The only worthwhile version of the original Dragon Age you should be playing is the Ultimate Edition. This comes with all the DLC such as item packs of weapon and armour, additional campaigns and characters, and most notably, the Awakenings expansion/installment. But we’ll touch on these at the end. I did play this on the Xbox 360 and PS3 at one point, but was overwhelmed by the controls of the controller, and it wasn’t until PC that I found this game much easier and sensible using the mouse and keyboard for switching between characters and targets.
So from the beginning of the game, we start with the character customising screen. Choosing between races and factions allows us to start one of the six opening stories, which normally results in some devastation affecting the main character, thus they come across Duncan, who recruits them into the Grey Wardens, an ancient organisation that combats the blight of the darkspawn, evil monsters ruled by corrupted Old God Dragons. The openings are interesting, and portray enough of your character’s background that even you take on their scenario as your own, which helps to influence your decisions later in the game.
The races you can choose from are Dwarf, Elven and Human. I played around with a few of them before deciding upon playing as a male human noble warrior character. Whilst playing through the prologue, it gives us a chance to learn the game mechanics and most importantly, the strategizing of combat.
For most gamers, whatever difficulty level you play at, the tool of combat is the pause button. By pausing the action, this gives you a chance to survey the battlefield, deciding upon which enemies to take out first and issue commands to each member of your party. On higher difficulties, it is absolutely critical that you make the most of the positioning and skills of all the members in your party to damage and disorientate enemies, as your party can be easily overcome by mobs of enemies. Healing skills are crucial to manage, getting the right balance of healing to rationed potion consumption, with cooldown times on any action used other than basic attack. You will find that sometimes you are pausing and unpausing every millisecond, switching between characters and timing the use of a skill just right.
Fights can be fought and won in many different ways. Warriors can protect themselves and the party from damage, drawing enemies attention to attack solely them and rain down heavy, slow blows onto the enemy. Rogues are able to attack with 2 weapons with ease, swinging them rapidly and inflicting critical flanking damage. They can call an additional ally to battle in the form of a wild animal and also set damaging, debilitating traps. When used out of combat, Rogues can unlock doors and caches for valuable loot. Mages can deal high amounts of wide area magic damage (be careful on higher difficulties as allies can get caught up in these spells aswell), stun enemies and heal the entire party. They are the most fragile in the party though, so obviously it’s important to keep them at a safe distance and draw enemies away from them. Each class can later be specialised to more advanced roles. All classes can cast buffs that benefit the whole party, some that can be toggled on and off, which will add a certain amount of fatigue to the caster if left on, which means that future skills used will require more stamina to cast.
The party makeup is each to their own. As I had chosen the main character to be a warrior, with high attack damage, I naturally balanced the rest of his party out with a mage, rogue and tank. Accumulation of new party members happens over the course of the story, so completing side quests helps to unlock and potentially recruit them to your side. Companions are a big part of the game, giving your team great boosts as long as they are carefully managed. You can decide between manually or automatically assigning stat points earned from leveling up. I took control of this for all characters, ensuring they took the paths that would help influence easier victories of battle.
Next you have to take time to listen to the companions at the base camp, completing their personal missions and surprising them with gifts, which results in the party member becoming affectionate to the player, allowing for bonus attributes to be unlocked. When making decisions during conversations with npcs, this can also result in affection or hate from your party members depending on whether they agree or disagree with your choice. Some choices can result in a party member leaving your group forever or even turning against and fighting you for their own believes, so again, careful management is required if you want to make it to the end of the game with a full crew, which is beneficial for the final showdown.
As with party members and your own character just as in many other rpgs, you control their equipped weapons, armour and accessories. This can take many hours distributing the equipment amongst the entire party, checking the descriptions and stackability of the item against who best to equip it against. The DLC item drops and rewards have great stats and are definitely to be used for the end game battle.
Finally when it comes to customising party members, the biggest time spender and beneficial gain comes from setting up each character’s AI strategy. As each party members differ from one another with stats and skills, each character’s strategy plan is unique, and takes time to remember, plan and make any alterations to boost performance. You will be carefully watching your party members in the background of combat to see if they are following the script you’ve detailed for them, otherwise your debugging why they aren’t casting heals at crucial times. Strategy profiles can be saved so that you can switch between offensive or defensive play on the fly. The better the strategies, it goes without saying the easier that battles are, giving you a chance to catch a breath. Only during mega-boss battles do you set aside strategies to take control of every party member, pausing the game every second to micro-manage every move made to target weaknesses of the enemy.
There are a range of enemies, each specialising in the type of attacks they perform, with archers, spellcasters, warriors, assassins, brutes and just absolute carnage wrecking monstrosities. Spilling blood covers everyone head to toe in splatters, and the brilliant gore doesn’t stop there as you behead bandits and darkspawn, climb upon ogres using daggers as handholds and sling onto dragons necks to bring down the final blow. I found the best solo enemies to fight were the high dragons on hard difficulty, with their immense amount of health and attacks that could snatch a teammate out of play with its giant jaws. Careful management meant that I was luckily able to beat these beasts in one go, taking about 20 minutes each time.
I would say 25% of this game consists of combat, 25% tinkering with strategies, 10% exploration and 40% dialogue. This game has a great story and many interesting side quests, which do take a long time to be explained and are then followed up by long conversations, usually requiring your character to respond from a choice of answers which influences the progression of the story, surrounding characters, the local area and eventually the later Dragon Age games. The voice acting is very good and does boast quite the tv celebrity roster. The main character is usually mute in conversations, only being sometimes heard battle crying into battle or interacting with objects. I set my character’s voice to be arrogant I believe, which just resulted in him saying over and over “Would you like a ladder, so that you can get off my back!”. At first it was very annoying, but soon enough became hilarious when doing simple tasks and I wish to personally use this line now if someone starts giving me trouble.
A run down of the story is that once your recruited into the Grey Wardens and well met with fellow Grey Warden, Alistair, you find yourself in a battle against the darkspawn, which is supposed to push them back. But things don’t go to plan and the battle is lost, with the player overwhelmed. He is saved by the mysteries figure Flemeth, an estranged ‘witch’ who lives in the woods with her daughter, Morrigan. She tells you that it would be a good idea to go into the woods and gather some ancient documents that will unite the dwarves, humans and elves to battle against the Blight. Once collected, you set off to recruit these factions with your initial companions, Alistair, Morrigan and Dog. Problem is, the whole human population has been told that Grey Wardens are traitors, who sabotaged the battle for their benefits, so you’ve now also have to correct that wrong. The side quests and 3 story missions can be tackled in any order at this point. You will eventually come across the queen of Ferelden, Queen Anora who will betray you at every turn, though I did manage (quite difficultly) to beat every one of her and her father’s champions. Once the lands are united, it’s time to take on the darkspawn and Arch Demon that are sieging the capital. You leave some companions behind to deal with the darkspawn, and progress with the rest to take the Arch Demon dragon on. Once complete, you are rewarded with watching the consequences of your deeds amongst your companions and the land of Ferelden.
There is an official story arc that the game is supposed to follow, that is used as a default when starting the next game installments, but you can deviate as far as you want from this arc and align the world more to your liking, which will follow you into the next games. There are now many published novels, comics and cartoon series that exists around the default story of Dragon Age that expands upon character’s backstories and the lore of the series. I don’t quite know how it all fell into place, but the outcome of the game resulted exactly how I would have wanted it to end, with me being king! I was happy with all my choices and outcomes, and the state that I had left Ferelden in, ready to return back to it in the next installment. I felt no need to replay the 120 hour game to do anything differently, which many hardcore fans will happily do over and over, even to this day.
The graphics of this 2009 released game still bear up very well, especially on ultra. Terrains and environments do well to give the game an otherwordly setting. The Fade, a dimension of magic in the game, is interesting to explore and the special effects used are great for distorting any sense of stability. Character models are pretty good, with well recorded actions and amazing facial movements. The faces are very believable in conveying the emotions the character is trying to express. The game is susceptible to game crashes, so save often. Towards the end of the game, the game suffers really bad from texture glitches, resulting in even more crashes. It can be annoying having the game crashing 5-6 times in one playthrough and having to repeat 10 minutes of gameplay each time.
The DLC offer a couple of hours extra gameplay in the main game. There’s The Stone Prisoner DLC that unlocks Shale, the golem with a personality who is good to use as a tank and offers additional choices in the main game, so I recommend completing this DLC as early as possible. There is one point where shale can turn on you, which just so happened to occur to me and royally pissed me off. Last I checked, she’s dlc, which means I paid for her, making her technically my slave (lets just remember, this is only a video game we’re talking about here), so it’s not for her to question my will and turn against me. I slayed her for the gratification then restored a save from like half an hour earlier just to choose the option were she doesn’t leave the party. There’s also the Warden’s Keep DLC that you can complete, rewarding you with a chest to store your inventory, plus there’s also a smithy here who will create the best sword in the game if you manage to find the fallen meteorite piece on your travels. There’s also the Return To Ostagar DLC which takes you back to the battleground used in the first battle against the darkspawn. Here you can obtain some sweet loot.
The next DLC that I completed was Leliana’s Song, which is alright and does portray Leliana’s backstory, who becomes a vital character in the Dragon Age series. This might have been best to have completed even before the campaign so that you can make the most of the armour that’s dropped by this DLC. Into The Golems of Amgarrak DLC used only the main character, who bands with some new characters to tackle the puzzle of an abandoned Dwarf operation. Some average puzzles in this, using some good game mechanics, before battling one ugly boss. This boss is recycled at the end of Dragon Age 2, which I thought was bit tacky. A really interesting DLC is The Darkspawn Chronicles. In this, you replay the final end game battle from the enemy’s side as a Hurlock Vanguard, commanding fellow monsters, including mighty ogres to take out the humans and your former allies in a bid for the arch demon to survive its battle with the Grey Wardens and reign supreme.
The Awakenings expansion could be classed as an entire game on its own. It takes about 20 hours to fully complete. In the canon Dragon Age story, the main character, now known as the Hero of Ferelden, was supposed to have sacrificed himself in the final fight, but as I was still alive and kicking, was allowed to import this character into Awakenings, rather than having to create a new character. Again I was rather lucky with my choices from before, as since as I had elected to play as a human noble, the interactions happened to make much more sense and would have been wasted if I’d played as anyone else. You arrive at Vigil’s keep, that has been attacked by darkspawn that have burrowed into the keep from the Deep Roads. You wipe out the darkspawn and take the keep for Grey Warden business. You eventually come across a thief in the keep who turns out to be from the previous family that owned the keep, the family that just so happened to have betrayed your family, forcing you to join the Grey Wardens. You got your revenge later by killing his father and taking his holdings, but the son blames you for his misfortunes since then. Only by joining your party does he eventually come to terms that it was all his father’s doing, and that it fell to to him to redeem his family’s name. This interaction would never have had happened if I wasn’t playing as a human noble by chance, and I thought this was a great storyline. In the rest of the DLC, as the leader of the Ferelden Grey Wardens, you are caught in a war between two factions of darkspawn. This DLC is really good for expanding on the lore of Dragon Age rather than tackling current events, and I think helps to explain some of the story for Inquisition later on which really opens up on the lore. This DLC also contains Anders, an escaped mage who is later taken in by the Grey Wardens. Anders in this was a pretty good companion, very strong magic and funny one liners, who later becomes interested in the Spirit, Justice whom is recruited into the party after helping you escape from the Fade at one point. These two sort of become the basis of DA2, but not really in a good way, which I’ll expand upon in my Dragon Age 2 Review.
This game probably has more expansion packs than World of Warcraft at this point, with its final DLC being Witches Hunt. In this, we chase after Morrigan to see what she’s been up to since we saved the world in the main campaign. Again, as I’m a Male Human Noble who survived the main campaign, the dlc just makes lots of sense. I can’t imagine how this would have played out with any other character, and I don’t understand why the Hero of Ferelden has to die in the canon apart from the fact that he doesn’t have much of a voice, which would be odd to add in later iterations of the series. In this game, we are introduced to the Eluvian mirrors, which will be explored upon in the Inquisition review, as these go from being forgotten mythical magic to common knowledge somehow. There was a mage companion, Finn that sadly has been overlooked since this DLC. He would just have THE best one liners any companion has in any rpg, just screaming what should he do in battle and constantly breaking the 4th wall.
If your working up to playing Inquisition, there is no way to import your save into Dragon Age 3, so instead you need to login into the Dragon Age Keep as soon as you’ve completed this game, then go through all the options and replicate the choices that you made in this game. This also has to be done for Dragon Age 2, in which a file can then be imported to Inquisition which will give you a world that has been influenced by your decisions. It was lucky that I had only recently completed Origins when I finally got to Inquisition, as I was able to remember every choice that I had made, I feel sorry for those that had played this game years ago and might not remember as well, but at least it allows for players who played on last-gen consoles previously to play Inquisition on any other console or pc with their customised world.
And now we come to the overall part of the review. Dragon Age Origins is a good game. It has a good strategy system, a good combat system, good graphics, a good story, good action scenes, good voice acting, a good background setting and it has good potential to grow. The only real issue I had with this game apart from the constant crashing was that it took 120 hours to complete. I don’t mind if a brilliant game goes on forever, like Skyrim, but certain parts of this game were dragged out, and I only discovered about being able to increase movement speed by casting Haste towards the end of the game, which I wish I’d learnt a lot sooner. But everything considered, the game now being over 7 years old, its legacy still holds amazingly well.