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Exploring the origins of 'Dragon Age -- Awakening'

6:00 PM on 01.14.2010 // Brad Nicholson

Expansion Dragon Age: Origins -- Awakening will expose owners of the new old-school RPG to a fourth type of DLC. Say what you will about the studio’s curious, almost manic content model. But don’t call it strictly experimental -- BioWare believes unique kinds of DLC are the best way to tell their stories, both big and small.

“For us, we view all of this simply as additional content in whatever form it takes, and the different approaches are means to an end,” Fernando Melo, the game’s online producer, told me via e-mail.

“Each type helps us tell different kinds of stories, or expand the lore of the world purposefully in different ways.”

Origins launched with three types of micro-content: a character download, a touch of tacky pre-order loot, and a confined, traditional downloadable experience dubbed “The Warden’s Keep.” The latter is the closest to what Awakening offers, but it’s a puddle compared to a lake -- both are wet, but different in scale.

“Everything from a single item to a full traditional expansion is thought about how it fits into the larger picture,” Melo told me, “and actually serves a purpose in revealing something about the world and its lore.”

“For fans of depth, story and lore, it means that even the smallest DLC has a lot of richness to it and provides insight to things that go well beyond what is covered in Dragon Age: Origins.”

"Warden’s Keep" had users demolishing vicious specters deep inside the cold gray walls of a doom and gloom fortress. It was a quest that explored the origins of a legend in a forgotten, yet hallowed place.

Awakening tasks game owners with the rebuilding of the decimated Gray Warden order after the fall of the Archdemon. It’s a lump of content that does what the other DLC hasn’t done -- it expands the narrative past its original endpoint.

Reconstruction is the goal, but there are numerous other cogs that propel the DLC outside of micro-DLC status.

It takes place in a place in unexplored Amaranthine, and puts the player in the shoes of the Gray Warden order’s new Commander. And as simple as killing Darkspawn sounds, there’s something new about the ancient threat: it's led by a demon beast who can talk and it appears as if the pull of the Archdemon means nothing to him.

Of course, there will be new trinkets, enemies, objects, and locations to explore. The level cap is being boosted, players will have the option to re-spec their characters, and a new character is being introduced. It’s a traditional expansion. But why now, in a time when even Bethesda has chosen a different route for their massive RPGs?

Turns out fan desire had a hand in its creation. But its birth is also the result of the Origins team wanting to expose much more of the core game’s fiction.

“The really exciting part for us is that Origins actually fits logically into a much larger entity that we plan to slowly uncover not only through additional game content, but also through other mediums such as the novels,” Melo said. 

“It’s like having a massive painting covered in brown paper wrapping and Origins, as massive as it is, only rips a chunk of that paper wrapping away revealing a tantalizing part of the painting -- a limited window of time in a very contained area of the world.“

“The additional content slowly tears little strips of paper here and there, some giving hints and foreshadowing elements of the larger image.  But we’re a giddy bunch and anxious to share what is to come, so Awakening allowed us to walk up, grab a handful of wrapping and just pull a major part of that off in a whole new area of the painting -- Amaranthine.”

One brushy stroke on the original swathe of painting is the sultry Morrigan, whose rough talk has convinced people believe her heart was darker than a Deep Roads tunnel. But as the relationship between her and the character blooms, some were able to discover that she was an aggressive shade of gray -- strong desires and odd needs outside of the narrative pulled at her.

Awakening sits in a gray area for now. A traditional expansion may or may not happen again. The team listens to its fans and plans to continue to do so to see if this kind of large, revealing DLC will fly.

“We also spend a lot of time and effort with our community and in practical terms these different content types are also very important in helping us gauge whether we’re delivering on what our fans want and how they want it -- so in that sense it could also be viewed as having an experimental quality,” Melo said.

“We hope to continue to explore more content types in the future, and use these to deliver more of what our fans want in interesting ways.”

Dragon Age: Origins -- Awakening hits March 16th for the Xbox 360, PC, and PlayStation 3. It will be available digitally and at retail for $39.99.


We’ll delve more into Awakening’s new level cap, re-specing system, characters, and loot tomorrow.

Brad Nicholson,
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