Dragon Age: Origins, an incompetent gamer review

Welcome to Dragon Age: Origins, AKA: TIFU, I had to break up with my hot boyfriend who turned out to be a crown prince, (what a loss!) so that I could save the world, and experiment with dating girls, while he could go making a demonic soul infused baby on a one night stand with my best friend, no strings attached.

Shit just got real.

Background info:

It’s June 2016. I was neck deep in job hunting, and art training, which takes up most of my 9-5 time. I’ve just finished Witcher 3, and I had nothing better to do with my free time. So I took this opportunity to tackle one of RPG’s biggest franchises: Dragon Age.

At this point some of you are going to say: What do you mean, you’re a self proclaimed RPG fan and you haven’t even played a single Dragon Age game? You’re 7 years too late! …OK, feel free to smack me for my ignorance, but things are gonna change very soon. I might be late to the party, but I’m trying to catch up… #noregrets

For the record, I’m playing on PS3 ($9 used at EB Games, score!), I’m a human mage, playing on normal difficulty but sometimes I switch to easy on boss fights because I’m a stupid noob.  

(And don’t say that I didn’t warn you. I might unintentionally spoil the plotline so if you haven’t beaten the game, read on your own accord.)

Without further bullshit, here’s my review of the first game: Dragon Age Origins.

Storyline 9/10

The storyline is one of the strong points in this game. Sure, at first glance it might sound like a generic game plot – You’re a normal ordinary person stuck in extraordinary circumstances by fate. You’re a hero. Gather your party, kill baddies, save the world. But what matters is that it’s done and told nicely. There’s a couple unique prologue stories depending on your race and class, and I started as a human Circle Mage. Right off the bat you’re plunged into this exciting world, with interesting, comprehensive lore and backstories, and immediately faced with hard decisions to make. I got hooked in the first couple hours.

It might be a generic “save the world” plot, but what separates DA (and other Bioware games so I heard) from the rest, is the people you journey with and how you interact with them with dialogue options. Hello, decisions. You make up your character’s personality. You can be nice, or you can be a jerk. You can put effort and help people, or choose to ignore the needs of others around you, and unlike Skyrim, it actually affects the game’s plot. I’ve made countless reloads to avoid disapproval, or just to see what’s gonna happen if I pick a different convo option. I can see why this game have a lot of replay value, with so many different plot variables, this almost plays like a choose your own story game.

Characters 8/10

Another strong point is the companions. And the dating system in this game, which I think is awesome in its’ own right. I dated by accident Alistair. It wasn’t my intention. I ended up being his girlfriend just by being too nice. I treated him nicely as a friend, and out of the blue he gave me a rose, a symbol of his love! This gets too close to IRL. Some guys just won’t take your #friendzone hints. 

TL;DR I broke up with him. It was a sad breakup. I’m sorry, but as the heir apparent he’s better off with Anora for political reasons. I ended the game dating Leliana. It was all good and it worked out in the end. I didn’t try dating all the other companions, but being a nice girl warden, I tried befriending all of my teammates. Some of them started off being standoffish assholes, who tends  to disapprove every decision you make (hello Morrigan, Sten!) and it’s hard work winning them over, but in the end when I earned their friendship, I felt that it’s worth making the effort. 

Gameplay 7/10

I’m playing a 2009 game in 2016 and I’d say the gameplay has not aged very well. Let’s talk about the gameplay mechanics. The battle system, it’s party based, it’s a mixture of tactical and action oriented, that I can live with. It’s real time but you can pause when targeting AoE, which I found to be great for incompetent, clumsy gamers like me. It’s an interesting mechanic that you can switch to control other party members at any time, and I love that. (It disappointed me later when I played Mass Effect and found out that I can’t do this!) So you always wanted to have a go at playing a warrior, but can’t be f’ed to create a warrior character? No problem.

The battle pace is much, much slower than Dragon Age II or Inquisition, which made me glad that I played this installment first. I’d say the battle mechanics are “clunky” and no tactical view in PS3 makes it awkward to target specific enemies in the field.

Load times are slow-ish, but I can live with it. Bear with it, it gets better in Dragon Age II.

I found the normal difficulty a bit too hard for the uninitiated. I know I’m less skilled than the average gamer, but at times I was tempted to give up! It doesn’t help when I switch the difficulty to “easy” the game becomes too easy and poses no challenge!

Having played and beaten all 3 Dragon Age games by the time I’m writing this review, I’d agree with most people that Dragon Age Origins has the highest difficulty out of all. I got my ass kicked by regular mobs, not to mention bosses. Enemies don’t respawn, so there is no grinding. Which is, in retrospect, maybe a good thing. The Deep Roads story arc was painful and I spent unnecessary time replaying because I got wiped every 10 minutes. It’s quite a challenge to learn to play the game well, and know your strategy, how to utilize your team’s abilities, etc. Which is the point of the gameplay, I suppose.  This game had a steep initial learning curve, but when you get better, you’ll die less and you’ll enjoy it.

(I can proudly say that after the Deep Roads I have learned a lot and didn’t get wiped out as often anymore.)

Potions and healing spells have a ridiculously long cooldown time, which contributes to my overly high number of game overs/injuries.

The level design leaves more to be desired. When you get to a dungeon, most of the paths are linear. Go in, kill mobs, go further in, fight a boss. Three quarters into the game this grind can get a bit tedious. But I can’t complain because I hate missing out on loot because of some stupid obscure nonlinear path, so it’s a win-win.

Let’s talk about the leveling up mechanics. Every time you level up, your party, including the inactive members that you recruited then ignored, level up too, and you have to divvy up skill points on all of your party members.

There’s so many skills and abilities to unlock, not including “specializations” which you’ll get on level 7 and 14. It’s really easy to lose your focus and waste precious skill/ability points. I found that a lot of the magic abilities are overlapping and not necessarily all are useful to make a build that suits your gameplay style. Plus, at one time you only get to shortcut/map 6 of them anyway.

I had to really plan ahead to invest my leveling up points in order to avoid screwing up my build. Which was difficult on a blind first playthrough of the game. My regular party has 3 mages and a rogue (more mages, more OP!) and by endgame I had some overlapping abilities between the 3 mages. Maybe this game is meant to be played more than once… if you can stomach going through the Deep Roads again. But all that being said, I really enjoyed playing as a mage and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Visuals 7/10

This is a PS3 game, so coming into the game with the system’s limitations I didn’t expect that much. But I’d say there are many PS3 games with better visuals. The 3D graphics looks too dull and/or too contrasty, the character renders look bloated (lack of textures?), but I could live with that. User interface and the inventory system is clunky and it could be done better. Lots of small text… I have bad eyesight, playing on a 24″ monitor I found myself squinting a lot…

This game came out awhile ago, so the visual direction/ interface design still has a brownish, ye olde medieval flavour to it. Direct comparison, Oblivion vs Skyrim. It’s ridiculous that before Skyrim, nearly every fantasy game has a medieval themed interface. But we’re not here to talk about Skyrim, so let’s get back on track.

I love the character designs. I love the weapon/equipment designs too, except the hats… why do mages get all sorts of ridiculous looking chef hats? And why do all the robes (except the ones for Morrigan) look like a recolor of the Circle Robe? Mages can’t look good.

This was my first trip to Thedas. I can say that I’m enjoying the varied environments and the team did a great job building the world. Being a RPG veteran, everything looks strangely familiar. Playing this game I simply can’t wait to see all of it re-rendered for PS4 in the later games.

Total time spent: 35 hours.

Playing casually, I finished the game in about a month. Sure felt longer than 35 hours. Leaving the game, there’s a couple loose ends to deal with. I’ve only killed one dragon. I skipped some minor side missions because I can’t wait to play DA II. But all in all, it was a satisfying playthrough, but having made all the decisions I wanted to make, I’m not too sure if I’ll replay immediately. To be honest I’m still traumatized by the Deep Roads. Maybe in a couple months’ time I’ll create a human warrior and date Alistair and be the queen.

Overall verdict: Recommended

If you’re a RPG fan, if you’ve been playing some Elder Scrolls, Witcher, Final Fantasy, it’s worth taking the time to get to know the DA world, and play this game. You’ll have a lot of fun. If you’ve played Dragon Age Inquisition, go give this a try, too. Just don’t compare the two games apple to apple. It’s worth your time.

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