With the new console generation looming just around the corner, we thought it fitting to start a new series of articles about games we love. Games like Dragon Age. I like to think of Dragon Age: Origins as the last of Bioware’s true rpg gems. They claimed that DA:O was going to be a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate, and I do not think that they disappointed in that regard – they were able to create a wonderful classic western RPG with modern twists. Of course it is not a perfect game by any means, but when the game does so much well, it is much easier to overlook these things.
The thing that DA:O nailed the most were the characters. The cast of main characters are all very memorable, and it is one of the few games where (with the exception of Alistair – he’s a keeper) I mix up what party members I bring along with me, getting to know all their personalities and hear the party banter. Even the token ‘evil’ teammates, Morrigan and Zevran, turn out to be very interesting, likeable and human. It is very easy to come to care for these characters, and you want to see them through the blight and civil war.
While exploring the different places, your teammates will start talking to each other. While it can sometimes feel a bit strange when they talk about you as if you were not three steps in front of them, I think it adds tremendously to their character development. You get to find out a bit about the background and motivations behind the people talking, but you also get to see your friends and allies interact with each other, making them actually seem human. And then there are the romances. There are 3 for both male and female characters, Zevran and Leliana are bisexual, while Morrigan is exclusive to males and Alistair is only for female characters. The romances are all developed in a believable way and it was, like some of the characters in game mentioned, wonderful to see a romance bloom in such a bloody and horrid world.
I could go on forever about the characters, but they are not all there is to the game. The combat is very similar to the Baldur’s Gate games, and as such, resembles the classic D&D rules. Of course there are many differences, such as the tank classes are able to draw enemy aggro to them (similar to MMO games) and skills that rely on cooldowns and stamina/mana. The combat is quite tactical and especially so on the higher difficulties. Very often, you will have to pause the game and issue commands to your whole party. There is a tactics menu, which allows you to customise the AI but it is not all that reliable. Overall, the combat can be quite slow paced but I find it very much enjoyable and it is greatly satisfying to defeat bosses on higher difficulties.
There are three different classes to choose from: warrior, rogue and mage. You can then further augment this by choosing up to two specialisations (such as spirit healer, templar, bard, etc) to create your own role within the class. It is possible to have a tank-mage and a support rogue, if that is what you want. Mages seem to be especially smiled upon by the game developers, but I think that this is also keeping in with the lore of the game. Mages are seen as incredibly powerful, and there is a reason why they are locked in a tower, under constant supervision. Mages have a great access to numerous spells, which make them very versatile. Their natural squishiness is circumvented by the Arcane Warrior specialisation, which allows them to equip the same armour that your tank would be wearing, leading many fans to question why you would play as anything other than a mage. I however, believe that all that really needed to be done was to give more options and variety to the warriors and rogues (which was partly rectified in the Awakening expansion, but still needed a partial rework). It seems like they got stuck between keeping with the D&D style of these classes and more modern MMO archetypes of them.
While creating your character, there are three different races to choose from: human, elf and dwarf. While these races are not very unique to the fantasy genre, it is nice to have the flexibility, and it is interesting to see the different responses that people give to you in game. As you might expect from the title of the game, there are also 6 different origins for your player character. These help define who your character is, if you are into role-playing, and help welcome you to Dragon Age’s world. All of the origins end with you meeting an important man named Duncan, being recruited into the Grey Wardens and sent to Ostagar. Your origin is the brought up again when appropriate, if you were a human noble, you will be recognised by the Denerim noblility, while if you were just a city elf, you will only be known by those in the alienage where you were brought up. All this certainly helps the replayability of the game.
Speaking of replayability, there are many tough choices to make in the game. Unlike in other Bioware titles, there is no morality bar in Dragon Age: Origins. You do not get paragon or renegade points, nor are you defined by titles such as Lawful Evil or Chaotic Neutral. Not only does this add to the immersion as your screen is not lit up blue/red, but you actually have to think about the choices you have to make. You are faced with some tough decisions to make, and sometimes either outcome is not overly positive. And that, I think, is how it should be, as that is how it is in real life.
By the end of the game, you get to actually see the consequences of the choices you have made. There are quite a few endings you can experience, that are not just the same video in a different hue. In the game’s finale, you get to see a long list of slides, that detail what happens to your companions, the cities, the people you have met, the world and your very own character. While it is unfortunate that you do not get to see these events in some kind of motion, it is still very fulfilling, and due to the nature of it being text, allows for a great deal in variation. In the four times I have played through the game, not once have these epilogue slides ever been totally the same.
There is a lot to get through in the game. Around 30 hours, although that would probably be even longer on your first playthrough. Unfortunately, some parts can be a bit of a drudge to get through. Some areas seem quite bland in terms of colour and layout. While the game was wanting to be very serious and ‘real’, I do think they could have been a bit more adventurous in terms of colour palette and dungeon design, I do not think it is good when I find it hard to discern between an ancient elven forest ruin and a holy mountain temple. I would say the same goes for the armours and weapons in the game – nothing seems extraordinary or exciting.
The story, while interesting, is not very innovative. It is relatively easy to see where the story is going, and not too many surprises are pulled. The classic bioware formula is there too; you have to go to four different places and solve all their issues before getting what you came there for. While the quests and characters in those various places are different, you cannot help but feel that it gets a bit too repetitive. And the places you do visit seem a bit… bland to say the least. People do not seem to be moving around or doing anything except standing still, leaving everywhere seem sad and dead.
Thankfully, the game fully supports mods. If you have ever played an Elder Scrolls game on PC, you have most likely seen the amazing things modding communities can do and add. The modders for DA:O are of no exception. There are mods that have sorted out the atmosphere of the game, adding NPCs who walk around shops and towns. New armours and weapons, of greatly varied looks. Even a new companion character who is fully voiced and talks to your other companions! It is amazing what people are able to do with modding tools, it adds such amazing replayability and even fixes some of the problems in the base game.
Overall, Dragon Age: Origins is one of my favourite games. I can not get enough of the characters and the world, as it seems like such effort was made into making them feel real, and it really pays off. I enjoy the combat and the real choices and consequences that are made. I love making my own character and having them feel as much part of the world as anyone else. All these things make me forgive the lackluster UI, repetitive dungeons and visuals (which mods can help remedy anyway). It’s a role-playing game with actual role-playing, and that seems strangely hard to find nowadays. Bioware will always have a place in my heart, especially for this game, even if I do not enjoy their newer games, and I only wish that they continued to make games with the same quality and satisfaction as DA:O.