Dragon Age : Origins

14 12 2009

Dragon Age : Origins

I bought Dragon Age : Origins from E-Bay a while ago and was saving the install until I got the new PC.  I’m still waiting on the video card before it’s shipped.  Apparently they’re in very limited supply.   After finishing with Borderlands, I got the urge to install Dragon Age, even if I had to play it on lower settings.   It also crashed when I looked at water, which is handy.   That’s not the game’s fault though, just that unidentifiable nvlddmkm error that has been plaguing me for some time.  I suspect it’s a bad video card or maybe RAM.    Doesn’t matter, it’s all doomed once the new PC arrives.

Dragon Age : Origins is a fantasy roleplaying game from Bioware, the company that brought us Baldur’s Gate and the sequels, as well as Knights of the Old Republic and Neverwinter Nights, among others.  Every Bioware game I’ve ever played has been brilliant, and Dragon Age is no exception.

The game has multiple starting areas depending on the race you choose to play, from the humans, dwarves and elves that are standard RPG choices.   You also get to choose a class from Fighter, Mage and Rogue.   There’s nothing new here, nor do Bioware really claim there is anything new in that regard.  This actually suits me just fine because its familiar yet still new.

On my first play-through I chose a human warrior, who’s storyline proclaimed was of nobility.  Without too many spoilers, bad things happen and you’re taken away to join a group of mysterious warriors called the Grey Wardens.  Think Obi-Wan Kenobi and you’d be pretty right.   All origin stories merge at this point and the game follows much the same story from there with a few twists and turns depending on your choices and how you choose to treat people.

The character I chose to play was much like I usually play in such games, at least on first attempt.   Male, human, and the choices I make are those I’d make as myself.  I’m neither evil, nor good, and I make my choices based on the information at hand.  One thing I always punish harshly is slavery.  If in a game I encounter slavers, I wipe them out to a man without mercy.   I guess I play a generally ‘good’ character.  Generally.
The Grey Wardens, it turns out, are a kind of pand of warriors that protect against a horde of enemies known as the Blight.  The Blight are monstrous demon-like creatures which could really be replaced by Orcs and no-one would notice.  There’s a few boss monsters such as actual demons and ogres, which to me looked like minotaurs.   The head ‘demon’ looked to me like a dragon, but what do I know?  Your mission is to unite the elves, humans, dwarves and mages against the coming Blight, and make a last stand against the demon which looks like a dragon.

As I said before, it’s all new, but still the same.

Throughout the game you pick up various weapons and armour, herbs and accessories, which you use to help your characters survive.  You also level-up as in most games, choosing from a variety of class powers and spells such as sneaking, pick-pocketing and herbalism.  Warriors can upgrade their sword-and-shield abilities or go for two-handed weapons, or a combination of both.  There’s a fair amount of customisation options to tailor your characters to your needs and style.

Along the way you meet about a dozen characters who, if treated right, can join your party in your adventures.  There’s the surly dwarf, the rugged fighter, the elderly mage.   There’s more, but I don’t want to spoil everything for you.   One surprise is a dog character, which is a pet of the player.  He is upgradable and can get new gear such as collars and war-paint to improve his abilities the same as humanoids wear armour and get new weapons.  I only played with him in the intro though, as I felt he was a bit limited.

My playing style in such games is that I only choose a couple of companions and tend to stick with them throughout the game, unless forced to change.  They also tend to be the earliest companions I pick up, because I feel a bit disloyal dumping people I’ve been working with to pick up someone new.

Once I was settled into the proper story, I found I had the red-headed rogue Leliana, the ex-Templar Alistair and Wynne from the Circle of Magi.   I was going to use Morrigan the witch, but she was a little evil and kind of annoyed me.  I did end up shagging her though.

One of the greatest things about this game, and most Bioware games is the NPC interaction.  At certain points like the campsite, the different characters will converse with each other, and some of the things they talk about are really well scripted and often hilarious.  One in particular was a conversation between Alistair and Wynne.   Wynne is an elderly woman, a senior mage.  Alistair asks her to darn a hole in his sock, “You know, because you’re kind of motherly…”  Ok, it probably doesn’t come across well there, but once you know the characters, it’s really good.   There are many such conversations captured on You-Tube if you’re still not sold.  Check out some with the Dwarf, Oghren.

A lot of the voices are great too.  Many are recognisable actors and it doesn’t take long to figure out that some of the cast of the defunct Star Trek Voyager are talking to you.  The elf companion, Zevran, sounds a lot like Antonio Banderas, or Puss in Boots if you are that way inclined.  It’s not Banderas, it’s a guy called Jon Curry, but you get the point.

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Zevran, who sounds like Puss-In-Boots. He was totally gay for me.

Tactics are a huge part of gameplay, and essential if you want to survive.  From the tactics window you tell your NPCs which skills to use in battle.  For example, you can tell your archers to target enemy mages, and at the same time have your fighters protect the archers.  It can get very complex and you need to spend a fair bit of time on it to make it work for your style.

My usual play was to have my rogue use Arrow of Slaying, which can do massive damage, on the enemy leader or a mage while my PC closes to battle.  Then I sent Alistair into close combat while I personally took control of Wynne, and used freezing spells to limit the enemy’s forces.  One of the things you can do is combine spells.  Say for example you freeze a guy, you can follow it up with a high impact move which can shatter the frozen monster.   You can also cast a ‘grease’ spell to slow enemy movement, then light it on fire with a fire spell.  There are many such combos, but I didn’t explore it much in my first play.

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My Character

Sadly, the monster varieties are lacking.  When Bioware used the old Dungeons & Dragons system, they had a massive amount of lore to play with and all of the monsters that had been developed over the years D&D has been around.  That made each area you visited in, Baldur’s Gate for example, interesting and varied.   With their new Dragon Age universe, Bioware didn’t really have much variety.   There’s a few spiders, some dogs and a few demons but that’s pretty much it.   The majority of creatures are just humanoids who use the same tactics and as a result combat got quite stale at the end.

Above, I said the lore wasn’t as interesting as D&D, and that may be true, but it’s not the whole picture.  Scattered throughout the land are many, many notes and books and objects you pick up which give you a page of history of the land or some further information about an area or person.  It’s really quite massive and I must admit I didn’t spend a lot of time reading through it because I wanted to further the story.   There is a great amount of text that it’s actually a bit intimidating to consider going through it all.

Sadly, it’s the console generation and each and every game has to have some tie-in to the internet.   Dragon Age has an online account tracking system which uploads screenshots of your progress, and you also earn achievements as you continue through the game.  Some of them you’ll get without trying, like “Kill 50 Enemies” and “Finish Origin Story”.   Some are more challenging and unless you happen across it by accident or read about what you need to do on the internet, you’ll miss the achievement.   I don’t really mind the system, but it does get to be a bit of a grind.  It all stems from the World of Warcraft type mentality in which you need to do the same thing over and over to get anywhere.  I don’t really care, I just play for a good story.

Story is what Dragon Age : Origins has plenty of.  It’s a return to the great RPGs of old, and I pray there is another soon.

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