Wednesday, January 06, 2010


I've overcome my hatred and loathing of Bioware's DLC to finish Dragon Age, which remains an excellent game even after violating me.  I loved the gameplay and the plot all the way through to the end, and find myself continuing to think about it even after finishing the game.


You make some HUGE choices during the course of the game.  Many of these relate to your gathering of armies.  Some of mine included:

* What to do with the Circle Tower.  A few rogue mages have become Abominations, killing other mages and threatening the Circle.  You kill the abominations, but the Templars who protect and guard them are rightly paranoid: have you dug out the bad apples?  A Blood Mage can remain in hiding for years, unleashing demonic power at the worst possible time, and with all the chaos in the tower there's no way of knowing for sure who was corrupted.  I decided to trust that the threat was past, and welcomed the surviving mages into my army.

* The Elves.  The eventual story you piece together about the Dalish tribe is pretty moving.  Much like, say, the Kurds in our world, the Dalish have been kicked around for generations.  They (the Elves) have lost their homeland and their culture and their longevity.  This particular tribe moved into the Brecilian forest centuries ago.  A group of indigenous humans attacked, killing the leader's daughter.  In a rage, he placed a curse upon them.  He summoned a spirit from the Fade, bound it to the body of a wolf, and cursed the humans with lycanthropy.  For the rest of their lives, they would be mindless, ravening beasts.  Only, the spirit was a benevolent spirit.  Over time, she helped the werewolves remember who they were, and they regained their humanity and their capacity for speech.  In recent years, the werewolves have taken to targeting the elvish hunters, purposely infecting them.  They have given up hope that the elvish leader will lift the curse on them, so their only hope is to pass the threat onto his own people, forcing him to act to save them.

You only learn all this towards the end of the quest, though.  For nearly the whole time, you only have the elvish leader's word about what's going on, and he's a lying, manipulative bastard.  I was suspicious early on - when you first meet the werewolves, one of them speaks to you, and the Keeper's denials ("Oh, I didn't know they could do that.  Never mind, it isn't important") rang false.  Eventually, you penetrate into the werewolves' lair, where you are forced to fight through some of them before encountering Witherfang herself.  I talked with her, established what was going on, and agreed to talk with the Keeper on their behalf.  He showed up, returned, and confronted Witherfang.  This leads to a tense situation - will you side with the elves?  With the werewolves?  I did the latter, and attacked the Keeper with all I had.  Once defeated, I spoke with him urgently, demanding that he raise the curse - his hatred had doomed two people, and it was time for him to move on.  He did so, the werewolves turned back into joyous humans, Witherfang returned to the Fade, the Keeper died, his much cuter assistant took his place, and the Elves joined my army.  Two down, two to go!

* I think I did the Redcliffe quest slightly out of order.  I retrieved the Urn of Sacred Ashes early on, after defending Redcliffe Village from the undead but before entering the Castle proper.  Once I finally penetrated the castle, I very carefully dealt with the demon-posessed Conor.  I chose not to kill him.  A Blood Mage who I had freed offered another way: someone could enter the Fade to kill the demon possessing him.  His mother offered to sacrifice her life for him.  I was tempted - she is one of the most annoying characters in the game, and the possession was her fault anyways since she doted too much on the child and prevented him from being properly trained by the Circle.  That felt a bit more evil than I wanted to play, though, so I chose the third way: a hard ride to the Circle Tower to retrieve enough mages to allow us access to the Fade.  I sent Morrigan, and she easily defeated the demon.

Next, I met the dying Arl.  I'm sure that this was when I was supposed to start my quest for the Urn, but I was all like, "Oh, you mean these ashes?  I've got those already.  Yeah, it was no big deal."  He was healed, and the political game began.  To end the civil war, we would need a strong candidate for King.  Alistair, the only person left with the royal blood, was our only choice, despite the fact that he hated the idea of being king.  Before that, I would need to finish raising my army.

* Politics in Orzammar.  I think the Orzammar quest might be the longest of the army quests (unless you count the Urn as part of Redcliffe).  It also had special resonance for me, as I was playing as a Dwarf Commoner.  Almost immediately after arriving in the Dwarven capital, you need to make a decision: who will you support as the next king?  The choices are Lord Harrowmont, who is kind, fair, honest, virtuous, and probably the old king's chosen successor; or Prince Bhelan, who is ruthless, cunning, manipulative, and possibly the old king's murderer.  Oh, and Bhelan is also your sister's consort.  Much as I liked Harrowmont, I decided to throw in with Prince Bhelan - there was a chance, after all, that my nephew could grow up to be King of the Dwarves, which would be pretty cool.  Also, despite Bhelan's personal repugnance, he seemed like he might be the better ruler: he was a capable fighter and leader, and unlike the tradition-bound Harrowmont, Bhelan seemed more reform-minded, willing to challenge the ancient caste system and open up greater trade with the humans.

I did a bit of the double-agent thing for a while, trying to get inside Harrowmont's organization while working for Bhelan's victory.  This only works to a point; the two really don't like one another, and you can only get so far before you are forced to make a decision.

Eventually, I headed into the Deep Roads to try and locate Branka, the one living Paragon.  As Paragon, her vote could sway the entire Council and break the deadlock.  The Deep Roads are very long and filled with darkspawn, probably more than anywhere else in the game.  This area is also filled with history and lore; you learn more about the constant battle between the Dwarves and darkspawn, about the long and gradual retreat of the dwarves, the territory lost.  This section owes an enormous debt to Tolkien's Moria - the same grand and destroyed halls, the sense of emptiness and quiet punctuated by enormous armies, the vessel of good filled with a teeming evil. 

The endgame here was one of my favorites of all DA.  You stumble across Branka's lesbian lover, who was forced to eat darkspawn flesh and has gone mad.  Her voice eerily wafts along the cavern walls and she recites a singsong nursery rhyme about encroaching doom.  She's your first confirmation that Branka still lives, and is maybe not entirely reasonable.

Finally, I met the Paragon herself.  I'd brought along Oghren, her drunken estranged husband, who was shocked at her monomaniacal pursuit of the Forge.  She forces your party through the famous smith's traps, eventually leading you to the smith himself.  An earlier note that I'd found on a corrupted altar had prepared me for the truth: the Anvil of the Void, universally considered the savior of the dwarves, carried an unconscionable price.  Each golem, which was an almost unstoppable fighting machine and a hedge against the darkspawn, required a living sacrifice: the dwarfish body would be placed in the mold, then liquid metal poured around him.  The smith had converted himself at the last, and now occupied the body of a golem, centuries after he had been presumed dead.

I should mention here that, while I generally brought my preferred party of Alistair, Sten, and Morrigan everywhere I went, I swapped in other characters whenever I thought it might introduce some other story options.  Therefore, when in Orzammar or on the Deep Roads I instead traveled with Oghren, Shale, and Morrigan.  Oghren and Shale weren't quite as useful as my two preferred melee fighters (or maybe I just wasn't as used to controlling them properly), but they did very well.  I gradually built Shale up into the ultimate damage magnet, even better than Alistair, with absurd amounts of health and really useful defensive skills.  Oghren couldn't quite match Sten for sheer damage, but more than held his own.  And, once Morrigan had learned the Sleep/Arcane Horror combo, I could hold my own against pretty much any large group of foes anyways.

All that to say, Shale was in my party when I finally met the smith, and I was treated to a very long conversation that did a lot to bring out more of Shale's story.  I learned that, like the other Golems, Shale had once been a dwarf, and a female dwarf at that.  Shale had no memories of her history, but her curiosity was piqued by the story.  I've been impressed at how well Shale's story is integrated into the main story line, though perhaps I shouldn't be.  After all, this is an add-on that was available the very day that the game was released, so of course they were able to do all the dialog and such while putting together the main game.

Branka shows up and freezes the golem.  You then face a choice much like the werewolf/elf choice: do you support Carridin (kill Branka, free the Golems, and destroy the Anvil so that no more can be made)?  Or do you support Branka (kill Carridin, enlist the help of the Golems in your own army, and doom another generation of dwarves to eternal suffering)?  I found that the political question didn't provide an easy out, either: as Carridin is also a Paragon, his vote would serve as well as Branka's.  I hemmed and hawed, and finally threw in my lot against Branka.  She was a madwoman, and needed to be put down.

This fight was surprisingly difficult, one of the few at this stage in the game that I initially lost.  Branka has more golems, and the golems are resistant to my preferred mind-bending magics, so I had to use my second-tier fighters and a dagger-wielder to take on the enemies.  Both sides have some golems, but Branka has more, and she herself is a very powerful and versatile fighter.  In my first attempt, I'd focused on trying to take Branka down, anticipating that the fight would automatically end with her defeated.  This proved my undoing, as the enemy golems have some very potent disruptive attacks that cause mass stun effects or deal damage to a large group.  On my second try, I focused on taking down the golems first, and kept Morrigan in pure healing mode, making sure that she kept my ally golems up to top health as well as my party members.  (I think you need to do this manually, as I don't believe there are any tactics to heal blue-colored allied units.)

Once the fight is over, I could honor my promise or betray it.  I decided to keep my word.  Carridin deputized me to cast his vote, I destroyed the anvil, then Carridin destroyed himself.  All very moving.  We returned to Orzammar and made a dramatic entrance at the height of a Council vote.  I was playing this whole section fairly Machiavellian, in case you couldn't tell, and so I sort of glossed over what had happened and said, "Carridin demands that you make Bhelan your king!"  They did.  Bhelan, in his first official act as King, ordered the execution of Harrowmont.  Ahhh... good times.

In the aftermath, I continued to kiss up to Bhelan, politely asking him for my troops and avoiding any mention of patricide.  I said farewell to the sister... it's a testament to the game's writing that this felt so moving.  The situation was complicated, but I felt good at where I left Orzummar: I had done the good thing by rescuing the golems from their service, and had done the expedient thing in tapping the leader who could best aid me, and been a good family man in ensuring a long and happy life for the sister and her progeny.


I'm only hitting the highlights here, of course.  Dragon Age has a stupidly great number of side-quests, which delightfully occupied my time.  By far my favorite were the thief-related quests that you can undertake in Denerim, but there were plenty of other good opportunities: assassinations for the Crows, crime for "certain interested parties," various menial tasks for the Mages' Collective, and a whole host more.  There were also lots of really fun little one-offs, like collecting pig-bunnies in Orzammar, sponsoring a Dwarf who dreams of studying magic in the Tower, feeding an army of beggars in the Alienage.

Some of the most interesting and challenging are your companions' side quests.  These are all over the map in style and difficulty.  Completing them gives you a nice boost in your relationship with that companion, and often some special power or item besides.  Alistair's may have been the easiest; all you have to do is talk to his sister.  Leliana's was a lot of fun, in no small part because of the romantic relationship angle: after many conversations about her past, her faith, and her dreams for the future, her background attempts to catch up to her; you can guide her as she struggles to decide whether she must return to the person she once was, or if she can be free to chart a new course for herself.  Morrigan's might have been the most challenging, as she has you fight her mother, who takes the form of a powerful dragon.  Oh, sure, you can wuss out and agree with Flemeth to trick Morrigan into thinking you did the deed - and I was tempted, as this was fully in keeping with my character - but it's a really fun, epic battle, and if you slay her yourself you get some excellent robes for Morrigan.

Oh, yeah, I should follow up on my earlier report about my overly complicated romances.  I ended up just manning up, talking with Morrigan, and dumping her.  It hurt in the short term - her opinion dropped from 100 to 70, meaning 2 whole minor power ranks went away - but I won most of that back by completing her companion quest, and the remainder when I found and gave her a particularly thoughtful gift.  Even though I kept getting into "Morrigan Disapproves: -2"-type situations, I was able to keep our relationship in a happy, healthy zone.  Again, I'm not sure how much I should try and apply these lessons to my own life.  "Sorry, babe, I just don't love you any more.  Hey, do you want a silver comb?  How about a raw steak?"

I didn't realize until relatively late in the game that some gifts were super-important.  They are things that come up after you've gotten into deep conversations with your friends, and show your intense interest in them.  I stumbled across Leliana's fairly early on, which did wonders for that relationship.  For Zevram, it's a glove that smells like his mother's.  For Alistair, it's Duncan's sword.  And so on.  Morrigan's gift leads into a really intense and tender conversation, and her personality really changed as a result of that - she became softer, less distrusting of men in general and me in particular.

Back to the main plot!

Arl Eamon calls the Landsmeet to try and break the civil war.  This leads to another round of quests in Denerim as you lobby nobles and gather more support for your position.  And, once again, there are some really crucial decisions to make.  You learn that the Queen is under house arrest in Arl Howe's manor.  You can save her, or not.  I saved her, in the process uncovering crucial evidence of unsavory acts on the part of Loghain and Howe, and rescuing a captured Warden.  Once you kill Howe and bring out the Queen, you are met at the door by one of Loghain's flunkies.  At first, I sought to challenge her, which led to a fight.  I thought, "Mmmm, nah, that isn't how Seberin would handle this."  Reload.  Next time, I simply surrendered.  "Sten disapproves: -15".  Ouch!  But the Queen, still disguised, is safely taken back to Eamon's estate.  Seberin and Alistair were thrown in prison.

The two of you wake up in a cell, practically naked.  You have a brief dialog, and can either say "Let's try to break out" or "Let's wait for the others."  I suspect that the latter choice would let you assault the castle with the other team members.  I'm all about breaking out of prison, though, so I chose the former.  Here, too, you have MORE choices in technique.  I seduced the guard (hey, who can say no to a mustachioed dwarf?), then knocked him out and grabbed our stuff.  I switched into stealth more and explored until I found some guard uniforms.  Good!  Then I talked our way into the guards.  Better!  Then we demonstrated that we were ready for patrol and went marching out the front gates.  Awesome!  I love this game!  Again, I'm sure that there were a dozen ways to handle this, most of which would have involved violence, but I love that the game let me break out of a highly guarded fortress with only a single casualty.

Reunited with the rest of the team, I talked politics and love.  The Queen was grateful for our help, but she wanted us to support her for the throne instead of Alistair or Loghain.  She says, and everyone agrees, that she was a great ruler, and handled most of the kingdom's administration under Cailin's rule.  Still, Eamon is reluctant, because she has no Calenhad blood, which will make it difficult for others to support her.  An intriguing possibility came up in conversation with Eamon: why not have her and Alistair marry?  He provides the claim, and she can handle all of the actual ruling stuff that he doesn't want to do.  Alistair, who is standing four feet away, comically sputters.  "Go ahead!  Act like I'm not here!  I don't even want to hear any of this!"

I talked with the Queen and Alistair, and we came to an agreement.  Emboldened, I set out to wrap up a few loose ends, most importantly some troubles in the Alienage and the final thief quests.  Finally, I told Eamon that I was ready, and we entered the Landsmeet.

The Landsmeet was possibly my favorite part of the game, and also the most frustrating.  It's an incredibly deep sequence.  All the decisions that you have made throughout the whole game will affect the course of events, and so will your words.  I ended up replaying this section a half-dozen times, and was amazed at how intricate and convoluted the dialog tree went.  There were whole areas of dispute that might not come up at all, or would prove to be be pivotal, based on your opening remarks.

There were two reasons why this section was frustrating.  First, about half the time, the game would get stuck in an infinite "Loading" screen right before a pivotal battle.  You could only reach this battle after several minutes of conversation, so I would need to alt-tab to the desktop, right-click the window, exit, then re-launch Dragon Age, load my game, wait for it to finish loading, open the door, go through all the conversation again, and hope that this time it wouldn't crash.

Worse, though, I couldn't get my desired outcome AFTER the battle.  I ended up dueling Loghain one-on-one.  This was a satisfying battle - in the six or so times that we fought, I never died, but always came close and needed to heal often.  My rogue hardly ever faces anyone heads-on, and by this point in the game he was spending way more time stealing than stabbing, so it was a lot of fun to test his steel.  I eventually settled into a rhythm: Mark of Death to boost damage, then Dirty Fighting to stun.  I could maneuver behind him and get off a flurry of backstabs before he un-stunned.  Then Dual Weapon Sweep, and continue fighting until I could Dirty Fight again.  It usually just took one repeat of this until he fell.

The really tricky part comes after he is defeated, though.  The Warden you rescued mentions that there is another way: Loghain can undergo the ritual and become a Warden, binding him to your cause and removing him as a threat.  I thought this sounded cool - throughout the whole game, while ostensibly opposed to Loghain, I'd really thought that it would be better to get everyone on the same side to fight the Darkspawn.  Everyone says that Loghain is a brilliant general, so why not keep him on our side?  Well.  Alistair HATED this idea.  He threw a hissy fit, delivering an ultimatum: him or Loghain.  And, of course, the Queen is Loghain's daughter, so she will do anything to keep him alive. 

The first time this happened, I started off trying to convince Alistair to let Loghain live.  This segued into an argument between him and the Queen on who should rule.  I said, "Oh, Alistair, of course," thinking that he would agree to marry her.  Turns out that this was really a referendum on Loghain's life.  I couldn't bring myself to kill him on my own, so Alistair did it.  And - surprise! - the Queen didn't want to marry the man who chopped off her father's head.  Some people!  Alistair locks her up in the tower as a prisoner.


Next time, I decided to let Loghain live.  The only way you can do this, as far as I can tell, is to let the Queen rule.  Her first act as queen: executing Alistair.  Oops.  Shades of Bhelan here; I should have learned my lesson.  It wasn't a total loss - before reloading, I took Loghain back to camp, give him all the paintings that I'd been saving up, and talked and talked and talked.  He's a pretty sympathetic character, as I'd suspected: like almost everything in Dragon Age, his morality just cannot be reduced into a simplistic good-or-evil dichotomy.  He was passionate about Ferelden, the land and its people, but his background had blinded him with hatred towards Orlais, which in turn made him paranoid and unable to rule wisely.  I diplomatically avoided presenting Leliana.  The most touching part of the discussion is when he describes Anora as a little girl.  He smiles as he tells you that she seemed born to rule: as a child, when she fell and skinned her knees, she ordered them to stop bleeding.  This is especially touching because, if you DON'T save Loghain, just before his death he tries to comfort Anora, telling her not to worry.  "Don't treat me like a child!" she says.  He grins, and says something like, "To a father, a daughter is always a child, with pig tails and skinned knees."  It's so bittersweet that your character can only hear one or the other part of this puzzle, but never both in the same game.

Anyways.  I kept on trying.  EVENTUALLY I got it right.  The key is to kill Loghain, by yourself, as soon as you have the opportunity to do so.  If you start to talk about it or waver, marriage goes out the window.  Once Loghain is dead, Alistair and Anora will argue a bit about who should rule.  You're clearly the baddest mofo in the room, so you get to pick who will rule all Ferelden.  At last, I ordered Alistair and Anora to get wed, and the Landsmeet is over.

The Landsmeet ends with a speech.  If Alistair is king, he gives a very awkward and stumbling speech that vaguely conveys the idea that there are bad things out there that need to be killed.  If Anora is queen, she gives an infinitely better speech, more passionate and more articulate, that lays out her vision for the coming struggle.

The final endgame is fairly long and enjoyable.  It opens with a rousing speech by Alistair, who has inexplicably grown far more eloquent than during the Landsmeet.  Perhaps the Arl has paid for some elocution lessons?  By this point, my characters were so strong that I could walk over all the obstacles sent my way.  It was actually a bit of a let-down that I used the armies, which I had spent the whole game gathering, as little as I did.  I think they would be way more useful for lower-level characters.  The way they work is a little weird - you can select one army to deploy at a time, at which point units will start spawning in your vicinity.  You only get a few at a time, but they are replaced as they die.  You get 50 units of each army, except for the Mages, who give you 12.  (I'm guessing that this would vary based on how much you supply your armies in your storage crates.)  Each army has its own strengths and weaknesses, which are clearly described within the game.  Dwarves are resilient and can take a lot of damage, but have no ranged attacks; Elves are the opposite, with long-range bow attacks but little armor.  You can't issue orders to your army, but the AI seems to generally be pretty good.  You can use the armies in most outdoor areas and not indoors.

According to the in-game help, you can only deploy one army in a place at any given time.  I think this is true.  The help also says that you can only deploy each army once.  I'm less convinced that this is true.  Before the final-final battle, the only army I had used were the Knights of Redcliffe, who helped me clear out a large group of enemies near a castle.  I lost 12 soldiers, leaving me with 38 left.  Once I got to the final-final battle, it looked like they were still selectable, so I probably could have brought them back again.  I opted for the Elves instead, as their greater range was much more helpful.  Now that I think about it, I wonder if that help text meant that if you deploy another army, it replaces the first one?  It would have been really helpful to swap out armies for different stages of the last battle.

Anyways.  There's a great, climactic ultimate fight with the big bad Archdemon dragon.  I'm not sure how powerful the dragon itself is - it may not have been as strong as, say, Flemeth or "Andraste" - but the fact that it constantly summons darkspawn throughout the game more than makes up for that.  The battle is quite varied, too, as the dragon flits between different areas on the map and calls forth different types of attacks.  I ended up regularly switching up my standard tactics.  Morrigan focused on healing, but cast Crushing Prison and Mark of Death every chance she got.  Any time the dragon landed, I surrounded and whaled on him with my three other characters, but for much of the fight he was out of reach, so Seberin shot at him while Sten and Alistair helped battle the swarms of Darkspawn.

Oh, wow!  I totally forgot to write about the night before the battle.  Ahem.

You learn from the other Warden that there is another secret about your order.  Whenever an Archdemon dies, its spirit still lives on; it will move into the closest darkspawn body it can find.  That darkspawn will then become the Archdemon, continuing the blight.  The only way to really kill an Archdemon is for a Warden to strike the killing blow.  When this happens, the spirit will seek out the darkspawn blood in your body.  Its spirit will become trapped in your form, killing you both instantly. 

Well, I didn't want to die.  And I needed Alistair to live so that Anora wouldn't annoy me by becoming sole ruler.  So I figured that the other Warden could die.

That night, though, Morrigan comes to you in your chambers with a proposal.  Turns out that Flemeth had a plan all along, and Morrigan has been waiting to carry it out.  Seems like there may be another way out, a dark magic way.  Step one: Sleep with Morrigan.  Step two: Conceive a child.  Step three: Kill the Archdemon.  Step four: The Archdemon's spirit will seek out your child, who will possess it.  Step five: According to Morrigan, the child isn't possessed or anything.  It becomes something superhuman, capturing the power of old Tevinter, but free of the evil of the demon.  I have my doubts.  Step six: Morrigan goes away, taking the child with her, and you never see them ever again.  Step seven: ??? Step eight: Profit!

Well, that's pretty cool.  Another fling with Morrigan, AND I don't have to die?  I signed up.

Back to the action: the game is basically over once you slay the dragon.  There's a long and satisfying prologue, though.  In the throne room, Alistair is crowned king, and publicly praises you for your actions in stopping the blight.  He asks if he can offer any favors.  I said, "Hey, send some humans to help the Dwarves fight the darkspawn."  He was all, "Oh, yeah, that's right!  The Blight sucks, but we only fight it every few hundred years, while the Dwarves fight it every day of their life."  He asks whether you'll stay and help him rule, or help the Wardens.  I said that I thought I would do some traveling.  You part on good terms.

You then can wander around the throne rule for a while, talking with various people.  Queen Anora is a bit worried about Alistair - "Is he always like that?  He seems incapable of talking about anything without cracking a joke."  The Arl is a little worried for Conor, but in general very happy.  The sister is overjoyed at how things have turned out, both with Bhelan and with you, and says that mother has finally stopped drinking.  Hooray!  She sends Bhelan's congratulations, and says that you have been raised to Warrior caste.

Nearly your enjoy party is there, except for Morrigan and Dog.  Even though I knew the game was over, I was tantalized by some of the possibilities raised in this section.  Sten said that he was returning to his homeland; I asked if I could join him, and he told me to meet him at the docks on 2 days' time.  Wynne and Shale say that they are traveling together to old Tevinter lands to see if they can find a way to reverse the golem process and return Shale to her mortal form; Wynne strongly implies that you won't see her again.  I asked Zevram if he'd continue traveling with me; he noted that I have a knack for finding lots of treasure, and cast his lot in.  Oghren plans to stay on the surface, and will try to get married to his sweetheart from Lake Callenhad.  Finally, I spoke with Leliana, and we renewed our determination to travel together.  Awww.  It occurred to me that, if the game actually continued as it was currently laid out, it would be very interesting tactically: three rogues and one warrior.  Not my ideal party configuration, but a very interesting group of people.

You march out the door, and the game ends for real.  Over a series of really pretty backdrops, text describes what happened next for a variety of people and groups.  These ranged from the very large, like the fate of Ferelden, to the very minor.  A few that I recall:

* Alistair and Anora are good rulers, beloved by their people, and as expected, Anora does almost everything.
* After several years, no more abominations arise from the Circle Tower, and it is declared free of demonic influence.  (So, it turns out I made the right decision to spare them - bonus!)
* The dwarf scholar impresses her mage teachers, and writes an influential treatise on magic.
* Prince Bhelan purges the opposition, but proves to be a strong and effective leader.  Over the objections of the Council, he promotes reforms to the caste system, and thousands join the house that you founded.  He is also strong militarily, fighting fiercely against the darkspawn, and for the first time in generations they manage to turn back the tide in the Deep Roads, reclaiming some of the thains that were lost.  There are several attempts to depose him, however, and Bhelan eventually dissolves the Council and becomes a despot.  (I was really happy with how this ended - a bit ambiguous, but more positive than I had expected when I supported him.)
* The new temple founded in Orzammar attracts a fair number of followers.  It is attacked and destroyed by traditional dwarves.  The priest rebuilds, and continues preaching to his flock.
* Rumors begin to swirl that the Urn of Sacred Ashes has been found, and become more prevalent when the Chantry doesn't deny them.  Pilgrims begin to travel to the mountain to encounter the ashes themselves.
* Morrigan isn't seen again... for a long time.  (Cliffhanger!)

The game ends in a very satisfactory way, while still leaving tons of possibilities open for sequels.  I have to admit, I'm very curious to see exactly how Bioware approaches this.  From what I understand, the game can end dramatically differently based on how you played the game.  Bhelan or Harrowmont might rule in Orzammar; Ferelden might be ruled by Alistair, or Anora, or both, or even you (if you are a human noble who marries the right person); Morrigan might have birthed the demon child, or she might not have.  Will all of these decisions get carried forward in the next game, be it sequel or DLC?  It would be awesome if they did, but at the same time, it seems like a lot of stuff just can't happen in the sequel unless you made particular decisions in this game.  I'll be curious to see if and how Bioware tackles this.

So, all in all, I loved Dragon Age, and can highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys RPGs or games with intricate storylines.  Just be sure to never give Bioware any money for DLC until they fix their incredibly broken game!

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