At the beginning of every year I try to pick one big RPG and this year's pick was Dragon Age Origins. RPGs chew up lots of time, so it's a commitment. As with all true RPGs, Dragon Age Origins has tons of content, characters, and things to do. I don't have a great amount of experience with this genre, but DAO has a great reputation as one of the best and that I can't argue with. I thoroughly enjoyed it. There's lots to discover, many missions, and strategic planning such as character building, talent and skill distribution, and massive amounts of items to collect. As usual, instructions are never fully given so there's lots of research to do as well. Of course, I'm a little OCD on this as I hate missing things and it takes me ages to play these games.
The game is set in the mythical continent Thedas where creatures called the Darkspawn dwell underground. Every few hundred years, they attempt to invade the surface, a movement known as the Blight. Since the first attempt, people have relied on an order of warriors called the Grey Wardens to drive them out. Dragon Age Origins takes place during the fifth Blight and your character is initiated into the Grey Wardens. Your goal is to amass military help from various factions that include Dwarves, Elves, Humans and the Chantry of Mages.
The game begins with building your basic character and there are several "origins" to chose from – City Elf, Dalish Elf, Dwarven Noble, Dwarven Commomer, Mage or Human Noble. The first part of the game's story will reflect this choice, but once your character's origin story is over, the rest of the game events and quests follow the same plot for all of them. There are also three classes – warrior, rogue and mage and each class has its strengths and weaknesses.
At any given time, you're allowed to have three other characters on your team and you can pick these from a pool of 9 companions as they are added during the story progression. Each companion also has their unique talents and all characters can be upgraded in several ways after earning experience points. Each member of your party gains their own experience points for leveling up, which you can choose to distribute or have the game do it for you. Members left at camp will level up as well and these points need to be distributed when you go back to camp. Choosing the correct team for any given quest is part of the challenge. Depending on your own abilities, disposition, and the type of quest, you need to choose wisely to avail yourself of talents your character is missing.
The game is viewed in third-person, but can be switched to top down to plan combat strategy for the field. You can control your team's attacks and can also pause the game as well to give commands, position your team, or switch to whichever character you want to control. If left alone, team members will play to their strengths and use skills and talents at will. You can choose to micro-manage this or not. Although most of the control scheme is good, the one thing that isn't so great is that you have to continually hold down the RM button for free movement. There is no toggle on this.
The game is a lot of fun, but it does have its little irritating faults like not being able to move while taking a health potion. If you do, it will not take. Often quests in your journal do not tell you where you need to go on the map to get there. This information may be located in the Codex, but it's easier to alt-tab out and google it rather than wade through a ton of reading. You can craft certain items, but you cannot do it in camp and need to leave with the party member who has this skill. You also cannot see recipes except through the party member with that skill. You cannot travel during missions and sometimes they are so long that you run out of inventory space and have to dump a bunch of loot. A storage chest is only available if you have the DLC, Warden's Keep, but it is not located in camp, which means an extra trip to travel there. You also cannot compare items in the storage chest with other party member gear and have to put it into your inventory to look at this.
Although I quite enjoyed this game, I felt that giving you a choice between 9 companions was overkill since you can only choose 3 for a mission. It meant continually gearing them up and leveling them if you choose to micromanage this. It also means keeping way too much stuff in inventory to switch out bits and pieces to suit. This chewed up mega time researching best attributes, best skills and best talents for each one of them. The DLC Awakenings cuts it to 6.
Overall, the graphics are decent, the combat is well-balanced on normal difficulty and the story is engaging. However, keeping some of your companions alive can prove challenging in the beginning. The warrior class is meant to be a tank and I found that leaving the warrior to their own devices until upgraded will usually result in this character getting killed. Upon research, I opted for the Dwarven Noble rogue path for myself and this worked very well for my character.
You can import your character and some inventory from Origins to the DLCs Awakenings, Golems and Witch Hunt. However, I spent a lot of useless time agonizing over which inventory items to take with me - useless because with each progression the current inventory becomes more and more meaningless, except for potions, and the main character's latest gear. My advice is to take only really top level gear into Awakenings as you will get better gear there for your companions. However, I barely changed my own gear throughout all of the DLCs. Other DLCs are integrated into the main game, but the following are separate campaigns.
Leliana's Song A prequel that explores Leliana's back-story. It's recommended that you play this as the first DLC after the main game.
Awakenings is too easy on normal for an imported character. However, the story is good and of decent length. Make sure to leave lots of inventory space if importing your character from Origins as you will not be able to get back into the first area of Awakenings and pick up things left behind. This DLC introduced stamina potions, but rune crafting was a real pain and hardly worth it for the effort. Unfortunately, you can't just buy them.
The Golems of Amgarrak is shorter and much harder. Your companions basically suck and it's hard to keep them alive. There is nowhere to buy health, stamina, or injury kits so take lots of potions. Equipment is basically unimportant here. The Golem companion acts as a mage for healing, but dies easily as does the rogue and you're basically screwed. Make sure one companion has herbalism. The combat is very unbalanced in this DLC.
Witch Hunt is also short, but super easy. If you did not romance Morrigan in Origins, it ends abruptly without proper closure. There are also no experience points gained during the game other than some at the beginning.
Darkspawn Chronicles You play as a Darkspawn Hurlock, champion to the Archdemon.
All in all, Dragon Age origins is a game that is well worth its asking price. It's story-rich, of good length, and has new content on replaying a different origin. I would also recommend getting the Ultimate Edition, however you can purchase the DLC for the vanilla version separately from Bioware. You should check out this guide first, though. Steam Community