Bioware Reviews: Dragon Age and Mass Effect: Part 3 Dragon Age: Origins

[This article is part of our Bioware saga]

Upon playing Dragon Age: Origins for the purpose of the review, I realized a grim future in front of me, that I’ll have to play Dragon Age 2 and Dragon Age: Inquisition. That is always the problem with the Dragon Age franchise: Should I play it as a franchise from the very beginning with Origins till the end with Inquisition or just end it with Origins and don’t look back? After all that time I still can’t find the answer to: “Should I put up with thist?” Well I have to now, there is no escaping it this time. Unlike the Mass Effect trilogy, which is very consistent in its quality, Dragon Age trilogy is extremely uneven, it goes from excellent to abysmal, to time consuming. Bioware truly shows its colors and it is rather sad. Dragon Age franchise is a testament towards how one developer trying to catch up with what’s new in RPG industry and only the first game managed to stay what it’s meant to be and stay true to its origin.

Disclaimer: “This review is gonna contain spoilers about the main story line, read in your own discretion, so if you aren’t familiar with Dragon Age: Origins, I would highly recommend purchasing it and then you can read the article.”

Start of the journey

Dragon Age: Origins began its journey in November of year 2002 and was officially reveled in 2004 on E3 2004 under the simple title of Dragon Age, majority of the information was kept hidden from the public and what was known was this, it was supposed to be a “spiritual sequel to both Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights”. Like with Mass Effect there are key people at Bioware that you should know about mainly designer Mike Laidlaw and writer David Gaider, these two are responsible for majority of decisions in Dragon Age trilogy. Game spent six years in development and finally it was released on November of 2009.

Story, world and lore

If I have to describe the story of Dragon Age: Origins, I would describe it as following: “Lord of the Rings meets Game of Thrones” for part of Lord of the Rings, there are classical fantasy tropes that are without a doubt influenced by Lord of the Rings, elves living in the woods, dwarves living in underground cities or orc like creatures called Darkspawns even locations from Dragon Age: Origins are heavily influenced by Tolkien’s epic, large forest, abandoned dwarven roads and underground cities. In contrast to Game of Thrones, bleak civil war, treason, forced exile, greedy nobles and massacre of noble family in a style of “Red Wedding”. Such combination can be tricky, requires a lot of writing skills and you also need to introduce your own ideas and unique spin on genre of fantasy, luckily David Gaider did a fantastic job as a writer, combination works really well and there are elements that I haven’t seen in any fantasy work (that I know). For example, problem of mages in this fictional universe, mages are dangerous, powerful and attract demons that would like to possess them, so mages are kept in towers where they are heavily guarded by Templars (warriors trained to disrupt magic).

Also the view on the elves in Dragon Age: Origins is quite unique, elves are viewed as second category citizens, if they live in the city, they have to live in walled of part of the city called Alienage, otherwise they live in forest as outcasts called Dalish elves. This is actually quite telling that you don’t completely original fantasy world, but the little changes to well established tropes, makes all the difference. Another major inspiration for this game is of course history, better European history. You don’t really need to be a history fan to spot some historical similarities. So, the premise of Dragon Age: Origins is this: “After some unfortunate events, you are being recruited into ranks of the Grey Wardens, an order sworn to defend Thedas (continent) from disgusting creatures called Darkspawns, who usually stay in underground, digging and searching for Archdemon (massive dragon and Old God) once found the Blight (army of Darkspawn) begins.” Story takes place in the Kingdom of Ferelden, a relatively young kingdom, that was occupied by Orlesian Empire and later liberated by Loghain Mac Tir (voiced by Simon Templeman), incoming Blight and not enough soldiers, creates a stigma of asking the Orlesians for help or not. The entire story involves around this “stand alone or call for help” problem.

Protagonist, companions, villains and other characters

There are a lot of characters in Dragon Age: Origins and discussing all of them would probably made this article insufferably long, so let’s keep it short. You can choose between three races (Human, Elf and Dwarf) and three classes (warrior, rogue and mage). The game isn’t called Dragon Age: Origins for no reason, my most favorite element of this game are the origin stories, in addition to choosing race and class, you choose the origin (there are six options) of your protagonist, that means about an hour of game-play that explains how the protagonist did end up being recruited, these origins are important throughout the game, because protagonist at some point of the game return to the place he/she came from, also your companions are asking you about it. I sometimes have a problem to get into protagonists in RPGs and project myself into them. Games like Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas are great, but the worst part of those games in my opinion is the protagonist, because I can’t really project myself into him/her. Dragon Age: Origins does this part flawlessly, projection into protagonist works really well, it also can explain character morality, because those origin stories are quite dramatic and violent. Warden is a silent protagonist, the last silent protagonist in a Bioware game, you respond with pre-writen sentences and there are a lot of options to choose from, special types of responses are based on class, race, skills (survival, speech etc.). Your Warden is one of the vital elements why Dragon Age: Origins works so greatly, nobody can really tell you who your protagonist was, because you know him/her best.

There are nine companions (including Shale from The Stone Prisoner DLC) in Dragon Age: Origins and they are well-written; every character has something interesting and add new information about the world. You can talk to your companions anytime and anywhere you want; this is something I miss in newer Bioware games. There are two main companions that have a major influence on the game’s story Alistair, fellow Grey Warden and Morrigan, daughter of the powerful witch Flemeth. What I find the most fascinating aspect about them is the fact they both could be quite unlikable, imagine what could potentially happen if they have only one characteristic. That is what I love about companions in Dragon Age: Origins, no companion is one-dimensional, my personal favorites are Sten (qunari warrior), Leliana and Oghren (dwarven berserker).

The Archdemon might be the final boss and enemy in the main campaign, but the real villain of the game is Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir, alongside with Saren in Mass Effect 1 he is one the best villains in Bioware games. Loghain in the game is a great hero and general, who saved the country from foreign occupation. What’s more tragic is the fact that he rather leaves its country to the Blight and abandons his king and son of his best friend to die on the battlefield, rather than call for help from Orlesian Empire. The civil war in Ferelden is his doing. Something more interesting is the fact that he is kinda right, his reason for abandoning his king makes sense, king is naive, and his plan isn’t based on reality, but rather more on heroic tales. Something like this is sorely missing from newer Bioware games, villain with a complex motivations and personality. Alongside him there are other minor antagonists, like Arl Howe, Uldred and many others, also leave quite an impression.

Main mission in Dragon Age: Origins is gathering army large enough to defeat the Darkspawn, that means going into four main areas and there you meet quite a lot of characters, I am not going to describe every one of them. One that is worth of mentioning is Duncan, leader of the Grey Wardens, who you meet in every origin story and he recruits you into their ranks. He is the mentor character in the game.

Dragon Age Origins Combat scene
Screenshot 1
Dragon Age Origins Combat scene 2
Screenshot 2

Gameplay and combat

Dragon Age: Origins isn’t exactly a revolutionary game when it comes to gameplay and combat. Combat is automatic and you can use special attacks and magical spells. But there are little things, that I really like and enjoy, for example characters can use any type of weapon or armor (except for magic staves and some robes), but without the proper training wielding a great-sword it is pretty much useless. Everyone can use bows or crossbows so you can soften up incoming enemies before they got to your party. One other thing is that enemies use abilities, for example: I was playing as an elven mage and I encounter possessed Templars in the Tower of Mages, they proven to quite difficult, because they were using “dissolving magic” and “holy strike”, so my mage and Wynne were in a lot of troubles. Another interesting element is that enemies are leveling up with alongside you, so their armor and weapons are higher quality and they are using better abilities. This makes Dragon Age: Origins at least in my opinion quite unique. Controls are basic, graphically looks fine for its time and location design are excellent, design for armors and weapons are the highlight of the game. Surprisingly for an RPG there is no morality system, only your companions might disagree about your decision, but there is no bar to show how evil you are and once again it works in favor of the game and the story.

Expansion packs and DLCs

Dragon Age: Origins unlike Mass Effect 1 received a lot of DLCs and surprisingly one expansion pack called Dragon Age: Awakening. Awakening is a really great expansion pack, it provides a lot of new ideas, enemies, lore and locations. If you decide to buy Dragon Age: Origins, you should also buy Awakening. There are 7 story DLCs, one of them I covered in my BEST DLCs LIST, three of them (The Stone Prisoner, Return to Ostagar and Warden’s Keep) are part of the main campaign and others (Golems of Amgarrak, Leliana’s Song and The Darkspawn Chronicles) can be played separately from the main story-line. All of them are part of the Dragon Age: Ultimate Edition (main game, Awakening and all DLCs), this is Dragon Age version I own and personally think that it is the best. In my opinion the correct order to play them all (let’s say our Warden survives killing Archdemon) is The Stone Prisoner, Warden’s Keep, Return to Ostagar (before The Landsmeet), Awakening, Golems of Amgarrak and Witch Hunt.

The bittersweet finale

So, this was Dragon Age: Origins, one of the greatest and most immersive RPGs of all time, also my most favorite game of all time. After finishing this game, a sudden feeling of sadness came up to me, from realization that Bioware has never made and is never going to make a game like that again. Dragon Age: Origins is probably one of the last classical RPGs. Lot of the elements in Dragon Age: Origins never appeared in any Bioware games ever again, even with all what I wrote about this game, I still have the feeling that I only scratched the surface. I love this game from the moment I started playing it way back in 2009 till this date. I can’t tell you how much I love this, because no one can. Dragon Age: Origins is a game that makes me feel so much emotions, that’s magic. For that Dragon Age: Origins deserves 9,5/10.

Next time we will look at Mass Effect 2.

Until then keep playing Dragon Age: Origins!

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