Dragon Age: Origins review

A triumph of immersive storytelling

Contains minor spoilers, tips and party setup

Alistair and my human Grey Warden rogue, Leodra
Alistair and my human Grey Warden rogue, Leodra

I started Dragon Age: Origins a while back, but the little matter of World of Warcraft Cataclysm put it on a back burner for me until recently. I will endeavour to try and keep spoilers out of this review, so it may feel like I have omitted certain major elements but I am wary of ruining the storyline for those who have not played the game yet.

Background

My playthrough was on the PC and it included the following Downloadable Content (DLC)The Stone Prisoner, Warden’s Keep and Return to Ostagar. I completed the game in under 70 hours of gameplay, including finishing numerous side quests.

Dragon Age: Origins is a fantasy based Role Playing Game (RPG). As one would expect from a BioWare title, it is the narrative that stands out in. The voice artists are excellent, with some well known sci-fi/fantasy genre names in there such as Claudia Black (Morrigan), Kate Mulgrew (Flemeth), Tim Curry (Arl Howe), Simon Templeman (Loghain), Tim Russ (Zathrian) and Robin Sachs (multiple).

The allure of the storyline is that most of the big choices you have to make are not black or white, good or evil. They are delightful or elegantly exposited shades of grey. Sometimes neither option is preferable; sometimes you feel that you have little choice at all. The dwarven storyline and Morrigan’s bargin come readily to mind.

Companions

The game opens up with a short story arc that is dependent upon your character’s race. I chose the human noble and rolled a rogue. It was easy enough to complete this story arc without dying, which earned me an unexpected achievement.

Your first companion is Dog, whom you can name. It’s a lovely touch, especially for some of the dialogue choices he can provide later on. I had Dog in my party for a little while, but I dropped him as I progressed. I did give him nice juicy bones as gifts whenever I got back to camp, which made me feel a little less guilty about leaving him behind!

After you complete your initial story arc and the Grey Warden introduction, you get Alistair joining your group. He makes a decent tank for the remainder of the game if you spec him properly, which means a shield and one handed weapon, not a two handed. As an aside, I was less than impressed with two handed dps throughout the game.

Early on Morrigan will join your party as a companion. As well as having a role in the overall story arc, she also provides good ranged dps and crowd control, which is invaluable in certain encounters.

As you emerge from this linear storyline you get several major quests directions to pursue.

Opening Chapters

Arl of Redcliffe

First up, is the Arl of Redcliffe quest line. The encounters are quite easy at this low level and help you get used to the combat system and using potions, poisions, traps etc.

My main source of irritation in the game was the combat system. To begin with I found that in simple combat situations, despite hitting the keyboard shortcut to select the whole party, and then clicking a mob to attack, a character could still be left just observing the unfolding situation instead of joining in. However the situation improved once I customised the Tactics system.

After completing the Arl of Redcliffe quest line, you will get the Urn of Sacred Ashes quest line. I parked this up on a whim, until I had completed the following three quest lines.

Broken Circle

Next up I chose the Magi quest, Broken Circle. This was purely by luck however it made life easier as you end up with a healer joining your group going forward. I suggest that you do this as early as you can as Wynne makes a big difference to keeping your party alive when things get tricky.

Nature of the Beast

Then I did the Dalish Elf quest line, the Nature of the Beast, which was interesting and fairly quick to complete. I had to come back later when I was a higher level to pick up the Juggernaut Armor set for Alistair.

A Paragon of Her Kind

Lastly I did the dwarven quest line A Paragon of Her Kind, which really was tedious. The climax of the story arc was interesting but there were many underground dungeons to clear to get there. The final fight in the dwarven storyline was probably the most difficult I encountered in the whole game. My tip here is to learn how to use the Tactics system correctly and to get your mage to consume the lyrium crystals early on.

If you are going to play The Stone Prisoner (DLC), it is more efficient to do this before you head to Orzammar for the dwarven storyline.

I also did many of the side quests, over 75% of them, alongside doing the main storyline quests. The experience rewards aren’t high, but it does help in generating gold and seeing more of Ferelden and its people.

I returned back to the Urn of Sacred Ashes questline, which was pretty quick to finish up.

Leodra my dual-wield rogue in Dragon Age: Origins
Leodra, my dual-wield rogue from my Normal playthrough

Before I embarked on The Landsmeet, I completed The Stone Prisoner (DLC) and Warden’s Keep (DLC), the latter of which gives your additional party storage. I played Return to Ostagar (DLC) when I tripped the appropriate cut scene in game.

Main Storyline

The main storyline really starts to hit its pace at The Landsmeet, and your previous choices will come back to support or haunt you here. The storyline becomes pretty linear from this point onwards, so make sure you have finished up all your side quests. You start to see more cut scenes and dialogue exchanges interspersed with encounters. There is an amusing, short prison escape available, depending on your choices.

The Final Battle was pretty straight forward, and I surprised myself at one-shotting the final boss. I didn’t bring my armies into play during the clearing parts of The Final Battle, so I suspect that the mobs scale their numbers accordingly.

My setup

It took me only a few hours to settle on the group that I would take through to the end game on Normal Mode. I went with:

If you are struggling in fights, check the balance of your group. It doesn’t matter what class you choose to play as the companions available to you will always be able to fill in any missing roles.

Tips

  • Learn to pull mobs properly. Park your party up around a corner and then send a single ranged member in to pull the nearest mob. This will often result in getting a more manageable pack. Stealthed rogues armed with a bow are great for this and also they can scout for traps.
  • Learn how to use crowd control tactics such as stuns, freezes, and paralyze.
  • Doorways are a great way to throttle back an incoming pack of mobs.
  • Take the Champion specialisation for your tank as soon as you can.
  • Learn how to use the Tactics system. You will be able to ignore it early on but it becomes more important as you progress.
  • Use a balanced group of ranged and melee. Characters can be equipped with both ranged and melee weapons and you can swap during combat depending on the situation.
  • If your Arcane Warrior is having aggro issues, try moving down to a lighter armor set.
  • Buy bags as soon as you can.
  • You can store armor and weapons on your other companions in camp to help empty your bags.
  • Learn which magic your mobs are vulnerable to and which resistances they have and equip and engage accordingly.
  • Keep your lesser used companions armor and weapons up to date as you will need them in the end game.
  • You don’t get to take back your party’s equipment after you kill the final boss as you go straight to a cut scene. So if you want to export them out for the expansion, Awakening, unequip just before the boss dies and swap in lesser equipment.
  • An excellent and accurate resource for help and reference is the Dragon Age Wiki.
  • Remember to equip your own patience, and save often!

Alistair

My review would not be complete without mentioning Alistair, brilliantly voiced by Steve Valentine. As a human noble female, Alistair was the love interest in my storyline and he is a pivotal character overall in the game.

Without giving away spoilers, all I can say is that I started the game intending to play in a Neutral Good style but by the end of the game, I was more than a little fond of Alistair both in and out of character and I chose to compromise my character’s choices in the end game to support and stay with him.

To conclude

Dragon Age: Origins is a great Role Playing Game. There are some short comings in the combat system, but the plot and characters make this easy to overlook. It is no surprise to read on the Bioware Community forums that many players do multiple playthroughs to explore different characters and different choices.

Dragon Age: Origins – This is War Fan Video

Video contains spoilers and adult themes. Play at your own risk.

Video is by JamesMuia. Music is “This is War” by 30 Seconds to Mars and is played during the game credits.

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