Dragon Age: Origins is another classic entry from Bioware. While the company is mostly known nowadays for its sci-fi adventures, this game is an RPG that is firmly in the “swords and sorcery” mode of high fantasy.
According to ardent fans, this franchise was an instant classic that everyone should play. But Bioware has delivered some mixed goods in recent years, making it worth asking whether this game is worth it for new players.
What’s the answer? Keep reading to find out!
A Legacy to Live Up To
Dragon Age: Origins had a lot to live up to even when it first came out. Bioware made a really big splash with earlier hit games like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. But they really became a household name with a string of hit games such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, and Jade Empire.
In this way, Dragon Age: Origins is sometimes a victim of Bioware’s previous successes. For example, the plot involves a character who joins an elite organization and quickly becomes the only hope of saving all living beings from an overwhelming force.
Sound familiar? It should: this was the basic plot to Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect. And the game’s morality system, in which your choices shape your character and the overall story, draws a lot from these previous games.
Fortunately, there is much that helps Dragon Age stand out on its own.
Choose Your Own Adventure
The beginning of the Dragon Age story may vary greatly from player to player. There are three playable races (human, elf, and dwarf), and each race has multiple “origins” (such as “noble,” “mage,” and “commoner”). The result is that there are six distinct backgrounds for characters starting their adventure.
These pair with classes that should be very familiar to fantasy fans, including “warrior,” “rogue,” and “mage.” While there is still plenty of room for specialization, the game is wise to stick to these core classes: it streamlines things in a way that makes the game more accessible to newcomers.
Overall, there is enough diversity of both story and background to allow every player to create the kind of character they really want to play.
One of Bioware’s hallmarks is a kind of morality system. Instead of Dragon Age: Origins being a fully linear experience, your character will occasionally be called upon to make tough decisions.
These decisions can potentially affect how the rest of the game plays out. This includes how NPCs treat your character and how your own party will react to you (more on this in a minute).
If you squint closely enough, you can see that the game is more on rails than Bioware would have you believe: most of your choices still lead to the same main plot points.
Nonetheless, there is a wide variety of choices that can make multiple playthroughs different, and I liked the multiple opportunities to role-play the kinds of decisions our characters would actually make.
The Buddy System
There were times I felt that Dragon Age is a little too similar to Bioware’s earlier efforts. However, there are some areas where they have clearly evolved, and this includes interaction with your party.
Basically, each party member has their own distinct personality and motivations. This means that they will react to your decisions in different ways.
A cutthroat decision may bring certain characters closer to you while pushing others away. And it is fully possible to drive characters away entirely if they disapprove of your actions.
The opposite is also true: win a character’s affections often enough and you have the option to romance them. And you can augment these efforts by giving gifts to these characters, which is a rather artificial (but expedient) way of winning more affection.
Not in it for the romance? If nothing else, winning the trust of your party is the only way to hear more of their stories. And man oh man, there is a lot of story in this game.
She Cried “Lore, Lore, Lore”
It’s entirely possible to play Dragon Age like a “hack and slash” adventure. Point, click, kill, and loot. But for those who are in these games for the story, Dragon Age: Origins is a real treasure.
First of all, despite the surface similarities to Bioware’s earlier games, the actual world-building of this game is very good. Despite featuring fantasy staples like elves, dwarves, and dragons, this game world still feels very unique.
Secondly, there is a ton of lore hidden throughout the game. From conversations to scrolls and texts, there are countless opportunities to flesh out your understanding of this world. And yes, this encourages multiple playthroughs, adding to the replay value of the game.
Combat: The Mixed Bag
Like a wily rogue, I’ve been dodging one of the big questions: how is the combat in this game?
It actually depends on how you choose to play it. There are basically three ways to customize your experience of this game.
The most basic option is to simply control your own character. This means you only worry about yourself while your party does its thing. Such a mode is fun but (of course) limiting.
The second option is like the first but you have tweaked your characters’ behaviors. So, while actual combat is still all about your character, you have “programmed” how the rest of your party will react to certain situations. This is more rewarding, but still limited.
What is the most robust option? Micromanagement, baby! At any point, you can pause combat and assign different actions to each character. This allows you to control every slash and every spell.
Dragon Age: Origins proves itself a fantasy game everyone should play at least once. There are fun battles, classic characters, and an epic story waiting for you. Just don’t try any of the accents after playing the game!