The Age of Dragons and Origins

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.


30 Responses to “The Age of Dragons and Origins”

  1. 1 Synchronizor
    November 9, 2009 at 21:17

    My roomate just got that game, so I’ve seen it played. (Poor college student who can’t afford to get the old desktop up to speed *raises hand*)

    One of the things I noticed right off is the similarities between Dragon Age: Origins, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Having played the latter very extensivly, it was interesting to see how DAO, had evolved and advanced the KotOR play experience.

    Graphics were a big upgrade, of course. I was impressed with the blood decals on the players, and the lighting effects such as heat shimmer above the braziers in the Dwarven starting area.

    I also really liked how Bioware had given weight to your character’s backstory. In KotOR, the entirity of your character’s backstory was a one-line summary that an NPC gave you within the first minute or two of the game. While I wasn’t personally a fan of the political intriuges and social manuvering that my roomate’s dwarf had to work through, It was very well thought-out, and made for an interesting introduction to your character.

    I was a little disapointed that the player character hadn’t gained an actual spoken voice since KotOR. In fact, the dialouge interface in DAO was exactly the same as in KotOR, with (persuade) replacing (force persuade) for some options. (though it didn’t seem to be quite as dependable…) Not to say that the dialouge interface is bad, or that it dosn’t work, I was just hoping to see some additions or improvements to it in the 8 years between the games.

    I did notice that the party interface had been expanded, especially when it came to party member behavior. KotOR had a simple list of a handful of stances you could choose for your party members, while my roomate was clicking through menu after menu, customizing the way the party fought through a myriad of options.

    KotOR was a great game arguably one of the best I’ve ever played, and it was great to see Bioware working to evolve such a winning interface. Mabye one day I’ll be able to afford the game for myself…

    • 2 Nhani
      November 10, 2009 at 11:16

      They’ve come a bit since KotOR – ditching the black and white good/evil scale back in Mass Effect definitely was a start, and now they have no scale to speak of. Losing a player voice compared to Mass Effect was a loss, but with the many extra combinations for player races and origins, I can kind of understand it.

      It’s a pity they scaled back the sheer interact-with-characters bit from Mass Effect – again I can understand it since it’d mean they’d have to choreograph every scene like that for every size the player can be, but there was something grand about the fact that Commander Shepard could grab hold of someone and stick a handgun in their face, even if those scenes weren’t alltogether common.

      • 3 Synchronizor
        November 10, 2009 at 14:53

        Yeah, I remember the light side/dark side scale in KotOR (even for characters who weren’t force-users), and the open hand/closed fist system in Jade Empire. Those types of good/evil scales seemed to fit those game settings more than DAO, though.

  2. 4 Thalis
    November 9, 2009 at 21:40

    A Dwarf Warrior? And I thought that your choice would be an Elf Mage.

    • 5 Nhani
      November 10, 2009 at 11:11

      Hahah, oh no, not at all. I like the City Elf origin to some degree, but the elves themselves.. ye gods.. they look on the verge of collapse at any moment. Even their faces manage to look thin and wiry.

      And the mage origin.. eh.. I’ll probably try it eventually – my friends tell me being a mage makes the game so much easier – but the mage origin sounds too much to me like “You are a mage.” and that’s about it. Compared to, say, being an elven Mel-Gibson-as-William-Wallace (“Freeeeeeeeeeeedooommmmmmmmmm!!!”) or a Dwarven Princess.. well.. being “a mage” sounds just a tad bland.

      • 6 Synchronizor
        November 10, 2009 at 14:55

        So they’re more like those anorexic Blood Elves then, eh? πŸ™‚

        • 7 Thalis
          November 10, 2009 at 15:15

          Elvish homeland was twice razed by humans. City Elves now live in “alienage” (read “reservation”) as low-class people and for me, it looks like they resigned, or forgotten “what it means to be an Elf”. Dalish Elves, who refused to stop worshiping their gods, were forced to wander.

          • 8 Synchronizor
            November 10, 2009 at 15:26

            That’s interesting.

            I’ve only seen the Dwarven royalty game beginning, but I was impressed with how the dwarves were handled. Things like the facial tatoos and the highly poitical environment were a fresh take on dwarves that kept things interesting while not straying too far from the standard concept of the race.

      • 9 Synchronizor
        November 10, 2009 at 16:38

        By the way Nhani, that post led me to dig out my old Braveheart VHS tapes. Such an awesome movie…

        • 10 Nhani
          November 10, 2009 at 16:46

          I’ve only seen the movie once, really; for some reason some scenes from it have managed to stick in my head (and more than just “FREEEDOOMMM!!!”) in spite of the fact.

          I actually kind of like making references to it for some reason. Probably because I haven’t quite figured out how to make all that many Jurassic Park ones.

  3. 12 Thalis
    November 10, 2009 at 15:00

    Hehe, Braveheart reference πŸ˜€ I did not tried other origins yet, but it would not surprise me if Mages have some similar experience; watched by Templars, who are ready to mercilessly execute them at first sight of corruption.
    For me, creation of my first character in any game can be summed in one question: “Can you make (good-aligned) Elf, possibly Hunter?” Be it WoW, Morrowind, TES4, Drakensang, or this, answer is always the same. I find almost impossible to quickly create a character from scratch. Using you as example, I would create Elf Mage, hence my question. Or Dalish Elf Rogue πŸ™‚
    Afaik, Bioware stated that they decided to not make dialogue voices for player, because that would mean six voices for any answer the player can make, possibly taking too much development time. It slightly disappointed me, because this is the first game where I feel that my char really fits into the story, and this would make my experience “ultimate” πŸ˜€ On the other hand, I have never played RPG with voiced player character, so I don’t exactly know what I miss.

    • 13 Nhani
      November 10, 2009 at 15:55

      For me, it’s often a question of two things: Visual Look & Feel, and Archetypes, with mechanics coming as a distant third after those two have been fulfilled. I need to like the visuals of the character, the gear they’ll use and the whole stylistic theme, and I’ll need to like (and want to play) the archetype I’m provided.

      Funnily enough, I’m actually not all that much for casters; there are exceptions, but most of the time I tend to prefer something more martial. Though I generally prefer agility over raw power, but this provided an exception since it actually allows you to fight with the shield, rather than the shield just being an extra piece of armor.

      For some reason, I found I rather liked the look of dwarves in Dragon Age – it’s a rare thing since I usually don’t in most settings, and I found the Dwarven Noble origin a really fun and interesting kickoff point. I just wish the game would’ve let me refer to it in dialogue more often.

      In Drakensang, for comparisson, I played an elven spellcaster – largely because I liked the look of them. I didn’t really like the narrative origins implied with the elves, but since the game put no actual focus on the race/class of your character through narrative, it didn’t matter so much – and I found I didn’t like the look of the other options enough to pick them above what I eventually chose. Interestingly, I ended up picking the spellcaster only after trying the warrior – and realizing that I didn’t only like how the spellcaster looked more, but it was also so much easier to play.

  4. November 11, 2009 at 21:01

    Question, did you choose your Dwarf to have a relationship with Gorim, the servant in your origin?
    He’s supposed to be in Denerim and i want to know he he’ll react to you and stuff.
    I plan on starting the story as a dwarf noble aswell.

    • 15 Nhani
      November 11, 2009 at 21:39

      I didn’t, no – I don’t think that particular choice changes anything save for your personal context, though; he seems to be your characters’ aide and follower first and foremost, with any other role ascribed to him secondary.

      The dialogue when I met him in Denerim seemed generic enough that I can’t see that choice affected him that much. Can’t say other choices won’t, though.

  5. 16 Elveswarrior
    November 12, 2009 at 00:15

    just completed the game 10min ago. the cruel cruel not just happy ending! πŸ˜₯

    i stuck true and went elven archer. and i loved the elven story with them being utterly beaten and close to enslaved by humans loosing their immortality and culture and craftmanship too.

    oh oh and lelianna’s song ftw!

    while some quests dont work properly and journal dont always update corretly its still a great game without a doubt! thou as mentioned i miss my char having a voice speaking my lines and being able to physicaly act like mass effect where you put a bullet in the leg on a guy to make him talk ^^ im sure sten would tear the arms off a person had i asked him πŸ™‚

    and no matter how hard i tried i couldnt make the whole group stick together trough it all while sticking to my elven roots and good justice feeling nature 😦

    oh and my bear summon would eat your little dwarf princess any day ;P i even think their is a tavern in lake calenhad named after your dwarf. if you havent been there you’ll figure it out eventualy πŸ™‚

    • 17 Nhani
      November 12, 2009 at 06:40

      Oh Saeri was anything but stuck up – Aeducans are taught war and command, not prissing around; and unless your runty little bear chews down on High Dragons for breakfast, I think he/she’d find now Paragon Saeri a tad difficult to digest :p

      I went with a rather small group and a high ethical standard myself – if the game had had a light side/dark side scale, I’d probably have been shooting rays of light out of my arse per usual, though that didn’t stop me from employing intimidation as necessary. 46 some strength + maxed coercion, how I love thee. With less people to please, I actually kept my group together quite well; especially with how they were saddled with whatever trinkets that I didn’t find worthwhile/couldn’t be arsed to sell.

      Already contemplating what to do differently for future playthroughs, and what to play as for them. Having now tried it, too, I maintain I find the mage origin weak at best compared to the dwarf noble or city elf ones.

  6. 18 Thalis
    November 12, 2009 at 22:25

    Personally, I am going to try Elf Arcane Warrior (I wish I could go into swordplay with my priest in WoW – or at least play Night Elf Paladin).
    May I suggest Elf Rogue, and try romance with Zevran? πŸ˜€

  7. 19 Elveswarrior
    November 14, 2009 at 12:21

    zevren does it with anyone. men, women, dwars, i wouldnt be surprised if ha had tried animals too ><

    • 20 Thalis
      November 15, 2009 at 12:47

      In Crows there are different manners, I suppose. Zevran is young and he has been taught to use an opportunity when it is available. But I am trying to change his behaviour a bit.

  8. 21 Valrim (Earthen Ring)
    November 14, 2009 at 16:50

    Pfsh, here you are all noble and loved (betrayed as well, but still!) while my wee dwarf lass was casteless, spat on and hated!

  9. 22 Elveswarrior
    November 14, 2009 at 17:37

    my elf was a dalish. thats defo not noble and its hard to find ANY human who loves elfs XD

    denerim wasnt exactly a kind city to my elf.

  10. 23 Moltrazahn
    November 15, 2009 at 15:12

    Im an Elf – Mage – Arcane Warrior – Shapeshifter

    -: Works quite well, the jack of all trades in the group. He wears the powerfull “Juggernaught” armor found in the forest if you indeed can beat the wraiths guarding them (was tough as hell on hardmode) and still holds some good support spells, prison, barrier etc.

    Alister – Warrior – Champion – Templar

    -: My tank, he wears the “Masterly crafted Dragonbone” armor, from the said dragonscale taken from the dragon during the Trail of ashes quest… Though fight, ill tell you that… very tough. Still, he is great, seeing that aginst mages, well the templar allows him to dispell magic, and knocking em over with his sheild… works great πŸ˜›

    Wynne – mage – spirit healer – blood mage

    -: The healer ofcause, not much to say here… she rocks ofcause. Her Plot ability combined with that healing aura thingy… its fantastic ofcause… the whole blood mage thing, well, was the only thing i though usefull πŸ˜›

    Morrigan – mage – shapeshifter – blood mage

    -: My lovely AoE lady of death… she is the heavy nuker and Aoe’er, and thats pretty much her purpose πŸ˜›


    All in all, my mage team works quite well. heck beating the High Dragon and Flemeth at level 13 i felt quite proud, considering its hardmode… oh and a tip for any kiddies… Telekenetic barrier = Best spell, ever πŸ˜›

    Still, id love to see more origen stories and class combos ^^

  11. 24 Poiiop
    November 17, 2009 at 19:19

    I have one question.
    What programs do you use to get the custom animations?
    Can you send the answer to my e-mail?

  12. 25 Thalis
    November 20, 2009 at 08:50

    Small tip – don’t steal from people in Denerim. You wil get a few random encounters with ~18 guards trying to kill you (Mage Tower and Dalish camp may get similar results).

  13. 26 Elveswarrior
    November 23, 2009 at 15:32

    thats what being a rogue is all about thalis! πŸ˜€

  14. 27 Tibal [Aszune eu]
    November 23, 2009 at 15:36

    My human warrior male guy was my first attempt into dragon age, with ruthless decisions killing all the mages even wynne was awesome, then i made a dwarf noble warrior to see the origin story and then i went on and made a human warrior female so im working towards the ending with her and Alistair with his awesome one liners, Nhani whose your favorite companion in DA:O? Mines either Alistair, Sten, Shale or Zevhan [Yeh nobody can say zoro elf isnt cool!] The story in this game is gripping enough to keep me awake all night, and not feel tired after a 25 hour binge play session.

  15. 28 Gwaith
    November 27, 2009 at 08:59

    I think they made the mages to much imbalanced in comparison to rest, Arcane warriors particulary, I mean hey I might not have much mana for spellcasting but what the heck who cares? I got like twice the defensive stats of the fully specced tank Alistair.
    I really do think they could have spent more time on making of the arcane warrior in particular to give them some more fighting like options part from passive buffing that is just sick to begin with. But then again it might been hard to not to go that way but what do I know.
    Dwarf noble origina though yes I agree it is just glorious.

  16. August 19, 2014 at 01:10

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