Re-Dragon Age: There’ll be skeletons over the red cliffs of Redcliffe

Tea: It’s hot, so no tea, just water.

When we’d left our heroes, they were setting out on their epic quest. This was immediately interrupted by plot development, as we were shown the capital, where Teryn Loghain (he of the obvious villainy) had rocked up and was declaring himself regent, on the grounds that King Pillock the first was dead and his widow just so happened to be his daughter. This annoyed some of the Banns (the nobles who aren’t quite Arls, apparently), with a chap called Tegan being especially arsey and making insinuations about the King’s death. Personally, I was just trying to figure out how Loghain had gotten all the way across the country in a matter of hours. Clearly he moves at the speed of plot.

Plot was moving our heroes a tad slower, as they had barely gone a few miles before they met back up with the dog I’d cured at Ostagar (yay!) and a whole bunch of darkspawn (boo!). The mabari hound is the only character beyond your own you get to name. I managed to resist the temptation to name him Doge (Wow! Such resolve! So restraint!) and instead named him after my first dog Jack. Luckily this Jack has a wider skillset than the real one, as stealing cupcakes isn’t much use in a Blight, however adorable it may be otherwise.

Following this, our group arrived at the village of Lothering, and immediately celebrated by slaughtering some highwaymen. Lothering acts as an introduction of sorts to the more hub-based areas of the game, and also marks the first appearance of inter-party banter, a fun touch that serves to both flesh out the party members as characters and provide a few laughs. This is especially true for the combination of Alistair and Morrigan, who take great delight in bitching at each other over just about everything. Despite the bickering, we were able to complete a few basic ‘Kill X amount of Y’ quests for The Chantry (think Catholicism if Joan of Arc was God’s girlfriend) and slap about some of Loghain’s lackey’s who’d placed a bounty on our head. We also teamed up with two new party members: Leliana (Milla Jovovich in a wimple) and Sten (The Mountain if he was the emissary for a race of 7 foot tall Buddhist Communists). To be honest, I’ve never found much use for Sten, beyond certain late-game sidequest boss battles, but Leliana is a staple of any party when I’m not playing a rogue, since she both allows for lockpicking, and as an archer develops into one of the biggest damage dealers in the game.

On departing Lothering, we saved a dwarven merchant and his ‘special’ son, who proceeded to tag along with us so as to function as a shop at our campsite. The campsite, accessible from the map screen, serves both as a refreshing point, removing injuries from previously downed characters, and as a convenient way to group everyone together so as to fiddle with equipment and sit down and chat with people. The chatting is important as it’s the main way to increase approval, potentially increasing party members abilities and expediting certain side quests. As with the banter, it also serves to reveal more about the party members’ respective characters, and it’s here that the game’s writing really shines. The Dragon Age party members are all quite interesting, with their own histories, outlooks and flaws. As much as it pains me to say this as a Garrus fanboy, I honestly believe Dragon Age has more interesting characters overall than Mass Effect. The approval system does mess with that somewhat, since you are obligated to agree with them or risk potentially losing them (although the presence of approval gaining gifts mitigates this to a fairly large degree), and was thankfully overhauled in Dragon Age 2, along with everything else (but that’s a rant for later).

It’s after Lothering that the game opens up. Well, theoretically. As with Mass Effect, you’re given free choice as to what order you do the main missions in. However, moreso than ME, the game is designed to ‘funnel’ you in a certain order, both by party member suggestion and by enemy difficulty. Since I was feeling largely compliant, I went along with it this time and made my first stop Redcliffe, home of Alistair’s pseudo-dad Arl Eamon. Upon arrival, Alistair decided now was the perfect time to spring on me the news that he was in fact the bastard half-brother of the late, unlamented, King Pillock. Eamon, being brother in law to Pillock’s dad, had decided to keep Alistair around, at least until his Orlesian (French) wife had demanded he be sent away, mainly because she was an insecure dipshit who didn’t believe her husband hadn’t done the dirty with a maid (if that sound unfairly harsh, wait until you meet the character, trust me). Alistair therefore got sent to the Chantry to become a templar (professional witch hunter), only to then get conscripted by Duncan and the Wardens. Fostering ping-pong: creating emotional instability since the dawn of time.

Any family reunion was to be postponed, however, as Lothering was under siege from undead forces emerging from the castle, where Eamon was comatose for mysterious reasons. Bann Tegan, having apparently borrowed Loghain’s ability to move at the speed of plot, was just about holding the village with the aid of some knights and got us up to speed with events, while also revealing he was Eamon’s brother (I’m starting to think I need to draw a diagram for all this). It fell to us to strengthen defences, which we managed by yelling at the blacksmith until he stopped being a drunken dick, yelling at a dwarven mercenary until he stopped being a selfish dick and yelling at some barrels of oil until we realised yelling at inanimate objects wasn’t going to help and just gave them to the knights to make flaming barricades. Thus we were set and braced ourselves for night fall.

The battle went well… for about 10 seconds until Alistair’s AI compelled him to run into the flaming barricades and get taken out. After that things rapidly descended into clusterfuckery. We were able to win the day, but at significant cost to NPC life, which meant no reward for us. Thanks Alistair.

The village saved, Tegan led us to a secret passage to the castle. Just then, Eamon’s wife Isolde and her outrageous French accent arrived, bitched at Alistair for absolutely no reason, and insisted Tegan come back with her without bothering to explain anything. being an idiot, Tegan agreed. Being not a complete idiot, however, he gave us the key for the secret passage, allowing us to sneak in and kick some undead arse. Open arrival we rescued a locked up rogue mage named Jowen, who revealed that he’d been secretly tutoring Eamon’s son to control his developing magical powers, at Isolde’s request. This was because the Chantry automatically get custody of all mages, whom they lock up in towers because apparently the best way to stop people going kill crazy with mystical powers is to stick them all together some place and treat them with contempt. Jowen also revealed he was the one who’d poisoned Arl Eamon, at Loghain’s request! Shortly after, all hell had broken loose. Well, all Fade, as demons had started showing up and creating undead minions. Deciding to cut Jowen loose, we proceeded to deskeletonise the castle, opening up the main gates so the knights could run in and assist. We then entered the main hall to face of with the source of all this hullaballoo.

As it turned out, Eamon and Isolde’s son, Connor, had been possessed by a demon with whom he’d tried to bargain to save his father’s life. The demon was not best pleased at being interrupted, and attempted to take us out using a mind controlled Tegan and some guards. When that failed, he fled into hiding, leaving the rest of us to figure out our next move. The simplest course of action would be to kill Connor, which no-one except Morrigan was particularly up for. Jowen, turning up again so Isolde had someone to yell at, suggested that a mage could enter the Fade and kill the demon there, freeing the boy. However, to do that would require more magical energy than was available to hand, meaning Jowen would need a human sacrifice in order to power the spell with life energy. Isolde offered (drawing cheers for the audience), but Alistair nixed that plan, since it was blood magic, and therefore totally totally evil, yo. Looking for a third way, our text speaking only main character pointed out we were going to see the mages about lending a hand with the whole Blight thing, so why not have a word with them about this too? Since this inovled no immediate stabbing, everyone agreed, and so our course was set for perhaps the game’s most tedious segment…

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