By AndrewB 3 Comments
I don't blog very often, these days. That's mostly due to not having the time. If I'm on here blogging all the time, I wouldn't also have the time to get any game playing done. However, 81 freaking hours of any single game can get you really attached to it, and I feel the need to open up and share my thoughts on the experience that is Dragon Age: Origins.
And what an experience it is. From the very beginning, I knew I was in for something great even for a company like Bioware. The art design, the music, and the interface on the very first screen you see harkens back to the days of Baldur's Gate. Hand-drawn and super-stylized, it truly is beautiful. Compared to anything Bioware has done since the Baldur's Gate trilogy, it is leagues beyond.
Less elegant, however, is the way that it ties into the online component. This is an inherent problem with anything that isn't maintained via Steam, and if it weren't for Bioware being owned by EA, I'm sure they would have given Steamworks much better integration. I'm pointing the finger both at the community log-in, and the downloading of DLC. For the former, it's more of a personal preference, I suppose. I bought the game through Steam, so I kind of wish I could just tie everything to my Steam account. I do happen to own the majority of the Bioware catalog, and already have all of that stuff tied to that same Bioware/EA account, but it's still a pet peeve of mine that is a constant quagmire when it comes to PC gaming. My problem with the DLC, on the other hand, stems mostly from the ridiculous number of pre-order methods, and their associated "exclusive" content. For starters, when I had booted up my game for the first time, I was greeted with three different "CD keys," all of which I had to input separately to get all that I was due. The other problem, here, is that all input is handled by their outside website, rather than in-game, which was certainly a problem at launch, when the website was too busy to handle my registration requests, thus all my DLC goodies were delayed by a few days. Of course, these are trivial things, in the bigger picture. I certainly wasn't playing this game for the community aspect, and in the end, I was able to get everything up and running.
It then starts with a robust character creation screen. Ah, the bane of many an RPG player. Or, at least, bane to me, as I can spend a good couple of hours pre-game, just trying to decide what I want for a character. Uncharacteristic of me, after spending some time reading the race, class, and abilities descriptions, I knew right away what I wanted to be. I chose to play a somewhat girlish-looking male Alienage Elf. Yes, I actually toyed around with every single face slider to get the Elf I wanted to be. I never do that. Ever.
For class, I went rogue. I was also dead-set on what type of rogue I would play: the backstabbing assassin, specializing in lethality to single units, taking them down as quickly as possible to thin out the numbers. Little did I know that this would make the early-on portions of the game spectacularly hard, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how bad-ass I was by the mid-to-end portions of the game. My dead-set ways came at a price, however, as for the entire game, I never once put a point into trap-making (not too big of a problem) or trap disarming/unlocking (a huge problem). Instead, I wanted to save every spare skill point I could on useful abilities. I didn't want to play the pansy unlocker/pickpocketing type who ended up being a liability because he didn't have any other useful abilities. And man, does the game punish you for not having a rogue. I couldn't open anything but the lowliest of locked chests, myself. What ended up padding out my 81 hours of play was deciding to go back through almost every dungeon after I had already cleared it out, bringing Lelianna with me so I could get at those locked chests.
With my character under way, it was time for the ever-important back story. Here's where probably my only qualm with the Bioware writing staff came in, with characters early-on speaking to you as if you had just been born into the world that day. And yes, in a way, you had. You, as the player, but certainly not your character. I understand why they did it, and I am also very much aware with how difficult the early parts of writing a great story can be, where you've got to somewhat quickly get players "in the know" about what is going on in your world. However, there are better, more subtle ways to convey that information. This criticism is also very trivial, however, as I commend the writing staff at Bioware more than any other Video Games studio, because the universe they have crafted is just that: a universe, with layers deep backstory; so much, they could probably have just released all of the codex information, compiled into a more cohesive, story for (a Dragon Age bible, if you will), and sold it alongside their other companion book.
Anyway, getting back to my origin story, and trying to paraphrase much more from here on out, I ended up massacring the bastard that stole the Alienage women away, figuring there would be consequences later, but in too much of a bloodlust to let the bastard go. I'd go on to join the Grey Wardens somewhat willingly, as taking the blame for all the Alienages problems would otherwise have netted me a swift execution. Keep in mind, for the early part of the game, my character was very harsh towards humans. I'd usually go for the anti-human dialogue choices. Later on in the game, where diplomacy was an issue, and because I figured my character had grown out of that, having seen the horrors of the world for himself, I dropped the cranky elf routine; although that was probably also because at a certain point, they really stop giving you the option to.
This is where I'll try to stick with the major plot points, as I have no desire to describe my entire playthrough of the game. That would take almost as much time as it took me to play it.
I chose to save the boy in the earlier Redcliffe quests. It was a pretty easy decision to make, for me, for two reasons. One, think forward into the future, keeping a mage prodigy alive could help me out greatly; if not in this game, then in the next. Secondly, it was the only decision where I thought I could save everyone. I'm still not sure if it's possible, but since I turned over control of the Tower to the Templars, there were no mages to help me out with the ritual. Going with the blood magic route, of course, pissed Allistair off greatly.
Probably the coolest moment in the game came with a decision in the Dalish Elves quest line. You actually have the option of siding with the werewolves! Some part of me thought it too good to be true. Usually, this is one of those "stop them by talking, or stop them by force" kind of options, especially in a Bioware game, but sure enough, siding with the wolves ends in a huge, bloody battle where you slaughter all the elves. It's a simple way to end the quest, and it also has the bonus of netting you a battalion of werewolves for your army. When it was over, I was left laughing my ass off for several minutes at the awesomeness that it was actually an option, in the game. Even cooler, it isn't as evil a choice to make as it sounds, since the whole situation is surrounded by a lot of moral shades of grey. Also, the Dalish leader is voiced by Tuvok (while Flemmeth is voiced by Captain Janeway, and I believe I also heard Neelix's voice as the Dwarven merchant inside Orzammar).
Then I was nearing the end, where major decisions were frequent and plentiful. I don't know how Bioware intends to handle the sequels to this game, but they've certainly made a mess for themselves if they intend to carry over important plot decisions into the next game, as they've done with Mass Effect. Then again, I was surprised to see that there was no post-game save file, so that would make it even harder (I suppose they could tie it in with achievements, but that wouldn't account for multiple playthroughs/reloading save files). At any rate, at the point where Landsmeet began, and the biggest choices awaited me, I played things a little more carefully than I had in the rest of the game. I ended up checking out the consequences of multiple choices by reloading and replaying the events. I was both way too curious to see what would happen, and leery that my decisions would, someday, carry through to Dragon Age 2, and facing the prospect that I might not have the chance for a second complete run through this game any time soon (and when I do, I might just play evil, evil, evil), I wanted to make the best of what I had.
In the end, with the route I went with, I ended up backing Anora for queen, besting Logain with all the evidence I had uncovered, and kicking his arse in a duel. Despite my best efforts to keep him alive, however, I reluctantly allowed Allistair the pleasure of skewering the power-mad bastard. It was satisfying, both for him, and for me. And for me, the player, actually; though I know that Logain is a recruitable character, and I really wanted to add him to my party, Sarevok-style. It was nice to see Allistair have his revenge, though. I chose Anora over Allistair for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Allistair... would have made a terrible ruler. He knew it himself. He didn't want it. He spent his whole life running from it. He was best served as leader of the Fereldan Grey Wardens. Besides Anora being more intelligent, and a much better leader for the people, she had also already been the one running the country for years already. She had the experience, and the backing of the people. She was also a self-serving, backstabbing bitch, as I found out in my first attempt to push Allistair into kingship, and she turned against me, but so long as we were working together, we would make an unstoppable force.
The next big decision was the Morrigan factor. To have my baby, and never see her again, or to just never see her again. Oh, and also, I'd probably get to live. The choice was obvious, to me, and I didn't hesitate to say yes to her plan, as painful as it was to agree to something that was somehow very, very wrong, and probably still never see her again. The other deciding factor? She was main mage. My power caster. I needed her for the last fight. That was definitely the human "me" talking, though; not the character I was playing in the game.
So we marched through to Demerim. I pretty much pounded my way through the ranks of Darkspawn with just my group of four, only relying on the armies for the last and next-to-last areas. With the latter, I had the problem of being outright ambushed, and I'd be picked apart in seconds. Since my strategy throughout the game had always been to pick off the stragglers to thin out the ranks, a direct assault on such a large number of foes forced me to deploy my first troops. Then, of course, for the last fight, it only made sense to use every resource I had.
Let me give you a tip on the last fight: if you have archers, deploy them. Fighting a dragon is all about doing continual damage at differing ranges, since all of your direct assault guys are just going to get pummeled by the dragon's long list of melee attack options, especially the swipe of it's tail, which will knock away everyone around him. Deploying my Dalish archers made the fight a whole lot easier, since there was never a moment where the Archdemon wasn't taking continual damage.
So, the fight ended up being not nearly as difficult as I thought it was going to be. I was expecting to have to turn the difficulty down to easy to get through it, in all honesty. Not exactly a dissapointing fight; I mean, I still had to continually use healing and mana potions, but my saving grace was the sheer number of them that I had stockpiled. So the dragon fell, with an epic animation of Allistair leaping onto it's neck and slicing in in half, which I'd intended to post screenshots of, but for some reason, Dragon Age decided that even though my screenshot key is mapped to "printscreen," it wasn't going to save any of the million different-angled shots I took, and none of the ones that it takes at regular intervals shows off the truly epic ending to that fight.
Then came the epilogue, where Morrigan, true to her word, left into the dead of night. I, of course, chose the option of vowing to track her down, though I was sort of regretting it afterward, as I wanted to stick around with Allistair and the Grey Wardens. Instead of having both, the game sort of implied that you're parting ways with Allistair in order to go after Morrigan. What's weird about that is that I also ended up promising Sten I'd go back to the Qunari homelands with him, and he accepted. Perhaps that would be just one of many stops my characters would make. I was a little disappointed that I couldn't follow Lelianna, or that they never really say what's going to happen to Wynne (she is, after all, dying/dead). I suppose that just means she may be in the next game, but if not, I hope they explain it. Her grandmotherly character really interests me.
Of course, now that my first playthrough of the game is over, I've got a few regrets. First of all, I never killed Flemmeth, nor any of the other dragons in the game, since every early attempt I made at doing so ended with me getting my ass handed to me in a matter of seconds. Seriously, I think some of those side fights with dragons are harder than the final boss of the game, considering that with the last boss, you've at least got an army to back you, and a couple of ballistas. It's weird how in Morrigan's ending, even if you don't kill Flemmeth, it mentions that she died, but I just hope it doesn't affect things too much that I wasn't the one who killed her, in the end. Also, there are a whole bunch of little sidequests that I missed, like the pre-order DLC quest with Shale, which I must never have even touched, since I never even met Shale in my run through the game. Most of the other quests I missed were fairly minor, though. Besides trying out more of the origin stories, I'd also like to have seen what things would be like if I could have let Loghain live.
The big question is what to do with my second playthrough. I'm thinking of playing a mage, but then again, I really like both Wynne and Morrigan, in their own ways, so I'm not sure exactly what type of mage I should play, nor whether or not it would make sense to keep at least two mages in the party at all times. In my first playthrough, when I'd use two mages, they'd just end up as melee magnets. Everyone would go after them immediately, despite my activating all the aggro-drawing abilities at my disposal. My other concern is that, because I don't really like Zevran, I'm really not going to be able to play with the same backstabbing strategy that worked so well for me in this one. Lelianna is more of an all-around archer, and she ends up being very good at what she does. Speaking of Lelianna, I'd really like to choose her as my romance option, since I really screwed things up with her by backing Morrigan this time around. At the same time, I wouldn't mind playing an archer character, myself. Urgh; there are so many choices.
I'll also say that I was surprised with how awesome it was to play a rogue. I'm usually the type to stick with the mage character, since I'm invariably directly controlling my main character more than any other, and because it's normally very boring and repetitive, without too much strategy, to control the front-line fighters. However, there is a surprising amount of strategy to use when your character can only do substantial damage when flanking someone (or incapacitating them). It was much more rewarding, too, that I was the big damage dealer in my party, with backstabs reaching over 100 points of damage in a single, if lucky, hit. Battles tend to drag on unless I'm flanking people; then their health meter takes a drastic drop every second my character is back there, doing his thing. A few simple pointers, if you intend to go with my rogue route:
- If you intend to go dual weapon style, you're better off focusing on daggers over swords. Whole swords deal more damage, regularly, daggers have far greater armor penetration, and when you've sunk every point you can spare into dexterity and cunning (central to every rogue skill), you'll get a lot more out of them. You'll also have the added benefit of practically never missing, especially when you're flanking opponents, as you should always be doing.
- To do the most damage, go with duelist/assassin for your specialization. The dueslist final ability allows you to do all crit damage, for a time, and the assassin skill line just makes sense if you're planning on backstabbing.
- I might also suggest going down the area-effect line of dual weapon skills, depending on the rest of your party. I was freaking badass at killing individual units, but in the earlier parts of the game, I found things really difficult when being surrounded by groups of enemies. You can shave off a few skill points to put towards this line by foregoing open locks and stealth, the former of which, obviously, is a major pain in the ass, unless you intend to keep a second rogue in your party. The latter isn't a problem, as stated below.
- Put one point into stealth, and save the rest for other skills. Having stealth is a boon for scouting things out, or getting into position behind the enemy before the battle even starts. However, putting more than one point into the skill line has minimal returns. It isn't often necessary to use items while in stealth (you can usually get in a quick backstab, and then once you're already exposed, use that opportunity to apply any poisons or use healing poultices), and the only drawback to not going further down the line is that you're going to be detected by the higher level opponents. Once the battle is started, having your fighters draw the enemies attention is better than trying to hide in plain sight during combat.
- Get runes of paralyzation. This is even better if you're a dual-wielder and you put one rune on each weapon. Then, make sure you have the "coup de grace" ability, which gives you automatic backstabs on incapacitated (stunned or paralyzed) enemies. While you're at it, take every stunning ability you can (dirty fighting and riposte). This will greatly improve your odds against enemies, especially if you're in a solo situation, where flanking normally wouldn't be an option.
Wrapping things up, I had a wonderful time with Dragon Age: Origins. It was easily the best RPG experience I've had since Baldur's Gate 2, and I can't wait for the game's inevitable sequel. If I were to ever get around to doing a more review-centric talk about the game I know I'd give it 5 stars. It has very few flaws, very few bugs, and it's a really fun game that gives you, potentially, hundreds of hours of gameplay, depending on just how much you want to invest into the games. Speaking of investments, as I mentioned, my biggest pet-peeve with the game is with the unnecessarily confusing DLC scheme. If the game had just come with everything at the standard retail price, or if they simply just stuck with the quests as DLC, giving the various rings and armor pre-order bonuses to everyone, it would have been okay. As it stands, it's the most sleazy use of DLC that I can think of, to date (yes, even including Saboteur's tit DLC, but perhaps not horse armor).
I'm now off to create another character. At least my second run through the game can be more liberal. I really don't have the time to play the big chunks of the game I did, at first.