Medieval fantasy has always been one of my favourite genres in games (alongside sci-fi). Magic, dragons, elves, and everything in between; it’s a world I love to lose myself in. Many games nowadays are set in this genre, but not many come close to how I felt when I first played Dragon Age Origins. Warning, there will be spoilers.
I found the game after playing Mass Effect, and began diving into more and more Bioware games. To this day, I don’t remember what persuaded me to take DA:O off the shelf of the local GAME store. Maybe it was the design (Collectors Edition had a large sword down the centre, with a knight standing amongst the corpses of his enemies. What teenager doesn’t fall in love with that?), maybe it was the description on the back, or maybe it was just that it was a Bioware game. Whatever the reason, I decided to buy it and take it home.
So I sat down and entered the character creation screen, and this is what initially hooked me in to continuing. The Origins stories. Each race and class combination had their own origin story, whether it be the Human Noble (Human Warrior/Rogue), Dalish Elf (Elf Warrior/Rogue), Dwarven Casteless (Dwarf Warrior/Rogue) or Circle Mage (Human/Elf Mage), and this idea of having a different story depending on your character, that the world would react to throughout the game, interested me. I chose the Human Warrior Noble class, and jumped in.
The game began with me in a large castle, as my father and his friend Arl Howe (more on him later) discussed fighting the Darkspawn threat and strategies. The cutscene at the start had informed me of what Darkspawn were, but not much. My father tasked me with looking after the castle and land (we were Teyrns) while he was away, and this is where the game gave me my first dialogue choice, which would eventually determine the outcome of important events within the game.
This time, however, it was purely about how I would react to his order. It took a very classic RPG design, with a simple list of responses, far from ME’s dialogue wheel. It’s a nice design and one type I miss from old RPGs, despite the lack of a voiced response.
Then a man entered, Duncan the Grey Warden, and suggested that I join him as a Warden recruit. At the time, I had no idea who he was, and had only heard about the Wardens from the cutscene, but the proposition sounded like adventure, and jumped at the idea. My father shut that down though, and that was that.
After this I gained control of my character, explored the castle and met a few NPCs, including a couple of followers (Ser Gilmore, a serving knight, and my pet Mabari Hound, who you can name anything you wish). I started to care about my fictional family, the servants and all of it. I felt at home.
Then, like all Bioware games, it went to hell. I woke up late at night, and found that we were under attack by none other than Arl Howe’s men. He’d decided to try to take the land while our army, father, and brother were away, and this, to my surprise, filled me with anger. We had been betrayed by someone who claimed to be our friend, and this anger was flamed even more by the discovery of our brother’s family, who had been killed. With my dog and mother following, who is mean with a bow, we fought through the castle.
This is where the combat comes in. Similarly to Knights Of The Old Republic, it is turn-based combat, with special abilities filling in slots. This definitely adds to the feeling of pure RPG, and shows how Bioware wanted this game to feel; like your classic D&D style of game. Each class plays differently too; warriors often take up the role of tank, absorbing damage and dealing it. Rogues get in close with daggers and stealth, or shoot from afar using bows. Mages deal constant magic damage, or heal the party as they die. This is then completely changed (sometimes) by the Specialisations; each class has four different specialisation classes, that give the character new abilities and often change the style of gameplay. Mages can become Arcane Warriors, and fight with swords and magic. Warriors can become Templars, and use magic-debilitating…magic (ironic, eh?), and Rogues can call wild animals for assistance. These add a new twist on combat, and when combined with your party members’ specialisations (you learn new ones from your party members, such as Shapeshifter and Templars), can wipe all opposition from the field.
We met up with Ser Gilmore in the main hall, but he stayed behind to hold them off. Another friend killed by Howe’s betrayal, which fueled my desire to find him.
And then came the climactic end to the prologue, leaving us and our dog alone in the world, with Duncan taking us to become a Grey Warden (I won’t go into it for spoiler reasons). This epic introduction made me absolutely love the game and want to play more, and it’s amazing how it allows you to determine how you want to play the rest of the story. Sure, the darkspawn threat was important, but I wanted revenge on Howe for what he did, and played accordingly. It amazed me how the game allowed me to play however I wanted, and offered me hundreds of hours extra of side quests and the like, and I loved every second.
What makes the game feel special, like most Bioware games, is it gives you, and often forces you, to make decisions you wouldn’t normally want to. It makes you decide between two equally grey sides. Do you kill the leader of the werewolves, or help them take revenge on the Dalish elves? Do you support the Mages against being made tranquil, or purge them with the Templars and ensure no demons can reach the world? All decisions determine the outcome of your army for the final battle, each offer different types of units, and each is equally difficult to make. Bioware has a knack for this style of game, and it’s always fun (and emotionally damaging) to play.
Overall, Dragon Age Origins is a classic RPG that really puts you in the boots of whatever character you choose. It throws you into the middle of medieval politics, it forces you to make difficult, world-changing decisions, and it wants you to feel like you’re REALLY in the world. Whether you’re slaying dragons, romancing party members, or just simply gathering materials, the game never lacks enjoyment or replay value. If you haven’t played this game yet, I would definitely recommend it.