Dragon Age: Origins - Warden's Keep and The Stone Prisoner • Page 2

Catching up on the downloadable content.

Warden's Keep is an encouraging start for Dragon Age DLC in quality terms - but not quantity. The quest is very short for something that costs more than a video rental, and the rewards feel a little tight-fisted. If you're going to buy it, don't wait until you've finished the main campaign - with both these packs, the earlier you play them, the longer you'll be able to enjoy their fruits.

6/10

The Stone Prisoner

Let's ignore for a moment the fact that most players will get it for free, and take The Stone Prisoner's list price of 1200 BioWare or Microsoft Points (around $15, 15, 10) as a sign of which way we can expect the wind to blow. At more than double the cost of Warden's Keep for a quest which won't take much if any more time to complete, it seems extortionate. But that would be to misunderstand what BioWare is doing with DLC, and how amazingly well-integrated this pack is with the game as a whole.

A merchant offers you the control rod for a rogue golem, which is to be found in a new village location, over-run with Darkspawn. The golem, Shale, stands statue-still in the middle of the village, and you'll need to unravel a short mystery, and free the surviving villagers from Darkspawn, to gain "control" of him. It's less satisfying than Warden's Keep in story terms, but a little more varied to play - there's a tile-puzzle to solve before you can battle (or choose to free) the solitary boss and claim your loot. Once again, the location and scripting are stronger than anything you'll find in Dragon Age's side-quests.

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Shale's petite as rock monsters go, but his thunderous footfalls wear you down regardless.

The difference lies in the unlock reward: Shale himself. Anyone who's played Dragon Age for a reasonable length of time will know that companion characters are the most compelling content outside of the game's main quest line (some might even say including it). Like the others, Shale has reams of well-voiced dialogue in the form of conversations, interjections and banter with the other companions. Being a surprisingly arch and sarcastic golem, Shale's humorous edge does something to leaven Dragon Age's stuffy tone.

He also has an approval rating to play around with, a personal quest that dovetails with the larger plot, his own item customisation system with the attendant loot drops added across the game, and a unique set of golem abilities with tremendous utility. His auras can switch him at will, in the midst of battle, from a tank to a melee warrior, a ranged attacker or an immobile buff machine, a sort of living totem. Extremely useful on the field and quite amusing off it, and bringing a lot more content to the game than just his origin adventure, Shale's a worthy addition.

The question isn't so much whether he's worth the (still rather steep) asking price that most won't have to pay, as whether BioWare will be able to repeat this trick. Shale was made alongside the rest of Dragon Age's companions - will it be possible to retrofit further characters so deep into the storyline, with their own opinions and comments on it, their own personal investment in events? It seems unlikely, but it's not impossible. As a statement of intent - to create DLC that can meaningfully enrich the entire game you buy it for - The Stone Prisoner is exciting.

8/10

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