Dragon Age: Origins – Review

Let’s talk about Dragon Age: Origins!

Dragon Age: Origins marks the beginning of the Dragon Age series by Bioware. This massive RPG was released for PC, Xbox360 and PS3 in 2009.

It serves as an introduction to the world of Thedas; more specifically the kingdom of Ferelden. With the imminent threat of a Blight and the darkspawn that come with it, the Grey Wardens are the only hope of putting an end to it. After a betrayal that leaves many to die at the hands of the enemy, it falls to you to assemble an army and retaliate.

Character Creation and Introducing Your Hero

The game kicks off with letting you create your character. You can choose between three different races (human, elf, dwarf) and three base classes (warrior, rogue, mage). Dwarves cannot be mages, however. There are also a couple of backgrounds to choose from. These determine which origin story you’re going to play through. Each background changes the way the people of Ferelden will treat your character, though in the end it matters little for the core game. Once you’ve selected the basics for your character, you are then taken to a character creation screen. You can customize the look of your hero here. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a character creator and it doesn’t disappoint. With how many different options are available, you’ll be sure that no two heroes look the same.

When all is set and done, the origin story begins. This essentially gives you an idea of the background and history of your character and their standing within society. There are six stories to play through; humans have two different ones, dwarves have two, and elves also have two, although technically three with the only gender-based difference. Mages share their origin story so it doesn’t matter if you’re an elf or a human. At the end of it, your hero gets recruited into the famed Grey Wardens. This introduces the main conflict of the game.

Story and Companions

After the prologue, you’re free to go wherever you wish to continue the story. Four companions are available to romance; two for each gender. These choices may also affect conversations with other party members. It’s a nice touch to see your party care about each other. Every character, your companions especially, feel complex. With the possibility to change two companion’s personality, it adds to the charm they all have. They aren’t just good or bad or like one thing only. They’re people. They have a history and give their opinions in conversations without being prompted. The voice-acting here is also on point. While some animations may appear a little stiff here and there, I found little issues with the acting.

As mentioned above, you’re not obligated to play the main story in any one way, though a couple of areas are clearly intended for higher-levelled parties. This also means that some areas are meant to be gone to sooner rather than later, making encounters there too easy if you go at a later point. A few cutscenes then and there give you an idea of what is happening in other places of the world and may also push the story forward, prompting encounters on the road for example. The story is nicely paced and even if you don’t make the main quests a priority and delve into all the side quests instead, you can easily fresh up what you’re supposed to do by checking your quest log.

Content

Dragon Age: Origins is filled to the brim with content. There are quite a few DLC available on all platforms that add content (or even a companion) but they are not necessary for the game to feel full and completed. They’re just an extra treat for the player. The game doesn’t feature an open world and instead lets you decide where to go from the world map, throwing in the occasional encounter on the way to your destination. None of the locations feel very small though and if you like exploring, there’s plenty to do here. New areas may also be unlocked for accepting quests. There are codex entries to find everywhere. These can give you more information about the world of Thedas and anything you may find within it. They add a lot of background and make the world appear even more fleshed out. Every weapon and armour piece you can find also has its own description and potential background (which, if it does, you can read about in its codex entry). Just reading everything the game has to offer can fill hours.

Controls and Gameplay

The controls are explained via tutorials in the beginning and are easy enough to get the hang of. Walking into doorways or small rooms can get you stuck though unless you switch to another character as your party members may block the way. The battle menu consists of an interface in the bottom right corner that grants you access to a quick menu. Here you’ll find six of your skills that you can assign however you like. This doesn’t mean that your other skills aren’t available. They can be found in the radial menu. Holding down the L2 button (or tapping it once to make it appear; this can be adjusted in the settings menu) brings up the menu and from here you can choose from all of your skills, drink potions, set traps, throw bombs or control your party members. You can also switch your weapon set from here. Each character has two of these available. This can make it so your party is prepared for any situation. It’s an especially useful feature to make use of on higher difficulties.

Each character class has multiple specializations that you need to unlock. They unlock different skills you can invest in, making character development and party synergy a lot easier. Some specializations go together better than others and that shouldn’t be neglected. Multiple tactics slots are available per character so A.I. controlled party members will act depending on the selected tactics. They offer a lot of customization to fit every playstyle and can be changed at any time. A.I. can still be quite stupid though and get stuck in places. Sometimes shifting them to manual play can fix it, otherwise leaving the area or walking far away enough will transport the stuck character back to your side.

Armour and weapons can have additional effects, like granting you a boost in stats or a defending bonus. Item sets can also grant bonuses, making it more important to have a full set than one piece with a higher stat. Runes can also be used to enhance equipment. Armour does change the way the characters look and weapons are shown properly as well.

The option of crafting potions, traps or bombs also exists. Finding necessary materials isn’t too difficult. Most can either be found in the wild or bought from merchants, while additional ingredients definitely need to be purchased.

The different difficulty levels change the way the game should be played. Casual is great for beginners or people who want to enjoy the story rather than the combat and so most battles are easily overcome without the need to change tactics. Higher difficulties add more challenge to the game and battles and make a strategic approach to almost any battle much more important.

Graphics and Music/Audio

The graphics are okay but hardly breath-taking. That being said, the game still looks good. I had few graphical glitches and mishaps and I enjoy taking in the scenery Bioware has created. Some animations look stiff or may lag though. Early on, back in the character creation screen, testing out voices can make the hero’s mouth look extremely weird, but that can be negated by changing the mouth.

Personally, I have nothing bad to say about the music. I found it very fitting, suiting every situation and never being over the top or not enough. It makes the adventure epic and fantastical. It can be a bit too loud during battles though, so you might need to adjust the settings for it.

The audio, however, has been an issue. Sometimes voice lines don’t appear at all or are spoken much quieter than any of the ones before it (playing with subtitles on can negate the former). I started the game up on a new TV and needed to adjust my PS3’s audio settings in order to get any sound at all when all other games on the console run fine. The audio glitched out for me a few times during cutscenes as well but that usually happened when the entire scene played with a delay.

Other issues

The audio problem is only one of the things I’ve encountered that can dampen the joy of playing Dragon Age: Origins.

Another one of them is the autosaving. Considering how frequently the game saves, I was quickly annoyed by this. It often, if not always, pauses the game for a few seconds before you can move again. The icon for saving stays on screen for however long it takes to save. For me, this means having a part of my screen taken up by it for up to a minute. That can make it difficult to see during boss fights and makes cutscenes awkward since half of a character’s face may be taken up by the sign.

I have had several cutscenes play twice in a row as well, with no way of skipping them. I don’t know what caused this, and it happened more frequently later on in the game, but it is annoying when it’s a longer scene and you have to re-enter all your conversational choices. Ones isn’t so bad but multiple times gets old quickly.

Enemy looting! I love loot; it’s shiny, sparkly and it gives me free stuff. What I don’t like is having to wait around half a minute to be able to loot an enemy. This happened to me all the time. I would kill an enemy and then have to wait for far too long to even see if it dropped any loot. This is especially annoying when you’re at the end of an area and want to move on or are between waves and it’s your only chance to loot before a cutscene plays. With a game that can take up dozens of hours of gameplay, needing to wait this long for most enemies’ loot can get really frustrating.

Opinion

I’ve spent about 35 hours on my first playthrough, without finishing every side quests or collecting everything I could have gotten. I still felt like I explored a lot and it was incredibly satisfying to finish the game. With how many side quests, companion quests and main quests there are, not to mention each origin story and trying out different playstyles (or coming back on a harder difficulty), Dragon Age: Origins offers a lot of replay value. Trophies/achievements aside, just wanting to explore everything the game has to offer and seeing the different outcomes of events should be enough to draw you back in after your first playthrough. I personally feel like I’ve made a bunch of mistakes in the choices I’ve made so I can’t wait to go back and see if I feel differently when choosing another option. There were some areas where I got stuck for quite a while but adjusting my strategy usually let me move on. The ability to import saves into the expansion or the game’s sequel adds to the feeling that every choice you make matters. This is something I greatly enjoy. Most RPGs don’t give you the sense that what you do matters aside from finishing the main quest. Thedas is so rich with people and lore that I could spend hours just reading everything I have in my codex and notes. It’s not difficult to spend 50+ hours on this game, or much less than that. Player choice matters here.

If you like RPGs, this is a must-play. If you’ve always wanted to try one, this is the game for you. The story is deep and mature and throws in quite a few morally challenging choices you have to make. The world if full with interesting characters, pretty scenery and background. However you might play a game or approach battles, Dragon Age: Origins can provide you with a way to do it. This is a title that definitely shouldn’t be overlooked.

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