Dragon Age Origins

This weekend, I finally, FINALLY, got a chance to really start playing Dragon Age. Dragon Age had been sitting on my desk all week, barely touched. But my Sunday was wide open and void of responsibility, so I took the opportunity to relax in the war torn world.

Dragon Age is the latest game by Canadian developer, Bioware, the renowned western RPG developer.  Dragon Age has  been described a spiritual successor to Balder's Gate, Bioware's first established series a developer, but has no ties to Dungeons & Dragons. Dragon Age is a completely new IP, which is part of Bioware's company goal to create their own original games, rather than building off of established franchises, such as D&D or Star Wars.

Jade Empire was actually their first IP, but didn't really have the staying power they were hoping for. Mass Effect was truly their first success on that front. Mass Effect certainly wasn't my introduction to the Bioware name, but it was the first Bioware game I played and played through to completion. I loved the environments, and space travel. The story was pretty engaging, even though the actual character interactions were stoic and lifeless. But I liked it a lot.

Dragon Age definitely learns from areas in Mass Effect that fell short, and expands several concepts that make Dragon Age a very well rounded and fantastic experience.

The Nameless, Speechless Main Character

In Dragon Age, you play a character that you create using a character creator, much like other recent western RPGs of this era (Oblivion, Fallout 3, Mass Effect). You do not play a scripted defined main character. Nothing makes me lose interest in a game faster than playing an absolute husk of a human. At least in Mass Effect, you actually heard your character speak and interact with people. In Oblivion, Fallout, and Dragon Age, you make your conversation choices but your character says nothing. You basically play nothing...

Though, the point of this is to actually "role play" your character. You make choices on your own and that shapes the story for yourself. YOU define the character you play, rather than the writers. The writers are there to merely give you the choices to either act like yourself, play the good guy, or play the bad guy.

This has never worked for me. I never feel like I'm making a character. I'm just making choices and am hardly ever reminded of the consequences. Some stats go up, some stats go down. There's no emotional attachment to anything I do.

But I don't feel unattached to my character in Dragon Age. My character, who I almost named "Tina Fey", doesn't ever speak a word, but is constantly surrounded by a party of characters who speak their minds. Every character I've met in Dragon Age has a distinct personality that is something I've never come across in a western RPG, but something you'd have a hard time NOT finding in a Japanese RPG.

With the choices you make throughout the story of Dragon Age, your party members remember. When discussing an upcoming battle, or having trouble making a difficult decision, your party members will not hesitate to give their two cents on the situation, and even argue amongst themselves about what is best. Sometimes you can join their conversation. Afterward, they may complain about it, and you can set them straight, or perhaps smack your self on the head at what a fool you were.

You may not have a voice of your own, but your party resonates with who you've become as a character and I find that rather engaging and amazing.

Choices

The choices you make are chiefly made through the conversations you have with other characters in the world. Those choices found in Oblivion, Fallout 3, and Mass Effect were generally either "Good" choices, "Evil" choices, or "Neutral" choices, which generally make you a "Good", "Evil" or "Neutral" person.

The choices presented to you in Dragon Age are much more varied. In fact, to prevent you from thinking in terms of Good or Evil, they've removed your alignment from the UI. Choices might still be Good or Evil, but the game doesn't judge you in those terms. Your party members do, though.

Each of the characters in your party has a Like and Dislike meter and the choices you make will either piss them off or make them think highly of you. You can walk around with a bunch of the righteous characters and spread love and joy throughout the land. Or you can surround yourself with assholes and fuck with people. Or you can mix it up.

My party has two goodie two-shoes (Alastair, Lelianna) and one bad apple (Morrigan). Morrigan will always complain when I decide to help out a villager in need. "Oh god, are we going to help every single beggar that has a problem? Don't we have more important business?" But Lelianna can't get enough of it. In fact, my friendship level with her is starting to get some special privileges, similar to what happens in Mass Effect if you start getting really close to a party member.

But there's more than just Good and Evil choices. Good and Evil are only relative to your party members, and really depends on what they think you should be doing. Some of these choices might be anti-religion or anti-royalty. You can mind your manors and speak politely, or be a brass asshole.

For my character, I'm playing a princess whose castle has fallen and family has been completely killed. Being a woman chosen as a Grey Warden, I'm not putting up with anyone's shit, but I'm still heading the manors I grew up with. I will not show weakness in any case. I'm here to prove that a woman will stop this war. Girl Power! Lelianna's with me...

Only 10 hours in...

I started the game bored off my ass, but after spending a good amount of time paying attention to the game and ignoring any distractions, it has totally pulled me in. Dragon Age is very organic and genuine compared to Mass Effect, but I think both games emulate their environments.

Mass Effect has some amazing special effects, but deep down is missing the warmth of emotion. The story focuses on all these things that are going on around you, but you are never affected by them. No one ever says how they feel or expresses any emotion about the Geth invasion, or Saren. There's nothing personal.

Dragon Age is all about the people in this world. The Horde of Demons is almost identical to the Geth Invasion in Mass Effect, but the people you meet will always mention what they're feeling. And you have enough dialogue choices that you can add to that conversation.

I hope the Mass Effect team and Dragon Age team have some cross design ideas that aided the development of both games because without these ideas, I think Mass Effect 2 will be a weaker game.

Anyways, Dragon Age is pretty great so far. I just need another uninterrupted weekend day to spend 8 hours with it.




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