By TerraMantis 9 Comments
Bioware is one of the few developers that seem to deliver the seemingly impossible mixture between the harmony of deep storytelling and deep gameplay through a RPG genre. When other game developers seem to strive for this nirvana but continuously miss the mark it is all the more impressive to see this single RPG developer do it time and again. Back when it was thought that the RPG roots and rudimentary elements of the “good” RPG were dying out Bioware revitalized the RPG world with a defibrillation to the hearts of RPG lovers everywhere with the release of the Baldur’s Gate franchise in the late 90’s. Hallmarked as possibly one of the greatest RPGs of all time it raised some eyebrows when Bioware started to say “Dragon Age will be the spiritual successor to the Baldur’s Gate franchise”. As my score for the game may entail…SWEET PAJESUS, thank goodness they delivered. Sit through the chinwag and you’ll learn a lot about the things that make Dragon Age so great, evolved, deep, linear while feeling open ended, immersive, and just plan addicting.
The simple breakdown of “Dragon Age: Origins” is like so…
Graphics/Character Performance and Animation – 8.5/10
Fun Factor – 9/10
Story – 10/10
User Interfacing – 9/10
Learning Curve – Hard to say…I am experienced with this gameplay style.
Sound – 9/10
Value - 10/10
Total – 9.2 / 10
Jump down to my “All in all” if you only want a brief summary. I have also put key-words in bold to indicate what the bulk of that specific paragraph is discussing to make the review easy to navigate to points of interest.
So, you’re starting Dragon Age: Origins for the first time and you’ve just clicked on “New Game”. It has already begun. The game is already starting to reveal its deep level of RPG and CHARACTER CUSTOMIZATION OPTIONS. When you first start you’re going to have to choose from six different “Origins” stories. The prologue of the game is influenced by what type of protagonist you create right off the get-go. There are three races to choose from – Human, Elf, and Dwarf -- each with their own racial benefits. For example, Dwarfs are inherently unable to use magic thus cannot become a mage and in turn their racial ability gives them a 10% chance to have any hostile spell aimed at them fail to affect them. After your race has been chosen you must then pick one of three classes; rogue, warrior, or mage. So, you have your Dwarf rogue or warrior and then you have to pick between whether your beginnings take place as a noble or as a commoner. Other options include Humans and Elves that can become mages and no matter what choices are made mages end up with the same beginning in the Circle of Magi. No matter your chosen path of race, class, or hierarchy your origins beginning will set the mood for the rest of the game and connects you to your character and their races’ way of life in the Dragon Age universe.
The ORIGINS STORIES are what truly sets the stage for a genuine dark medieval fantasy universe. From the very beginning the ambience is dark and tragic. When starting as a Dalish Elf (nomad, druid-like forest dwelling elves that struggle to retain their long forgotten way of Elven life before becoming slaves to humans) you are patrolling the forest when you come across several Humans fleeing…something. When you meet one another you are both startled for different reasons. The humans are afraid of whatever is behind them and the elves are afraid that if the humans are left to continue their retreat they may tell other humans of the Dalishes’ whereabouts which could endanger your loved ones and home location. You must then and there decide to kill the humans or not.
When starting as a Dwarf noble you are the second born and favored son of the king of the Dwarven city of Orzammar. Your youngest brother tells you of your eldest brother’s plans to have your father killed because your older brother can no longer wait to become king. Your eldest brother is murdered and you are framed for the deed. With the eldest brother murdered you are sentenced to be cast into the Deep Roads (Dark Spawn infested underground roadways) because there are far too little Dwarfs and to not have them at least die with some Dark Spawn blood on their hands would be a waste. Every origins story starts with and introduces you to this genuine dark medieval fantasy world.
This dark medieval fantasy universe that feels somewhat familiar not only through similar fantasy worlds -- like Forgotten Realms or D&D -- but also through true-to-life geographical-cultural and political nuances is an additional factor of Dragon Age’s life-breath that gives it a heartbeat. For example, the neighboring nations of Ferelden and the Orlesian Empire were once warring over control of Ferelden until the Orlesians were driven out. Simple nuances like the Orlesians having a more French-esque accent really is one of the game’s many finishing touches that just adds to its validity through this universe’s fantasy yet displaying its tangibility through grounding realities. Orlias is not the only place that displays this level of thoroughness through detail. Zevran, for example, is a character from Antiva and sounds as though he could originate somewhere like Spain. These nuances -- some seemingly mundane or some that are pivotal to the immersion-- really add to this universe’s complexities and are really what sell the game’s otherwise traditional main story and take it somewhere extraordinary.
The game’s MAIN STORY takes hold after you have chosen your character’s race, class, and hierarchy. One way or another, you’re going to end in the recruitment vassalage of Ferelden’s Grey Warden leader, Duncan. The properly named GREY Wardens do not have an allegiance to any specific realm or nation; they do not take hand in politics or strive for personal gain. The Grey Wardens have one duty that supersedes all other moral, ethical, political, racial, or monetary needs and that is…destroy the Dark Spawn. Wardens go where the Dark Spawn pose threat; whether it be the forests of the Dalish elves, the heart of the Tevinter Imperium, the land of Orlias, or the Dwarven cities of the Deep Roads. The Warden is born of Dark Spawn blood and they will die (hopefully covered) with it. And this origins story is no different. You and Duncan are headed straight for Ostagar where Duncan believes a true Blight is underhand.
WHAT IS A BLIGHT you ask? Well, I am glad you asked. A Blight is made-up of many Dark Spawn. A Dark Spawn is a grotesque humanoid individual creature that is about as dangerous as you would imagine a blood crazed psychopath might be when armed with a sword…or magic. So, as an individual they’re as easy to kill as any…blood crazed psychopath would be for a trained and battle-hardened combatant. Now these Dark Spawn individuals are quite literally…mindless idiots. The Dark Spawn individual always has a calling; something beckoning them to burrow. The Dark Spawn is always ravaging the earth to find what is calling them. This beckoning is from an Archdemon. The Archdemon is the keystone that holds the functionality of the Dark Spawn together. Once freed from their prisons under the earth’s surface the Archdemon uses a type of telepathy to gather a Dark Spawn horde. The Archdemon puts initiative and coherence behind what is otherwise mindless psychopathary and turns the Dark Spawn into a wave of black, tainted, horrifying slaughter at the wake of the Archdemon’s control. This driven darkness led by the twisted monstrosity that is an Archdemon is what is known as a Blight. And that is where you and Duncan are headed; straight to Ostagar where Duncan believes a true Blight is forming.
After reaching the encampment of the obtuse portion that makes-up the vanguard that is OSTAGAR’s hourglass design Duncan wants you to venture into the Korcari Wilds (forested wilderness) to retrieve some old, long absent treaties that promise aid to the Grey Wardens from many of the races of Ferelden in case of a Blight. You are also to bring back several vials of Dark Spawn blood. Retrieving the treaties and the blood is part of your initiation to the ranks of Grey Warden. After your initiation the Dark Spawn Blight is beginning to gather near the bottleneck of Ostagar’s great forefronts. This is where the narrative yet again flexes its dark fantasy muscles as it is not all puppy dogs and flowers in this medieval fantasy universe. As the battle ensues…the accumulated forces of Ferelden crumble to the Dark Spawn’s mighty Blight.
As one of two remaining Grey Wardens it is your duty to use the treaties you gathered from the Korcari Wilds to gather and rally the races of Ferelden together to conquer the true Blight and sack the Archdemon.
I know what you’re thinking…”none of this sounds too original…a person who roams the country to gather an army for an impending war and must overcome the perplexities of racial and cultural barriers to unite them against an overwhelming foe?” And I would agree with you, but that is the beauty of the game. It is not the game’s overarching storyline that generates newfound and engrossing narrative but the universe the tale takes place in instead. The world is filled with fascinating cultural nuances that are taboo, controversial, and simply interesting to learn about. And, after the battle of Ostagar you’re going to get to explore those cultural nuances.
This is when your true quest begins. The WORLD MAP is now open revealing several different locations and the map adapts to the situation of the impending Blight war as it unfolds which details a blackness on map spreading as you progress through the game which originates at Ostagar’s map marker to indicate the growth of the Blight’s size and exodus from their underground labyrinths. Usually I hate when a game just simply has a map with markers and you only click on your desired location and you take no part in the adventure to said location. In the case of DA: Origins, the PLOT-POINT-TRAVEL is done in such a way that it doesn’t feel like it should have been done any other way. This is how traveling works. Once you have chosen your destination your group is indicated by a dripping bloodstain that takes the roadway paths to your chosen locations. This bloodstain indication of your party will occasionally be stopped mid-travel and be put in a battle scenario against bandits, assassins, stray Dark Spawn, maybe even just a simple traveling merchant, and a number of different random situations. The addition of combat mid-travel makes the travel system not feel hollow. Also, if the game were to have an “on foot” type of travel execution the game most likely would have only felt like it was putting you into trivial fighting situations during an “on foot” excursion to your destination. So, take it from someone who basically hates plot-pointed-travel systems…it is done very well in this game.
The map marks pivotal locations and you will adventure to some great ENVIRONEMENTS. The surroundings themselves can be quite fantastic in this fantasy world. The ambiences that surround you will have a diverse range of their uniqueness from place to place. From the step drops of Redcliff and their lakeside view or the towering Elvan construct turned Circle of Magi Tower these places will entice you to investigate what rests within. One of my favorite is perhaps the subterranean mountain dwelling inhabitance of the Dwarven city of Orzammar. The dwarfs seem to have almost…irrigated streams of magma to illuminate their underground city. Streams of lava cascade down handcrafted lavaways giving their city a very orange and intense feeling. Though some of the cities can feel a bit “stiff” when it comes to the liveliness of the NPCs who inhabit them and their goings-on, yet it is a great mix between feeling constructed and statuesque while still giving a breath of life to these major location’s realisms.
These mapped pivotal locations will lead you to and through the game’s main overarching narrative. The main plot is not where the narrative or adventures of this universe stop.
There are SIDE QUESTS spewing from this game that are not all simple or lack intrigue. They can be quite the opposite and are abundantly placed in major locations. These side quests are uniformly given by several “hush-hush” or publicized organizations – like the Mages’ Collective, Chantry Boards, and The Blackstone Irregulars - not to mention the randomly found quest from all over that don’t tie into one of these groups and your companion’s personal tales which can lead to some of the game’s most interesting quest lines. There is a ton to do here and many ways to go about doing it.
This is because of DECISIONS AND DIALOGUE OPTIONS. Dragon Age: Origins has many pivotal events happening in the present history of the world while the Blight is looming down on the occupants of Ferelden. Decision making and dialogue options play a big part into the game and you have much influence over shaping the world around you through momentous events in your history making actions taken. Through game choice you’ll decide the fate of cultures and people’s lives hang in the balance more often than not. Your character does not have an actor’s voice, but that does not mean your protagonist is silent. Every dialogue choice is spoken word-for-word and people react to everything you say. Depending on what you’ve done or said to people their tone of voice could change to excitement while engaging in conversation with you or possibly even evolve to distain. Your actions and words both speak loud in this game and have cause and effect become a noticeable reality after your chosen decisions and dialogue.
Dragon Age: Origins’ character performance and dialogue delivery is stellar and deserves a 10 / 10, but the mundane graphics through stiff facial animations, a drab muted color palette, and occasional graphical texture issues drag the game’s otherwise outstanding VISUAL PERFORMANCE down to a an 8.5. Combat animations run flawlessly smooth, but there are not many. You have some animations for your traditional sword swings, arms spread open and back arched for that “shouting” talent (taunting), backstabbing, and the mage basically only lifts their staff into the air for every spell. So, the combat animations go through the motions very fluently yet there is only a handful to be seen. On the other hand, there are some stylishly blood splatteringly entertaining gladiatorial “finishers” that one of your characters may go through at the very end of an enemy’s health. You may criss-cross slash them several times on the chest making them spin in the process, stab stomach and decapitate with your other weapon, or shield bash and stab simultaneously for a very quick and satisfying fatality. These finisher moves are quick and they do not disturb the flow of combat. Another visual aspect is that the inventory UI is beautifully crafted, easy to navigate, intuitively quick to response, but is by far more complimenting to all of these qualities on the PC version. Every inventory icon is lovingly crafted for each individual item in the game…and there is a TON of items.
This brings me to the other side of the RPG coin and away from the universe and the narrative of Dragon Age: Origins and I arrive at the other deeply satisfying aspects of this wonderful RPG game; the deep gameplay.
Origins’ plethora of ITEMS AND GEAR is second to none. The game supports A LOT of gear and items from herbalism plants, wolf hides, fantasy materials – like Lyrium, Frost Spheres, Fire Crystal, etc. – to trap triggers, metal shards, and armor of all shapes and sizes. Your character’s equipable gear slots are broken down like so. Every controllable character has two weapon sets they can swap at any given time. A weapon set consists of an off-hand slot and a main-hand slot. The archetype categories for WEAPONS are broke into melee, ranged, magic, and defensive. For melee weapons you have one-handed weapons like daggers, swords, and axes and for two-handed weapons you have swords and hammers. For ranged weapons you have short and log bows and crossbows. Defensive is broken into bucklers (small shields) and large wood and large metal shields. For magical there are staves. Damaging weapons can have up to a maximum of three-open-sockets for runes. RUNES are special little rocks that go into a weapon’s socket to enhance the item’s abilities. These enhancement runes have a wide range of benefits to adding different types of elemental damage or to adding physical resistance or possibly having a chance to paralyze foes on hit. The runes are broken into tiers of varying potency with five different levels of strength for each individual effect. For example, a “Novice Frost” rune will add +1 frost damage to your weapon whereas a “Grand Master Frost” rune will add +5 damage. There are also differently tiered runes in between to fill the 1-5+ frost damage void. Then there are gear slots for two rings, a belt, and a necklace which make-up the game’s “ACCESSORY” slots. Then there are the actual ARMOR gear slots which are comprised of an armor slot for a helmet, gloves, boots, and chest piece. When dealing with armor parts you can get an item set bonus if you’re wearing 4/4 of a specific set. For example, when wearing all of the “studded leather” parts in each armor slot you will get a “set bonus” of extra benefits in addition to the stat increases the armor may already enhance. Also, all armor and weapons can be wielded by any character that is attributed correctly with stat points for the item’s requirements. Like a mage can wield a sword or wear massive full plate if they have enough strength.
This brings me to STATS AND ATTRIBUTES. Each level gained you’re going to get to distribute three attribute points and one skill tree point. These stats have varying different effects and are more useful for one class to the next. These attribute stats that enhance your character are Strength, Dexterity, Willpower, Magic, Cunning, and Constitution. Attributes have different degrees of effects like; melee/ranged weapon damage output, deepen stamina/mana pools to activate talents, increase spell damage and intensity, and increase the character’s Health pool. Besides needing a specific amount of strength to wield a weapon or wear armor you may also need an aptitude of say dexterity or magic to be able to pick a specific talent from your skill trees. For example, “Device Mastery IV” will require 22 cunning, “Death Cloud” 34 magic, or 12 dexterity to obtain “Dual-Weapon Training”. So, attribute distribution is very important to creating the character you want and obtaining the skill tree talents you want.
Each class has a default set of SKILL TREES at their disposal as well as some trees that are universal to weapons and not just class. The ROGUE AND WARRIOR, for example, have an identical 3x4 skill tree that is for Dual Weapon mastery and for Archery. In addition, the warrior also has a Sword and Shield mastery and Two-handed weapon mastery where the rogue does not. The Warrior’s signature tree includes things like “Threaten” which helps keep enemies focused on the warrior and “Bravery” which influences the warrior’s damage, critical percentage, and attack rating which is all increased due to how many enemies the warrior is engaging over the number of two. The rogue also has a signature tree which includes things like lock picking, feign death, backstab improvements, and stealth.
THE MAGE is unique and shares no skill trees in common with the other two classes. The mage is also the only class with the ability to heal their allies. The mage has something like 4-5 different “schools” of magic trees to choose from which are all 4x4. For example, “Primal” is a school of magic that has things that are elemental in nature like; “Cone of Cold”, “Fire Weapons”, and “Chain Lightning” whereas the “Entropy” tree has things that are more along the lines of curses like; “Vulnerability Hex”, “Mass Paralyze”, and “Death Cloud”.
The classes’ default talent trees have a wide variety in builds and leave a lot up to the player to decide their character’s unique build due to a range of talent tree flexibility.
Besides the different classes’ default skill trees there are also SPECIALIZATION SKILL BRANCHES. Specialization options are linked to the character's base class—warrior, mage, and rogue—and each character can have up to two specializations. Most companions whom join the party have one specialization pre-selected and are thus able to take one more. You are awarded a specialization skill point at level 7 and 14. All specializations require unlocking through a trainer (a person who can teach it), a manual (purchased from a store), or a plot event. Specializations can be unlocked at any level and will stay unlocked on subsequent replays. Thus, it is possible, before making a decision that will get you a specialization but will cause approval loss from party members, to save, unlock the specialization and then revert to the save before the approval loss and still have the specialization unlocked.
Each class—rogue, warrior, and mage—has four different specializations to choose from. Assassin, Dualist, Ranger, and Bard for the rogue; Templar, Reaver, Berserker, and Champion for the warrior and finally Blood mage, Arcane Warrior, Shape Shifter, and Spirit Healer for the mage. Each specialization has a set of four different talents and a passive attribute bonus when initiated for said character. The specializations are where a lot of the game’s diversity and deep character-party customization comes into play. With your created character’s choice of two different specializations and the ability to pick at least one of every individual’s second specialization for the companions you acquire on your adventure it is very interesting to see the different ways you can build a party-character to feed off of each other’s abilities and builds.
Less frequently when leveling you will get PROFICIENCY TREE points or “skills”. How often you receive these points depends on the character’s class. Rogues get them the most often which is every other level. I believe warriors get them every three levels and mages every four, but I am not certain. Proficiency skills are things like Coercion (helps you persuade people in conversations to agree with what you want), stealing, combat prowess (necessary to unlock abilities farther in skill trees), tactics (allow you to set-up more AI for your characters and their abilities), and crafting skills such as; Herbalism (potion crafting), Poison Brewing (bombs and weapon coatings), and Trap Making.
Between all of these deep character customizations of armor, stats, weapons, skill trees, specialization skills, and proficiencies and then to compound it all with a group of four…it can leave an extremely malleable combat and role playing experience that is deep, extremely versatile, and very satisfying. On the other hand, if all of this sounds too in depth for you and or complex you can always just click on the “auto-level” which will distribute your stats, talents, proficiencies, and specializations for you across your characters when they level up so you don’t have to.
After adding all of these elements of character customization together it is time to put them into the game’s functional execution and test Origins’ COMBAT. First off, I have to emphasize that this is NOT an action game. Sure, it has great action visually, but you are not going to be smashing buttons and pulling off button combinations to wreak havoc like in “DMC” or “God of War”. That is not what this game is about. Dragon Age: Origins is about quick thinking, tactical, and situational combat scenarios. It plays more like an MMO. You pick your target you want to go attack and then you use your skill tree talents to execute certain skills and then you auto-attack while those skills are on cool-down. On the other hand though, what makes it different than MMOs is that you can “pause-to-pick-talents” and stop time to carryout certain abilities across your filled to capacity four-person team. Thus, you’re not just sitting there waiting for your skills to be off cool-down because you have to micromanage your entire team…or at least set-up decent “tactics” through those proficiency skills I mention earlier to improve the AI of your team. So, if you’ve ever played a MMO like World of Warcraft that is probably the best absent but associated experience to draw a parallel from. Group combat mechanics are about “Tanking”, Damage, Healing, and --more often than not you’re outnumbered—crowd control. The combat feels a bit like you’re in an MMO dungeon but you’re in control of your whole party. Cool-down timers, pause-to-pick talents, potion chugs, and tactically strategic combat scenarios make this experience feel a lot like a single-player version of an online community-based dungeon crawler.
HUD details – Health, mana, stamina, of your created or currently controlled character will be down at the bottom right for Xbox. A Mass Effect-style Radial menu on the Xbox can be used to execute skill tree talents or you can have assigned abilities to X, B, Y and RT+X, B, and Y for quick access to 6 skill talents. A “Hot Bar” takes the place of this on the PC version. There is no “plot-point-to-move” ability on Xbox version. On the PC you can choose a character then a “move” icon and then point and click your cursor where you would like that character move to; all while in that “paused time interface”. On the Xbox, instead you have to try and do a “hold position” command and move them individually before combat. During combat are the same bad issues, you cannot pick a character then have them execute a move across the map unless under your direct control which makes micro management and movement during combat an extreme hassle and a dangerous one at that.
LEARNING CURVE - Like I said before; it is hard for me to say because I have experience with this type of gameplay and character creation/build depth. I could easily say that the level of character-group customization could be extremely daunting to someone who is new to the genre. As far as combat is related, I’ve heard self-proclaimed “PC and RPG expert gamers” alike commenting on how difficult Origins is on the normal difficulty even. I don’t like to toot my own horn but I played it on nightmare (after level 5) and at times I thought it felt like it was on easy. So, as far as learning curve is concerned I’d have to say it is situational to how much time you’ve spent with this type of game. It is definitely not a “jump right in” for anyone who hasn’t spent time on games with heavy stat, gear, and skill tree progression and that is not even from a gameplay-combat perspective. Though I had absolutely no trouble with the game’s difficulty I have heard people that are supposed “good RPGers” having a rough time. So, all I can say to that is…I guess it’s a good thing you can change the game’s difficulty at any time whenever you wish during your Origins campaign.
The VALUE of Dragon Age: Origins is simply fantastic. The first time I beat the game I tried to do absolutely everything I could find and I clocked in around 90 hours of gameplay time. My first play-through on the Xbox 360 (with the 3 DLCs that take place during Origins) I clocked in 102:14:12. Yes…102 hours. You could probably get through the game in about 40 if you just sped through it and barely listened to dialogue and did basically no side-quest, but you’d be doing yourself a major disservice if you played the game like that. The value is high because the number of hours spent playing is a welcome addition and you actually want to put the time in. Also, with the number of different nuances through narrative and character-team customization this game has some serious replay value.
Also, as a small note, I play the game on nightmare. So, when you are gauging how long it takes me to complete something you have to consider it takes a bit longer to finish battles do to more time pausing and micromanagement and larger health pools on enemies. You might not think that would add a lot of time onto a game, but add a few more minutes per battle…a few hundred times and it tacks on some hours. In addition, I am also a slow reader and I fiddle in the skill trees and ponder for lengthy periods of time about character builds too. Also, i read the codexes entries quite often. Just something to take into consideration regarding how long I say something takes.
=====================ALL IN ALL: ORIGINS==========================
All in all, Dragon Age: Origins is a meticulously and masterfully crafted deep, deep RPG experience in which you can pause time and micromanage your party of four. And that experience is best on the PC, but the minor technical and mechanical issues of the console versions can’t stop this game from blasting-off into the stratosphere no matter what platform you plan to play it on.
That being said, Dragon Age: Origins’ combat mechanics feel most at home when compared to the functionality of most conventional MMORPGs with cool-down timers, auto-attacking, potion chugging, and the group makeup that seem to be consistent in games like those, but set on a single-player format. A non-too original main storyline takes a backseat to the real star of the show which is the world in which all of the game’s events take place and the characters that inhabit them in a brilliantly come-to-life dark medieval fantasy universe. You could easily get lost in this world with a flexible game time of 40-90 hours depending on how much time you’d like to spend in Ferelden. A great fantasy universe coupled with a multitude of different character-team builds you can create and think of with the game’s wide range of skills, armor, weapons, secondary specializations, and group composition can keep you wanting to come back time and again. So, if you’re a RPG fan then it is definitely time to buckle-on a shield and unsheathe a sword, possibly face a few dragons along the way, and unquestionably meet some unique and wonderful characters in this engrossing and immersive dark fantasy world because Dragon Age: Origins should not be missed by any fan of the genre.
2. DOWN LOADABLE/ADD-ON CONTENT
COINSIDE WITH THE ORIGNS COMPAIGN.
These DLCs will all be opened in the Origins game’s world map after the completion of the Battle of Ostagar or leaving Loathering (a town right after Ostagar). These add-ons are labeled via yellow map markers or given by a NPC in your camp site.
Feastday Gifts/Pranks – These items are sold by the merchant in your camp site. The gifts or pranks give a way to “play around with” your party member’s love/hate of you. There are generic gifts that give a fixated number of love or hate and they’re cheap to buy. There is also a specific gift for love or hate that costs nothing and will give you -/+50 to your relationship with every character obtainable. The “love” gifts can also have functionality during combat. For example, Sten’s gift allows him to read from a Qunari book for the dead which revives all fallen party members during combat, Zevran gets some brandy that gives him a +2 Dexterity buff, or it can range to things that have no functionality besides from small blips of entertainment like Leliana playing some guitar or Alistair playing with a puppet. All in all, this add-on can sound seemingly useless but it really is useful. With the ability to be able to easy influence your party member’s love for you it allows you to take desired avenues of dialogue and actions taken throughout the game without having to worry about the repercussions of who you’re going to piss off with said decisions or actions. Of course, the game will still be extremely impacted by the choices you’ve made…but at least you’re favorite party member wouldn’t leave due to a faulty ethics choice of yours. The Feastday add-on is really an “okay I’ve beaten the game now I want to mess around during my next playthroughs” addition. I’d say try not to use it at all your first time into the game.
Warden’s Keep – Very short, possibly spanning an hour or a little more. You adventure to a Grey Warden fortress that has been uncharted for several generations. You go there to help a fellow descendant of a Grey Warden leader whose surname was besmirched after unknown circumstances led to a supposed coup against a tyrannical king and the fall of the Warden’s fortress. After arriving at the Warden fortress it is not before long that you realize something fishy is going on and surely not long before you’ve finished the handful of encounters that will ensue. Warden’s Keep does however give you some decent starter’s loot and after completion you can come back to the keep which there will then be a personal storage chest and some very nice gear vendors.
Return to Ostagar – A man that was supposedly at Ostagar has survived the battle’s aftermath. After meeting him he tells you of King Cailian’s secret correspondence locked away in a royal arms chest which Cailan kept in his tent at Ostagar. You must go and retrieve it. This add-on to the game is much welcome as the Battle of Ostagar was one of my favorite and most memorable incidents in the game. Months have passed and snow covers the once blood sewn battlefield of Ostagar and you must dredge through the terrain of Dark Spawn riddled avenues to uncover some very nice tier 5 armor and a very nice dagger and one-handed sword during this excursion. One-to-two hours might pass as you carve your way through some of the Dark Spawn’s hierarchy to recover some precious items that have been spread across their horde.
The Stone Prisoner – This additional bit of content is short and sweet and is delivered for free if you have bought a “fresh” copy of Origins or the Ultimate Edition and if you’re getting a pre-owned copy it can, of course, be downloaded. This DLC adds the character Shale to your party. Shale uses several different…”stances” that empower it to do different abilities that go hand-in-hand with the benefits embodied from the effects of the specific stance you’re in. Only one stance can be maintained at any given time. For example, “Pulverizing Blows” is a more offensive stance that gives Shale the ability to do three attacking-type skills whereas; “Stone Heart” is more defensive and has several taunting and area of effect skills. Shale also implements a ranged-like stance and a large area aura buffing stance wherein Shale becomes immobile while maintaining. Shale has a unique set of morals and ethics about its long existence in the world and its banter and dialogue is some of the best Dragon Age has to offer. Shale also has a unique way of equipping himself as it cannot wear conventional armors or wield conventional weapons.
All together, the actual mission to get Shale in your party is not impressive or worth any praise due to its length to completion or the way it comes about, but when obtaining Shale early on this golem is a delight to have accompanied you for the rest of your journey and is well worth this DLC’s completion. Banter aside, Shale is also a welcome character to your party due to the range of different roles that it can fulfill such as damage, party buffing, and tanking. With the great dialogue, unique skill trees, and distinctive “gear” for the golem spread over the world Shale feels as much as an add-on as Morrigan or Alistair; meaning Shale fits right in from the get-go and is an interesting character to say the least.
POST COMPLETION OF ORIGINS COMPAIGN.
These add-ons should be played after the completion of the Origins campaign either because they follow it in chronological order or because they contain spoilers for the story of the Origins campaign. If you’ve already played the Origins campaign before and are simply getting the Ultimate Edition for the extra content you should complete “Dark Spawn Chronicles” and “Lelian’s Song” before playing the Origins campaign because they will give your account starter items for completing them, but for those who have not played the Origins campaign you should complete them afterword.
Lelian’s Song ->Origins ->Awakening -> Golems of Amgarrak ->Witch Hunt
The Dark Spawn Chronicles – This DLC is a…”What if” scenario in which you play as a Dark Spawn Vanguard during an assault on Denerim. Yes, it is as fun and cool as it sounds; you control a group of Dark Spawn to raid Denerim in an alternate reality to stop the Gray Wardens. The Archdemon coerces you with telepathy as you pillage the front gates, burn down the alienage, and sack would-be allies of the Wardens like Sten and Bann Teagan. You have an ability called “Enthrall” which you can target any Dark Spawn on the battlefield with and then they become under your control via joining your party like any member would be in the normal game. And yes, you can enthrall Ogres, Shriekers, Genlocks, Hurlocks, Emissaries; you name it and take control of them and their special abilities. If you happen to come across an ally you want in your party more than that Genlock who is currently in your group…you just use an ability to walk up to your soon-to-be-replaced ally and cut their head off then use enthrall on the ally you wish to replace them with. The Dark Spawn are savage and ruthless shells that obey the Archdemon’s will and it is interesting to see the events of a war in Denerim taking place from the Dark Spawn’s perspective even though it is a short run with a playtime of about 90 minutes.
Leliana’s Song – As you may know Leliana is a Bard from the land of Orlias and this DLC is her song, her tale. During the Origins main campaign you learned about Leliana’s past through her words alone. Well, this puts you in her shoes to act-out the events that led her to where you found her in Lothering. You play as Leliana as your main character and she is accompanied by two allies whose names are Tug, the short ready to brawl dwarf, and Sketch who is a young cautious elf Mage. You will never gain more than two companions at any one given time during the completion of this add-on. You start at level 10 and by the end of the DLC you’ll most likely reach level 14ish. The DLC overall doesn’t add anything new that you basically already didn’t know previously. You get to see the events of Leliana’s adventure that keeps here in Ferelden firsthand instead of merely hearing it through her words in camp during the main campaign. During the tale you’ll venture to Denerim, a map that is the exact same as Howe’s dungeon, and a map that is the same as the up-stairs portion of a map you’ve seen if you were a rogue with stealing and you have done the “Crime Wave” quest chains. The very, very end of this 2 hour mini-story takes you to an extremely small new map that was not in the game previously. The new map additions are absolutely mundane and nothing truly memorable comes of this content in its entirety. The most memorable thing in the DLC would have to be the new addition of some great music that is by far better than the music in the origins game (which I also liked…so it’s really good). In the end, nothing special here.
The Golems of Amgarrak – If you haven’t noticed I am a bit of bias towards the Deep Roads because I like it very much. I’ve heard to not bother yourself with this add-on because of its extreme difficulty and boring. Really there is not much of anything to any of the add-ons when it comes down to being deep or exciting, but I found this add-on to be my favorite by far. I played it on nightmare and had no troubles at all…don’t believe me, check my Xbox achievements, you get a special one for beating it on Nightmare. I will not deny that Amgarrak is more difficult than basically ALL other Dragon Age content, but it is obviously doable. When starting, you receive a letter from Jerrik Dace of Orzammar who is requesting your aid to venture into the Deep Roads to help find his missing brother. They were on an expedition to find an alternative to Caridin’s from of Golem creation. Jerrik is a rogue and also has a special familiar summoning talent to have a Bronto pet active. Before reaching Amgarrak you’ll also find a huge metal Golem who joins your party as well and acts as a…mage? Sometimes the combination of the hulking Bronto and enormous Golem can clog the narrow corridors of the Dwarven Thaig.
Over all, Amgarrak is decently challenging with some standard exploration that has a nice twist on “phasing” through what is corporeal and what isn’t in reality. The map is nothing new; it was an exact duplicate of a portion of Kal’Hirol from Awakening. You probably won’t spend more than two hours in the corridors of Amgarrak, you don’t get any great items of note, and the characters are non-too memorable, but hell what can I say? I enjoyed it.
Witch Hunt – This DLC seemed to promise some conclusion to the whereabouts of Morrigan and what happened after the death of the Archdemon. You first start this DLC by heading to Flemeth’s hut in the Wilds. After a few small investigatory run-arounds you have two companions and your Mabari warhound with you and a few leads to follow-up on. This is the only add-on that has the use of a world map. Unfortunately those map locations will not take you to any new environments you’ve never seen before in either previous add-ons, Awakening, or the main campaign. The best part of the entire DLC is that you can get a fourth specialization point from Sandal in the Circle of Magi. You can’t use the book that allows you to recalculate your points if you plan to keep that fourth specialization however. For whatever reason—a glitch, on purpose, or who knows—after using a recalculation book that extra specialization point will be wasted, which seems to be the theme of this DLC…wasted time. The ending encounter with Morrigan is so anti-climactic that it plainly embodies the add-on as a whole. If you were looking forward to some narrative closure or epiphanies…don’t. Simply put, this DLC is about two hours of nothing much.
===============ALL IN ALL: ADD-ONS==================
Overall, there is nothing much special to be had throughout the add-ons' entirety. From Vigil’s Keep to Witch Hunt there just is not really anything to gawk at. Nearly nothing truly memorable will happen during the completion of these add-ons that will genuinely stick with you. Shale’s addition to your party with some great dialogue and a unique perspective from a golem’s standpoint is one of the only admirable additons of the add-ons that truly stands out head and shoulders above the rest.
Nevertheless, the additional content is a welcome feature solely based off of the great core gameplay that is Dragon Age. You’ll clock somewhere between 10-15 extra hours of time with the Dragon Age universe you’ve grown to love and if you don’t love it…you shouldn’t be looking into extra content anyway. All in all, nothing to really complain about but nothing to praise either...it's just more game.
3. THE EXPANSION: AWAKENING
BioWare’s expansion to Dragon Age: Origins comes Dragon Age: Awakening. Origins was not only hugely successful from a business aspect but was also revered with high reviewer scores from professionals and gamers alike. It is nice to see an ol’ fashioned Expansion come out in a gaming industry content with (mostly) lousy DLCs to feed players and themselves during the long periods between the releases of their “big” products. Awakening is not quite the masterpiece its synergetic counterpart was, but is still fairly fantastic. So…hear ye hear ye…read all about it.
The simple breakdown of “Dragon Age: Awakening” is like so…
Graphics/Character Performance and Animation – 8/10
Fun Factor – 8/10
Story – 8/10
User Interfacing – 9/10
Learning Curve – Hard to say…I am experienced with this gameplay style.
Sound – 9/10
Value - 7/10
Total – 8.2 / 10
Jump down to my “All in all” if you only want a brief summary.
Awakening kicks off with either your imported character from Origins who is a native of Ferelden and whom the people will show immediate respect or if you don’t load the Hero of Ferelden you will start as a newly arriving Orliasian Warden Commander. Where are you arriving? The new Warden fortress in Ferelden called Vigil’s Keep that’s where. When you arrive the Vigil is under attack by Dark Spawn…a surprise attack. How can the Dark Spawn initiate a surprise attack against a fortress of Grey Wardens who can sense Dark Spawn? Not only that little predicament but how could the Dark Spawn carryout a well-coordinated attack without the call of the Archdemon to guide their seemingly mindless actions? Finally to top the cake, after slewing your way through the Vigil you come across a Dark Spawn…who can speak. Something is changing…the Dark Spawn are changing.
Besides the mysteries that the opening reveals the game still supports some interesting companions and other NPCs. A crazed Dwarven Bombardier, a virtuous spirit given corporeal physical manifestation via inhabiting a dead Warden’s body, and an…Architect to name a few. That being said, the narrative and the characters that role the tale of Awakening are not as interesting as Origins, but is still very well done. You are the Warden Commander and are the leader of Ferelden’s Wardens whose job is to manage Vigil’s Keep and now lead the Arling that used to be the lands of the Howe’s. Your role is more diplomatic than in Origins. You are now in a position of power and must make some difficult decisions of who to protect, laws to uphold, trade merchants to endorse, and how to distribute moneys to fortify your fortress and distribute troops. If you’re the Orliasian commander people will treat you with disdain due to the shaky past of the Fereldens and the Orliasians. Either way it is interesting to see all of these story aspects play out and come to fruition.
Well, remember how I said you could Import your character or not. Here are some benefits and drawbacks to importing or not and what happens when you start fresh. When you start a fresh new Warden Commander you’re going to start at level 18. One of the biggest advantages to this is that you can try out all of those different builds and classes you’ve wanted to try but never felt the compulsion to create and play through Origins ten times. I found myself making a plethora of different level 18 Warden Commanders…just because I enjoy making builds and characters (I did reach a maximum number of about 10 characters on Xbox). On the other hand, one of the biggest benefits to importing your hero from Origins is that you will have all of the gear and items that were in the Hero’s inventory from the specific save you choose. Also, your character will have all of those extra skill and talent points that you’ve received from books and from entering the fade in addition to “Power of Blood” skills if you completed the Warden’s Keep DLC.
At its basic core Awakening is the same game as Origins with essentially the same gameplay mechanics, action, and pause-to-micromanage tactical combat.
So, WHAT’S NEW?
Much is the same but much has been added. Awakening has new proficiency skills that are very important like; Vitality (passive HP bonuses), Clarity (passive stamina/mana bonuses), and Runecrafting. Remember those runes for weapons from Origins? Well, now you can craft them and they have improved by adding several ranks to their potency up to a maximum tier of Paragon compared to Grandmaster from Origins. There are a lot of new runes that didn’t exist before like; immunity (adds to all resistances), menacing (increased hostility), Intensifying (+5% melee/ranged crit and +20% Crit/backstab damage), and a dozen other new recipes. There is also a related change to the addition of open sockets in Chest armor. Most chest pieces now have three open-sockets in them. For whatever reason though they didn’t feel the need to add open-sockets to only cloth armor (sorry mages).
There are two new talent tree specializations for each class. So, in addition to things like Blood Mage and Assassin you can now choose from an additional specialization for a total of three specializations once you reach level 22. Additionally there are new class related talents as well. For example, there are two new rows of skills for the Mage’s general tree with talents as powerful as “Time Spiral” which resets the cooldown of all of their spells. There are also new talents for each of the classes’ unique talents as well as to weapon talents like Archery, Dual Wielding, and Two-Handed Weapons.
Another great new feature is a new book that can allow you to recalculate all of your attribute, skill, and talent points for any character after reading for 6 gold a-pop. This feature is fantastic because it allows for experimentation and also does not pigeonhole any one companion into any specific role due to the fact that they’re all going to be level 18+ when they join you and will have many of their points already distributed. You can buy an infinite amount of these books and “respec” over and over as long as you can continually produce that 6 gold fee from the vendor.
Awakening also adds some great new environments, a handful of new creatures, and some of the game’s best boss encounters to date.
There may be a handful of new enemy types, but they bring nothing new to the combat from a tactical aspect. You still basically only encounter the same range of enemies with the exact same abilities from Origins with a new “skin” thrown over them. One of the game’s drawbacks is that Awakening becomes too easy because of the new talent tree skills and specializations. One of the biggest aspects of the Nightmare difficulty is the fact that Area of Effect (AoE) talents would do 100% of the damage they would otherwise do to enemies also to your allies if they are in the same effected damaging area. In Origins (if playing on Nightmare) you wanted to focus more on single-target skills and abilities to kill enemies and avoid things like “Blizzard” and “Tempest” to kill enemies. With the addition of the new talents from Awakening the game becomes far too easy…even on Nightmare. This is because many of the new talents have AoE that only affects enemies regardless of difficulty. Your warrior can do “Massacre” which expels a 360 degree shockwave that only damages all enemies for a massive 200+ HP (and that is coming from a tank-built warrior). The new Battlemage specialization of the Mage has a talent called “Hand of Winter” which also expels a 360 degree shockwave that hits all enemies for roughly 150+ damage and freezes all targets solid like “Cone of Cold” but cannot hit your allies. Hand of Winter coupled with the rogue’s new AoE talent “Flicker” can lay waste to an entire platoon of enemies nearly instantly. As you may well know when you backstab a frozen solid target it has a high chance to shatter the enemy and kill them instantly. Well, Flicker has a targeting system similar in size and mechanic to things like “Inferno” and “Blizzard” and Flicker makes the rogue teleport to all enemies within its parameters and backstabs every single one of them nearly instantly. So, a “Massacre” followed by “Hand of Winter” with a “Flicker” to top it off with a handful of shatters and just plain massive damage the game’s difficulty seems strongly diminished even on Nightmare.
The bosses, on the other hand, are a different bag. They’re tougher, require more tactics to overcome situation strategies that pertain to specific boss phases, and are simply cooler. From the “Queen of the Marsh” to life-sucking Sloth Demons Awakening’s boss encounters are an overall improvement from Origins. Though I have heard that the last boss from Awakening is even more challenging and sophisticated than the Archdemon from Origins…I just don’t think this is true. Still though, Awakening’s last boss encounter is nothing to sneeze at and is impressive and challenging in different ways.
One last thing that is small change but welcome is exponential money growth compared to time played and gold earned from Awakening to Origins. In Origins if felt as though getting 75 silver from a fallen enemy was a lot cash; where as in Awakening you could get upwards of 1-5 gold per kill. This is a much needed addition because much of the game revolves around upgrading and fortifying Vigil’s Keep and there are a TON of patterns to buy with the addition of Runecrafting to the game.
================ALL IN ALL: AWAKENING===================
Although Dragon Age got a bit easier with some overpowered talents and made a bit more “flashy” with particle effect driven new skill animations the game still retains its core mechanics. Awakening also gives a nicely added new perspective to Dark Spawn and also gives insight to the possible future of Dark Spawn and their relationship to Blights. Although, the real substance of the narrative is given to you as a meal with a small appetizer to wet your lips with at the very beginning and then the “meat” of the tale is hastily concluded in the last 3-5 hours of game time in a 20-30 hour campaign it still left me satisfied.
All in all, BioWare went with the good ol’ fashioned Expansion instead of the newly conformed behaviors developers seem to be following with merely having overpriced DLCs to add to their games prior to their release. Expansions are supposed to be more than simply adding more content which is basically all the “C” does in DLC. An Expansion is supposed to add new game mechanics, skills, levels (and I don’t mean platformer “levels”, I mean character progression), items, story, and environments. Add-on DLCs tend to usually only deliver few of those aspects; usually only some additional depth into story without changing the game much at all. Rest assured that this is a true expansion and Awakening gives you a lot more of the same from Origins while adding some new features to deepen that already vast character-team customization that was so prevalent in Origins while also delivering some of that fabled storytelling that BioWare is known for with their patented penchant. So, if you’re a gamer that misses the days of true expansions released for the games you love then I can promise you that Bioware will not leave you disappointed with the Awakening expansion for Dragon Age: Origins.
DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS ULTIMATE EDITION
As a whole, Dragon Age: Origins Ultimate Edition is at its base simply an astonishingly great value. I paid 26$ for my copy and if you do the math…there is a potential of 150 hours with a single play through. This RPG has a fantastically bursting with content and lore universe, great game play, and perplexing story choices that really make you question what was ultimately the best outcome possible afterwards. Whether you just want to refamiliarize yourself with the Dragon Age universe or haven’t tried it out yet you should give the ultimate edition a shot. The main campaign and Awakening are worth the small fee of about 13$ each for roughly 130 hours between the two games.
Do yourself a favor if you enjoy role-playing games…pick up Dragon Age: Origins Ultimate Edition.