Monday, August 23, 2010

Baldur's Gate, part 2

I'm currently on my second character in Baldur's Gate, since my initial attempt turned out to have too many mistakes. I took the advice of reader Dragatus in an earlier post on this blog, and rolled a new character. Not a fighter though, as was first suggested, since I have a heavy preference for magic-users, and I enjoy the whole idea of "warriors are linear, wizards are quadratic". Since I'm using Baldur's Gate Tutu, I have several options that otherwise only appear in Baldur's Gate 2, and one of those is being able to play as the Sorcerer class. This class is more appealing to me than the other magic-user choices because it uses a different spell system. Instead of the Vancian system of having to choose specific spells from my repertoire to memorise in advance (and hoping I picked the right ones for what I'll be facing), the sorcerer is born with innate magic ability, and can cast any of his known spells, and is limited only in number cast per day (or between resting).

My previous character was a "neutral good" aligned, half-elven, multi-classed mage/thief, and that seems to have been a mistake from the beginning, because it started me at level 6 that way, and all the other NPCs I encountered were similarly leveled. I was days into Chapter 2, had long since cleared out the Nashkel Mine, and still no one had leveled up. Very confusing for a first time player.

I also didn't put much thought into my character stats, because I assumed I would get additional points to assign to them as I leveled up, like in later Bioware games. Now I know that the only way to increase the base stats is through gear or magic items found in the game.

My new character still has a couple of issues, because I still had to figure out what I was doing, and see how things worked, and I didn't quite understand why Dragatus said I wouldn't have the Identify spell, since it did appear as one of the spells I could learn. I didn't realise at the time that sorcerers can't learn new spells from scrolls like other magic-users, and didn't know it would take several levels before I even got the option to learn a new spell (the first level-up only increases the number of times you can cast your spells). So, in retrospect, perhaps I shouldn't have chosen Identify as one of the two spells I would be able to cast for the next couple of levels. On the other hand, the other spell was Magic Missile, which took care of most of the fighting. I rather wish I had chosen Armour instead of Identify, since it's a long-lasting spell that compensates for the sorcerer's inability to wear physical armour. But at least I never had any problem getting magic items identified.

I got to pick a new spell at level 3, and I considered both Armour and Chromatic Orb, but ended up going with the Armour, since Chromatic Orb didn't seem sufficiently different from Magic Missile, and I wanted better variety in my spells. Between my spells, Viconia's crowd control and buffs, and Edwin's assortment of offensive and CC spells (and later Ajantis' buffs), battles were going pretty smoothly at level 2 despite the initial limitations.

Party selection

My initial party was just whoever I could run into on my way to my destination, so it therefore was made of Imoen, Xzar, Montaron, Jaheira, and Khalid before I met anyone else. Unfortunately, I didn't like any of them except Imoen. I was pleasantly surprised that all five of them fit in the party, though. A six-member party (counting my player character) feels like a real luxury after being limited to 4 in Dragon Age, and 3 in Mass Effect.

I ran into a few other joinable NPCs while questing around the Friendly Arm zone, so I tried out several other party configurations before settling on my current group, though it was difficult to do since Jaheira/Khalid and Xzar/Montaron were inseparable pairs, but at least I could boot some out without losing them permanently. It might be due to the NPC Project Mod, but I have the option of telling them to wait in their current location for my return, or to leave and wait for me at the Friendly Arm Inn.

Writing now, having subsequently experienced another inseparable pair, my conclusion is that there are just too many otherwise decent characters chained to crappy ones.

My best party I've experienced so far is comprised of Imoen, Edwin, Viconia, Minsc, and Ajantis. So that's a fish-out-of-water drow cleric, a snarky red wizard of Thay, a jovial berserker, an uptight paladin of Helm, and of course the cheerful, perky thief. And I myself am a sorcerer, so it's a nice mix of two tanks, two DPS, one healer/CC, and one ranged DPS with stealth, trap detection, and lockpicking. Here's what I thought of each of them, and the others I left behind.

Ajantis (lawful good paladin)

Ajantis can't seem to go more than two sentences without mentioning the name of his god, Helm. He's annoying, but he makes a good tank and has several nice paladin abilities like the healing "laying on of hands" (which I suppose is as close as one of these paladins can allow themselves to get to a woman), and Protection From Evil (almost all enemies in BG are evil, so...), and also Detect Evil, which I tried out once, but didn't see the point of, since it just made Edwin light up briefly. I'm imagining what that would be like in person, just out in the wilds leading an adventuring party, and turning to Ajantis and asking, "Hey paladin, do you detect any evil nearby?" and he'd just turn and point intently at Edwin, looking at me with an expectant look on his face, probably thinking "Now? Now? Can I smite him now, please?"

But like I said, he's a good tank, and he really likes my leadership, always saying "We follow the righteous path! The path of Helm!" Not that I'm trying to follow his god's path, or even particularly trying to be "good". I'm just doing quests and choosing the most interesting dialogue options, or the ones that suit me personally. I can tell this is becoming a problem, since Edwin and Viconia complain more and more often, and reputation points seem to be flowing like water lately.

Xzar (chaotic evil necromancer) & Montaron (neutral evil fighter/thief)

Out of necessity, since I was otherwise alone, I tried out Xzar and Montaron, the first two joinable NPCs you meet on the road (not counting Imoen, who joins you immediately). Aside from them being evil, I found both of them to be rather weak and death-prone. Xzar, being insane, should have been more amusing than he was, and instead struck me as simply annoying. Once I started finding more joinable NPCs, I really wanted to boot Montaron out (I didn't need his thieving skills, and he made a poor tank), but I needed Xzar's spellcasting to augment my own limited ability at level 1, and the two were a team that came and went together. Of course, I could have allowed one to die in battle to free up that space which in fact happened during my first play attempt, but I wanted to keep my options open this time. It wasn't until they got impatient with my delay in getting to Nashkel that I had to deal with their departure.

That departure was very inconvenient, because I wasn't expecting them to actually leave on their own, and I couldn't appease them in time. I was too far away from Nashkel to travel there before they'd leave, unless I went back several saves in the past, and I didn't like the characters enough to sacrifice several hours of game progress just to get them to Nashkel before they bailed out, so I just removed all their items in the save just prior and let them go.

Interestingly, it looks like I could have at least kept Xzar if I had a bit more luck, because in my several attempts to get them to Nashkel I was waylaid by wandering enemies just at the right time. Entering combat appears to slightly break the script that makes the two leave together. Montaron delivered his "You're taking too long! We're leaving!" line just after the enemies initiated combat, and the two started to leave, but then Xzar initiated the "are you sure?" prompt that usually occurs when you intentionally kick people out of your party. I told him to stay, and he stayed, while Montaron kept on going. Unfortunately, the enemies were too tough for my reduced party, and I wiped each time this happened.

Minsc (chaotic good ranger)

"Ranger"? I was surprised about that, since I think of rangers as stealthy bow-using hunter-types, not as loud, plate-wearing, sword-wielding berserkers. But I suppose it explains his affinity with his hamster Boo. It's just strange to me to see the abilities "Berserk" and "Charm Animal" right next to each other. Minsc is a very strong character, making him very useful for carrying the heaviest loot, and his dialogue is funny and lively. Outfitted with good armour he makes a hardy tank, but I very rarely use his Berserk ability because I have other mêlée characters that usually fight next to him, and I quickly found Minsc chasing one of his own allies due to his blind rage in berserk mode.

I picked up Minsc with Edwin in the party, despite Edwin wanting me to help him kill the witch Dynaheir, and Minsc wanting me to help rescue her. I thought, at the time, that I could just keep them both by never going to rescue Dynaheir at all, but Edwin started expressing impatience after some time, and I recalled what happened with Xzar and Montaron, so I knew this couldn't last.

Viconia (neutral evil cleric)

For my cleric/healer, I'm using Viconia, the fugitive drow who wasn't quite evil enough to want to stay in the Underdark. I'm playing as chaotic good this time, and she's neutral evil, but so far she seems to be fitting in better than the other evil characters I've included in my party. She only started complaining a little once my reputation reached "popular", but on the whole her banters are cute and pleasant, especially with all the drow-speak she uses and other amusing things like "There's no roof to this world!" I had to turn on subtitles to find out the spelling of what she was saying in drowish. "Lulu loooo! For sure!" is an interesting and amusing battle cry, and I think I'll always hear it that way, even after finding out it's actually "Lil alurl! For Shar!", which apparently means "The best! For Shar!" according to the drow dictionary I found. Alas, since I'm an elf, there can apparently be no romance with Viconia.

I have her keep 2 healing spells memorised, along with two Command spells and 1 Hold Person spell for crowd control, as well as a couple of buffs. She also has a Turn Undead ability that seems to toggle on and off like Imoen's Hide In Shadows or Detect Traps, but I can't seem to get her to use it without immediately breaking it by going on and attacking something.

Imoen (neutral good thief)

I haven't found any other pure thieves in the game so far, but even if I do, I don't think I'll want to replace Imoen. Not just because her abilities are shaping up nicely with the talent points from her leveling, but because I like her voice and personality (even if most of that personality is due to the NPC mod). Several times, the lines she says when I clicked on her to direct her somewhere have created some cute pseudo-conversations. Minsc interjects something while I'm about to direct her to unlock a chest, like:

Minsc: "Camaraderie, adventure, and steel on steel. The stuff of legends! Right, Boo?"

Imoen: "Yup!"

I have her Detect Traps ability up pretty high already, in anticipation of running through the Nashkel Mines, remembering my experience with my previous character, where I attacked the mines pretty early. I rolled my current character fairly soon after that event.

Jaheira (true neutral fighter/druid) & Khalid (neutral good fighter)

I might have kept Jaheira if her husband didn't have to tag along. He died a lot, couldn't carry much, and his dialogues with Jaheira were saccharine and annoying. "C-could we please settle down some time and have a b-baby together Jaheira, please, please, p-pretty please?"

At least Jaheira was fairly strong and provided an extra heal to the group, and her selection of nature-based druid spells were an interesting change of pace from the mage/sorcerer spells and the priest spells. She had some amusing phrases as well, like "Yeessss, O Omnipotent Authority Figure?" But on the whole, I don't miss them.

Edwin (lawful evil conjurer)

Like Imoen, his personality alone is enough to make me want to keep him, to the exclusion of other characters, and despite him being evil. He's egocentric and snarky, which I find much funnier and enjoyable than Xzar's shrill whining, Jaheira's condescension, Xan's moaning, or Dynaheir's stuffiness and misuse of Middle English (I'll have more to say about Dynaheir in another post).

Currently I have him memorising Colour Spray (for crowd control), Larloch's Minor Drain (for draining an enemy's health to replenish his own if he's hit), Magic Missile, and Chromatic Orb. When he runs out of spells, I have him stand back and throw daggers at the enemies, finding a use for the piles of daggers scrounged from all these walking skeletons. I guess it's nice that I never seem to need to buy arrows or throwing weapons, though I do need to buy sling bullets.

So far, the only Level 2 spell he knows is Horror, which seems of very limited use. I haven't yet found any useful Level 2 spell scrolls to teach him.

Kivan (chaotic good ranger)

I only used this character briefly before sending him away, but I've taken him back in out of necessity for reasons I'll explain in the next post. I don't like this guy, and plan to get rid of him as soon as I can find another useful tank.

He's as morose as Xan, except while Xan just predicts doom and acts pessimistically, Kivan incessantly speaks in unnecessarily heavy detail about the torture and murder of his wife, and his guilt and suicidal depression over it, and he keeps asking nosy questions. He's bad for morale. I've been giving him relatively sympathetic responses, but my finger hovers temptingly over the ones that tell him to shut up.

Branwen (true neutral cleric)

I like her voice, but I already have a good cleric. Well, an evil cleric, but you know what I mean.

Garrick (chaotic neutral bard)

A bard. I tried him out for a little while, but I couldn't find any good use for him. Am I missing something?

Kagain (lawful evil fighter)

I had him in the party just long enough to take care of his little quest, then sent him back to his store. He seems okay, and I do need another fighter, but do I really want another evil character in my party? I'm considering it.

Xan (lawful neutral enchanter)

As mentioned above, I couldn't stand his moaning, and he can't use some of the most useful spells. He has a little side quest to find his magic sword that no one but he can use, but why would I want a sword-wielding squishy? No wonder you foresee doom all the time, Xan -- you're doing it wrong!

So those are the characters I've had in my party so far, for varying amounts of time. I understand there are still plenty more to find, so I expect there will be more shuffling around coming up.

Crash fix and technical stuff

I ran into a crashing bug soon after losing Xzar and Monty, and in looking up solutions I found this was a well-known crash centered around the town of Beregost. Happily, there was a repair utility made specifically to address that problem, and it fixed it for me with no trouble.

On the technical side, I have the game running at 60 FPS, which is an option available in the config program. As it explains there, the game is supposed to run at 30 FPS, and the effect of running it at a higher speed is that it speeds everything up. I did this so that it doesn't take so long to get my party from one end of the map to another. Since I play with auto-pause options enabled, it doesn't affect my gameplay, since I'm playing it the same way I play Dragon Age -- pausing the game to give specific commands or control specific characters for each turn, making it a pseudo-turn-based game.

While this is an improvement for pacing, in my opinion, cutting short the most tedious parts of the game (walking from one place to another), it's not without its drawbacks. Primarily it's just that during scripted dialogue scenes which include voices, or during spell incantations, the animations finish before the voice finishes playing, so my characters never finish the "Vita, Mortis, Careo" incantation before being cut off with the sound effect of finishing, or in the case of dialogue the characters tend to speak over each other.

To be continued

There's a lot more to say about this game. I can tell I'm going to be playing it, and its sequel, for some time. Depending on how I feel about it when it's over, I might also want to look into the Icewind Dale games, and Planescape: Torment. I already have Arcanum, which was an impulse buy thanks to a sale on GOG, and played it briefly, but it was my first isometric RPG experience, and probably not the best introduction. Perhaps I can return to it after my BG experience with better insights.

These games have a sense of fun and a tone that doesn't take itself too seriously, which is sort of lost in the realism of later games. Even when I see little jokes and references in games like Oblivion, Fallout 3, or Dragon Age, they seem to be overwhelmed by the general serious tone, and in some cases the grey, dirty, "realistic" art design. They all have their moments, of course, and I think Dragon Age has the most of these kinds of jokes, like the "poem" by Paragon Seuss, or Leliana naming her new pet aardvark "Schmooples", and there are some examples for Oblivion and Fallout 3 as well, but in general I find myself having more levity in this game than in those others.

Anyway, this post is long. Ending for now.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Baldur's Gate, part 1

It was while playing Dragon Age: Origins that I saw much talk of the Baldur's Gate series. I had heard of it many times before, of course, but it wasn't until about four years ago that I developed an interest in RPGs, so I had never played it. The general consensus in all the reviews I've seen is that the Baldur's Gate series (with emphasis on the second one in the series) is the best CRPG of all time. My limited experience with RPGs prevents me from making that statement myself, but if you've read the discussion about it in the comments on the Freespace 2 post from earlier, you can probably tell that I've been enjoying my experience with it.

On the Dragon Age forums, people said that many of the things I liked about Dragon Age were also present in Baldur's Gate, such as the quality of writing, the party banter, romances, and many stylistic elements, among other things. I proceeded to view some Let's Play videos on Youtube to see how it played and how it looked, and it seemed workable, more so with the graphical improvement mods that were shown in action in the videos.


Before I even bought the game, I scoured the net for mod sites, and found Baldur's Gate 1 TuTu (which is read as "Baldur's Gate 1, to 2"), which allows you to play Baldur's Gate 1 in the improved Baldur's Gate 2 version of the game engine. Also I found a mod that allows higher video resolutions with widescreen, and various other mods that add extra banter and such (BG1 NPC Project is the banter one). I also found many alternate character portrait packs, including some that make Imoen look more like Alyson Hannigan than she already did, from her Willow days on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which premiered the year before BG1 came out, so perhaps the resemblance was intentional). I would eventually make my own portraits, after I had played for a while. But that's skipping ahead.

The purchase

I found a very good deal on the game, in the form of the 4-in-1 DVD box set version, which includes Baldur's Gate 1, its expansion pack Tales of the Sword Coast, Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn, and its expansion pack Throne of Bhaal. Really, the game is a steal at this price, if you go by the length of entertainment alone.

The packaging is decent enough, as it comes in a single DVD case, although I was disappointed to find that each of the expansions occupied separate CD-ROMs on their own, so it came out to 4 discs, where I think it could have been 2, or 3 at most. Also, the blurb on the back of the case is rather garish and unprofessional looking, and misnames "Tales of the Sword Coast" as "Sword of the Coast."

No printed materials (such as manuals or maps) were included, however each disc comes with PDF manuals for each game, in multiple languages. Not scanned manuals, but with high resolution colour images and live vector text for easy searching and crisp printing. Would have been nice if they also included high resolution maps on the discs as well.

I read about half of the first manual, but these manuals total over 300 pages and are full of charts and graphs and tables, so I have to admit I jumped into playing without being fully informed on how to play. The discs also included trailers for various other games of the time, such as Descent, which are good for a look back at the past (but not as far back as the Angry Video Game Nerd takes you), but viewing the trailers appears to be mandatory upon a successful installation, as I could not find a way to stop them.

First experience

In order to maximise my gameplay experience, I installed both games and both expansion packs right away, and let Tutu (actually EasyTutu) figure out how to put them all together. It took some fiddling to get the high resolution widescreen mod working, but it finally did, and I settled in to play. The starting movie began, but unknown to me, this was the starting movie from Baldur's Gate 2, not 1, so I was treated to several spoilers before I figured out what was going on and stopped it.

Creating my character and picking spells and stats was tiresome and difficult, as I didn't really know what I was doing, and I was impatient to get to playing the actual game. I do have some experience with pen & paper Dungeons & Dragons, but not enough, apparently. I'd sat in and played on several pen & paper campaigns, and even ran a game or two as a GM using an official module. I used to own a few of the source books, as well. That said, it took a lot of time to get acquainted with the spells, armour class, and other things that came straight out of second edition D&D. I still don't understand what a THAC0 is.

I'm not all that familiar with D&D from a lore perspective, either. I suppose it's fortunate enough that these games take place in the Forgotten Realms, since the one D&D novel I've read (The Crystal Shard, Icewind Dale Trilogy #1 by R.A. Salvatore) was in that setting as well, so at least I know about a couple of characters and locations that appear in this game, like Drizzt Do'Urden and the Underdark, but I have to say I'm liking this game a lot better than that book. I'd never read or even heard about the books starring Elminster, so I thought at first that the character that appears in the game was some kind of in-joke based on a member of the Bioware staff.

Anyway, once I did get to the game, my first impressions were very positive, aside from the odd and rather unpleasant-looking paperdoll figure of my character (the one that shows in the inventory screen, to show what you're wearing), which didn't look female at all, and more closely resembled the fiery-haired Ford Prefect from the comic book version of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy than a half-elven woman. I found a couple of mods that said they would replace the paperdolls, but there were no screenshots, and they actually said they'd change them to the way they looked in Baldur's Gate 1, which may or may not be an improvement.

Another speech about text vs spoken dialogue in games

This game comes from a more enlightened time, when it was not required that all lines by all characters be voiced, which has the effect of immensely increasing the required disk space for the game, drastically limiting the amount of dialogue, and allowing far fewer dialogue branches. This game does dialogue the same way Morrowind did it, which was to voice only greetings, various battle and action lines, special cutscenes, and catch phrases, with everything else being text. This, in my opinion, is the superior way to handle dialogue in a game.

Games today seem to try to be interactive movies, whereas these kinds of games are more like interactive books (or perhaps interactive comics), where the story is told primarily through text. I like text. I like reading. I like good stories. Movies are all well and good, but I really think we're losing something unique as games keep scaling back the amount of dialogue. Could we ever see something as amusing as Minsc's shaggy-dog story of the retainers of Fyrra Vsevolod in a game with full voice acting?

Taking Bioware as a single example, I would compare Baldur's Gate, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and the upcoming Dragon Age 2 in the way they handle dialogue. I put Mass Effect in there out of sequence, only because Dragon Age 2 seems to be building on ideas they introduced in Mass Effect. If I were using Bethesda as an example, Morrowind and Oblivion would go in place of Baldur's Gate and Dragon Age, as the effects are pretty much identical. So the evolution of character dialogue seems to go like this:

  1. Baldur's Gate: No voices except for character catch-phrases and special encounters. Long, detailed conversations with many possible responses. Responses were sometimes paragraphs in themselves, allowing you to express a very strong viewpoint. Many races, sub-races, and classes to choose from.
  2. Dragon Age: Voices for everyone except the player character. Three races to choose from, either male or female. Conversations are now a fraction of the length of the ones in Baldur's Gate, but feel longer because I read faster than these people speak their lines. Responses are now limited to 1 or 2 lines of text. Maybe 3 on rare occasions. Responses are assumed to be delivered exactly as worded.
  3. Mass Effect: Voices for everyone, including the player character. Only 1 race to play, male or female. Conversation length is about the same as in Dragon Age, but the responses are not even full lines anymore. Instead, you get a summary of your response, and when you choose one, the character speaks a slightly longer and different response (occasionally not quite what you intended to say).
  4. Dragon Age 2: Like Mass Effect, the player character is also voiced. As a result, unlike in Dragon Age 1, you are limited to a single race. According to reports, the dialogue responses have been simplified even further than in Mass Effect, to the point at which you don't even get a summary of what you'll say, but only a "mood" or general subject. You can still play as male or female, but the way these things are going, I wouldn't be surprised if they eventually offer only a single character choice, opting to drop more and more character customisation and story elements for the sake of the "full voice-over" crap that I don't want!

Do these companies even really care about games anymore, or do they actually want to be making movies instead? Some games sure seem to be going that way (Heavy Rain, the Metal Gear series...)

Large amounts of text are not gamer-bane! Look at WoW, perhaps the most successful video game ever, and it's still going strong with no spoken dialogue aside from little things like the "hello/goodbye" lines they say when you click on them or end a dialogue, and brief lines spoken by bosses during encounters. Blizzard, at least, doesn't seem to be falling into this trap. (Yet?)

Back to talking about Baldur's Gate

The characters are very vivid and memorable. I immediately took a liking to Gorion, the main character's foster father, and Imoen, the cheerful pink-haired thief. I'm not exactly sure which parts of the dialogue are from the original and which are added or enhanced by the NPC Project, but I've read that Imoen had hardly any dialogue interaction in the original game, whereas now she's a real chatterbox. But in a good way.

Some more customisation

As I mentioned earlier, I ended up making some custom portraits for my character. The included portraits were well-made and had an interesting look to them, but there were no portraits that looked like how I'd want to see my character. Most of the fan-made portrait packs attempted to duplicate the style of the original portraits, though there were some that departed from that style and simply used general fantasy art. Well, there's been a lot more fantasy-themed art available online since the time of BG's heydey, and I was able to find plenty that would make a good portrait. However, I ended up finding these great alternate portraits on Deviant Art (and the artist's second version, which include more characters), which were so great I had to go with them. Unfortunately not all characters and companions are included here, so I try to improvise where I can when I come across a new companion that doesn't have one. It's a rather unique style, though, so it's hard to find art that matches it.

Alternatively, there are also some other realistic style portraits that cast celebrities in these character roles. They're scattered in amongst the many other portraits in this gallery, and I couldn't find a grouping that just included the celebrities, but seeing a party including Vin Diesel, Halle Berry, Ed Norton, Sean Connery, Ben Stiller, and many others is very tempting. A lot of them happen to be grouped together on this page in the Fighters category, but don't miss the ones in the other categories.

The portraits are really the only view you have of the characters in the game, so they're very important. The characters' representations that you move around on the game screen are so small and vague, you can only make out a basic body shape and colours of their clothes (which you can adjust to your liking in the character profile pages), and the aforementioned paperdolls are extremely abstract. For these portrait changes, I used Shadowkeeper, a nice little tool for handling BG saved games.

After this rather clumsy introduction, I should get into the actual gameplay and strategies I've been using, and my opinions of various characters and encounters which I've experienced so far. I'm going to have to split this off into another post, though, so stay tuned.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Morrigan and Leliana face and armour mods

In the time since I made my own cosmetic Morrigan mod, there have been many more made, most of which are superior to mine, including one that I think much more successfully accomplished my goal of making her look like the Morrigan in the original concept art. I would recommend using that one instead of mine, and the only reason I'm not withdrawing mine from the mod database is that I hate it when people withdraw their mods from circulation (for any reason), and I've pledged not to do that with mine.

In retrospect, I think my mistake back then was that I was thinking of the character as more stylised, or cartoony, and it just didn't match with the general realistic aesthetic of the game. It should be interesting to see the Dragon Age 2 designs, though, since I've heard they're planning to move away from the realistic look and go toward a more stylised aesthetic.

At any rate, my recommended "concept art" face mod is called "Morrigan Lore Version 3", and it's part of the Dragon Age Redesigned mod, available on the Nexus. There are a couple of other variations for her in the same mod, as well.

Sacred Ashes

However, being better acquainted with the game and its characters since that time, I've gradually gained a better appreciation of the renditions of the characters as they appeared in the Sacred Ashes video and this "Accolade" TV spot (both by animation studio Blur), where Morrigan and Leliana were reportedly based on Claudia Black and someone named Alleykatze. I didn't like them at first, but they eventually won me over, and I now use mods that make them look like that. Again, there are many attempts, so I'll just spotlight my personal picks.

The best likeness to the Sacred Ashes Morrigan is in the Morrigan and Leliana Sacred Ashes Face Mod by endeavour1934, and it's the one I'm currently using. I always thought she looks pretty funky in the video, but she has kind of a Fairuza Balk look to her, as she looked in The Craft and The Island of Dr Moreau, so it works pretty well, and this mod accurately replicates it.

For Leliana, it came down to a tough choice between two Sacred Ashes mods: AT Leliana Face of Sacred Ashes Trailer by Azure Tenkai, and CGI Leliana Face Morph Sacred Ashes Trailer by fallingangel89 (though Sacred Ashes CG Faces is also worth a look). My choice was CGI Leliana, which comes in 3 variations, and includes the morph file so you can make your own tweaks to it. I liked Version 2 best, even though it's very close to the one included in my Morrigan pick above, and even though I like the makeup on version 3 better. I just think version 2 looks sweeter, and suits her personality better.

I still love Eshaye's Leliana mod, and I was reluctant to switch to the Sacred Ashes style because she's just so pretty in Eshaye's version, but she's pretty in a different way in the one I picked, and putting her in the Sacred Ashes armour completed the picture. I'll get to that in a moment.

Leliana's Song DLC

All I really wonder about this DLC right now is why Bioware features a great big image (and a very pretty one, at that) of the Blur (Sacred Ashes) version of Leliana on their promo page for it. For the original game, you could argue that the difference in character designs was just a case of the fluctuations that can happen between production and advertisement, but I can't figure out a good reason for it here.

I watched the trailer, and she looks nothing like the Blur version in-game, or even the way she looked in the vanilla game itself. If it didn't have her voice, I'd think she was just some random background character. Her in-game design doesn't look like it had much care put into it, and despite this being a flashback story telling of her younger days, she paradoxically looks older than in Origins. If they were going to change her design so drastically anyway, why not make her look like what they're using for promotional art? It would be pretty misleading if they didn't have the trailer right there next to it. Who knows -- maybe the big "WATCH VIDEO" on that page is a warning, like "Watch the video, so you won't think you're actually getting something that looks like this!"

Okay, so my comparison image has poor lighting conditions. The second image shows her in better lighting, and it's not so bad, but the fact remains that it doesn't match what it says on the tin.

Sacred Ashes armour for Leliana

So this was the last thing I did to complete the package -- get a mod that brings an approximation of that unique armour she had in the trailer. Of the ones I found, it came down to two options. The most accurate one, or the best-looking one. For some, these might both describe the same mod, but for me, they were different.

One is Armor of the Black Fox (previously known as Leliana Item Set), by Nezroy. This was my selection, and the one which you see on my screenshot of the CGI Leliana Face Morph. It's not as accurate as I'd like, compared to the armour you see in the above image for Leliana's Song, and to get those colours you need to also have the Universal Dye Kit. The mod author wanted to make it as modular and customisable as possible, but it was a bit of a pain.

The most accurate one is Leliana's True Sacred Ashes Armor by Raughnut (item called "Battledress of the Faithful" ingame, and is essentially equivalent to Wade's Drakeskin armour), and the only reason I'm not using that one is because of the shoulder/neck area. I don't like the way the turtleneck looks, and the shoulders make her look too wide, like her arms are actually attached further out than they should be. Well, actually, comparing the two outfits together in screenshots I took from the same angle, the arms' width are identical, so I think it's because the shoulder pads are so much higher, creating a bulky, top-heavy look. Compare for yourself and pick whichever you like. I'm hoping to see some tweaks on Raughnut's version. For now, I'm happy enough with Nezroy's, even though it's missing a lot.

I should note that in my screenshots here, I'm using the gloves that came with Raughnut's mod in both images.

Left: Armor of the Black Fox. Right: Leliana's True Sacred Ashes Armor