot to keep track of, and so many variables to program, but if you're going to give the illusion of choice and make it a big talking point of your game and perhaps even company philosophy, those are things you can't just write off. Not every choice has to have some ridiculous impact on the game world, but I certainly expect the major ones to. I just hope that Dragon Age 2 allows for a meaningful import of your Origins character with all the many choices being brought along with you. Especially the ones you're given at the end of Origins and the Witch Hunt DLC.
11 Comments
12 Comments
Posted by AndrewB

Something I can't stress enough to people who haven't played Dragon Age or didn't give it a try on the 360 because they were put off by the graphics and controls is this: play it on the PC. Seriously. You can't tell me this doesn't look fantastic. 
 

    




  



It makes me sad that Bioware took criticism of the game's graphics to mean they should completely change the art style, but I still hope the new style they've chosen turns out to be great. There are very few screenshots out at the time of this writing, so I can't really give a solid opinion on what I think of it.
 

Hunting a Witch

Now, the sad part of this blog. This will be regarding the newest and last piece of DLC for Origins: "Witch Hunt." If you haven't played it yet and want to avoid spoilers, well, my reaction would be to tell you to not bother playing it at all and to just look up a plot synopsis and a youtube video of the last 5 minutes and imagine your grey warden in their place. But if you don't want to heed my warning, then at least you've been warned. 
 
I expect a lot from Bioware. Perhaps I expect too much. I've been outspoken about the quality of much of their Dragon Age DLC, and was put off by it enough to skip the two latter packs they released: Lelianna's Song and Darkspawn Chronicles. Against my best judgement, I slapped down the $7 for Witch Hunt on the promise that it would bring some conclusion to the most interesting plot point left open at the end of Origins: the fate of Morrigan and your character's child, were you to have gone down that path in the multiple-choice ending to Origins. Yes, it definitely delivers some closure to that plot line, while also leaving it wide open still with its own multiple choices and endings we can only hope are leading somewhere (more on that later). My problem with the DLC comes from how shallow the rest of it feels. 
 
 Revisiting old locations can make you feel nostalgic...
  Let's not beat around the bush. The number one reason I'm disappointed with Witch Hunt is that every single area is recycled in an obvious fashion. Not only will you be revisiting areas you've already been through in the main game (with a fresh batch of monsters which have mysteriously cropped back up), but areas that are supposed to be new are very obviously recycled level geometry and art assets from other bits of the game, and worse yet, they feel completely out of place. It screams "hey, I'm DLC built on-the-cheap to sucker you out of one last bit of cash before the next game" and embodies why I hate the DLC model compared to the more lengthy and meaningful expansion pack of olde or, better still, next full game. Because honestly, I'd much rather have had those extra hands working on the development of Dragon Age 2 to get it out sooner than to play much of the Dragon Age DLC released to date.
  
 Until it devolves into clearing out old dungeons you've already emptied...
And then there's the combat. Oh, the combat. This is where I'm not exactly sure how much of a personal issue this is, because I admit to rushing through the DLC to get to the story bits. But that's the thing: after all this time, the combat feels like merely an obstacle in between different cutscenes. After hundreds of hours with the game, its expansion, and all the DLC packs I've purchased and played, I find the actual game part of Dragon Age tiring. Besides that, every encounter seems so contrived in that video-gamey way. For example, you'll return to the Tower of Magi for a stint in the library, eventually being tasked with entering the creepy tower basement. It's a place you already cleared out in the mage origin story (come to think of it, all the DLC locations are specifically recycled from other origin stories you may or may not have seen depending on how many characters you created). But of course, the story here is that the lower guardians have been angered by something and you have to clear them out before you can continue, so down you go for some tedious combat to prolong the hour count. Even then, 90% of the combat feels like a cakewalk for a character fresh from the main campaign; not including Awakening and the increased level cap, and on normal difficulty. Yes, I could have bumped up the difficulty, and should have, but that doesn't change the fact that the combat situations felt obviously less balanced than in the retail product.  
 
And nostalgia is replaced with a bitter sense of deja-vu. 
Despite all of this, I couldn't help but smile and feel relieved seeing Morrigan and hearing her voice again. For a brief moment there at the end of the DLC, I felt satisfied. This is what I'm here for. Some closure. I half expect to have to battle Morrigan, but after interrogating her and hearing many elusive answers, I get a nice warm fuzzy feeling when my character proclaims his love and insists on joining her through that magical mirror/portal, without a clue as to where it leads nor what might become of them, and that final warm embrace between the two and fade-to-black that draws the curtain down on Dragon Age in a fitting way. Sure, there are many questions left either partially answered or  still up in the air, but what you get is fulfilling enough while leaving you wanting more in the fashion of any good storytelling. 
 
And yet, it leaves me wondering something it probably shouldn't; because with oh-so-many decisions (the multiple choice path being very popular at Bioware these days), I really worry that most of it will be meaningless. After all, Bioware didn't do the greatest of jobs integrating some key plot branches into DLC packs and Awakening. Awakening ignores that your warden might have died in the final battle of Origins in favor of actually letting you play the game, but I argue that choices like that should have a lasting impact, and you can still create a new character and have him bumped up to the appropriate level. Yeah, there's a lot to keep track of, and so many variables to program, but if you're going to give the illusion of choice and make it a big talking point of your game and perhaps even company philosophy, those are things you can't just write off. Not every choice has to have some ridiculous impact on the game world, but I certainly expect the major ones to. I just hope that Dragon Age 2 allows for a meaningful import of your Origins character with all the many choices being brought along with you. Especially the ones you're given at the end of Origins and the Witch Hunt DLC.
Posted by Yummylee

Man...even if the stories as disappointing as you say, I still can't quite pull myself to read through your rant ;P Tomorrow though when I've given it a go I'm sure I'll have plenty to rage about.

Online
Posted by InfamousBIG
@AndrewB: Where's the second screenshot from?  I recently played through DA:O for the second time but don't remember that.  I own Awakenings, but haven't played through it yet, so that could be it.
Posted by jorbear

Must... not... spoil it.... 

Posted by AndrewB
@InfamousBIG: Yeah, it's from Awakening. 
 
@Abyssfull: I was going to space things out a bit more with some screenshots, but realized I didn't take any new Witch Hunt ones and thus made a big wall of text. Might edit it tomorrow if I can make the time.
Posted by AlwaysBeClothing

Agree wholeheartedly about the combat just preventing me from seeing the story.  There were some good callbacks to the main story but on the whole I can't recommend Witch Hunt at all.  Its unfortunate that this is likely going to be my only experience with Dragon Age DLC.

Posted by Drakhir

I never understood the "omg da:o graphix sux". In my opinion, BioWare did a great job with it.

Posted by AndrewB
@AlwaysBeClothing said:
" Agree wholeheartedly about the combat just preventing me from seeing the story.  There were some good callbacks to the main story but on the whole I can't recommend Witch Hunt at all.  Its unfortunate that this is likely going to be my only experience with Dragon Age DLC. "
I still like the callback to the mirror from the Dalish origin story, but given that the rest of the DLC is recycled material, it makes me wonder if any of that was planned or if they just did it as an excuse to re-use that dungeon.
Posted by Yummylee

Just finished Witch Hunt now, and christ it's a bleedin' mess to try and remember everything all possible variables with your Warden characters. Apparently my Human (not so) Noble warrior didn't shack up with Morrigan, and thus I wasn't able to get anything out of her besides ''FLEMETH IS BIG AND SCARY AND NOT HUMAN!'' Which is very evident, anyway. 
 
I agree with the combat, too. It all felt like an obstacle I had to trudge through to get to the story parts. Its incredible ease too doesn't help matters. I was playing on hard mode, btw. I never found the party members to be anything too memorable, either. Much like most of the DLC one off party members. Yet another well spoken, light comedic mage?? Really now???? 
 
I feel like I should play through it again, with my different Warden characters, just to have as many potential outcomes saved up. But again, it's all so messy with multiple save files of just one character from DLC packs, Origins, the expansion and then there's also my Orlasian Warden from Awakening... and there's the option to create yet another Warden solely for the Witch Hunt DLC?? It was all so much simpler back in the day of just a single Dragon Age story with Warden characters who didn't have multiple saves all over the place. 
It's also making the 10 character limit on consoles all the more intolerable, at that. Since any new saves you create via DLC with your previous characters still counts as another character -_- 
 
...I'm just so exhausted of trying to work around Origins overly expansive Warden management. 

Online
Posted by AndrewB
@Abyssfull: I know what you mean... 
 

Three different character slots/sets of saves for each of my two "main" characters, and I don't even have *all* of the DLC. At least it doesn't limit me to a certain number of characters on the PC (I don't think). 
 
I was just playing through it again as my mage character to take a few screenshots, and yeah, I noticed a bunch of subtle changes in dialog reflecting choices from the main game. There's a random conversation between two women in the mage tower that drops hints as to what other characters have been doing in the years time that's passed between the events of Origins and tracking down Morrigan. A few books in the library give what I'd imagine are hints at locations you'll visit and events that will happen in Dragon Age 2. Obviously the dialog with Morrigan and whether or not you choose to go with her would have a pretty big effect on things (I would hope). 
 
I'm interested in seeing what she says about Flemeth, because in my first run through I didn't kill her, and with the character I'm playing now, I did. Obviously she isn't really "dead" and probably can't die, period.
Posted by MichaelBach

I got it on the 360 and didn't mind the graphics, but I am interested in seeing how DA2 looks, I heard it is vastly improved! 
 
Good blog post!

Posted by ArbitraryWater

Ehh, I have the 360 version and it's a perfectly fine, perfectly playable port that happens to look bad because they had to cram the entire game on one disk. The PC version is just inscrutably better because they didn't have to do that, and hopefully DA2 will circumvent that problem altogether by having no lead platform. 
 
The thing is, I don't think Bioware "gets" DLC the same way a company like Bethesda seems to. Sure, them working on additional content is all fine and dandy, but they shot themselves in the foot immediately by having Warden's Keep as a day 1 thing, and that's basically a somewhat short and somewhat dull quest all for the benefit of a spell you will probably never use, a storage chest, and one of the better weapons in the game. For $7, that was a little steep. Similarly, the way the games are structured, with a very well defined beginnings and ends, conflict with what are basically glossed up sidequests that promise high class loot or story chunks. Even though, chances are, most people have already beaten the game before the DLC comes out. Whereas, Fallout 3 really doesn't have an ending (anymore. Let's face it. Broken Steel is you basically paying $10 to play after you finish the main storyline), and people can do whatever the hell they want whenever they want.