Tuesday, January 08, 2013


Hey, remember when I was playing through Dragon Age: Origins for the second time? Well, that's still happening. I had played it through several major arcs, then set it aside while playing Skyrim. I've since jumped back in, which required a period of re-orientation. That took a while: this is a huge game with a lot of side-quests and complex tactics. On the plus side, though: this is a huge game with a lot of side-quests and complex tactics. And the journal rocks; it's infinitely better than the more recent one implemented in Mass Effect 3. My companions' tactics had been configured beforehand, so it just took me a few fights to re-acquaint myself with their abilities and high-level strategy.

Very minor MINI SPOILERS follow.

My main character, Kiriyon the elf mage, has finally filled up her quickbar. The spells she uses most often are:
  • Fireball - most fights start off this way, unless I'm ambushed. It reliably knocks-down low-level enemies and sets up a nice little DOT. This is also the only friendly-fire spell I've bothered learning, so I don't re-cast it after a fight starts unless I'm hitting a distant cluster of archers or mages.
  • Arcane Bolt - my bread-and-butter damage dealer, I typically fire it whenever it's off cooldown.
  • Sleep - Another awesome spell for dealing with a large number of weaker enemies. It has an enormous range. My Magic is now a bit under 60, so it's practically a guaranteed knock-out, even hitting some lieutenants. Best of all, it sets them up for...
  • ... Horror, which I'll spend if there's a lieutenant or higher suffering. After that, I'll move on to...
  • .... Waking Nightmare. The fight is essentially over at this point, with many of the enemies turning on one another or wandering around in confusion, and it's just a mop-up.
  • Crushing Prison. This is my main damage-dealer against higher-level enemies.
  • Hexes. Affliction is great for setting up a Sleep spell, though I generally don't need it. I'll usually try to cast Vulnerability on a boss before hitting with Crushing Prison. I'll try and keep Misdirection and Hex up on a boss as much as possible.
  • Curse of Mortality is one of the newest spells I've learned, and I love using it on bosses. I remember how much I hated having this one cast on me!
  • Death Magic. Another newer addition for me. I'll keep this active unless I'm fighting a solo boss. It helps keep healing pressure off Wynne.
  • Bloody Grasp. A good fill-in for my rotation in a boss fight when Crushing Prison is on cooldown.
  • Mind Blast. I didn't used to use this one too often, but it's very handy when we get swarmed by low-level enemies, particularly in ambush situations.
  • Flame Burst. Limited use, but if I have an opportunity to line up a shot that will hit multiple enemies without my own guys, I'll take it.
  • Heal. In high-damage situations, I'll assist Wynne with this.
  • Blood Magic. In long-lasting boss fights, eventually I'll run out of mana. Instead of chugging Lyrium or ceasing spellcasting, I'll switch over to Blood Magic. By the time my health runs down to about 1/2 remaining, I generally have enough mana recovered to switch back again.

Even with only my major spells and no items, that fills up my quickbar pretty... quickly. I have a couple of other spells that I keep on there even though I don't generally use them (Death Cloud, Dark Sustenance). I'm starting to wonder if I should just stop spending new spell points on new spells, and save them up for when I start Awakening, but I don't know if unused points carry over or not.

I almost always let my companions run on their custom-tuned tactics, very rarely interjecting direct commands. (I think I might have done this a bit more earlier in the game, but at this point their higher power lets them get through at 90% efficiency without needing 100%.) Alistair is probably the simplest. He's the tank, so he always has Threaten and Shield Wall active. He's set up to Taunt the nearest enemy at all times, but I recently realized that, thanks to the massive armor he's wearing, his Stamina is so low that he can only Taunt a single time before needing to regenerate. So, I'll be dumping some more points into Willpower soon! Anyways, besides that he just generally fights whoever is closest, using Shield Bash and such when they're available.

Somewhat frustratingly, this doesn't work too well for a lot of fights. Much of the AI seems programmed to zero in on ranged attack threats, which means that a lot of the time Alistair will engage with one enemy while everyone else simply runs past him and swarms Leliana. I guess I can respect that as a smart tactic on their part, but it does make for a more frustrating game experience. She often ends up switching repeatedly between her melee weapons (dual-wielded daggers, one Crow and one... something else?) and her bow until the rest of us kill the bad guys for her. So, during more important fights, I'll manually switch to her just to instruct her to run to a safer distance, then resume control of Kiriyon. She recently took the Mark of Death talent, which has already proved very handy in boss fights. She usually supports us with the Song of Valor, stays in Rapid Shot mode, and uses her special archery attacks when they come up (Critical Shot, Shattering Shot, Arrow of Slaying).

Wynne's tactics are pretty simple as well. She keeps her Cleansing Aura up, and prioritizes healing party members, then buffs, then attacks. Lifeward and Heal on anyone who drops below 50%; Rejuvenate for anyone (other than her) running low on mana or stamina; Regeneration for anyone who drops below 75% health; Heroic Offense on Alistair; Heroic Aura on anyone getting attacked by missiles; Heroic Defense on Alistair. She keeps the whole party running effectively without needing much attention; I only need to keep an eye on her during particularly long boss fights (High Dragon or Gaxkang, anyone?) and make her chug Lyrium if she's running low.

MEGA SPOILERS (kinda, plot-related,  but only through the first 75% or so of the game):

While I am role-playing Kiriyon differently from how I played Seberin the Dwarf Thief, most of the big events have turned out the same way. Both of the characters are fundamentally "good", it's just that Seberin is a more larcenous Han Solo-esque type of good, while Kiriyon is a more virtuous Aragorn-esque type of good. I do sometimes wish that I could enjoy playing as an evil character, just because I'm intrigued by what I've heard of the other ways you can make the story go. In particular, I've heard that you can:
  • Side with the werewolves and kill the Keeper, keeping the curse intact, and recruit them to your cause.
  • Side with Lord Harrowmont. (I was less invested in Bhelan this time around, without the personal ties to Rica, but ultimately more attracted to his platform of social reform.)
  • Ally with Branka and save the Forge. From what I understand, this gives you golems in the final fight. I could never stand for that extension of torment, though.
  • Agree to spare the desire demon and damn Connor.
  • Let Arlessa sacrifice herself to save Connor.
  • Corrupt the Urn of Sacred Ashes. (I actually did this, once, just to unlock the Reaver specialization. That was in my last game, though.) I THINK that this might cause the Arl to die, and Bann Teagan to take over.
  • Coming up: there's all sorts of stuff you can do differently in the Landsmeet, including claiming the throne yourself (if you're a human noble open to marriage), sparing Loghain, letting Anora rule by herself, and so on.
Honestly, simply knowing that those options exist make the game more fun and exciting for me, even without picking them myself.


I don't think I've written about this lately, but I love the tactics system. It reminds me in some good ways of the Gambit system of Final Fantasy XII. I remember initially being a little turned-off and thinking that it felt too MMO-ish, but in practice it's brilliant: it makes you more of a general, overseeing your army and controlling the big picture, rather than an infantry grunt, pushing a button repeatedly.

In lieu of my previous blow-by-blow accounting of the plot, which I have already finished once and is unfolding much the same way this time through, I'm planning on marking-up and eventually posting a link to the screenshots from this play-through. So, uh, I guess you have that to look forward to?

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