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Late to the Game(s): Here there be Dragons

Picking up Dragon Age: Origins a decade later

By: Jeremy D. Wells

Carter County Times

Dragon Age: Origins might be my favorite game of all time. This introduction to the world of Dragon Age delivers everything I want in a role playing game (RPG) – a compelling story, engaging companions, decisions that truly make a difference in how the game progresses, and the best pause-and-play combat mechanics (at least for the PC version) of any game I’ve ever played. 

Let’s start with the last, combat. I’m not one of those players that wants to sit around crunching numbers to come up with the best combination of gear, talents, and companions to have the greatest damage or the best defensive group. For those who want to do those things, the option is there. But even someone like me could intuitively figure out how to set if/then actions for my party when they were running on auto-pilot during a fight, including things like when to heal an ally or when to drink a potion. If you want, or need, to micromanage fights a little closer the game’s pause-and-play combat allows for that too. This isn’t anything too unique. A lot of games allow those sort of options. What is unique to Origins is how clear and straightforward assigning tasks to party members is. I liked it because it allowed me to set parameters that kept my main character, the Grey Warden, alive while I focused on real-time combat with them. But, when that didn’t go well – or I’d screwed up and my presets weren’t enough to save me – I could always revert back to pause-and-play or switch to healing with a mage while the Warden and others hacked away at the enemy. 

Here’s the thing – I STINK at the combat part of video games. But Dragon Age’s controls were easy enough to figure out that I could enjoy the fights and get through combat so the fights could achieve what I want them to achieve in a game; progress the story. 

So let’s talk about the story. Or, rather, stories. 

Dragon Age: Origins doesn’t just have one story, and I don’t mean there are side quests. (But, there are side quests. So, so many side quests.) There are multiple potential stories and, depending on the choices you make, no two are ever going to be exactly the same. 

This starts right from the beginning. You can choose from a number of origins for your character. You can be male or female; gay, straight, or bisexual; a spellcaster or a more physical combatant; etc. Other than maybe some potential romantic subplots you could explore, most of that doesn’t make a big difference. What does make a difference is your origin and race. I didn’t realize how much a difference it made until I played through with a human mage on my third or fourth play through of the game.

You can play through the game with an origin as a human noble, a mage (elf or human), a dwarf commoner, a dwarf noble, a city elf, or a Dalish (nomadic) elf. My first playthrough of the game was as a dwarven noble. The next two origins I played through were as a city elf and a Dalish elf. (I didn’t complete the game with them, but I played through their origins and a good portion of the game.) I also played as a human mage. It was then that I noticed that a particular early quest that was available to my dwarf and to both my elves was not available to my human mage. It was a quest that involved getting something back for an Elvish family who had an encounter with highwaymen. At first I wondered if it had something to do with a decision I had made earlier with my mage, something I didn’t realize was going to cause a ripple effect. Then it hit me – in the world of Dragon Age, elves are treated as second class citizens by humans. I was a human. It was either beneath my notice to help an elf, or the elves expected it to be, and so the quest wasn’t available to me. I never made it that far with my human noble origin, but I feel I can safely assume that if it was not available for my human mage, it wouldn’t be available for the human noble either. 

Mages have their own social stigma attached to their abilities (because of the world’s history, which includes a previously powerful mage-state that established an oppressive empire), so there are differences between the way the story plays out for mages and warriors or rogues too. In the highly stratified world of the dwarves there are definite differences in the stories of a dwarf commoner and a dwarf noble – especially when you go into the dwarven capital. The same for the differences between city elves and Dalish elves, and how each is treated by their particular society after becoming a Grey Warden. For humans, if you are a noble instead of a mage, you can take your chances at romancing the future king/widowed queen – an option that isn’t open to any other origins. 

There are certain big plot points that are common regardless of your origin. But the story that gets you to those points, and that carries you from them, is as unique as you are. So is how you address some of the issues that arise along the way. Your companions all have their own ideas and personalities too, and you can lose companions if you continue to act in ways they don’t agree with. In fact, it’s sometimes impossible to keep one companion if you choose to do what is necessary to keep another. That can all change the way the story ends as well. It’s the reason why I come back to it over and over every few years. It is always familiar, and yet always fresh and surprising. 

You can find digital download codes for the 2009 game in the $4 to $6 range if you shop around. The best bet for your money, though, is the download through gog.com (www.gog.com/game/dragon_age_origins). They currently have the Ultimate Edition of the game – Dragon Age: Origins, the Awakening expansion, and all the DLC – for $4.99. GOG, short for Good Old Games, is also a legitimate retailer and all of their content is available DRM free, so you don’t have to worry about a future server shutdown by Electronic Arts keeping you from playing your copy. 

This price is 75 percent off the normal GOG price of $19.99. It’s part of their Winter Sale, which ends January 4, so you don’t have too long to snatch the game along with the expansion and DLC at this price. While you can find it elsewhere in the same price range, that’s just for the base game. It doesn’t include the DLC or the Awakenings expansion. 

You can also find used copies of the game for PS3 or Xbox360 for around the same price, though they tend to run a little higher. I have to recommend the PC version as the superior interface and experience though. It isn’t resource intensive on newer machines at all – remember it came out in 2009 – and the difference between console versions and PC is significant. No matter how you play it though, Dragon Age: Origins is a remarkable game, and one you owe it to yourself to check out if you never have. 

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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