On The Level

Dragon Age: Origins - "The Darkspawn Chronicles"

Dragon Age: Origins—“The Darkspawn Chronicles”

Turnabout is fair play. That should soothe your old friends as you stab them to death.

By Drew Toal • July 5, 2012

Imagine a game where you play as the goomba from Super Mario Bros. You’re just minding your own goombusiness, puttering around between two random blocks, when this mustachioed ruffian drops in from out of nowhere and turns you into a mushroom pancake. I picture the gameplay as an endlessly recurring loop of furious A-button-mashing to reinflate yourself, after which you resume your silent patrol until the next inevitable flattening. To my knowledge, no such game exists. But if it did, players might better understand the plight of the bad guy in video games.

In Dragon Age: Origins, you play the role of the Grey Warden, a member of a legendary group of warriors tasked with opposing the Archdemon and his loyal darkspawn. Popular opinion has it that these darkspawn are little more than vicious animals whose sole purpose is to despoil the surface world. Think Jersey Shore, but more articulate. It is with a clear conscience that the Warden and his companions slay scores of these subterranean zombie-orc-morlocks in defense of the realm.

It’s a convenient myth, straight out of the eugenicist’s handbook. The tables are turned on the bigots in the Dragon Age: Origins expansion The Darkspawn Chronicles.” This add-on chapter reimagines the final battle of Origins, where the heroes save a burning city and slay the Archdemon. This time, instead of the Warden, the player controls a darkspawn champion determined to stop these same do-gooders from succeeding. Finally, here is a chance to claim bloody vengeance for goombas and oppressed hero fodder everywhere.

Dragon Age: Origins - "The Darkspawn Chronicles"

The Darkspawn Chronicles” begins at the gates of Denerim. The Archdemon commands you to recruit “thralls” from among the other darkspawn spilling into the city. These will function as your companions—rabid, snarling mirrors held up to the Warden’s comrades. In the early going, the main objective is to impress your new followers with your mastery of traditional darkspawn values: It’s a pro-stabbing, anti-mercy platform, and there is absolutely no room for flip-flopping on the issue of violent human death. Killing inspires loyalty, and more thralls flock to your side.

The game limits you to three bound, controllable thralls at any time. Darkspawn that aren’t under your direct control will still aid you in battle, but in a more random fashion. If you’ve reached your party limit but want to draft, say, an ogre into your gang, there is an option to execute followers to make room for new ones. Summary execution may be a harsh way to reward faithful service, but the darkspawn language has no words for polite dismissal. Recruiting some of the more baneful examples of darkspawnery and inflicting them on Ferelden’s finest is a delicate art, in need of constant tweaking.

Like many role-playing games, the first Dragon Age: Origins employs the least fun fighting system possible, and the story is mostly derivative fantasy boilerplate. Thegame’s appeal lies in its characters. There’s Alistair, for instance, a reluctant heir to the throne. And Zevran, the sexually adventurous elfin assassin who goes from trying to kill you to trying to kiss you. Each character has a story and special relationship to the Warden, developed over the course of the quest. In the original game, during quiet moments in camp, you learn personal histories, hopes, and dreams.

Dragon Age: Origins - "The Darkspawn Chronicles"

Playing for the other team in “Chronicles,” you battle your erstwhile allies, and it’s the source of no small internal turmoil. Sure, it’s great fun to cut down the more annoying characters—the pious bard and the stodgy mageophobe will not be missed—but fighting the rest of my old pals feels like a betrayal. It’s the type of sad turn that requires a mournful Keith David voiceover—a few lines about how they once were brothers and are now mortal enemies.

As you slash your way into the city, more Origins heroes fall, and for once, there are no saved-game files to bring them back. Soon enough, only a single Grey Warden remains, and the ever-predictable Archdemon commands that he must die. “The Darkspawn Chronicles” only ends after you plunge your sword into Warden Alistair’s chest, closing the grim crusade with a fountain of blood. This one is for the goombas.

Plenty of games allow you to perpetrate evil, but few let you replay a signature level from the opposing standpoint. The central conceit of “The Darkspawn Chronicles” would never hold up for more than a single chapter—as I said, Dragon Age relies on interplay between the characters—but murdering former friends feels right in all the wrong ways. They’d sure do a lot less griping and sniping at one another if they knew that being fired meant a sword in the gut. The darkspawn have a lot to teach us about effective team management.

Share this with your friends and enemies

Write a scintillating comment

211 Responses to “Dragon Age: Origins—“The Darkspawn Chronicles””

  1. caspiancomic says:

    Getting to see the other side of the story is always kind of a treat in these sorts of games. Off the top of my head, New Game Plus mode in Nier allows you (the player, not the characters) to understand the guttural gibberish of the Shades, the amorphous clouds of darkness that your party slaughters by the thousands throughout the game. Contrary to the opinion of the characters, the Shades are actually sentient and articulate, and your party inflicts some truly ghastly horrors against them without even realizing it. Chilling stuff. Even what the Shades actually are is pretty compelling, which is almost a shame because the exposition is so dense, infrequent, and poorly delivered. The Dark Id has a pretty sweet LP of it though, and his notes about the timeline and backstory of the game help make sense of what is a great story poorly told.

    Also this wouldn’t be a comment from caspiancomic without mentioning Suikoden. In pretty much all of the games there’s right and wrong to be found on both sides of the story’s driving conflict (although less so as the series goes on), but Suikoden III really takes the cake in this category. (Spoilery, I guess? This game is like ten years old) You play the game from the perspective of multiple characters (three at first, with a fourth added later, and a “joke” viewpoint after that), and if you fulfill the usual bonus objective of the series (recruiting all 108 Stars of Destiny before X plot event), you unlock an extra viewpoint- that of the game’s main antagonist. It isn’t a full replay of the game from the villain’s perspective, but you get a pretty good sense of who the villain is, why he made the decisions he did, and how he struggles with his choices. You are also given a strange little moment in which you can choose to kill or show mercy to an NPC during one of the more violent sequences in the game, so as the player you get to give the villain that little bit of texture. You also get to see what happens to him after the protagonists foil his plan and leave him for dead. It’s really well executed stuff.

    (Bonus fun: all those one-sided fights in which the main group of villains curbstomp your whole party? This time round you get to be on the giving end of those fights. Eat dirt, heroes of the land!)

    • rvb1023 says:

       Nier dense?  I remember loving Nier because it was so unlike most other Japanese games where it was actually fairly subtle in it’s approach.  In fact, I would call one of it’s few faults that a lot of what happens is left unclear and some outside sources are needed to fully understand it (Outside sources never released outside of Japan).

      As for DA, I’m not a DLC guy so I never got around to Darkside Chronicles, but this is definitely an interesting “What if” scenario that actually feels like it should be DLC.  That being said it ultimately sounds like it doesn’t add a whole lot more to the game other than “Hey, you can play as the villains for a little bit in this but it will have absolutely no bearing on the game whatsoever”.

      Also, I wouldn’t say it has the most boring combat when Turn-Based Strategy games like Fire Emblem and the Tactics games still exist.  This sort of gameplay is just a bit more compelling than that.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

        Whoa whoa whoa. Are you turn based strategy/tactics games are boring? I WILL FIGHT YOU.

      • caspiancomic says:

         By way of clarification, the only thing dense about Nier is its backstory. The actual narrative of the game is, as you said, a refreshingly simple story about a dad trying to save his daughter. If you start researching the history of the world, though, there’s a LOT of information there that isn’t delivered to the player very well, if at all.

        • rvb1023 says:

           That I can agree with, as most of it isn’t even in the game.

          @Douchetoevsky:disqus I was merely saying if DA’s combat is as bad as stated, then certainly a slower, more grid-based, less-“actiony” version of it would be at least as bad.

      • Sarapen says:

        Darkspawn Chronicles does so affect the main game. You get a new sword for finishing the DLC.

        You know, I’m not even sure if I’m joking or not.

  2. Man, the DA series had some lame DLC but this was among the worst – basically a glorified expansion of the Mage’s Tower fade sequence, in which you play as a variety of odd creatures. It’s about as good as an xpac that devotes itself entirely to combat can be. Compare how fondly people regard Mass Effect 2’s “Lair of the Shadow Broker” DLC relative to Mass Effect’s “Pinnacle Station” DLC. A lot of people won’t even remember the latter exists.

    And for what it’s worth, there are plenty of RPGs that allow you to play alternate sides of the same battle – Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas come immediately to mind but there are more. The primary difference is that Bioware has entirely removed players’ choice of goals from its design philosophy – their games give you a singular goal and only present variation in how nicely your character achieves it. In F:NV, I don’t have to play as someone other than the main character to fight as the Legion – I can just have the main character align himself with the villains.

    • The Fade sequence would have also been a good choice for this feature. I think it exemplifies the self-indulgence that went on when making DA:O. BioWare threw in every idea they had. 

  3. jondavid666 says:

    Bioware needs to make a sequel to Jade Empire. That game world has so much potential.

  4. Staggering Stew Bum says:

    Dragon Age Origins. I really wanted to like this game but after slogging through the first couple of hours I just couldn’t go any further. I’m sure that I only experienced the tip of the iceberg but found it too difficult to get into. People rave about this game but I guess I’ll never be one of them. 

    We need more Bioware for the On The Level features. Hands down, the best gaming experience I can recall (for this generation anyway) is the Reaper IFF mission on the derelict Reaper in Mass Effect 2. On Insanity, this is probably the most gripping gaming experience I’ve ever had. The tension builds up as you explore the interior, then the husks and abominations swarm as the scions start shambling closer and closer…..plus you have that area where your squadmates just disappear into thin air which somehow makes it even better. Awesome stuff. This is where I became convinced that the M-97 Viper is the greatest video game gun in history.

    Another great level which would justify an On The Level is returning to the Ishimura in Dead Space 2.

    I also have a soft spot for the Monastery in Uncharted 2 and everything between Thessia and charging the beam in Mass Effect 3 is instant classic.

    • Electric Dragon says:

      I think my favourite Bioware level (haven’t played ME3 yet) is the “outside the Citadel” level in ME1. The way it takes the familiar territory of the Citadel and suddenly renders it alien, combined with the curvature of the external surface giving you a limited horizon and the seemingly endless waves of geth coming at you really ratchets up the tension superbly.

      • alguien_comenta says:

        The whole final battle is the best one on the whole trilogy, IMHO. From the trench run on Ilos to the Citadel battle everything feels perfect. The final battle on ME2 is good as well (except for the underwhelming final boss). The final battle on ME3 doesn’t seem as epic as those two

      • Sarapen says:

        Yes, when you’re spacewalking on the outside of the elevator shaft. The whole damn thing was awesome.

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

       I liked DA:O but found its combat atrocious. Maybe I didn’t understand the combat perfectly, but it often felt like winning certain battles came down to “the random number generator was kinder this time around.” If anyone has any different experiences, feel free to correct me.

      Unfortunately, I think DA2 was pretty much a step down in every conceivable way. It had some cool features, sure, and I liked a couple of new characters, but a lot of the story seemed to revolve around proving choices you make have little to no real impact on the story and dumbing down the returning characters.

      I suppose when I think about it, when it comes to WRPGs, I much prefer Obsidian. KOTOR II is, in my opinion, the most interesting Star Wars story ever told (assuming you get the fan-made patch that restores the game to a better point) and Fallout New Vegas is one of my all-time favorites. Now if only they could improve their debugging…

      •  The combat in DA:O does take a bit to get used too and can be a pain if you are used to just running into a battle in any other role besides tank and getting away just fine. The game tends to play out more like a miniature tabletop than a video game at certain points, meaning positioning is everything, but sadly, some of your characters don’t want to stay in their positions. You also have to tweak out the FFXII style system jsut right for each and every character and to make them work together.

        Or, just roll a Mage, get Arcane Warrior unlocked and dump everything into INT and face roll everything in your path while screaming “FUCK YOU!” to your party members which just become literal heal bots.

        • Electric Dragon says:

          I think I ended up manually micromanaging my party most of the time. This is probably why it took me three months to play. (Although the fact that I have neither the time nor the stamina to play more than a couple of hours a day may have contributed)

        • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

           I remember a number of battles against mages in particular were very hard because they would always start battle with a spell that would literally one-shot multiple party members unless you manage to spread everyone out enough. Which I suppose goes along with your point. Positioning is really, really important (especially since I pretty much always rolled as a rogue) but the AI doesn’t like to stay in place.

          I also seem to remember my tanks not taking damage nearly as well as you’d expect in a tank role to do.

          All I can say for certain is I was more there for the story than the fighting.

      • Fallout New Vegas is totally underrated!  I did play it only after it was patched up though, if it was the bugs that ruined it for the early adopters. 

        • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

           I love the game, but I’m not sure it’s underrated mostly because I heard people talking about it everywhere. I don’t think it ever got Skyrim levels of popular, but still.

          I did enjoy that game essentially pointing out that no side was pure good or pure evil, though the NCR was clearly much closer to good and the Legion very close to evil.

        • KidvanDanzig says:

          I don’t know if it’s as successful as Skyrim, but from a pure “units sold” standpoint, New Vegas was more successful than F3 by some margin.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          New Vegas got a ton of flak for being buggy on release, though it’s all patched up now. It’s seriously the only game that I felt had good writing and world building. 

          It’s a shame about the metacritic thing. Obsidian is a fantastic developer. 

          New Vegas would be my contender for the “Citizen Kane of videogames,” if we’re going to declare something like that. At least it’s my personal Citizen Kane of games.

        • Professor_Cuntburglar says:

           My favorite part about New Vegas was that your decisions actually affected the main storyline, and  you get to decide the future of New Vegas. It didn’t force you to follow the standard hero’s journey like every other video game ever.

      • KidvanDanzig says:

        DA:O’s combat, like most RPG combat, tended to revolve around finding the combination of tactics that would essentially allow you to steamroll through anything you encountered, regardless of what it was. In DA:O they were the ice spells, in Baldur’s Gate 2 they were improved haste and an endless horde of summons, etc.

        The shittiness of DA2’s combat (99% enemy “trash waves”, 1% boss battles) was a direct response to this. They attempted to change their encounter design such that there would be no “win buttons” but they ended up throwing out any need for any kind of actual tactic. Combat resets itself with such speed that planning ahead makes no difference.

      • alguien_comenta says:

        You must set their actions properly, get a good tank, tons of potions (HP and MP) and good positioning. That’s pretty much it.
        Regarding “The Darkspawn Chronicles” the thing I remember the most is that Alstair’s dog was called “barkspawn”

    • doyourealize says:

      Re: The return to the Ishimura – I always like it when you get to return to an old setting. My favorite instance of this is in MGS4 (spoilers ahead) when you return to Shadow Moses. I got goosebumps when Snake first falls into the helicopter landing area.

      Not as nostalgic (for me anyway), but still nice was the return to Tristram in Diablo 2.

      Maybe you guys could do an “On the Level” special with instances like this?

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      Yeah, I was super-excited to play Dragon Age, touted as it was, the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate.
         But lord, I just couldn’t get into the groove.  I think it started almost immediately by choosing the elf origin and having to go through the arranged marriage plot line with a woman I’ve never met, despite us both having grown up in the same inbred shanty town.  Also, having the elves be an oppressed, ghetto-ized race felt like such a lazy twist.  And sadly, the art direction for the entirety of the game could be summed up as ‘blood-flecked oatmeal’.
         But I was also playing it on PS3.  Has anyone played it on pc?  And if so is it better?  My understanding is there’s more control over battle view, and a few other tweaks that makes battle management better.  But then again, I can’t foresee ever putting Origin onto my computer, so I doubt I’ll ever give it a try.

      • alguien_comenta says:

        A friend played it on PC, and  yes, you had a better view of the combat and having hotkeys for everything made things easier/faster

      • Sarapen says:

        The arranged marriage was to someone from another ghetto. I think playing as female in that scenario would have been better, it makes slaughtering the rapists who interrupted your wedding a lot more personal.

      • wygrif says:

        I think the ghettoized elf thing could have worked if it wasn’t written so damned poorly.  The way that every NPC would apologize if you called them on their bigotry just smacks of writers who can’t really imagine how that interaction goes in a society which isn’t a modern liberal democracy

    • Professor_Cuntburglar says:

       I really liked Mass Effect 2, but I hate hate hated the combat bits. They’re incredibly monotonous – walk down a hallway, hide behind cover, pop out of cover, shoot the enemy (all enemies are the same, by the way, except for the zombie things), repeat one hundred thousand goddamn times.

      I played the game on easy because I didn’t feel like putting effort into the combat bits and I wanted to get back to the story.

      • Staggering Stew Bum says:

        I totally understand not wanting to slog through combat in a story orientated game, but for ME2 (and ME3) playing through on the hardest difficulty level makes the story resonate on a whole different level. The story itself is about fighting a powerful enemy against massive odds, yet on normal or easy difficulty Shepard and pals blast through all obstacles without breaking a sweat. On Insanity, in many parts (particularly sequences taking on the Collectors) it often feels like an unwinnable fight that gets more and more desperate which fits the tone of the story perfectly.

        Also on Insanity every single enemy has at least shields, armour or a barrier so chosing your squad is massively important (Miranda becomes the best squadmate in the game no questions asked) and every fight is incredibly tough like it should be. Shepard is supposed to be an amazing leader (Illusive Man comments on her phenomenal leadership at one point), yet on Easy you can let your squadmates wander off and do whatever they want and it doesn’t matter as Shepard can do all the work. On Insanity your squad placement and tactics have to be extremely precise or you quickly die, so what needs to be done to get through each mission alive fits perfectly with how Shepard is a great leader and military tactician.

        Anyway, I loved the combat in ME2 so we’re on different wavelengths. Though I gotta say that there’s plenty of variety in enemies – different mercenary groups comprised of different races, Collector drones, Husks, Scions, couple of praetorians, Geth, varren, mechs and even a Thresher Maw at one point. The scenery could get a bit samey but they mixed it up ok I thought.

  5. For anyone who’s yet to play Dragon Age Origins, I should point out that the “Ultimate Edition”, featuring all the DLC and the excellent expansion disk, retails for only $20 these days. 

  6. Asinus says:

    This kind of reminds me of Mobil Suit Gundam: Zeonic Front where you play the baddies in the series (I’m not familiar enough with the series to know whether or not there’s more ambiguity in the good/bad dichotomy like like there is in Gundam Wing). Though what stands out about Zeonic Front is a a level where Amuro shows up. The way you win isn’t to “win,” just to survive for 20 minutes, IIRC. Over the intercom, you hear Amuro counting off as he kills your friends– it’s a lot like the show in that he is apparently one-shotting them and counting off very quickly: “One, two, three… four, five…”. It could almost be the voice on the phone in 1408: “We have killed your friends, every friend is now dead.”

    So, it reminds me a little of this level in DA, but it’s probably more akin to the goomba simulator.

  7. doyourealize says:

    Never played this DLC, but it sounds like you never get to kill your own character. If anyone deserves to die, it’s that mute, dead-eyed bastard. Would it have been possible (technologically) to load up your saved game and have to fight your own creation as a final boss?

    • Effigy_Power says:

       Sadly the premise is “What if you had died at the Joining?”, but that’s a great idea… mind you, my Dalish Rogue was pretty terrifying, I’d rather go after slow old Alistair.

    • Fluka says:

      Didn’t you have to fight a spirit copy of the Warden and the party in the Urn of Sacred Ashes quest, during the Gauntlet? I think they’re supposed to have all have the same spells and abilities.  Of course, you don’t *really* kill yourself, and I remember it being disappointingly easy, given that my mage was able to turn herself into a cloud of bees, and who the hell wants to fight a cloud of bees?

  8. doyourealize, yes.  That would be amazing.

  9. Effigy_Power says:

    The discussions about DA:O and DA2 are so numerous and belligerent (Hi Morbo) that sometimes I tire of them. Games being what they are as a whole, I’d say that both games are amazing masterpieces, but I have become somewhat more careful in defending them, because a lot of the criticism is certainly not completely off the ball.
    Yes, the combat system in Origins is pretty atrocious, no doubt. It is dreadfully slow as well, which I think was the worst about it. Having a group of characters slog through a world seemingly made of strawberry jam was pretty painful. On the other hand, the voice-work, the character design, the story (being a fantasy staple to the point of cliche doesn’t have to be a bad thing) was great and the entire composition was just lovely. It was one of the first truly adult-feeling games after a long period of kid-friendly stuff, ME1 excluded.
    DA2 is in my opinion almost the better game, even if I understand why so many people thought it was a step down in scale. That is probably because it is. Then again, people find the “Save the world from evil” story cliche, but then complain when they get any less, hehe. I thought it was very refreshing to be important, but not the center of everything. Using Hawke as the facilitator of the events surrounding the very amazing main actors (especially Meredith and the Qunari Arishok) instead of making him/her the Guildmaster/Dragonborn/Archmage/Dutch of Dukes was an inspired choice that I will defend gladly, especially since the events began so local and only slowly evolved into the political quagmire it became later.
    I also don’t agree that the game was dumbed down. There are levels of complexity people are comfortable with and those who prefer to adjust the center screw of their left pauldron are always quick to state that systems with less detail are dumbed down. Personally I loved not having to take so many trips to the inventory screen. The side-characters were designed with a special look in mind and their clothes reflected that.
    And the combat system of DA2 is actually pretty fun. I can’t argue for the console, mind you, where I hear it has been turned into a button masher, but on the PC the system felt quick, dynamic and powerful. Rogues are finally lightning-fast, warriors are raging bulkwards of steel and mages true batteries of ouch.

    But as I said, I do get the criticism. One has to imagine however that both games were pretty ambitious from a standpoint of scale, production value and length. Games with this much going on will have their dips and lulls. DA:O had the lengthy Fade-sequence, which is rightfully dreaded, since the whole thing is more or less a travel-puzzle with lots of backtracking.
    DA2’s first chapter is slow and requires quite a bit of grinding while not paying off a lot until the very end. Personally I think that’s exactly what it was supposed to be, signifying the frustrating slogging through other people’s ambitions in order to earn a crust, but I can see how that might not be what people are looking for.

    Now, “Darkspawn Chronicles” is a fun idea, tho it is by far not the best DLC for Origins (I’d argue that that would be Stone Prisoner). I did however feel pretty bad having to kill my former comrades, all of who I’ve befriended in differing combinations depending on my character (my evil Noble was a good friend of Sten, Zevran and Ohgren and somehow killing those three was almost the hardest for me).
    I don’t know if the DLC is really about playing evil though. The premise is that your character did not survive the Joining ceremony, which isn’t something I’ve ever thought of. What if your hero trips and falls? What happens then? That’s a really interesting though that I could see in a lot of games. What if Alduin had attacked Helgen 10 minutes later? What if Cerberus’ Lazarus Project had failed? What if Benny’s bullet had been slightly more centered on your brain?
    The idea that the central hero, around who everything hinges, could be taken out of the picture is a fascinating idea, similar to the “What if?” scenarios of alternate history. There are whole books written about what had happened if Caesar hadn’t crossed the Rubicon, if Stalin and Hitler had gotten along, if Henry VIII hadn’t broken with the Catholic Church or if William the Conqueror had stayed in France.
    I think it’s a scenario that could be really great fodder for future games. I for one would love to play Skyrim as a regular schnook while Alduin’s hordes are slowly tearing the ass off Nirn.

    PS: My favorite level in a Bioware game must be landing on the Shadow Broker’s ship and fighting your way towards the heat-shields, with the violent weather around you and hellfire waiting for you. Very epic.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      I sadly got little pleasure from the First Dragon Age, and didn’t play the second; but you’ve assembled a fine defense of both.  

      • Effigy_Power says:

         Thanks. It’s terribly easy to slide into the black and white argumentation of “This game rulz and you suxxorz” or vice versa. I am glad I managed to avoid that.
        In the end neither game is perfect, but I can’t, for all the little faults of it, remember the last time I played something so immersive from a story-point. Oblivion and Skyrim may be more immersive from a sand-box style gameplay, but when it comes to dense characterization and narration, either DA is hard to beat for my money.
        I’d give it to Kotor 1 and 2 if I wasn’t so damn tired of Star Wars, but that’s my beef.

        • Sarapen says:

          What I’ve found is that it’s harder to roleplay character in open world games like Oblivion and Fallout. I start out with a specific idea of my character – idealistic young man slowly becoming cynical at seeing the harshness of the world, for instance – but too often just end up powergaming and doing stuff like exploiting bugs to get the rewards for backing both sides in a conflict. 

          However, open world games make it easier for me to roleplay actions. For example, in Oblivion whenever I went into town I’d put on civilian clothes and unequip my weapons just because I thought it looked unrealistic to be walking around armed to the teeth in a bustling metropolis. I’d also wear fancy clothing if a quest had me meeting aristocrats and I’d drag dead bodies into the bushes to keep them out of sight of guardsmen patrolling the roads.

          Which is to say that I like both styles of roleplaying games but they also lend themselves to different playing styles for me.

    • The Guilty Party says:

      I suspect the discussions are so terrible because Bioware/EA managed to market the game widely, and picked up a lot of players that would not normally go for this kind of game.

      RPGs are, in the end, kind of different from a lot of other games. And Bioware games specifically seem to aim for the type of gamer that likes to relax, explore and experience. As opposed to the people who are picking up games to look for a challenge to overcome. I’m not saying one is better than the other, but if you’re type A and pick up a type B, you’re going to be frustrated, disappointed, or bored.

      And I agree about this DLC. It’s different, interesting the first time through, and kind of heartbreaking to have to kill the people you just spent 100 hours becoming pals with. But it’s not something I’ve really replayed, while I have run through the other mini-adventures a few times.

      • Effigy_Power says:

         I think your marketing theory sounds pretty good. If you market to the broad majority, you’re going to get a lot more dissenting opinions than you would have when catering to a specific type of consumer.
        I don’t know if that’s EA’s fault or if EA should be lauded for trying to bring RPGs to the masses, but that’s another question.

      • Sarapen says:

        I didn’t feel bad at all, though probably it’s because I finished the main game months ago and only now have returned to take up the DLC.

    • KidvanDanzig says:

      One has to imagine however that both games were pretty ambitious from a standpoint of scale, production value and length.
      Actually, DA:O was developed while Bioware was still an independent company, and all told about 7 years of work went into it (I believe they started shortly before Neverwinter Nights shipped in 2002). 

      DA2, by contrast, was begun after the company had been bought by EA and the Dragon Age franchise was deemed a second-tier property. I think DA:O had sold more than Mass Effect had at the time but there was honestly no way EA was going to sign off on another game like it, being that tactical RPGs aren’t designed for consoles. 

      So when they greenlit a sequel, they brought in a new showrunner (the Jade Empire guy, which shows) to instill more marketable qualities in the franchise, and gave it a one year development window, which is no time at all (and shows even more).

      • Effigy_Power says:

         Huh. I knew Origins had been in the make for a while, but seven years… you have to be surprised how well it turned out considering how many people probably came and went during that time, I’d guess.
        Jade Empire is definitely a good thing to call people from, I’d say. Clearly a game that ought to have a sequel. I mean, that twist… I didn’t see it coming right up to the punch.

      • Fluka says:

        Dang, besides the streamlined combat, it’s sometimes hard to picture what the “more marketable qualities” they added were, between the often grumpy characters and the willfully non-heroic plotline…
        (Dear self: finally buy Jade Empire.)

    • Fluka says:

      I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said here.  Maybe it’s because I’m less patient than old school RPG fans (and again playing on a PC), but I found the combat to be a lot more fun in DA2 than DAO.  Partially because my mage wasn’t curling up in a little ball and dying every five minutes for the first half of the game until I managed to get a specialization and I learned proper squad placement strategy (stupid Dalish werewolf quest).  DA2 is flawed, certainly, but I love the fact that BioWare took so many risks with it.  Making it a single character’s morally ambiguous story over the course of several years, as opposed to a Hero’s Fantasy Quest to Save the World.  Setting it in a single city as opposed to a world-spanning voyage (though the reuse of the same warehouse and cave twenty times kind of hamstrings things).  Letting the squad characters be assholes with their own lives and agendas, where you can disagree and not lose them from the party (Rivalry/Friendship was a nice innovation).  Making their female characters the way they were (and then defending them publicly), and making Anders be the terroristic, lying, gay dude that he was (and he really does seem to be written with the assumption he is gay – I don’t care if ladies can technically bang him too).  The game is so damn imperfect, but it also goes to so many interesting places.  It’s a lot shakier than Dragon Age Origins, but I also it was a lot more interesting.  I hope DA3 manages to combine some of the strengths of both, like ME3 did.

      Also, Shadow Broker is objectively (objectively!) the best quest/level in the entire Mass Effect series.  Even Shepard and Liara seem to be getting a little giddy.

    • Mookalakai says:

       As much as I loved Fallout New Vegas, I thought it was really goofy how you get shot in the head, but then you’re fine a few days later. Then again, that’s hardly the only time you’ll get shot in the head, then recover immediately. Videogames!

    • Sarapen says:

      This DLC is the last bit of DA:O I haven’t finished yet and I’ve  been waffling about whether to get DA2 afterward but have been put off by all the bad comments online. You make a very cogent defence, though, so maybe I will get 2 after all.

      I’m just a bit tired of DA right this moment because I’ve spent the last two days trying to get Morrigan to admit she had Alistair’s demon baby at the end of Witch Hunt and keep running up against the ending bug (pity us console players). I think I’ll give up that part and just use this DLC to kill the shit out of her as revenge.

    • Asinus says:

      I feel like I should play these just because you wrote so many words about them.

  10. Perfect Dark 64 had an co-op mode where Player 1 plays as the main character in a normal level run-through, and Player 2 spawns as the nearest guard. Any level, any difficulty, everything was exactly the same, including the weapon you spawn with and your health (compared to what the guard’s stats would be if the AI controlled them). When you get killed, you respawn again, sometimes right in the middle of a firefight. You go through tons of bad guys to stop the one good guy, it’s inevitable, but you still have that chance.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      That reminds me of Pac-Man Vs. for the Gamecube. Three people would play as ghosts with a limited FOV, while the fourth play would use a gba to play a normal game of Pac-Man. I think they’re doing an almost identical thing for the Wii-U, which is pretty neat I guess. I can’t imagine it being that fun for very long though.

    • Asinus says:

      I did not know that it had that option. I would have tried to buy it off of my friend when he ditched his N64 if I’d known that. I just didn’t care about console FPSes back then. I still don’t know if I’d play it, but i do remember being really impressed with PD’s visuals. They really squoze out a shitton of the N64’s potential.

      Shit, I guess I could just go get the rom and play it in HD.

      • Fixda Fernback says:

        If you have a 360 there’s a pretty good port on XBLA for like 10 bucks. Well worth it, my buddy and I still play it occasionally.

  11. duwease says:

    The combat in DA:O was bad???  It’s the only RPG I’ve played in years where there was real strategy to the combat, especially on the higher difficulties.  You had to constantly change up the party member “scripts” from battle to battle, and even then you had to jump from character to character to position them and fire off crowd control combos.  Hearing about the dumbed-down combat in the sequel was the nail in the coffin that led to me not getting it, even after playing through the original 3 times.

    • Travis Stewart says:

       Alas, most people don’t enjoy the kind of combat provided by DA:O. Too much management, not enough interactivity/spectacle. That said, I’m rather fond of it. It doesn’t require much dexterity, and always gives me something to do beyond just hit the attack button or, in rare circumstances, hit the attack button while moving into cover.

    • Mooy says:

      As someone in the same boat as you (I loved the combat in DA:O), I will say that the combat in the sequel is different, but I there are a few things that close the gap, and I think you’re missing out on a pretty great game. Plating through DA2 on the hardest difficulty feels quite a lot like DA:O, and it reintroduces things like friendly fire, and the need to frequently pause the game to reasses and micromanage. When I played through the game (PC), I downloaded a mod that allows you to equip items onto your companions, which helps to brig back a lot of the customization of the original. If you can find it for cheap (and I bet you can), I really do think you should give it a shot.

    • Effigy_Power says:

       What @Mooy:disqus says is generally good advice.
      In the end you can take other people’s opinions and reviews only so far and you’ll have to try the game for yourself.
      If reviews alter my opinions in any ways, it’s that they help me decide if a game is worth $60 or if I should wait for it to be bargained off.
      That said, I enjoyed the combat in DA2 more because it was faster, but I didn’t think it was that different from Origins. Micromanagement is still important, but now you don’t have to wait for an eternity for something to happen and non-rogues get a bit flashy smashy too. Nothing wrong with that.

    • duwease says:

      Hmm.. is the story worth it as well?  I liked the story in DA:O (not so much in the expansion, where it was pretty bad).. when that got a bit maligned as well by reviewers who liked the first story, it was another strike.  I’ll definitely give it a try if the combat is not much worse and the story isn’t either.

      • Mooy says:

        The story is.. different, but I will try to explain it as best as I can without any spoilers. DA:O was, more than anything a story about a world. Sure, you had a protagonist, but the main focus was on the locations, the cultures, the races, and the characters living within the world. DA2 is above all a story about one person, and that’s the big change that puts off a lot of DA:O fans. (Mass effect is a good example of both of these story types combined.) This narrows the scope of the game greatly, but it also let’s the game put a much greater focus onto character development. The result is a much more subdued story (you don’t get called a savior by everyone you meet, but there also aren’t as many “holy cow!” moments as the original). I can’t give an objective opinion on whether or not the story is >< DA:O, but hopefully you can infer whether you'd like the differences.

        • duwease says:

          Thanks — I imagine that could work for me.  I really liked the smaller scope of the story in Vagrant Story back in the day.

    • AmaltheaElanor says:

       I completely agree.  I have never enjoyed combat in another video game as much as I did in DA:O. Period.

      The combat in the sequel wasn’t it’s only problem, IMO, but I do wish they hadn’t done dramatic things like remove the isometric camera.  And it did feel like they were pandering more to the consoles (not that there’s anything wrong with consoles, but I do feel like the first was a game ultimately tailored to the strengths of the PC) and removed a lot of the tactical feel.  I played through DA:O six times.  I played through the second game once and I was done.

  12. Travis Stewart says:

    I’m always surprised at the amount of sympathy rampaging armies of monsters receive. People treat them as victims even though you never meet one who isn’t hostile, and their houses are decorated with impaled corpses.

    • Effigy_Power says:

       They are misunderstood. One Darkspawn Social Worker and they’d be changing those impaled corpses for Nyan-Cat posters…

      Actually I am not sure that’s an improvement.

    • Girard says:

      This is an old McSweeney’s piece, but relevant, and wonderful.

      Zinn: Well, look how the Orcs grow up. What do you expect?

      Chomsky: I mean, what other options have they?

      Zinn: I dare say that, were I an Orc, I might possibly be one of those terrorist Orcs, shooting arrows at the Fellowship myself.

      Chomsky: Here comes the Balrog. Notice Gandalf’s unilateral action. “Quick, get away, I have to fight this thing alone!”

      Zinn: Once again you see a creature that’s on fire being demonized in
      this movie: the flaming eye, the flaming Balrog. As though being on
      fire is this terrible affliction to have.

      Chomsky: As though they can help it if they’re on fire.

  13. Jeeshman says:

    “Pious bard!?”  “PIOUS BARD??”  You didn’t talk to Leliana much when you played this game, didja?

    • Fluka says:

      And by “stodgy mageophobe” does he mean…Sten?  That old baked-goods-loving softie?  Daww.

      • Effigy_Power says:

         That’s like calling Ohgren a disgusting drunken little pervert… which he is, but just not exclusively.

  14. yuanbu says: