Flash of Steel header image 2

Dragon Age: Origins

November 7th, 2009 by Troy Goodfellow · 13 Comments · RPGs

It’s not a strategy game but I thought I should weigh in on what’s been consuming the time of me and my friends.

I sprung for Dragon Age: Origins (both versions) and I downloaded the toolset and even bought the Warden’s Keep DLC. So I am obviously hooked into yet another Bioware game. Some observations:

1) The story is pretty familiar with the expected twists and arcs and political double dealing. But the back story of the place of magic in this world…wow. It’s a truly interesting examination of the idea of how a society would have to organize itself if people could channel powers of unfathomable destruction and run the risk of going mad with this power. You need watchdogs with a Terminate order, you need the possibility of lobotomization, you have the likelihood of resistors and liberators. As conventional as Dragon Age‘s plot is, they thought magic through. The main story arc and many of the subquests deal explicitly with the problem of magic.

2) Therefore, it’s a shame about the dwarfs. They are seen as greedy, mountain dwelling isolationists. Unless the big reveal is that dwarfs have politics. Big whoop. At least elves have a history as a slave caste to set them apart from every fantasy world ever. I guess you can’t break too many rules at once.

3) This is a bloody game. Yes, the boss kills are especially gory, but even the basic combat encounters are splatterhouse stuff. In a run-of-the-mill fight my warrior decapitated a servant. You could see the lifeless, headless body slump to the floor. Then he stabbed her ally and a blood fountain spurt from his abdomen. And do I need to see so much blood on my hero in every conversation? When I’m talking to the duchess of Redcliffe, I should look my best not like a sloppy house painter.

4) This is a bloody hard game. I have died many times, and part of that is because of the usual RPG power slide. I’m playing a noble dwarven warrior, which made him very powerful to start but by the midpoint he gets manhandled by magic. A big part of one quest sends your hero alone into a mysterious world where he or she will get pummeled over and over. Even in a melee encounter, a single warrior is no match for three or four enemies because of the generous flanking bonuses. Also, Redcliffe can go to hell.

5) This is a bloody good game. I don’t think it really stands with Baldur’s Gate 2, and the toolset will need to lead to a lot of amazing content to compete with Neverwinter Nights in my opinion. (Proper documentation and proper early support for dungeon masters and NWN could have been the Best Game That Ever Was.) It is clearly a Bioware game, with lots of long dialog trees, 3/4 of which will always end in the same way no matter which option you choose. But the combat is very satisfying, especially since the tactics menu lets you set up a wide range of parameters for how your party will fight. You will need to experiment a lot with how it works especially since upgrading the Combat Tactics skill will unlock another planning slot for your character. How many do they need? It really depends on the role you envision for your support team.

And please go to Fidgit and read Tom’s tips. They proved very useful.


13 Comments so far ↓

  • GMicek

    I’m only about 12 hours in at this point but agree with what you’re saying on most points. The difficulty portion though? I know they released a patch for the PC that’s supposed to help, but honestly I haven’t had the same issues on the 260. Thus far I’ve died about 3 times, but have never gotten stuck on any one part.

  • cheeba

    Oh, I’ve certainly noticed the difficulty issues. Even with the patch, there are times when you’ll have your ass handed to you if you’re not paying attention\aren’t familiar with certain enemies. On the PC version, at least.

    And speaking of redcliffe, I agree entirely there. I was about ready to scream during the dozen+ attempts I had at the revenant and his pals. I eventually won more through sheer luck than anything. It’s tricky to form decent tactics when you’re massively outnumbered by a more powerful force thanks to the flanking bonuses. Well, short of pulling hacky, game-the-system stuff like using archers to pull out stragglers and the like.

    Mostly I’ve been enjoying the combat a lot, and appreciate the decent challenge. However, I really feel this would have worked better with pure turn-based combat, which would’ve rid the game of the twitchy, micromanagement-centric playstyle during the more serious battles.

    That said, I’m enjoying it hugely, and it’s certainly one of the better RPGs in recent memory.

  • Ian Bowes (spelk)

    After having spent about 12 and a half hours on the 360 version today, and just put in an extra hour or so on the PC version (having previously played it to around character level 4), the two versions play very differently. The PC version is so much harder from the off, and the combat requires alot more management. Also, in the 360 version you can’t loot whilst in a fight, whereas you can on the PC. Its obvious after playing both versions for a short amount of time, that the PC version is the one with more credibility, it seems they’ve tried to soften the game down a bit on the 360 so that folks can play through on an arcadey setting. Pausing combat and stacking up actions is much more natural and fluid on the PC, on the 360 its like doing a rubiks cube just to line up four actions from the different party members. Even if you play the PC version from the third person perspective favoured by the console version, the areas still seem much more expansive. The interface is just “nicer” on the PC. As was to be expected.

    I have to say though, that Bioware have pulled another winner out of the hat for me. The Lore is so substantial, the quests are generally interesting to follow rather than throw away walls of text, the game delivers a party based MMO in solo mode, one to even top Guild Wars itself. If Bioware could generate enough content for this game alone (and with the Toolset out there, hopefully the fan community can come up with something), you’d rarely require an MMO to get your fantasy action “hit”. Whilst playing this I’ve sort of stacked it up in comparison to the various MMO’s I’ve tasted recently (Aion, Fallen Earth, Champions Online), and none of them come near it in terms of story, control, exhiliration or pure action.

    I bought the Dragon Age novel which is a prequel to the game, but I didn’t have time to read it, but after what I’ve tasted the past couple of days, its definitely on my “must read now” list. Simply because I’m sure the experience will be so much better with a broader grounding to the Lore and backstory to the game. I did the same with Mass Effect and it was a joyous experience having an inkling about the chronological past as you step into the fantastical future.

    Its a big thumbs up from me!

  • Scott R. Krol

    You know I picked this up on Friday but have yet to play it. I’m thinking tonight I’ll delve into it but strangely I feel a sense of trepidation because of all this “it feels like a MMO”. I hate MMOs. I want a strong single-player CRPG, not a pseudo MMO.

    Hopefully that’s not really the case…

  • Warren

    It plays like an MMO in a sense, in that there are play mechanics familiar from that sub-genre sprinkled here and there, such as pulling, and aggro management tools for warriors, etc.

    But, it is a stong, single player CRPG. That’s it’s meat and potatoes, there. The MMO-like mechanics are just the baco-bits on top.

  • Michael A.

    Succumbed to the lure as well as it’s been too long since Baldur’s Gate. Having completed 2 of the main quests so far, I am somewhat ambivalent about it. It’s a very good game, though I find myself very much in agreement with Eurogamer’s view on the game: it’s competent, often compelling (I liked the city elf story in particular), impressively detailed … but it lacks the magic of a great game.

    1) Maybe it’s just that I haven’t gotten far enough into the story, but while the background and exposition is impressive, I still feel it is lacking. E.g., as a mage, I wonder what the role of mages in Fereldan society is – beyond living at the circle and fighting the occasional Darkspawn invasion. Hopefully some beter world-building will be forthcoming in Denerim.

    3) I wonder who thought the ultra-gore was a good idea. It goes beyond gory to just looking absurd.

    4) Haven’t found it that hard playing as a mage. Two mages in the party can really lock down and control most encounters with freezing spells and forcefields. Tactical play + linear story is really the core of this game, though.

    5) I think making tactics slot a skill was a mistake. The options aren’t useful enough (and the AI not good enough) that I’d waste a skill point on it in preference to a directly useful talent. At least on PC.

    I still really like the game, so far, but I find myself annoyed by all the limitations built into the game intended to force the player into multiple playthroughs (e.g., important information that only becomes obvious many hours into the game, unlocks … I hate unlocks), as I really can’t see myself completing more than one playthrough of the game unless it receives really substantial additional storyline content.

  • Jimmy Brown

    Now that I’ve been able put the marketing, posturing, and petulant posts by Bioware employees on their forum and just play the game, I’m loving it. I did turn “persistent gore” off as soon as I finished my first fight — toe-to-toe with a single opponent — and had as much blood on my back as I had on the side from which he was spraying. It’s just silly.

    Redcliffe Village was a definite jump in difficulty. It was at that point I really started to dig into the controls. Figuring out the system is a lot of fun. And kudos to Bioware for making shields arguably more fun than twohanders and dual-wielding.

    I have to agree with what you’ve said on magic, Troy. Gaider and company definitely put a lot of thought into the metaphysical aspects of the world.

    As a fellow dwarf noble warrior, I think you missed the big change: the dwarves aren’t drunkards.

  • cssgamer

    Немного не по теме, но смешно: Жена – это счастье, котроес годами становитсяполным :)

  • Zer0s

    “At least elves have a history as a slave caste to set them apart from every fantasy world ever.”

    That was already present in The Witcher to some extent, in that they were also outcasts and rebels, by the way.

  • Scott R. Krol

    Now that I’ve put some time into it I can’t say I’m terribly impressed. If the developer was German or East European would the game receive such praise? Seems to me a lot of folks are giving Bioware a pass because they’re remembering the days of Baldur’s Gate, not the here and now.

    Troy, if you really want a serious examination of a magical society I highly recommend the Magic of Recluse series by L.E. Modesitt Jr. Amazing series of books dealing with a world ruled by the magic of Order and Chaos (and not Warhammer type Chaos). Not a single orc, elf, dwarf, or any kind of monster to be seen. Lots of talk about trade guilds, steampunk engineering, politics, and more. Really good stuff in a well realized world.

  • Tiffany Martin

    I have yet to play this, it’s interesting to see that you have though, as RPGs are like manna from heaven for me.

    Of course, not playing it yet might have something to do with currently playing the hell out of Borderlands….

    I’ve been looking for intelligent feedback about this title ever since it was released, thanks for posting it even though it is not a strategy title (manna from a parallel universe?).

    I’ll keep Tom’s tips in mind when I do inevitably play.

  • Troy

    Loyd Case has called DA:O his tactical strategy game of the year, which is a bit much, but there is a lot of planning here. Getting your people into position, lining up your spells, etc. Sadly, a lot of this tactical stuff gets lost in the transition to the 360.

  • Pax

    I agree on the difficulty (and yes, Redcliffe can go to hell), and I also agree that it needs a lot to compete with BG2, but I definitely disagree on it not competing with NWN. I hated NWN. I didn’t like the interface, I didn’t like the plot, I didn’t like the henchmen. Still, my dislike for NWN aside, I still think DA:O is fairly decent– it’s not the greatest I’ve ever played, but it’s far beyond anything I’ve played on the PC in a long, long time…literally, I haven’t played anything even vaguely this interesting since Baldur’s Gate II. Which is frankly rather sad.