I try to write here about every full length game that I finish, but for better or for worse I don’t have a formal policy about DLC. I thought I might blog about all of the Mass Effect 2 DLC, but I never got around to doing so; and, indeed, I don’t think my brain does well at composing that sort of survey. Maybe I should have concentrated harder on just one of the pieces of DLC and found something to say?

I got the ultimate edition of Dragon Age: Origins, so I had access to all the DLC for that game. And, for better or for worse, I figured I’d just go along with my inertia and launch into the DLC immediately after finishing the full game. (Except for The Golems of Amgarrak: that one seems to be about something that I’d explicitly chosen not to do in the main game, so it would have felt jarring to do it as DLC.) I wasn’t planning to write about any of it, but after a couple of evenings, it became clear that Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening is as long as many full games that I play, so I figure I should say something about it.

So: it’s more Dragon Age. In a different area of the map, one which is festooned with gear that is designed for characters in the level 20-30 range; quite a coincidence, that! You see some familiar faces, but not many (and in particular not my true love; incidentally, would it have been that much work for them to actually take note of that correctly when doing Awakening‘s final credits?); Anders piqued my interest enough that I’m looking forward to seeing him in Dragon Age 2, I rather liked Sigrun’s personality (though she does an awful job of filling the rogue slot), and I wish I’d spent more time with Justice.

And then there’s the plot. Which I was unimpressed by at the start: the Darkspawn menace is supposed to have been quelled for now, but we can’t cook up another similarly dire threat in short order, so we need an excuse for them to reappear. I know, let’s have them talk this time! And then it took a turn for the odd: the Mother and Children get added as another sort of weird Darkspawn enemy, which seems to be trying to take the game in a sort of horror direction, but not at all effectively. (The game kept on telling me how horrifying the Children are, but it sure didn’t feel that way.) The Broodmother bit in Origins hit similar themes, but in a way that hit me much harder.

So I was quite surprised to discover that, when I reached the last couple of hours of the game, I really rather liked the plot, in fact probably much more than the main threat aspect of the plot in Origins. The original game had an entirely cookie cutter main threat, and was cookie cutter in a way that’s politically problematic. We’re at war with an other, they want to destroy our way of life and slaughter us wholesale, and it’s okay to slaughter them wholesale both to return the favor and because they’re mindless drones acting at the behest of their leader. (And they look really different from us, too, which helps make the killing okay.)

That is a scenario that plays out over and over again in the real world. (It’s playing out now, certainly!) And, in the real world, it’s never that simple, even in the most extreme of cases, even where your enemy is doing genuinely horrific things. Yes, the game is a fantasy, yes I happily do a lot of things in games that are horrible in the real world. But still, it’s a lazy plot, in a game that isn’t so lazy in many other aspects.

And Awakening subverts that directly! It works within the constraint of plot continuity, and doesn’t present the Darkspawn as horribly misunderstood; but it does say that yeah, they probably shouldn’t be mindless brutes, so let’s work with that while leaving a certain amount of uncertainty in the situation. (As befits a nation that’s emerged from a horrible war.) Rather well done, as it turns out.

Which isn’t to say that I love everything about the plot in Awakening. I’m not thrilled with the pairing of the intelligent/wise father figure with the misguided and emotional mother figure; for that matter, I’m not that thrilled with the great leader trope at all! Still, I left the game impressed on balance; and playing it significantly increased the chance that I’ll play Dragon Age 2 sooner rather than later.

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