Dragon Age II did its best to slay the franchise when it was barely a hatchling.
Though to be honest, despite that game's obviously rushed development time, endlessly reused environments, and a story that falls apart way before the end, I actually kind of like DA2. Sure I often wondered why I was walking around the same warehouse slaying the same mages for the fifteenth time, when it was obvious that nothing I did mattered and that no one in the grimdark crapsack city I was trapped in was worth saving, but holy shit that game had nice menus. I could sit scrolling through my inventory and assigning skill points for hours.
Anyway like I said, this is supposed to be the good one, so I'm expecting a little more from it.
Apparently the upcoming apocalypse is entirely the mages fault, as they tried to usurp heaven, and accidentally kind of broke it when they got there. They returned as corrupted monsters, the first of the darkspawn, and decided they might as well ruin this plane of reality as well while they were on a roll.
Saints Row 3 and Skyrim. And especially you Mass Effect 2. I've have to sit through that bloody unskippable intro so many times when I just wanted to play around with the face editor.
Okay I can choose to be either a human, an elf, or a dwarf, (pretty generic, but way better than Dragon Age 2's choice of a human, a human, or a human) then I get to pick my class from the equally generic warrior, mage, or rogue. Very old school.
I've decided to play as a human mage by the way, so I gave him some face tattoos. I'll just pretend they're magic focusing runes or whatever. He's so damn dedicated to his arcane craft he even got his eyelids tattooed.
Anyway, today's the day that I get to go into a spirit world called the Fade in a semi-secret ritual called the Harrowing. If I fuck this up the Chantry's templars will either kill me or steal my ability to feel emotion forever, so no pressure.
LATER, INSIDE THE FADE.
Man, this place is a real creepy dull brown dismal wasteland, filled with half buried ruins and unnatural looking plants. Reminds me a lot of Morrowind actually.
Anyway I passed my Harrowing and returned to the real world, but the arch-mage told me to never reveal the secret to anyone so I can't tell you how it ended. I can tell you I got to keep my XP though.
If this was an Elder Scrolls game I could have nicked all those books, but sadly everything's firmly nailed down in the Dragon Age 'verse.
Talking to the first enchanter led me to these two, who are planning to sneak out of the tower to get married and want me to help out. Unfortunately this breaks all kinds of rules, and will lead to imprisonment, death, or worse for all of us if we're caught. So of course I volunteered to help them out!
I have to be more careful with my magic now that I've got a team, as some spells have friendly fire. I need to aim my overly elaborate area of effect cone to only overlap enemy units, then keep my allies from wandering into the spell while it's active.
The choice isn't made any easier by the vague descriptions though. Everything always 'deals extra damage' or 'gives a bonus to' or makes enemies 'suffer a penalty', without any numbers to specify just what effect I'm likely to be getting.
Magic and skills run off a mana/stamina bar, but if I can keep that topped up there's no limit to the amount of times I can use a spell in a fight. I just have to wait for the cooldown timer to tick down and the button's ready to go again, and I can always fire off a different spell while I'm waiting. Casting sustained buffs reserves a percentage of the mana bar, so I have to balance what effects I want running against how much ammo I want to have available. The mana bar recharges, but not that fast.
Fortunately the darkspawn are about to invade the kingdom and wipe out all civilisation, so I've been let off the hook if I promise to sign up with the mysterious Grey Wardens on a mission to save the world from ancient evil. It all sounds like some kind of...
MEANWHILE, IN AN ALTERNATE REALITY.
|A scene of rat-slaughter from the human noble origin.|
This mission has to have been a joke on players who picked the most generic hero; there's no way that BioWare of all developers didn't realise what they were doing when they put this in.
Man, it's still making me laugh.
The loading screen hints keep telling me to use warriors as my front line, keep mages back, send my archers to rain arrows from nearby hills, and move my rogues to backstab from behind. But I can only bring out four people! I'm not exactly commanding an army here, so despite my tactical ambitions, my fights usually degenerate into dirty brawls.
I'm glad the game has a party inventory, instead of separate bags for each character. That usually leads to unnecessary messing around really, with the player often left trying to shuffle around health potions between the group just to free up the space to pick up a new sword.
I've got nothing but praise for the UI artwork in this game. I still think Dragon Age 2 has a fantastic looking interface, but this is more like what you'd expect to find in a medieval fantasy RPG. Metal and wood and gilded books with blood-soaked pages.
As you might expect, they're actually pretty good at their roles, which just makes it even more obvious that my mage has no voice. I mean sure he shouts stuff out in battle, but stick him in a conversation with a pair of actors and they're left talking to a wall. Having a voice-less protagonist can work great in isometric RPGs like Baldur's Gate, or first person RPGs like Skyrim, but when the camera's zoomed in and the character is shown interacting with people, it just feels weird.
Sorry, but I have to say that Dragon Age 2 wins this round with its fully voiced protagonist (in two genders!).
You know, now that I think about it, things ended badly for the guy who tried to back out of the mage ritual too. I think I'm spotting a pattern here. I suppose this is the part where I do everything they tell me to do and still end up being blamed for a disaster.
Two of my team have quit my party for various reasons, but all their stuff was automatically dumped into my inventory, which was nice. It means I never have to worry about party members running off with my gear.
I don't care if it's all junk, I could still sell it and make some cash! I remember when I first played Morrowind, it blew my mind that I could pick up anything. All the swords, all the armour, the ornaments, cutlery... anything. Even Baldur's Gate let me take everything an enemy had equipped after beating them, but in this I'm lucky if I can find a potion and some coin on a guy covered head to toe in plate armour and swords.
Thankfully the game has quicksaves outside of battle, so if I screw this up I haven't got much to replay.
Anyway I left my three allies hacking away at the monster on autopilot (after fine tuning their AI in the tactics menu), while healing and hurting from afar with my mage, and after a short while the monster fell and the signal was lit! Now our allies can close the trap and the darkspawn horde will be no more.
SOME CATASTROPHES LATER.
That black smudge on the bottom of the map is the darkspawn horde slowly taking over. They've already gotten to the Ostagar icon and they're heading right to Lothering, so I think it may be wise to heed Morrigan's advice while I still have the chance.
It seems that (unlike DA2) Dragon Age follows the standard BioWare formula of mission hubs I can visit in any order, so there's a huge amount of quests I could take on right now if I felt like travelling around.
I didn't start this fight by the way. It turns out that somehow I've been blamed for the defeat at Ostagar, and now people are being sent out to kill me. Don't worry, I'm sure there's probably some way to get them off my back, possibly involving another group with a secret dangerous initiation ritual.
My current plan is to keep running until they get bored of chasing me, and it's working fantastic so far apart from the way it's getting all my people killed. I gotta admit it's inspiring to see so many of the villagers rallying to my aid after all the stuff I've done for them. Well one of them rallied to my aid at least, and things are looking pretty bleak for her right now.
Fortunately the bandits ran out of interest before I ran out of road, and I was able to creep back and recover my team. The next time I went after the bandits I lured them out one by one. You might call it cheap, I call it a successful tactic.
Though I stopped at my campsite first to distribute the gear and sell what I didn't need. It's always a good idea to have some space left in the bag for loot. It's a shame they dropped the party camp entirely from the sequel, as it's really handy to be able to access every character at once.
Couldn't find any animals here though.
Okay, so what did I think of Dragon Age: Origins? Well, it seems like a good solid well designed, well presented RPG, with a ton of content. The sound, music and visuals are quality work, and I bet the developers spent as much time working out all the lore as they did actually making the game. They seem to have taken it as a challenge to create the most generic possible Tolkien-style fantasy RPG set up, then do something different with it. Elves are persecuted by the humans, mages are kept isolated in a gilded cage out of fear, dwarfs don't necessarily have a beard etc.
It feels like it's missing something though, like... a few characters in my party. It seems a shame to give me so many interesting sidekicks to choose from, but only let me bring three out into the field. It doesn't really suit the Infinity engine inspired tactical gameplay in my opinion. Also I've gotta say, while the characters are likeable enough, if I was forced to choose I'd rather have the Dragon Age 2 crew. DA2 had a lot of flaws, but wasn't a total disaster and it did improve on the original in some ways.
If you've got any thoughts about Dragon Age: Origins, the Dragon Age series, my writing, or anything relevant, you're welcome to leave a comment.