By AndrewB 12 Comments
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 WitchNow, 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.
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.
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.
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.