Dragon Age: Origins Review
8.8our score

Dragon Age : Origins Review aka “You know, one good thing about the Blight is how it brings people together.”

Dragon Age: Origins is the (relatively) recent RPG offering from Bioware, described and envisaged as a spiritual successor to the Baldur’s Gate series of games. Set in its own, specially-created fantasy world, Thedas, Dragon Age: Origins hopes to rekindle the glorious single-player RPG experience once more. Did it manage?

Dragon Age: Origins - Fireball

'Fireball' is always the correct answer.

Story aka “A man is made by the quality of his enemies.”

Describing the story for Dragon Age: Origins is not the easiest of tasks. As befitting the subtitle of ‘Origins’, upon character creation one may select from 6 different origins and character backgrounds, such as Mage, Dalish Elf or Dwarf Noble. These different origins completely come with their own (quite lengthy) starting area and stories, and also come back later on in the game to alter the way different encounters play out.

Because of this, the story that one character encounters may be ever-so-slightly different to the others, and not all story threads may be encountered in any one playthrough. Initially, I was highly sceptical of this and considered it a mere gimmick, but it actually plays out quite well. Each origin ties in nicely with at least one significant story arc later on, in a manner that seems not at all, contrived and can be highly satisfying.

Despite the fact that the origins do seem quite consistent with the overall plot rather than being a mere add-on, it seems a shame that so much effort and creativity was spread over 6 different origins which, by their nature, cannot be encountered in one play through.

Origins aside, the plot is quite entertaining – if predictable in parts, especially if one has played previous Bioware RPGs. The main character is, naturally, a special hero who will shape the destiny of the world, etc. When one employs this story, standard fare for RPGs, especially fantasy ones, the proof is in the pudding, err, the execution, and Dragon Age: Origins does do this quite well, at least. The characters are very rarely two-dimensional, and a sufficient Dragon Age-twist is placed on the standard saving-the-world plotline that it is a very good romp along the traditional heroic fantasy.

Further, unlike many other RPGs, Bioware tried to avoid using a very heavy moral distinction in this game. Whilst one must make choices betwixt a set of decisions, the outcomes of which will affect the lives of many in true Big Bad Hero style, they are not necessarily Evil versus Good decisions. Some of them are pretty obviously of different moral leanings, but even those are typically triumphs of pragmatism and coldness rather than psycho-murderer rampages. A refreshing change of pace.

Finally, the NPC companions one has are quite engaging, and seem to make coherent decisions with you and the plot line. I may be alone in not actually liking any of them (I’m certainly the only one on Mana Pool with that opinion), but even I can appreciate their depth as characters.

Gameplay aka “Being conquered easily does not constitute a power.”

Dragon Age: Origins Killshot

The cinematic kill-shots when performing kills in melee are surprisingly satisfying.

My favourite aspect of Dragon Age: Origins is undoubtedly the return to multiple character combat. Since the great days of Baldur’s Gate, the closest RPGs have really come to having a party under your command is henchmen who occasionally listen to vague orders and go roughly where you tell them to. Dragon Age: Origins is a return to form in that each member of your party can be controlled manually, their AI can be disabled and the entire fight can be viewed from a nice top-down view, allowing for lots of tactical decision making.

As with Baldur’s Gate, the pleasure of utterly crushing the enemy with properly timed fireballs (this time mixed with flammable grease on the ground) from mages and retreats from front-line fighters is difficult to properly capture in words. The combat in Dragon Age: Origins is, quite simply, some of the most enjoyable combat I have experienced in an RPG for nearly a decade.

The level of AI customisation for allies is done in a very peculiar way, however. Each companion’s responses are extremely customisable via a set of if statements, such as:

if (Ally >= 70% health) { cast Regeneration }

Whilst this intrigues me quite a bit, each Companion has a limited number of these, which feels somewhat stifling. It does make sense in a way, in that each character can be instructed with a certain number of ways to go about doing things, as it might be in reality, but the fact that they can only do those things is highly limiting. Outside of very pathetic enemies, I normally opt to turn this AI off entirely (which is not as quick as I would like to toggle on/off, which is another shame).

For non-combat, interactions with NPCs is done well, with few empty NPCs. There are normally a few different (moral approaches for each NPC, as well as a variety of ways to handle these approaches, e.g. persuasion, fighting, bribery.

Wealth is also done very well, as I never reached a point where I felt that there I had too much money and it became worthless, and neither did I feel that there was nothing worth saving up for. Likewise, there was a nice balance of equipment to purchase and loot. The implementation of crafting in Dragon Age: Origins is a nice attempt, but felt like far too much of a grind to me, working very much off an MMORPG manner of resource purchasing/collection. Additionally, only consumables, such as potions and poisons, can be crafted, making it very limited in scope.

The last note on gameplay will, unfortunately, not be a positive one. There are a number of bugs in Dragon Age: Origins, two of which irritate me immensely.

The first is that the existence of corpses is not properly registered – sometimes there can be a very long delay before the game properly recognizes the corpse for the use of abilities. Given that there are number of abilities which influence/are influenced by corpses, this can massively nerf some abilities and classes/specialisations – such as the Reaver, which was a specialization I chose on my last playthrough – to the point of absurdity. This is mainly a nuisance, however, and can be played around.

The second bug I will discuss is vastly more problematic. Sometimes when playing, one experiences something very similar in feel to lag, whereby commands take a while to take effect, spells/abilities don’t fire off properly – and if they do, the graphics will display, but nothing will happen, and so on. This, apparently, is a result of the scripts sometimes not firing properly or becoming clogged in some manner or other, and mainly happens in very busy battles – such as almost every single combat I was involved in during the end-game. Whilst one can survive it, it significantly hampered my enjoyment of the last areas of Dragon Age: Origins.

Dragon Age: Origins - Pyromania

Pyromania? Moi?

Graphics and Audio aka “Enchantment? Enchantment!”

Several people I have encountered on the internet seem to hate the graphics of Dragon Age: Origins, considering them shoddy and low quality. Maybe I have been letting my manhood wane and played an insufficient amount of Crysis on behemoth gaming PCs, but I really like the look of Dragon Age: Origins. To me, it is quite recognizable, and the effects/characters/environments all look suitable for a cool fantasy game. They’re not massively high-specification, admittedly, but they are the kind of graphics that will age well because they look good, and don’t simply rely on incredible polygon counts.

The audio is also of high quality, and, true to form for Bioware games, the voice acting is superb and the music fitting. My only complaint for voice-acting is probably a result of playing Mass Effect first, as the protagonist of Dragon Age: Origins is not voiced. This is something that one stops noticing after a while, but when every NPC-interaction uses an almost cinematic camera angle, and when the voice acting of every NPC is complete and high quality, it is really very noticeable that the main character is not voiced. Never the less, this is really a minor quibble, and doesn’t overly detract from the rest of the game.

Modding and DLCs aka “They are filthy things full of tears and snot.”

The modding community for Dragon Age: Origins is going strong, helped by the good editing programs that come with the game, and a number of good mods have come out to cater for all kinds of desires, such as bug fixes, annoyance removers, and, of course, to provide copious amounts of nudity.

Also present are DLCs, which are highly variable in quality in my opinion, but there are whole reviews devoted to them on Mana Pool, so I won’t bother saying much about them here.

Conclusion aka “Shave my back and call me an elf!”

Dragon Age: Origins is a solid RPG, and is a highly enjoyable return to form for Bioware and fantasy RPGs in general.

  • http://www.shadow1980.co.uk Evil Tactician

    This game is absolutely *huge*. Absolutely love it.

  • Trebs

    This game is overrated, like all Bioware games(that doesn’t mean it’s bad). The npc characters are somewhat inconsistent, take Oghren for example, he is supposed to be the most depressing character(if you actually ‘talk’ to him in the game) in the game and he ends up being a slap-stick drunk with typical drunk jokes. Great Bioware, great presentation of depressed drunks.

    Or NPC reactions to you, I can understand Oghren liking you for giving him beer but giving the right amount of gifts to other characters can make them like you in an instant (wouldn’t that be creepy in rl? some co-worker of yours, one you barely know, starts giving you stuff you like). Speaking of Npc voice acting, there is a an awfully embarassing moment when one of them sings to you. Don’t even mention the robotix movement which makes it hard to take npcs seriously

    The game is laughbly easy as well, ”Nightmare mode”(the X-TREME difficulty) is the only difficulty where you’ll get a moderate challenge also the game seems to rely on 70% filler fights to make the game longer. If you removed the pointless filler fights, you’d get an experience about as long as Mass effect 2.

    As I said, this game is highly overrated and I cannot believe David Gaider gets paid to write bad stories, still he is better than quite alot of other ”writers” in the ”industry”(doesn’t say much). This game will disappont if you were expecting Lord of the rings in video game form in terms of writing but of course, I never expected that so I wasn’t disappointed.

  • http://www.manapool.co.uk Alratan

    I’m not sure why you think that Ohgren is ‘supposed to be the most depressing character’. Ohgren does have his share of depressing aspects, but he mostly gets over (until Awakening rolls back around) once you complete his story arc, and it made perfect sense to me.

    I think the gifts part is valid to an extent, but remember that many of the gifts are very relevant to the NPC, as you are demonstrating that you have listened to the character and remember what things they like. It’s not just the gift part, but the fact that you *remembered*. Most people will tend to think highly when other people spend effort in remembering their likes and dislikes. Plus, these aren’t necessarily co-workers who you barely know, but people you are fighting for your lives alongside. Presumably some degree of camaraderie comes along with that, much more so than working in an office. Finally, part of the creepiness in real life would come from someone deliberately going to a shop, finding the item and buying it for you, which shows an awful lot of planning and thought which might be seen as creepy. In game, you simply find an item lying about by chance (often by looting it) and giving it to the person you think would like it the most. Hardly creepy.

    Additionally, I didn’t find the singing (from Leliana, if I remember correctly) embarrassing in the slightest – why would it be? Ditto with robotic movements.

    Bioware have never gone out of their way to make games bang-head-against-wall difficult, so that’s not really a surprise. I don’t think bang-head-against-wall difficulty is really a marker for a good game though, but that’s definitely a matter of opinion. I also never felt that there were deliberate filler fights, as it pretty much always made sense that there were monsters in a particular area – would you expect to wander through some long-lost halls filled with darkspawn and not find darkspawn? Plus, I enjoyed the combat in Dragon Age: Origins, so it never really bothered me that I was having to engage in combat. If you found combat itself boring, it is no wonder that you disliked the game.

  • Teronfel

    I really enjoyed DAO.It’s not perfect,it has some problems but you don’t notice them the first timeyou play it because the devellopers did a great job.I love the characters and the interaction with them.Yeah,I know,there are lots of cliches but most of the dialogues are very well written.I can’t remember many games with such good dialogues.

    @Trebs Define what you mean by overrated.You think it’s not the “game of the year”(2009),the “rpg of the year” or you mean those people that said DAO it’s “the game of the decade” or the “best rpg ever”

    In my opinion DAO was the game of the year and the best rpg of the year and one of the best(let’s say in top ten)rpg ever made.

  • Trebs

    Yeah, having companion approval at 0(neutral) then say the right answers(in conversations, its quite odvious as to what they like and dislike to hear) in the space of 5 mins and you’ll get an approvalrating of 40+(friendship), totally what happens in rl. Some ”companions” aren’t even your friends, they just follow you as a means for what they desire(penetance or selfish desires). You can also buy these gifts. Damn fine camaraderie there, soldiers.

    Oghren is supposed to be the most depressing character in the game because he murdered a fellow dwarf in a drunken fight(he shows regret) then stripped of his ability to fight(he was a member of the warrior caste) as a punishment. Oh yeah, his wife left him in pursuit of a near forgotten relic of power. Now he drinks himself to death, yeah that is pretty funny isn’t it?

    Lelliana’s song not embarassing? You find the lip sync of that scene to be fine and totally not out of sync? The lip sync of that song is so bad that I actually remembered it, it doesn’t even look like she is singing it!

    Also about the difficulty, the most difficult setting should make the game challenging not be the only difficulty setting where there is a challenge. Filler fights are fillers no matter what you call them, facing constant mobs that made no challenge whatsoever make the game boring. Kinda like WoW, except you don’t have to pay a subsricption for this.

    Overrated because it’s decent whilst its praised as the second coming. Then again, it is like the equivalent of finding a flake of gold in a node of fools gold, maybe thats why its praised so heavily, either that or EA(owned by an ex-coca-cola CEO)/Rupert Murdoch the amoral billionaire media tyrant(he owns fox news, the Times, the sun, Ign and Gamespot) has something to do with the scores?

  • http://www.shadow1980.co.uk Evil Tactician

    Trebs, if you compare Dragon Age: Origins to other RPGs on the market, it stands head and shoulders above most. For people who loved Baldur’s Gate and the other infinity engine RPGs, it’s the closest thing to a modern version of such games as we’re most likely going to get.

    Personally, I love it – and there’s enough content in the game to keep you busy for quite some time. Measuring it against other things on the market is really the only fair thing that can be done. So how would you rate the game? You could always write and submit what we call a “Second Opinion”. If it’s well written/constructed – we don’t shy away from posting such a thing :-)

  • Gulliver Foyle

    1. Trebs = Troll.
    ’nuff said.

    2. Still on my first play-through, but am enjoying it immensely.

    3. Concur with the authour of this review (Alratan) regarding the lack of voicing of the main character. I, too, was spoiled by Mass Effect.

    4. The authour (or webmaster/mistress) needs a proofreader.

  • http://www.shadow1980.co.uk Evil Tactician

    @Gulliver – We proofread all content at least by 1 seperate person. Sometimes 2. It is quite easy however for mistakes to slip through, especially as the ‘style’ of the author must be preserved. If you find major errors just let us know and we’ll correct accordingly!

  • Trebs

    Yeah, Gulliver Foyle, yeah, i’m a troll for having an opinion that is different from yours. Keep fighting the good fight against trolls, bro. Best way to silence those that have a different opinion of yours by calling them a troll, very mature.

    Try the RPGcodex’s review of the game. Its quite a good second opinion.