Zoe’s RPG Corner: Dragon Age: Origins

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Dragon Age: Origins, and its expansion, Awakening, are a 3rd-person single-player RPG set in the medieval magical land of Thedas where a bunch of orcs darkspawn are trying to fuck shit up with a big Eye of Sauron dragon and even though I am going to mock how much this game is like Lord of the Rings, it is also great, I promise.

History and Development

Then called simply “Dragon Age”, Dragon Age: Origins was anounced by our old friend BioWare in 2004.  The developers cited things like George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” and other “low fantasy” works.  Honestly though, that’s one of those fiction witer terms and I honestly dislike it because like, ASoIaF is shockingly high language but apparently if you mention things like visceral death, rape, and other things that were rampant in the middle ages, then you’re low.  And honestly I’m not sure I would even call Dragon Age (the franchise, not just this game) low fantasy.  I’d say it has some of both but it’s more high fantasy than low.

Except of course the famed BioWare Homicide Streak.

The game came out in 2009 and has basically been held up as the standard to which all story-based RPGs are held ever since.  Critics gave it high marks in terms of story, graphics, replayability, mechanics, everything.  One review even named it “RPG of the Decade”.  It’s a game that people still, five years later, have trouble catching in terms of all around goodness.

Except (personal opinion) apparently there’s a song by Thirty Seconds to Mars on the official soundtrack and like excuse me, what?  Not that I have really anything against Thirty Seconds to Mars exactly, but I was not expecting that.

As I mentioned earlier, though, Dragon Age is a franchise.  Three games and their various DLCs, a series of novels, a tabletop RPG that I really gotta check out, comics, a web series staring Felicia Day, and wait a second, there’s a fucking Dragon Age anime, that sounds terrible, I need it.  I own the first three novels but haven’t read all of them, just started the first one.  It’s…okay.  David Gaider, lead writer of the game series, writes them and they read just like I would expect a video game writer to write; solid dialogue, a lot of plot, but just lacking a certain amount of what we writers refer to as “showing” because he probably gets to write things like “He looked as though he didn’t care” instead of what novelists have to do which is write what he did that made him look that way.  Really, the books are for people who love Dragon Age and want to know more about the world, not for people who like high fantasy novels.

I was forced to play this game the first time.  Didn’t own it for my first play-through.  My friend made me play it, and Mass Effect, because she has fantastic tastes and knew what I wanted.  She was right.  It hit all the right buttons for me.  The NPCs in your party are phenomenal and the dialogue is snappy and snarky and very human.  The plot and the decisions are really interesting and they know what they’re doing in their world creation, mostly.

Also they let you play dwarves and I have a real thing for dwarves so that was a big thing in favor of the game in my eyes.  Very, very concerned upset looking dwarves.

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Who the hell are you?

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What the hell do you want?

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Why the hell would you do this?

I bought the whole thing.  I’m on my third play through now, which isn’t a lot but there are a lot of games out there and also you know I graduated from college during that period too.  But I still think this game is great enough that I have mapped out what I’m doing for the next, oh, eight or nine times I play it and I have zero shame about that.

The story of DA:O continues in Dragon Age: Awakenings, the expansion, which feels like a whole new campaign and is super long with new companions, but still continues to be super good and doesn’t get as much love as I wish it did.

Character Creation

The reason it’s called Dragon Age: Origins is because you get to pick from one of six origin stories which you play through as a sort of tutorial before the main shit starts.  The origin stories are as follows: Human Noble, City Elf, Dalish (forest) Elf, Dwarf Noble, Dwarf Commoner, and Mage, of either the human or elf variety – in the world of Dragon Age, dwarves can’t do magic.  The three classes are mage, rogue, and warrior.  It’s a very simple creation system which I personally really like because it doesn’t bog you down in choices.  It’s gonna be a long game though, so settle in.

The physical creation mechanics are solid and very much a standard of newer BioWare games.  It’s intense.  You can adjust everything.  The one major MAJOR problem of the character creator is that if you want your character’s skin to be darker than “looked at the sun once” it’s gonna look weird.  For some reason, they did something terrible to the texturing and they don’t have any options for being darker than slightly brown so like, not only is your character gonna look pale as hell, they’re gonna look weirdly patchy.

Other than that, though, it’s pretty solid.

Story

Dragon Age: Origins is the story of the Fifth Blight of Thedas.  Every once in a while, the darkspawn, an underground dwelling “race” of corrupted beings that were once normal humans, elves, and dwarves – I mean did they even try not to make orcs? – get together under the rule of an archdemon and try to kill everyone.  You play a Grey Warden, a member of an organization that exists specifically to murder the hell out of darkspawn and eventually the archdemon, by drinking darkspawn blood because that seems like a great idea.

Along the way it becomes your job to deal with all sorts of bullshit because you’re the goddamn hero of Fereldan.  Apparently that makes you the fucking expert in who should be in charge of countries and stuff.

Additionally, Dragon Age: Origins relies really heavily on its NPCs.  They’re a varied bunch – including a man who trained to be a church knight, a drunken dwarf, a grandmotherly healer, a sexually explicit elven assassin, and a witch – and they all want shit from you.  So a lot of the story is about getting to know your companions and doing the quests for them.  And I mean also sometimes boinking them.  Because romance is just what we’re all thinking about when the fucking world is ending.

Gameplay

H’okay though.

So I have no real proof for this, but part of me feels like Dragon Age: Origins is still based on that old BioWare turn based engine because combat is still SLOW AS BALLS.  Like, I get what they’re doing, I do, but it still feels like shit takes forever.  So like, I honestly believe that I spent most of my time doing combat in this game because every fucking fight was like a marathon. Mages attack super mega slow.  So do warriors with two handed weapons (never control one during a battle, it is a snore-fest, go be Morrigan instead).  It just feels like it takes a long time.

Also there are a ton of skills.  Like a ton.  Like a mega-ton.  A lot.  It can be really overwhelming if you’re not careful.

But apart from that, it’s pretty solid.  It’s not like intense dynamic combat or anything, but it does what it’s suppose to do.  Besides, Dragon Age: Origins is a game about talking to people, not fighting them.  It really is.  I mean, there’s a lot of bloody horrible murder too, but also you have to talk about it, and the writing is still really good so that cuts down on a lot of the combat problems, I guess.

But hey, mages have super cool spells.

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Like a boss.

The Good

The writing.  It’s really fantastic.  Some of the best video game dialogue known to man and I will defend that statement with my life.  They know their shit in this game, know how to get it to hit you in gut and make you laugh all at the same time.  The voice acting for it is great too, staring such wonderful individuals as Steve Valentine of Crossing Jordan, Claudia Black of Stargate SG-1 and Kate Mulgrew of Star Trek: Voyager, so basically hitting all of my childhood loves.  Oh yeah and Steve Blum as “crotchety drunk guy” because in no way is he type cast.

Of course the great writing makes for great characters.  I think among the creative side of video game fans, Dragon Age: Origins gets the most artistic and fanfictional love, followed probably by Dragon Age 2 and Dragon Age: Inquisition.  This game knows how to tug your heatstrings.  It also knows how to make you love characters.  Or hate them.  There is no more hate for any character ever I think than there is for Morrigan of this game, mostly from women who are mad about A Thing that happens.  Which I’m not about because Morrigan is the fucking bomb.

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There should be no hate for this beautiful sneaky witch thief.

The story is good too.  They do the choices really well and it does feel like you’re really shaping the destiny of a nation.  Basically they do everything in the writing and plot side of things 99.9% right.  I even like the fade section, which puts me in the minority of players.

The Bad

Combat.  The pacing makes it really difficult to keep interest when it comes to the hacky and the slashy.  It’s a big game so sometimes you’re just like “Ugh I have to fight my way through this whole forest/underground tomb/ancient ruin and it’s gonna suck.”  And then it totally sucks.

The Ugly

Nothing is terrible in the way that I usually have here.  Like, the slow combat is annoying but it’s not enough to put me off this game for even a second.  I dunno, maybe…

Oh.

Wait.

The sex scenes.

It’s the least sexy thing I’ve ever seen.  Ever.

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I think it has something to do with the underwear and the fact that the sex scenes make the models look like snake people and I do not like that.

From here…?

Just buy the game.

Do I need to say anything more?  If you have the game, play it at least six thousand more times.  You will not be disappointed except maybe by the sex scenes but like, if you’re relying on not actually naked video game sex to get your rocks off, we need to talk about your life.

Next Month: Dragon Age 2! The one in the middle! With that guy who fucked everything up!  Oh it’s gonna be great.

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