Pointless Nonsense

Posted in video games by Bill on April 3, 2014

daoDragon Age: Origins is the confusingly-named (because it sounds like a prequel) first entry in BioWare’s Dragon Age series, where you take the role of a Grey Warden, a member of an order whose job it is to stop The Blight, a thing that happens every few centuries where a bunch of demons try to take over the world.

You spend most of the time doing quests to deal with the political stuff that goes along with getting the various factions to work together and build an army to go fight the darkspawn that make up this Blight. And like Mass Effect, you gather a bunch of companions to fight with you personally, and you can bang some of them.

It took a while to grow on me. I don’t know if it’s specifically the Dalish Elf beginning that sucks, or if they all suck because they didn’t put much effort into the origins that not many people would play (there’s at least 6 different opening stories based on your race/class/background). But once I got past that part, or really once I started to acquire companions, it got a lot more interesting. Especially Morrigan, perfectly cast with Claudia Black voicing her, who just kinda constantly gives you shit and is generally hilarious. In the end, I enjoyed the game quite a bit. Though the list of things I think they could have done better is quite long.

Unlike Mass Effect, where your character is a human named Shepard and you just choose some background information that doesn’t affect much story-wise and your class that only affects combat, here you pick your race and class and background, which will select one of 6 or so totally different scenarios for the first few hours of the game. You also can pick your name, which doesn’t really do anything except it means no character ever refers to you by name. And while Mass Effect just had a male Shepard and a female Shepard voice with North American-ish accents, here the different races have different accents (human nobles have British accents, dwarves have American accents, and everyone else seems to be a hodgepodge, one elf had a really strong Canadian accent, she talked about journeying “oat” into the forest), so basically your character is semi-mute, because they would have to supply at least four versions of almost every dialogue option to voice the game (male/female, american/british) to cover the background options. It seems like they could have designed around it. Like no matter what race your character is, make it so they were an orphan raised in Antiva (where Zevran is from), so you just have an Italian sounding accent (or I guess Orlais would work too, but Leliana’s French accent was kind of annoying so that would be less than ideal). And that would also explain why you don’t know anything about the situation in Ferelden, so your ignorance of local politics and customs and things would make a lot more sense.

As usual for these kinds of games, I sucked badly early on. Part of it was not understanding the combat system too well (I think I failed to completely read a couple of tooltips at some point and misunderstood a couple of game concepts, but even having finished I don’t understand a lot, I know as a backstabbing rogue I should have pretty high dexterity and cunning but no idea which is more important at all), but part was also putting skill points in persuasion that gives me extra dialog options, instead of in things that would help me fight. For anyone in the same situation of not wanting to focus on combat right off the bat, I would recommend avoiding the mage circle early on. There’s a long (and IMO terribly boring) stretch of solo combat in there that I had a terrible time with.

If anyone does try playing this for the first time, once you enter the open world (which is several hours in), I would recommend going to Redcliffe first, Denerim second, the Brecelian Forest third, Orzammar fourth, and the Circle last. Orzammar and the Circle have the most combat you have to do on your own, and I think for most everyone that will be easier later in the game. Your character has a wider set of skills/better equipment, and more importantly, you know what you’re doing a lot better.

It is weird that they practically force you into a certain group composition. Without a rogue, there are a lot of locks you can’t pick, so you’d miss out on a ton of loot. Without a mage, you can only heal with potions, so you’d go through them like crazy. Without a warrior, it’s tough to wear the heavier armor, so it’s hard to absorb damage from groups of enemies. The only option you really have is what to do with that 4th space, but I think Morrigan (a crowd control mage who can also learn some healing) or a second rogue (since rogues either specialize in backstabbiness or archery) make a lot more sense than another warrior. And given that, I’m annoyed that they offer you 2 rogues, 2 mages, and between 4 and 7 warriors (depending on how you count the dog and golem and that two of the warriors don’t coexist). Like why not another mage or rogue? If your main character is a warrior as well, then you get next to no choice in group composition. I suppose there is some variance with the specialization, but mages and rogues specialize too but you only get a couple of them.

The fancy version on steam comes with a shitload of DLC stuff. A bunch of random equipment (some of which they don’t tell you, but you have to go to bioware’s site to download about 20 small files and then hunt down the install program to put them in the game), a new companion, several side missions, a full expansion and 4 smaller standalone missions. I finished the main game and have done the first of the four small standalone DLC missions (which was about an hour of gameplay) and am about 90 minutes into Awakening, the standalone thing that is considered a full expansion so I’m assuming it will be quite a bit longer.

Some spoilers to follow, for anyone who hasn’t played this five year old game yet but for some reason is still planning to, and because this isn’t long enough yet:

Apparently there are a lot of bugs in the epilogue slide that don’t show up. I got several downer ones that I wasn’t expecting, so I looked it up to see what I screwed up, and about 1/3 of the slides never showed up. I was especially pissed about Orzammar, where apparently I should have either sided with the more douchey-seeming candidate for King or not destroyed the super evil seeming object of evilness and that would have worked out better or something? Crazy. Also I could have gotten a better ending for Alistair if I had been more of a dick to him at some point. Also crazy.

It kinda sucks that there was no way to avoid a downer ending for Morrigan, but I suspect she’ll appear again in the second one. I do wonder though, because one of the big decisions late in the game is whether to take her help in surviving the encounter with the archdemon, or to let it kill one of the grey wardens. And if you don’t, you can totally die. I took her deal, which lets me import my character into Awakening, but what if you die? That would be annoying. And can you import into Dragon Age II from whoever you play instead in Awakening? Or I’m assuming I can import myself into the second one. But I don’t really know. It might make sense to have a new character, since Shepard in the Mass Effect series is a much better way to go about these things than a mostly mute person with a random name.

And speaking of Morrigan, I was leaning towards romancing her from the second she appeared, and Leliana and Zevron seemed to be my only other options early on but I kept thinking I’d have other choices as I picked up new companions. But that was it. If I’d been a lady, I could have done Alistair (but not Morrigan), but that’s really it. You only get 3 women companions for the entire game (and with DLC, one Golem voiced by a dude but who has the soul of a woman).

Also its kind of annoying that the three women are two mages and a rogue, and the guys are all warriors plus one rogue. When you do character creation and select gender, they’re like “men and women are equals in this world” to let you know that you won’t be penalized for picking one gender over another, but that’s a total lie. 90% of the warriors you encounter are dudes. Kings and male nobles parade around in armor and lead troops into battle, but queens and lady nobles wear robes and dresses and don’t fight shit.

Anyway, if you wanted to romance a badass warrior woman, you’re out of luck. Or a handsome mage guy, no luck there either. I guess it’s better than Mass Effect 1, so hopefully that improves in Dragon Age II.

I kinda think most of the romanceable companions ought to be bisexual in general, because why limit things like that? It costs next to nothing in terms of development (the recorded dialog all stays the same, all you have to do is do a second set of sex animations for the other gender protagonist). It’s kinda dumb, but I’d have no problem playing a female character in one of these games (and in fact seriously considered it in Mass Effect because I didn’t like Shepard’s voice in the first one, even though he got better at it), except I’d find wooing a dude quite boring, and usually most of the women don’t go both ways, so it’s pointlessly limiting.

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