Dragon Age: Ultimate Edition
First off, a couple of general things. I don't know if it was because of updates in the video driver or if the program in general was just a huge mess, but throughout the DLCs and the expansion module I was plagued with red flickering objects, huge black blobs where there should have been a texture, and some really horrible alpha blending on hair and other items - almost certainly caused by the depth of field blur you couldn't turn off. It remained a major distraction whenever I was in an outdoor area. Mercifully most of the issue seemed to go away once I was indoors.
The second major pain in the ass was the DLC authentication. Apparently somewhere between my purchase of the Collector's Edition and the Ultimate Edition every DLC that I already had, plus all the ones on the new disc except for Awakening claimed they were not authorized. I spent a good 2-3 hours trying to fix this according to instructions that went along with the Witch Hunt 1.1 update notice. To no avail. Finally, angry and ready to unleash, I hit the awful AWFUL Bioware forums and found a sticky note about a patch to fix it. Great! Or maybe not.
Said patch, while it did fix the DLC authentication issue, has an insidious bug in it that makes the loading times as you play get longer and longer between jumps. Eventually it gets to the point where even the dialogue transitions begin to stutter, and accessing any menu can take literally a minute or longer to open. Bioware has given no indication they intend to fix this in a proper patch since the beta 1.05 patch is now nearly 4 months old and no developer activity has taken place on it since it came out.
"So just revert back to 1.04 like they said you moron!" Ah, if only it were so simple. I tried that, and sure enough, the game choked itself to death, declaring once more that all my DLC was bogus *AND* refusing to load my dependent saves. So back to the beta patch I went. Oh, how I curse EA and their meddling.
The content, however, was for the most part rather good, and I'll break each one into it's own brief bit. Stone Prisoner came with the CE so I won't cover that here. I bought Warden's Keep independently awhile back, and will skip that as well.
Also, I believe it's worth noting that if you happened to play Warden's Keep and have the Warden's armor, you're in for a bit of a surprise as it will not import into any of the "other campaigns" modules. Neither will the vast majority of your other gathered items either. Even if you take them out of the storage chest first.
Return to Ostagar
The basic gist of this one is straightforward. Someone has discovered that the Darkspawn have put King Calain's body up on display in the ruins of Ostagar, and claims his armor has been taken and is still in the hands of the creatures who killed him. It's up to you and your group to go back to Ostagar and right this wrong and reclaim the lost equipment.
It's little more than a straight hack n slash with almost no substantive story elements behind it. You go in, kill some Darkspawn, and eventually confront the ogre who crushed the king's body. You reclaim the lost gear and have a brief cutscene where you deal with the desecrated body. It lasts all of maybe 30-45 minutes.
On the plus side, the equipment is a good deal better than the outfit you get from Warden's Keep, and as you can see by my pic for this post, I wore it through much of the rest of the new content. Return to Ostagar can be played as part of the main Dragon Age Origins campaign, so you can run the quest at any time, though capturing the equipment early will do little good since you need phenomenal strength to wear it. It probably works better being a part of the main campaign instead of doing it separately the way I did.
The Darkspawn Chronicles
Ever wanted to lead a band of enemies and crush the good guys? This gives you the chance, if only for a brief little run. You are an elite Darkspawn Vanguard, able to enthrall other Darkspawn into your service. Your mission: Assault the city of Denerim and aid the Archdemon in destroying the last of the Wardens in Ferelden.
This is little more than a mirror image of fighting the original battle of Denerim, except that instead of liberating it you're overrunning it. You command various types of Genlocks, Hurlocks, ogres, and other minions in your bid to wipe out the Wardens. The more you kill, the more your minions approve of your leadership and the more powerful they become.
The best part though is that you get to kill your own party members as part of the fight. There is a strangely satisfying element of joy in watching some of the irritating ones fall before the might of your blade. Other than that and the novelty of playing the enemy, this one wasn't good for much else. Took about an hour or so to get through. I will say though that in the ending battle, it isn't made crystal clear enough that you have to kill a certain companion FIRST. Those of you who have played it probably know who I'm talking about.
If you managed to get Leliana to talk about her past during the main campaign, she will have related the story of her betrayal at the hands of Marjolaine. In fact, her companion quest in the main campaign involves exacting revenge for this event. Now you get to see how it all happened from her perspective, and understand what drove her to join the Chantry.
Though it involves a serious event, the mood set by the music indicates that you're also supposed to be having fun, in a prankster sort of way. The opening set of quests in the Denerim Market give you the opportunity to sow some chaos among the merchants, as well as have some fun ruining the life of one of the city guards.
Once you've had your fun though, it turns more serious as the night's events turn to raiding Arl Eamon's estate while he's away. Things start to get ugly here, and you'll soon find out what caused Leliana to change her ways.
All told, I spent nearly 2 hours wandering through this one and somehow managed to miss about half of what I was supposed to collect while in the estate. Oops.
The Golems of Amgarrak
Probably the best module of the package, barring Stone Prisoner itself. I may be somewhat partial to the Dwarven stuff though so who knows.
Jerrik Dace has summoned you to Orzammar to aid in locating the lost thaig of Amgarrak. It is said that there are a number of golems there, and some research into their construction and apparently House Dace would like to secure this for themselves. Unfortunately the expedition that was sent there never returned, so you have been called in to help rescue them and bring back what you can.
Once you get there, you find that not all is as it seems, and there are some strange glowing blue items and people about. Plus a rather cool runic golem, who can be upgraded as you find various scrolls throughout the thaig. The are also sports some cool puzzles, not too difficult, but still enough to have to think about what you're doing. There's more backstory to the place, probably because it's part of the Deep Roads system. The end boss was also one of the more interesting challenges. Also not so overly difficult you couldn't kill it with proper tactics.
Easily the second best minor DLC included in the package. Took 2-3 hours total to work through and had oodles of lore to pile through.
This one was billed as the "proper conclusion" to the Dragon Age Origins story. Uh huh. Someone should really work harder to define such things. The basic idea is that you're off to track down Morrigan, despite her being very clear that you were not supposed to follow her. Of course, one might guess, this only works out well if you aren't DEAD as an ending to the original campaign. Since I don't have an "I died" save I couldn't check to see what would come of that.
I suspect it wouldn't matter, because frankly this DLC was rather dry, devoid of much plot, left even more unanswered questions, and had an utterly pointless boss creature fight that felt entirely forced when you encountered it. Like it was just put there because DLC needs a boss fight. It wasn't even a particularly tough boss fight either, yet it was given an "ooo, scary" cutscene.
If it wasn't obvious, I didn't like this DLC much. I'd just as soon forget I wasted the 30 minutes it took to reach the conclusion.
This is the meat and potatoes of the Ultimate Edition. Awakening is a full length expansion set after the events in Denerim. You are now the commander of the Grey Wardens and have been given Arl Howe's old estate at Vigil's Keep. You and an escort are on your way to the keep to get things set up, when it becomes clear that something has gone terribly wrong. The keep has been overrun by the Darkspawn, who you and everyone else thought were retreating back to the Deep Roads. It seems that your plans have now changed, and so have theirs.
Awakening adds in roughly 40 hours worth of new content. Quests galore, ranging from a dark spooky wooded area to the city of Amaranthine. Several new NPCs have been added to fill the roles of your new companions. All of whom have much more interesting stories to back them up than the ones from the original campaign. They each have a slew of humorous party banter lines to share with each other, and in some cases they don't necessarily like each other one bit. Fortunately it doesn't appear as though you can screw up badly enough to drive any of them into quitting on you.
If you were looking for another hot romance or two, forget it. Though there are easily 4 possibilities (2 female, 2 male) they never go much beyond just becoming really friendly. You can still give gifts, but beyond a few bonus dialogue bits, nothing ever comes of it. It would have been nice to at least have that in there since it was such a big part of the main game.
There are several new specializations to pick from, and before you get excited over the fact that you can pick new ones right away at the start of the expansion, DON'T. Even though you may be expecting them to take an epic quest to unlock, you can just save your cash and buy the books to unlock them. Cheesy. You may still want to have your main guy use one of the ones that's not available right away. I know I would have liked to have the Shadow specialization for my Dwarf rogue.
The story line is quite good, with a coherent plot behind it. Though it could have been even better had they not spent so much time foreshadowing everything to do with The Architect and The Mother. learn some restraint guys, because long before I was presented with the actual choice, I already knew you'd have to pick one to side with and I had already long since determined which side that would be. That said, both of these main enemy characters were very well done - I'd show you screenshots but those of you who have played already have seen them and those who haven't, it's spoilerish and in one case, entirely inappropriate for public viewing.
There are a number of side quests to do as well which should pique interest. Especially the one that takes place in the Vigil's Keep basement area. You've also got plenty of stuff to do for the Chantry, Merchant's Guild, and even the soldier who stands outside the gate to the throne room at the keep. Not to mention the actual upgrade quests for the keep itself. Somewhat of an homage to Crossroads Keep in NWN 2 I'd think. The smith can also make some unique items for you if you bring him the right components. Sadly, I never actually found all of the parts for any of them so I don't know if they were any good.
There are also a number of smaller mini-DLCs included with this. Most likely the various freebies that were given out along the way for other promotions. Most of them in the form of simple trinkets that boost your stats. Nothing stood out as all that interesting but you can bet they all have some use to someone in your party.
Over all, despite the technical issues and a couple of lackluster DLCs, the package is worth picking up if you haven't already. For the $25 the content you hate will still be easily outweighed by the content you like, plus I don't see much way to go wrong with Awakening.
"It is pointless to resist, my son." -- Darth Vader
"Resistance is futile." -- The Borg
"Mother's coming for me in the dragon ships. I don't like these itchy clothes, but I have to wear them or it frightens the fish." -- Thurindil
Well. I guess that's that then.