Dragon Age Origins review

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Dragon Age Origins review

Postby BlueSalamander » Sat Mar 27, 2010 11:39 am

Here are some comments about DAO and screenshots I’ve taken while playing through (contains spoilers). It is a straightforward story about an orc invasion. In this game, the ‘orcs’ are called hurlocks and genlocks instead, and collectively they are referred to as the Darkspawn. The commanders are called hurlock alpha and genlock alpha, and their supreme leader is the archdemon (which in fact looks like a dragon).

In the introduction we are told that the Darkspawn were created by power-hungry mages (click on a picture to enlarge).
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Here’s what the Darkspawn look like in the game.
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So far, mankind has resisted the Darkspawn onslaught thanks to a group of elite warriors called the grey wardens. The first part of the game describes how the player character gets to join the grey wardens. There are six possible origins depending on your race – one for mages, one for humans warriors, one for casteless dwarves, one for noble dwarves, one for city elves and one for the forest elves.

In the mage origin, you start in the tower of the Circle of the Magi. A friend of yours, Jowan, is to be cut off from the source of magic for allegedly using evil blood magic. Jowan claims that he is innocent, that he has never used blood magic and that he only wants to live a peaceful life with his wife. He asks your help to run away from the tower. Such a thing is forbidden and the Templar warrior-caste ensures that no-one escapes and lives to tell the tale. You can either inform the First Enchanter of Jowan’s plans, or help Jowan. At this point there was no reason not to believe Jowan and it seemed wrong to lock up all mages in the tower just because some of them may be evil. So my character helped him escape. Unfortunately Jowan is not a very good spokesperson for the freedom of mages. He’s a patent liar. As we’re about to leave the tower, we are caught by the Templars. Jowan escapes by using blood magic to repel the soldiers. The player character avoids punishment by joining the grey wardens. In the third picture below you can see the grey warden Duncan on the left and my elf mage on the right.
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Should you start as a casteless dwarf (the lowest of the low in dwarf society), you get noticed by Duncan by fighting in the arena and becoming the arena’s champion. However, a casteless dwarf can never have the honour of fighting in the arena so you must impersonate a dwarf from the warrior caste by stealing his armour and putting it on before the fights.
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If you choose the noble dwarf origin, you play as one of the children of the dwarf king, a position with advantages.
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Once you have become a grey warden you are treated to a nice cutscene battle between the Darkspawn and the forces of the King of Ferelden. It’s all very reminiscent of the Battle of Helm's Deep in Lord of the Rings The Two Towers (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZxGvqYn ... re=related). Loghain, one of the generals, decides to withdraw half of the army instead of charging as he’s supposed to. Duncan and the king are killed in the battle and the Darkspawn army is free to go on a rampage.
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Alistair, a grey warden, and your character survive the battle thanks to the intervention of the witches Morrigan and Flemeth. It’s at this point that the game really begins. As one of the surviving grey wardens your task is to find allies to fight the Darkspawn. You must convince the Circle of the Magi, the Dalish elves, the Orzammar dwarves and the soldiers of Redcliffe to join you.

To gain the help of the Circle of the Magi, you will have to defeat the demons that have invaded the tower of the magi. To defeat the leader of the demons, you will have to enter the fade, a blurry dream world where spirits dwell (Dragon Age’s astral plane). While visiting the fade through the tower, your character can gain 21 bonus ability points (I missed almost all of these).
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To gain the help of the Elves, you will have to resolve their conflict with a group of werewolves led by a forest spirit. The werewolves are in fact humans who were cursed long ago by the leader of the elves. The good path is to convince the elf leader to lift the curse. Alternatively you could destroy all the werewolves, or help the werewolves destroy the elves and gain the werewolves as ally. It doesn’t look like it on these pictures, but to complete the elf chapter you must go through a tedious hack-and-slash sequence, you will have to kill the same undead 100 times; your inventory will get full and you will have to walk all the way back to sell your stuff. The only interesting fights in this area are the optional battles against the revenants. There are three or four revenants in the area and defeating each one gives you a piece of the Juggernaut armour.
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To gain the help of Redcliffe, you must help them repel undead creatures (this was probably the best part of the game, you can conscript people in Redcliffe and then you have to fight defensive battles) and you also need to cure the leader of Redcliffe (Arl Eamon) and his son. The son has been possessed by the Desire Demon while the father has been poisoned. To cure the son you must enter the fade. There you must confront the Desire Demon. You can either destroy it (good path) or accept its offer (the demon will then teach your character blood magic).
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Next, you need to cure Arl Eamon. To do this you must get the Urn of Andraste which is found at the top of a mountain. Here comes another tedious slog through the mountain’s tunnels and another ‘kill this same beast 50 times over in almost identical circumstances’. However, at the top of the mountain, you will be given the option to fight with a high dragon.
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To gain the help of the dwarves, you must travel to the underground city of Orzammar. The dwarf king has died and two lords are competing for the throne: Harrowmont and Bhelen. Bhelen wants the party to use false evidence to discredit Harrowmont, while Harrowmont wants you to become his champion in the arena. Harrowmont is obviously the good path. Next, you are sent to Orzammar’s slums to assassinate the crime lord, Jarvia. Here comes another tedious slog where you must kill dozens of identical thugs. At the end you must fight Jarvia, one of the toughest fights in the whole game. Next, you are sent on a quest to find a dwarf paragon (hero) who disappeared years ago in the deep tunnels. Here comes the worst dungeon crawl of the entire game. At the end of the crawl you learn that the paragon has been trying to recover the anvil of the void, an artefact used to create golems. The anvil’s guardian, a golem, wants you to destroy the anvil as it can only create a golem by stealing someone’s soul. You can destroy the anvil or give it to the paragon who was looking for it.
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Once all of the possible allies have been secured, you are told by the leader of Redcliffe that he will organise a meeting of the lords to determine who the next king should be. The lords pronounce themselves in favour of the player character, so Loghain demands a duel. Once he is beaten you can either make him a grey warden or execute him.
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If you go with the execution, the grey warden Alistair is the best choice to become king, considering he has a good heart and is a bastard son of the previous king. If you didn’t go with the execution, Loghain’s scheming daughter instead becomes queen. In both cases your army is now ready to march against the Darkspawn.
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In the last part of the game you get to fight the Darkspawn in several parts of the city of Denerim. In each section you are allowed to call one of the allied groups for help.
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Finally you must destroy the archdemon – at the cost of the character’s life (unless you accepted a foul bargain with Morrigan).
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Ranking of my favourite spells:
1) Heal
2) Cone of cold
3) Stonefist
4) Force Field
5) Crushing Prison
6) Spirit Healer’s Group Heal
7) Spirit Healer’s Raise Dead
8) Spirit Healer’s Cleansing Aura (to remove injuries)
9) Glyph of Paralysis
10) Glyph of Warding
11) Glyph of Neutralisation
12) Fireball
13) Heroic Offence

Things I liked:

- All the arena fights in Orzammar, that was very enjoyable. They also make the Dwarf origins more interesting.
- The rubble barricades protecting archers in some places (which must be destroyed by your warriors to access them)
- The icon floating over any NPC with whom you need to talk in order to complete a quest. Mousing over the icon on the minimap displays the quest involved.
- The highlight of all things that you can interact with by pushing the Tab key.
- The world map style and design. The mini map is also very useful and looks good. If only I could move my characters directly on the mini map.
- The beautiful random encounter wilderness areas.
- You don't lose the game automatically when your main character dies, the whole party must be defeated.
- The giant spiders, their cocoons, the way they produce a large blood stain when they die, the rooms with huge spider webs.
- The dragons are nicely animated and have a proper breath attack
- The cone of cold + crushing prison combination (or cone of cold + stonefist), you freeze the creature first then you shatter it. It's instant death for most non-boss creatures.
- Spells don't take too long to cast, so you can cast area things like Fireball with a reasonable chance to hit the enemies rather than your allies, despite the real-time engine.
- Loads quickly with my Intel SSD drive.

Things I didn't like:

- Although the dialogues are well scripted, and offer a substantial amount of choice, most of the time it didn’t feel like I had much of a choice in anything. Why? Because most of the choices are between good and evil only. As a result, most of your choices are going to be predetermined: if you play a good hero you’ll take all the good choices (resolve the werewolf-elf conflict diplomatically, destroy the golem anvil, etc) and if you play an evil hero you’ll take all the evil choices (use the anvil to make golems, get blood magic from the desire demon, etc). A real choice is between equally valid options. For example, in Dark Sun Shattered Lands at the beginning of the game you must escape from the gladiator slave pens. There are several valid options:
* fight a little bit in the arena, then kill all the guards and escape (you get their gear and the XP from all the kills)
* sneak out and escape without anyone knowing (you get extra XP for not sounding the alarm) – at one point you can sneak past a guard by casting Wall of Fog or by shooting at a pot to distract the guard.
* agree with another group of gladiators that when your two groups meet in the arena, instead of fighting each other, you’ll fight the guards and escape together
* bribe one of the NPCs, he then leads to the arena master, whom you can kill before escaping without sounding the alarm

- There’s too much rambling dialogue that goes on and on. I hate this and used the Escape key on almost every dialogue.
- Your allies often disapprove of your actions on a whim. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the companions didn’t get better when their appreciation of the player increases. In DAO, you can increase Sten’s strength by up to six points just by bribing him with gifts and by selecting the dialogue options he approves of. Not a good design in my opinion. I don’t think the gift business is a good thing either. It just means you must do more inventory management. Here is a hilarious video about the reaction of Morrigan and Sten to good actions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fH8TZKYj_tU&NR=1
- There are simply too many item categories, too many items with only slight differences and too many items with the same icon, which makes them difficult to differentiate.
- The dungeon design is very linear and tortuous. You often need to backtrack a large distance in order to get back to the surface. Also, the Fade would be much better without any ability point increase, because then you wouldn't feel compelled to explore every corner of the fade (or regret not doing it if you skip it). Lastly, the game is just too long and would have benefited from a more active Darkspawn, which would force the player to play through the finale after getting just two or three allies out of the four possible, rather than forcing the player to get all four allies.
- There are really just two effective tactics: 1) Freezing a weak enemy with a cone of cold and then shattering it with stonefist and 2) Repeatedly freezing a strong enemy using two casters standing on each side of the enemy and casting cone of cold in sequence.
- The "Item received" message after a dialogue. Just what item did I just receive? My inventory is full of stuff, just by looking at it I can't determine what it is that I've just been given.
- The inappropriate experience awards, for example you get 50 XP for unlocking a treasure chest and just 220 XP for defeating a high dragon. You even get 50 XP just for finding a book (whenever you find a book, a Codex entry is added to your journal, but I ignored most of these). You also get no reward for playing at a higher difficulty level than normal. The number and type of enemies, experience awards, item drops, all stay the same.
- The dragon's wing buffet ability (and the similar ability of ogres). When they use this ability, every character adjacent to them loses their current action and is knocked down, no matter their strength, constitution or level. This means that when you're fighting a dragon, half of the time your programmed actions (drink potion, cast spell, etc) get cancelled and you have to reset them once the buffet is done. Dragons in Baldur's Gate 2 also had the same irresistible ability, which I think is completely un-tactical.
- The real-time with pause combat is often very chaotic and confusing. Imagine how good the game could have been with a true turn-based combat engine.
- Almost all skills (stealing, survival, combat tactics, etc) are of very little usefulness, and many combat talents are of dubious usefulness. Also, it’s too easy to get stuck with a poor spell selection.
- Another game with the "potion/cash in every barrel and box" disease. You'll even find potions on the corpse of wolves. A town full of homeless refugees still contains barrels and boxes with gold in them. In most places you can plunder people's stuff right from under their noses without any reaction. It's quite surprising when an NPC reacts (it happens once or twice). In one place, you can take stuff from a crate belonging to a blacksmith (Owen) and then sell that same stuff back to him.

- The level scaling. In fact there are just three types of creatures in the game: the whites, the yellows and the oranges. In DAO, it doesn't really matter whether the enemy is a drake, a human or an ogre - what really matters is the colour of their name. The whites are easy to destroy, the yellows are tougher and the oranges are the hardest. By the way, it IS possible to create a non-linear CRPG without level scaling. There are two ways:
* In a free-form RPG like ADOM or Daggerfall, the game world can be filled with dungeons and caves of predetermined difficulty. Each dungeon has been designed with a certain difficulty in mind, and the creatures and traps that you can find there reflect this difficulty level. It is up to the player to visit dungeons and caves that are appropriate to his character level, using trial and error. The distance from the starting point is often proportional to an area's difficulty. The player can also decide to go for quests that are a bit easier compared to his level, for an easier ride, or he can decide to go for quests that are a bit harder compared to his level, to get more experience.
* In a story-based RPG like Dragon Age, the game can be structured in the shape of a tree rather than a hub. Dragon Age has a hub structure: from the initial village of Lothering you have access to most quests in the game, regardless of your character level. With a tree structure, upon completing Lothering the player would be offered two (or three) choices of quests that are appropriate to his level. For example, he could seek the help of the mages (a level 5 quest) or he could seek the help of the elves (a level 5 quest). If you go for the mages, upon completion you are told that the elves have been destroyed and that you can now seek the help of the dwarves (a level 10 quest) or have the mages teleport you to assassinate an enemy general (a level 10 quest). Upon completion of either quest you'd then begin the finale (a level 15 quest). If instead you chose to help the elves you could then be told by the elves about a lizardman lair and seek the help of the lizardmen (a level 10 quest) or you could seek help from a nearby kingdom (a level 10 quest). After completion of either quest you'd then start the finale (a level 15 quest).
Alternatively, a story-based game can use a linear structure with simple splits along the story line. Examples of this include the Baldur's Gate 2 split where you must decide to join the Thieves guild or the Vampire faction, and the Neverwinter Nights 2 split where you must decide to join the Neverwinter city guard or the Neverwinter thieves. Once the split quest is completed, the game reverts to the main story line.

When each quest is designed with a certain difficulty in mind, the quests can be made more exciting and interesting than what you would get by simply scaling up the level of every enemy. You can increase the number of enemies, use different monsters which you know are always more powerful, surround the player characters, give them handicaps, etc. And you can have the game acknowledge the power of the player; DAO can't do that since the game has no idea what level you're doing each quest at.
'Say there is a chunk of meat. Pirates will have a banquet and eat it! But heroes will share it with other people. I want all the meat!!' - Luffy in One Piece
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Dragon Age Origins review

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Re: Dragon Age Origins review

Postby Demiath » Sat Mar 27, 2010 12:04 pm

An impressively detailed analysis of last year's most important Western RPG. The quest design discussion at the end was particularly interesting to read, and I completely agree with your criticism of the dull level scaling, chaotic combat (yes, a turn-based system would have been fantastic) and tedious dialogue scenes. As I've mentioned before on this forum, my favorite part of the game was the Landsmeet, which turned into a much more morally ambiguous and political event than I had initially anticipated. The rest of the plot was painfully bland; which wouldn't have been such a problem if the player wasn't forced to endure so much poorly paced story exposition.

On a side note, since I personally had to play the game on the lowest graphical settings possible on my feeble laptop, it sure is nice to see so many good screenshots of how the game is supposed to look.... ;)
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Re: Dragon Age Origins review

Postby Adventurer4Life » Sat Mar 27, 2010 3:04 pm

I absolutely hated this game. it is a perfect example of all thats wrong in mainstream games.
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Re: Dragon Age Origins review

Postby quasimodo » Sat Mar 27, 2010 11:39 pm

I liked the different origin stories and the NPC's, but the uninspired combat/ combat encounter design pretty much ruined the game for me. Pausing the combat every few seconds to issue commands and wrestle with the camera is not a whole lot of fun. About 3/4 of the way through I was ready for the game to be over and I have no desire to play the expansion or think about a possible DA 2.

Contrast this with KotC which has the best RPG combat in the last 10 years. The first thing I did after finishing KotC was to play it again and I check this site daily for any news of KotC2.
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Re: Dragon Age Origins review

Postby BlueSalamander » Mon Mar 29, 2010 1:00 pm

Demiath wrote:my favorite part of the game was the Landsmeet
Yes, I also enjoyed the Landsmeet very much. I enjoyed it as much as the trial sequence in Neverwinter Nights 2. The Landsmeet is really good for allowing the player to actually decide who shall be King. I noticed, though, that most of the lords will support you regardless of your dialogue choices or persuasion skill checks. Also, too bad the Landsmeet comes so late in the game.
Adventurer4Life wrote:it is a perfect example of all thats wrong in mainstream games.
It's definitely a game with too much graphics and too less gameplay. It's still able to generate zillions of sales though. (BTW anyone played 'Zillion' on the Sega Master System? that was a game with great gameplay).
'Say there is a chunk of meat. Pirates will have a banquet and eat it! But heroes will share it with other people. I want all the meat!!' - Luffy in One Piece
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Re: Dragon Age Origins review

Postby screeg » Mon Mar 29, 2010 8:25 pm

I couldn't stand it, and stopped playing during the second town. I can't think of a single thing I liked about it. DAO represents the final gravestone of RTWP for me. They always disappoint.
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Re: Dragon Age Origins review

Postby VentilatorOfDoom » Mon Apr 12, 2010 11:37 am

Ranking of my favourite spells:
1) Heal
2) Cone of cold
3) Stonefist
4) Force Field
5) Crushing Prison
6) Spirit Healer’s Group Heal
7) Spirit Healer’s Raise Dead
8) Spirit Healer’s Cleansing Aura (to remove injuries)
9) Glyph of Paralysis
10) Glyph of Warding
11) Glyph of Neutralisation
12) Fireball
13) Heroic Offence


I played the game 3 times, 2x Mage and 1x rogue.
I found out that magic is most powerful if you focus on crowd control - since the danger always comes from being outnumbered 4:1 or something like that.
Besides obvious healing stuff I used most:
-Sleep
-Walking Nightmare
-Paralyze, Mass Paralyze, Weakening Aura
- Death cloud, Curse of Mortality
- all Hexes
- Manaclash! (see a Mage?, next moment he's dead)
- glyph of Paralyzation
-Ice spells
-Heroic offense/defence, Spell Might
- the abilities of the Arcane Warrior are very good too, Bloodmagic only Bloodwound is worth it imo

Generally the entropy spells are the best and most powerful. The Death Cloud+Curse of Mortality combo is hilarious, you can even drop rednamed ones with it in mere seconds. Storm of the Century is another *I win* button. Rogues are by far the best damage dealers, especially if you support them with disabling spells, so that all their attacks count as sneakattacks. Permanently dishing out momentum sneak attack barrages drops anything, Gaxkang died within 10sec (on insane). Of course - if you dare to cast a spell like Death Hex or Curse of Mortality on someone, they go all nuts and go straight after the caster (Morrigan).
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