So like probably everyone and their pet rhinoceros, I’ve been playing Dragon Age: Origins lately; though I suspect unlike most, my interest manifested rather late – it wasn’t until they released a stand-alone character creator “demo” that it began appealing to me, the main thing that got me sold on the concept being the character origins. I love the idea behind it – it provides you with a kickoff point to define your character from, gives you an identity that can merge with the world (unlike so many other roleplaying games where you’re more like just a visitor to the world, rather than someone who belongs in it) and a motivation to get started.
I ended up creating a dwarf, unusually enough – I rarely enjoy playing dwarves in most settings, but Dragon Age seems determined to be an exception: the Dwarf noble origin is by far my favourite at present, and I’ve quite enjoyed jumping into an unfamiliar world in the guise of Princess Saeri Aeducan – warrior and shield-swinger extraordinare! With most of the game taking place in human parts of the world too, my unfamiliarity is her unfamiliarity, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve mumbled “silly humans.” at the screen just because.
I think the best praise I can really give it is that it’s managed to immerse me quite a few times – something that neither Oblivion nor Baldur’s Gate 2 succeeded at. It’s not quite Torment for dialogue, but it does try to make you a part of events rather than a stranger to them. The voicing is good, though Duncan’s voice took me forever to place – I knew I recognized it, but it’s somewhat embarassing that I couldn’t remember from where, seeing how much slaying I’ve done at that voices’ behest. Simon Templeman, on the other hand, was an obvious spot, surrounded as he was by his vocal awesome. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard Paul Eiding in there a few times too.
It has its weaknesses too, of course – with Mass Effect in hindsight, it’s really obvious how much added interaction there is they missed out on by not giving your character a voice – other characters have to speak for you half the time to put vocal power and emotion into the words, and they seem a little less willing to let characters interact physically during dialogue than in Mass Effect. Seeing the various compositions of body sizes, armor bulk and weapons I’m not too surprised, but it feels a little as a step back. What really struck me, though, was two things: The severe lack of emotional response you’re allowed, and your companions apparent utter indifference to your origins. There’s dialogue about where they’re from, of course, but they speak very little of your origins. I mean, sure, okay, they might just be disinterested.. but when the dwarven woman they’re following around suddenly gets refered to as “Your highness”, I expect atleast eyebrows to be raised!
Which brings me to the other part – I realize this is very much unbroken ground for games, and that they have a limit to how much content they can produce and there’s some concessions made because a whole lot of people just want to be complete bastards revelling in evil, but when my character’s entire past pretty much just shatters before her eyes and everything goes potatoes, I reserve my right to atleast have her rage or QQ over the whole situation to affirm that it wasn’t just an everyday event that can be shrugged away in the blink of an eye. Furthermore, where are my party members in situations like that? Can’t they come pat my head for a change?
Okay, then there’s Wynne – grandmother of the whole world and all-around awesome. We like her. But still!
Still, it’s been a fun journey so far, and I’m only halfway through on my first attempt; I’m hoping it’ll pick up more yet as things progress – it certainly looks as if it might. It’s entertained me a whole lot more than I originally expected which definitely stands as strong enough praise. There’s still some things I wish it was more than it is, but I realize some of that also ends up touching on elements that are generally underdeveloped in games – I’m not going to expect BioWare to revolutionize the character narrative just yet.