A Look Back At Dragon Age Origins
Dragon Age Origins is a curious game. Graphically it’s not very pretty, the storyline is the epitome of clichéd high fantasy, and mechanically its a hardcore RPG (apparently unfashionable these days). Yet those that like the game, love it. So much in fact, that it’s sequel is considered to be the inferior game, despite having far more technical polish. So why do I and other gamers love it so? Read on to find out.
Considered as somewhat of a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate, Dragon Age Origins is what I would call a proper, old school RPG game. The kind of game Bioware is seemingly convinced no one wants to play any longer. Every bit of armour and weaponry has stats to pour over and compare. Characters have multiple builds to explore, and stats to tweak. Every enemy corpse is a chest to be looted, and dungeons are full of secrets to find. There’s three different races to play; Human, Dwarf and Elf. Three different classes to play; Warrior, Rogue and Magi, each with their own specialisations. Combining the races and classes, there’s six separate Origin stories to explore. If you’re starting to get the impression that Dragon Age Origins is a big game, you’d be right. It’s chock full of the kind of content that RPG fans love.
After you’ve chosen your race and class, your first steps into the world of Ferelden take place during your origin story. Each story, although unique to your heritage, serves to explain the chain of events that lead you to joining the Grey Wardens, and embarking on the main quest properly. Ferelden is facing another Blight, an event that will see a horde of evil Darkspawn (undead creatures?) unleashed upon the land, and it’s the Grey Warden’s duty to stop it. Unfortunately, the Grey Wardens are lacking in numbers, and rather unpopular, so things are already looking bleak. King Cailan has a far more romantic view of the Grey Wardens, and is eager to join them in battle against the Darkspawn at Ostergar. Teryn Loghain, the king’s general and father-in-law, has other plans though. Seeing political gain in the king’s death, Loghain withdraws from the battlefield, leaving Cailan to die and the Grey Wardens to take the blame. You and Alastair somehow survive the battle at Ostergar, and are left with the unenviable task of stopping the Darkspawn, all the while under suspicion of treason.
After the opening stages of the game, you’re left to decide how to proceed next. Your plan is to recruit allies from the three races, but the order in which you do it is entirely up to you. Also undecided is your choice of companions. I’m not just talking about who you party with, either. Several characters can be left un-recruited, or even expelled from you camp in the future, and it goes some way to bringing a sandbox feel to a game which essentially has a linear story. The game world tries the same sort of thing too; the various locations are fully explorable, but only within their limits. Try to venture out into the countryside between towns, and you’re automatically taken to a map and asked where you want to go.
One of my other favourite aspects of the game are the various origin stories, and how they tie in together. For example, in Denerim there’s a dwarven weapons merchant called Gorim in the town square. If you talk to him he’s polite, but he won’t reveal how he got there. It’s only by playing the Dwarven Noble origin story that you find out who he really is, and how he became a lowly merchant. If you play the Human Noble origin story, your run in with Arl Rendon Howe later in the main quest has a far more personal edge to it. If your class choice is Mage, a certain prisoner in Redcliffe will have featured in your origin tale. Dragon Age Origins is full of these little crossovers, and while they’d never be classed as major plots points (within the context of the main quest line), they do add plenty of charm and flavour.
My love for Dragon Age Origins isn’t complete however, as it does have one or two things I don’t like. There’s a section during the rescue of the mage’s circle that takes place in the Fade that I suffer through every single time I play the game. I find it repetitive, and in places confusing. Considering that the game is so large anyway, I could happily do without it. Then there’s the colossal amount of DLC to get through; it’s almost overwhelming at times, and I still haven’t finished it all. But those two pale into comparison when compared to venturing in to the Deep Roads. Every time I go in there, I get lost. Every. Single. Time. And I’ve done it multiple times too, so I should know better. The biggest problem is a lot of it looks exactly the same, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve lost track of which direction I’m going in.
I started off by calling Dragon Age Origins a curious game, and I stick by that. At the time, I agreed with the reviews that give it a 5 or 6, and yet I played it endlessly. I liked it despite it faults, and I’ve never been able to quite work out why. I rather suspect it’s because (to my mind) it’s the last time Bioware really made a full on RPG. Dragon Age 2 and the Mass Effect games are fine, but they’ve had a lot of the RPG elements stripped out, and I miss those things. It may feel old fashioned by today’s standards, it certainly lacks the technical accomplishment of the later Bioware titles, but Dragon Age Origins retains a certain level of charm that other games often never have.