Dragon Age (PC Version)! My first thoughts.

dragonagegraff1 Trust me, I’m a dwarf

Dragon Age is the game I’ve been waiting for ever since I started to play CRPGs, and I hadn’t even realised. In fact, I’d all but given up on ever having a computer based RPG that came anywhere near the nuances of a tabletop game. But I was wrong.

Bioware have learned a lot since the days of Baldurs Gate and Knights of the Old Republic – BG had a large game world and lots to do but never really grabbed me as a story. KOTOR leapt for the jugular with a character based storyline but made the player so much front and centre that it was almost embarrassing to play. I felt awkward knowing that the game was so blatently all about me.

In Dragon Age, you are the hero. You will do great and terrifying things, but there’s a whole world in this game and a lot of other people too. You will affect them, they will affect you.

The game is a solid blend of CRPG sections where you can explore the scenery, talk to other characters, do quests, and take everything that isn’t nailed down; and party based combat. Both sides of the game seem exceptional to me from what I have played so far. But the story and the immersion is where the game really shines.

The origins of the title are long intro sections for each combination of race/social background which ease you into your character and flesh it out a bit before the main storyline kicks off and you are taken away from everything and everyone you once knew. I’ve played through a few origins and thought they were all effective – although I can see how some might appeal more to different players. The mage background, for example, offers an insight into a life lived entirely inside the mage tower, with some moral and ethical dilemmas thrown in. But because of the moral choices, it doesn’t feel as streamlined as the city elf background where you’re given a fairly arse kicking revenge fantasy (no moral dilemma there!). The dwarf commoner is my favourite so far but none of the ones I tried were clunkers. They all worked at getting me to like my character and connect with it, and offering some long term character  based goals as well as purely quest based ones.

Voice work is great, although there do seem to be a lot of people who talk with posh English accents around the place. I’m a convert to voice work in CRPGs now, although I can’t imagine what sort of resources Bioware must have at their disposal. As others have commented, it is a little jarring that everyone except your character is chatting away – it makes them come across a bit grim, like the man with no name. But appealing voice work brings even the least convincing character models to life. The animation is also pretty good. I especially loved watching my city elf warrior heft a two handed sword around. I’ve seen people do real life swordplay with those and the moves looked right to me (none of this swinging it around your head like a rhythmic gymnast).

The heart and soul of the CRPG is in the companion characters who will join you along the way, and how your main character develops a relationship with them. There is always a danger in CRPGs that because the player is in the driving seat, all the other characters feel weak – they are always deferring to your opinions and letting you make the decisions. That does exist here, but they will also step up and challenge you when they think you are making a mistake. It’s not like having a full AI on board, but they do feel convincing to me as 3 dimensional characters.

For example,  as my dwarf rogue, I was commenting to my husband that I liked Alistair but thought he was naive and a bit of a tit. He said that as his mage, he liked him because he felt that they had a lot in common – they’d both been taken from their parents at a young age and sent off to an institution to be raised. So the character and conversation options were there to support both of those experiences.

The fighting sequences are fast paced, although you can pause the action as often as you need to, and can be as tactically deep as you care to go. Easy mode is a lot easier – you won’t need to pause the game too much and area effects won’t harm your party through friendly fire. Normal mode (which is quite hard in places, even after the last patch) requires more thought and hands on interaction. Although you can set programmable tactics for each character, mages need a bit more babysitting to get the best out of them. If one particular fight is kicking your butt and you get frustrated, you can change the difficulty to easy for that, and then back again afterwards.

Or just play it through in easy mode if you’re more about the story and the character than the tactical combat. That’s just as valid a way to play and I enjoy that the game gives me those options.

And really the one flaw with the character classes is that mages feel as though they have many more options. As a mage, you can have crowd control, you can nuke, you can have AE, you can heal, you can buff. Fighters and rogues are a little more one sided, although my rogue has some stuns and can set traps and throw bombs so I don’t feel restricted with her at all. The game is not set up to assume you always have a healer along, but if you don’t, take a lot of healing poultices and have one of the party train in herbalism (to make more cheaply).

And about the maturity? They’re not joking. Even if you ignore the blood and the entertainment on offer at the brothel (it’s all fade to black) or the options to romance your party (I can’t report on that since I’m having enough trouble getting them to stay with me at all, let alone anything more), the issues and moral dilemmas raised in the game are a step beyond most fantasy fare. How do you feel about casual in game racism? Would you kill a child if you knew for a fact that doing so would also destroy a demon? Free the condemned prisoner, even if you know he might kill again? This is a game where you will be facing those types of choices, and you’ll have to take responsibility for where they lead.

As if all that wasn’t enough, there are also achievements to unlock and lore to discover – Bioware have used something similar to WAR’s tome of knowledge where new pages open up to inform you of what you have learned about characters, items, gameplay, lore, and so on. Lore entries may also be expanded later as you find out more. I found that worked very well, although indexing it by number doesn’t make it easy to search.

My dwarf just hit level 10 with *cough* a fair amount of hours played and I feel as though I’ve barely touched the surface of the game. I’m thoroughly enjoying it, as you can probably tell. In fact,  I absolutely love it and will plan to spring for the warden’s keep DLC at some point, if only because I’m happy to have the chance to throw more money at Bioware for content of this quality.

Tell me about your character

Let me tell you about my character in Dragon Age. She’s a feisty dwarf rogue who began her life as a casteless commoner. She doesn’t take nonsense from anyone, she hates rules, and wants to do the right thing but doesn’t see why she should do it for free because that made you a sucker where she came from. Her story is of someone who came from nowhere and is struggling to learn what ‘doing the right thing’ really means.

When I compare notes with my husband, he keeps saying, “You’re horrid,” or “You’re evil” when I tell him about my dwarf girl’s exploits. But I’m not playing as evil, just as someone who doesn’t know any better and really really wants to try anyway.

Her companions aren’t very happy with her (except for Morrigan who she gets on with very well), and I think being motivated to try to stay friendly with them is probably having a good effect on her. I feel like I actually have a character that could change and grow through the game – it may not be Oscar winning material but it could be a solid fantasy pot boiler! To me, that lifts the whole game up another dimension because I actually feel as though I’m role playing.

So, tell me about your character?

18 thoughts on “Dragon Age (PC Version)! My first thoughts.

  1. I’ve been enjoying the game myself…or was until last night when some sort of bug reared its ugly head, and I can no longer go to any areas beyond the one I’m already in. It’s kind of ruining the experience for me :(.

    I went through two origins to start, to give myself some options about how to tackle my first playthrough. I ultimately chose an elf mage. She is a fairly conflicted character. On one hand, she resents having been torn from her family as a young girl simply for having the gift of magic. She also recognizes that, despite the restrictiveness of Circle life, she has probably been given more opportunities than many elves as a result, and she genuinely likes most of the mages in the tower (although she hates the templars and is dismissive of the Chantry in general). Being both an elf and a mage, she recognizes that most of the populace hates or fears her, and is very bitter about it. But even though she is prone to lash out at such people, she burns to prove that magic is a useful tool and can benefit the world, and that people need not especially distrust mages. This idealistic goal is countered by a very pragmatic nature; she cannot reach any goals if she dies or does something to threaten her position, and doesn’t shy from making hard decisions when she sees no other options. When Duncan comes to recruit her as a Grey Warden, she thinks she recognizes a kindred spirit and is mostly eager to get away from the Circle and out into the world to prove herself.

    So far she’s only met Alistair, Morrigan, Leliana, and Sten as party members. She is fairly friendly with Alistair, being a fellow Grey Warden, and sympathizing with much of his past. Those parts of that past involved with his Templar training make her uneasy however. She has a lot of curiosity about and a sort of admiration for Morrigan, as Morrigan is the free mage she would be in an ideal world. They often agree on what are worthy means to an end, but usually disagree about what makes a worthy end and so their relationship can be contentious. Leliana annoys her sometimes, being such a devout member of the Chantry, and she’s uncovered some unconscious prejudices against elves. But as Leliana means well, and their goals often coincide, they get along well. Sten is mostly inscrutable, and doesn’t seem to think much of women fighting to boot, so my mage hasn’t been particularly interested in talking with him thus far. She does suspect that his burden of guilt may be more complicated than it seems, however.

      • No, I got stuck in Redcliffe; whenever I try to go anywhere on the map, you see the blood trail going to that destination but it suddenly pops up with an “Unable to Load Area” error and kicks me to the title screen.

      • Did you install the toolset? Apparantly have been some issues with zoning and games after the toolset has been installed.

        If so, clear out your override folders, both in the main game folder, and also in your windows users game folder.

        Hope that helps!

  2. My first playthrough was a naive human noble templar/champion. He spent his time endlessly trying to make sure that all of his companions liked him, eventually hooking up with Morrigan. He had a strong moral compass that made him always try and help people out, even if it meant doing more work. He was very persuasive and always tried to use his silver tongue to get out of impossible situations rather than fighting.

    My second one, that I just started, will be a female human mage. She is really going to embrace the Grey Warden mantra of receiving whatever help they can get. She is going to look at what most benefits her rather than doing what is best for other. I forsee some problems with the party members like Wynne.

  3. Echo most everything you said. I’m especially enjoying the voice-acting. Some of these characters, like the Revered Mother in Redcliffe and Jowan from the Mage Origin, just leave me staring at the screen from time to time.

    I am Juzefon, and elven Circle Mage, or ex-Circle Mage, since I helped the blood mage escape justice. He spent his life in the Tower, and then quickly joined the Grey Wardens, and has been really sheltered from the rampant racism that most elves live with. So a key part of his story is trying to understand it – he just doesn’t get it, and is often confused when it happens to him, and his open questions about it tend to confuse others as well.

    He’s really indebted to Allister. The Templar treated him like a brother and an equal despite being a mage hunter himself, and then the two of them lived through the destruction of their cause and their mentor even after overcoming a great challenge on their own. So when Allister jumped at the thought of bringing together an army of mixed peoples to save the world, Juzefon couldn’t help but be enthused by that. So he’s taking it literally, and doing everything possible for everyone in the hopes that they’ll join the New Warden Army.

    So far, however, that army is… uh… struggling. Morale is highest with the dog. The rogue is pretty happy, as is Allister himself, but Juzefon wants the favor of Morrigan and the Qunari, who seem much more powerful. Morrigan especially, however, is in a constant state of rolling her eyes. Often, Juzefon just has to shrug and shoulder on. Well, shrug, shoulder on, and cast Cone of Cold. Because that spell is way OP.

  4. I haven’t settled on a perspective for my city elf rogue. She has every reason to hate humans, but all the humans she has met since she joined the Gray Wardens have been decent to her. I did the bridge bandit encounter through intimidation without having to kill them, then I saw a body of a refugee they’d killed and went back and slaughtered them so they wouldn’t kill again.

    I’m unsure my city elf would get that upset over the death of a random human, but I as the player couldn’t let that go when they refused my offer to leave with their lives.

    And then I convinced a profiteering merchant to ease up on his prices. Again, my character is a rogue and a thief and doesn’t care for random humans. Morrigan asked me why I cared, and it was a valid question.

    I’ll have to work on it.

    • See, I got the villagers to leave the profiteering guy alone. I thought he had a good point. But I was intending to run him out of town quietly anyway afterwards (possibly hitting him up for some cash first), but it all got a bit out of hand and I ended up killing him anyway.

      (This is what I mean about wanting to do the right thing but doing it the wrong way.)

      So I did stop the profiteering but everyone hated me anyway. That’s when I got told off by the other half for being horrid. Why does everyone care so much about the naughty profiteer??

  5. My human noble is a pragmatist. Emotionally, he’s motivated to avenge his family, but he tries to keep that under control and focus on the greater good of fighting the Blight. Happily for him, he can work on both goals at the same time. I play every interaction without worrying much about morals, but focusing on which choice is going to prepare me best for the coming war with the Darkspawn. I will do what it takes to grow my army to be as mighty as possible, even if that means being nice to a total asshole who has a big army to promise me, while slaughtering a small community that is just trying to live it’s own life because the guy offering the bigger army asked me to.

    I think I really will play through again, trying a dwarven commoner rogue with a heart of gold, and an elven mage who is a totally stone-cold bitch/bastard. I want to see where playing a totally different character takes me, which is an extraordinary accomplishment, even for a role-playing game.

    • Wow, that’s gonna be a tough choice. One thing I do know about my city elf character, is that she feels strongly that innocents must not only be protected, but avenged.

  6. I looked at this game before but the truth is that the website was a total turn off to me. I like mature moral situations but I always hate this “the more gore the better” manta. There is an fantasy element that I enjoy and I don’t want it to be just like the non-game world. Warcraft definitely has a cartoonish aspect to the game and I like that a lot. When I play the Horde I feel like I’m in the Flintstones.

    So this sounds a great deal like a game I might like but the truth is that the visuals turned me off.

  7. I seem to be the only dwarf around here. My origin is dwarf noble warrior, and she’s having a tough time adjusting to the surface world. I think her greatest terror is returning to Orzammar but it’s also a way of redemption. She’s nice, sometimes a bit too naive, and yet she’s tough as nails compared to Alistair. She likes to be gentle via persuasion first, takes the bullying approach second, but also isn’t afraid of shedding blood by slamming her shield into people’s and darkspawns’ faces.

    She’s hugely fascinated by Morrigan, amused by Zhevron and Leliana, and has big issues with Sten and Alistair. But really, she has this big soft spot for Morrigan and tries to break her shell, mostly in vain. Puppylove!

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  9. I am head over heels in love with DA at the moment. It’s just like Baldurs Gate (in spirit at least), which was the defining game of my childhood – possibly my life. If I hadn’t played BG, I wouldn’t play computer games at all.

    I’m a hot female dwarf noble – I don’t normally play women in computer games because … well … I don’t know … I suppose because of all the things Chas and I bibble on about in the blog. I guess I’m uncomfortable sexualising even an imaginary character for my own kicks in an industry already so rife with sexism – but anyway … I was just flicking through the possible options, waiting for something to jump at me, and I chose female dwarf by accident and she was *so attractive* – but in a genuine “would want to be” not “want to shag” (although I wouldn’t say no, I have to say) way – that I just had to be her. She’s got an amazing, characterful face, all stern cheekbones and slightly mischevious eyes. So from that moment on I was completely sold.

    And I really *love* the dwarf noble background. It does a wonderful job of introducing you to the game, presenting you with some interesting moral / political decisions, and really making you feel like what you are (a dwarf noble). Also you get to have cross-caste romance with your second which, again, deepens the whole experience. By the time I’d been betrayed and escaped, I felt as though my character was completely fleshed out and ready to get on with the story – I had such a strong sense of who she was and where she’d come from it. *cheers*

    I did male elf commoner as well (so to speak) and that one didn’t work for me nearly as well – it was quite generic “oh noes! you must savee your women from evil rapists” and I never really warmed to the character as a consequence, even though he was terribly pretty.

    Sorry I’ve written you an essay here. But I am *so* enthusiastic about DA.

    As far as the other characters go, I adore Morrigan – even if she is ridiculously dressed – but she hates everything I do. Everyone else quite likes me though. Alistair and I bond over our joint grief at having lost everything we loved, and try to keep ourselves going through exchanging witty one liners … I don’t think we’re headed towards romance though because I’m still pining for Gorim.

    The other thing (sorry, no sign of wrapping up the essay yet) is I love the fact they’ve done something interesting with their dwarves – I like their quite rigid, quite unsympathetic social system and I like the fact they’re taken “seriously” as people, with hopes, fears, and loves, instead of fat comedic relief who do nothing but sound Scottish and drink ale.

    Thanks for writing this by the way – nobody else I know is playing Dragon Age so my shared enthusiasm hath bubbled over.

    • I think the city elf background sounds as though it works much better with a female character.

      I love reading about what other people are doing in Dragon Age, I’m really thrilled with it as well. Even when it kicks my arse which has happened in a few fights recently (it’s like a reminder not to take the content too fast, but to slow down a bit actually).

      I’d love to write more, but you get to a point where it’s quite difficult to avoid spoilers (albeit minor ones).

  10. I absolutely love the game, but I’m not sure I could play as anything but a mage – they are just so strong and versatile a class, it’s hard for me to get along with anything else. And since there is only one mage background, it’s somewhat limiting. I have played through a couple other backgrounds though and enjoy them. I keep wondering how the game would work if they had split off the mage into two classes, one more focused on clerical magic – or at least left that as an option for other characters. I think it would have made the classes more versatile in any case.

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