Rental Review: Dragon Age: Origins

Posted: May 12, 2010 in Rental Review

It would seem that I’m in an RPG phase at the moment I guess.  Another long, story based, inventory management, diplomacy simulator from Bioware.  Got this bitch for 7 days, let’s open up the game box and – no instructions, bummer.  Well hopefully the opening sequence is a bit more forthcoming with the information and such…

Game intro movie

Okay, so darkspawn: bad, Grey Wardens: good.  Gotcha.  I guess the Chantry is some sort of church and they control or set policy for mages, I guess I’m following here.  Man’s hubris brought upon the darkspawn, great.  So, I’m assuming Bioware actually wants us to play their game to find out the rest – which makes sense in a way.  I mean, I rented this game so I could play it so let’s get started.

“Character generation”

We head straight into the character generation tool to build our hero.  There are three races to choose from: human, dwarf and elf, male and female versions.  Then a class is to be chosen of which there are three as well:  warrior, rogue and mage.  Humans and elves are free to choose from any of the classes, while dwarves have little in the way of magical abilities so they can’t be mages.  Once your race/class is chosen you then must choose a back story, which decides your starting quests.  For elves there are three choices: City elf, Dalish (forest) elf (both for warrior/rogue classes) and magi (mage class).  For humans there are two choices: Human noble (warrior/rogue) and magi (mage).  On the Dwarf end of things there are two choices: Dwarven noble (warrior/rogue) and dwarven commoner (also warrior/rogue).  Once this is done you may then play around with the sliders to further edit your character’s appearance (face, height, weight, haircut/colour, etc…)  You may then start the campaign.

Depending on the back story you choose you will have 1 of 6 different starting quests to bring you into the story.  Since I chose a human noble warrior as my character I began in “my father’s castle.”  The opening cinematic plays showing the man from the intro coming into the royal chambers to speak with my father.  The man is Duncan, a Grey Warden looking for help to stop the coming darkspawn invasion.  As my father is busy with other matters he can’t help at the moment.  They’re waiting for an allied faction to help them with some civil war stuff first.  While they’re talking my father gives me some busy work to do which fleshes out the back story I chose.  These are typical fetch quests and kill x amount of y monster to advance.  Pretty basic stuff, but I just started the game so I’m not expecting to slaughter gods just yet anyway.  In a sweet twist, I get my first party member, a Mabari War hound (uhh, my dog who bites guys).  At least he doesn’t talk.

So some unfortunate events unfold about trusted allies betraying your father and mass combat erupts.  At this point your mother joins the party.  Why Bioware thinks all 50+ year old mothers have perfect skin and supple breasts with gray hair is beyond me.  At least she’s useful with a bow despite the optimistic rendering of her character model.  Running around what amounts to be, basically, your home, there’s a lot of loot to be found.  Traps, weapons, trinkets, armour, boots, poulitces (healing items) and valuables to take.  I’ve yet to figure out how some of this stuff works however.

“Saturday night’s alright for fighting”

Combat is the Bioware d20 system where you select an action for you character to take, animations play out, dice are rolled (off-screen) and you hit or miss, doing damage or not respectively.  The same is true for all actions in combat.  Spells and special abilities are gained through level progression.  Upon the defeat of enemies, finding of certain items and the completion of plot points XP (Experience Points) is distributed to all in the party.  Once a pre-determined amount of XP has been collected a character can then level up.  Once a “level up” has been achieved you can then allocate points to your attributes, skills and abilities.  Skills like fighting styles for warriors (dual weapons, sword + shield, two handed weapons), rogues (traps and such, archery, backstab, etc…) and mages (spells of varying flavours and colours).  Characters in your party can be selected using RB or LB for strategically placing your party for maximum efficiency in battle and to queue up specific actions for them to take.  Party members who fight up close get covered in gore, while the ranged attackers stay clean for the most part.  This feature is neat the first few hours of the game, but eventually the “cool” factor wears off and you’re left wondering why anyone would talk to you coated in random monster blood spatter.

combat in action (pc version)

The combat is hit and miss in this game.  When fighting smaller groups it works great, giving you plenty of time to strategize and find the best way to eliminate your enemy.  While if the groups get rather large it’s pretty distracting, especially when you’re fighting mages or other magic using enemies as the spells are pretty flashy and tough to see where exactly they’re coming from or what they are.  I died a lot as the game went on.  That’s not a huge problem in-and-of itself, if only there was a checkpoint save system or something so I didn’t have to start again from my last save…  45 minutes and several cutscenes ago.  You can reduce the difficulty (there are at least 3 from what I saw: easy, normal and hard, I started on normal) if the monsters get too tough, but the drop from normal to easy removed all challenge for me.  So I just died a whole bunch and saved a lot.  Not much consequence for my actions anymore.

As far as loot goes, there’s a lot of it.  Not all of it is useful, some of it is but not yet and others are gifts for other members of the party, though using those without a guide would be fruitless.  Like other Bioware games there’s an encumbrance system where you can only carry a certain amount of weight before you can’t carry anymore.  This is quite realistic, but annoying, especially when you consider the menu system isn’t really an upgrade from Mass Effect.  There’s no Omni-gel to convert stuff to so you end up trashing it (not even just dropping it on the ground it must be destroyed for some reason).  Weapons and armour have strength requirements to wear, on top of weighing a metric tonne.  If you can’t wear that armour now, there’s no use carrying it until you have a 27 strength as that means you can’t carry a wack of other loot instead.  Apparently there’s backpack upgrades you can buy to increase your inventory size…  good thing I read that FAQ after I returned the game.

“Tell me a story”

Like all Bioware games the story is the hook and it’s done well in a gaming sense.  It’s challenging to build a truly non-linear RPG, the quest flagging alone would take years by one man (though I’m sure they have more than one guy working on it) never mind the massive dialogue all recorded by voice actors.  Where the story starts depends on your race/class/back story, but beyond that it’s the same for all.  A trip to the closest town starts the darkspawn ball rolling, then there’s the joining.  The process for joining the Grey Wardens is a dangerous one, not many survive.  After that the quest branches out where you have the choice of three locations to recruit the army for the Wardens, then – I don’t know, I got to the third of three locations and had to return the game.  An issue in regards to the map came up at this point.  With the map open, I’d need to get to the codex (information resource of collected, uhh, information) to see where it was I was supposed to go, this involves leaving the travel map and returning to the game world, then pressing start and shuffling through a few menus to get there.  Once in the codex I had to find the quest string, open it, find the quest with the location I wanted to go to, then go back to the exit from the game zone to enter my desired location on the map.  Not only that, there’s one location on the map that’s gold in colour (as opposed to all the other locations, which are white) and shimmering.  I figured (incorrectly) that this was the location I was supposed to go to to advance the story…  nope.  It’s a paid DLC area, requiring you to pay for a mission here.  Way to go guys, couldn’t you just advertise it on the splash page or loading screen?  I’m not even hooked up to live at the moment (I unplug the cable for RPG’s to be better immersed, in theory anyway) so I can’t download your stupid quest that is obviously finished in the full retail version anyway.  This would have been fine if it wasn’t glowing like I was supposed to be there and way on the other side of the map from where I really wanted to be; wasted time.  Nickel and dimed to death FTL, bad move EA.

The voice acted dialogue is great for the most part.  Some of the actors are slow talkers and I finished reading what they said long before they finished saying it, but that happens a lot in this sort of game.  One issue I did have with the dialog is that your character never actually speaks aside from barks every so often (a bark is the little one liners a character says in-game while they do actions like pick up loot, attack or other action).  After the fully voiced Mass Effect I kind of expected my character to speak too, but I suppose there’s too many character variants for that to work effectively.  I still think it pulled me from the game more often than not.  Unlike Mass Effect, what dialogue choice you make is actually what your character says, though the dialog options are not quite so cut-and-dried in tone.  This makes it so that most of the dialog options sound pretty much the same, or what you intended to mean was not what the game perceived.  I’d end up making friends with the wrong faction or insulting one I like when meaning to take a diplomatic option where no one is left in the cold.  Only to re-load my save and try a different dialog option.


All-in-all DA:O is a solid game that can’t be “finished” in one playthrough.  Knowing me I’d start over with a different character built from my foreknowledge of the game from this rental.  I do this a lot with this type of game as it takes some time to see what you want from a character before you can make that character.  I wish the menus were more streamlined, the inventory system was redone (or at the least, stop giving out so much damn loot!) and the combat animations more realistic (not just the same attack animations for each one, some sort of adaptive parry/strike system or something) and the d20 system dropped entirely to be replaced with a much more robust system (computers don’t need simple math).  All niggles aside, I’d totally pay $60 for this game if I actually had $60 lying around – which I don’t.  I’ll keep an eye out to see if it drops into the used bin at some point, but EB will probably set the used price at $55 or something until the holidays.  So I’ll wait until then.  Besides, Mass Effect 2 is out now, I should try that…  after I finish the last mission in the first one, oops.


Played nearly 20 hours, made it through the starting quest, Ostagar, Korkari Wilds, Tower of Ishaal, Lothering, Dalish woods, Circle tower/Fade and ending with some side-questing in Redcliffe village before I returned it.  Xbox360 version, standard controller.


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