It’s often easy to forget in this day and age of high definition graphics and 5.1 surround sound that Role Playing Games made their meager start with a pencil, paper and dice. BioWare certainly knows this heritage, with the Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights series closely following the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rule set. That AD&D lineage runs strong in Dragon Age: Origins, which weaves an epic tale of loyalty, corruption, intrigue, and some kick ass combat.
The Kingdom of Ferelden is in a period of civil war, and the hero is forced by fate to serve with the Grey Wardens. It is the Wardens’ mission to protect the kingdom from the evil forces of the Arch Demon. Armies of Darkspawn, lead by the Arch Demon, are poised to wreak havoc across the lands. As the tale unfolds, the hero must unite a kingdom rife with political discourse and tyranny to defeat the forces of evil.
The tale begins by having the player select one of six backgrounds for the hero: Human Noble, Magi (Human or Elf), City Elf, Dalish Elf, Dwarf Commander and Dwarf Noble. The hero’s name, gender, voice, appearance and attributes can all be customized. Many cosmetic attributes can be fine tuned to alter the hero’s appearance. Gameplay-affecting attributes are comprised of Strength, Dexterity, Willpower, Magic, Cunning and Constitution.
The land of Ferelden features three major classes: Warrior, Mage and Rogue, with four specialties per class. A Warrior can be a Berserker, Champion, Templar or Reaver. Mages can fine-tune their craft as an Arcane Warrior, Blood Mage, Shape Shifter or Spirit Healer. Rogues have the ability to specialize as an Assassin, Bard, Duelist or Ranger. Depending on the attributes chosen, it is possible to have more than one specialty. In addition to the class and race benefits, there are various talents, skills and spells suited for each specialty.
Each background includes a unique starting place for the story. The beginning stages are quite rudimentary in scope but provide an appropriate backdrop to introduce the game’s basic mechanics. The menu system can be a bit cumbersome for newcomers, but it offers a variety of options for the journeyman. Regularly used items, talents, and spells can mapped to the top three face buttons. The remapped buttons come in quite handy for combat as well as often used items and talents.
Once the background is established, Dragon Age fits it seamlessly into its story. Much of the story content will take place in dialog cutscenes. The voice acting is done quite well considering just how much of it there is. As conversations unfold, there are dialog options which result in consequences, for better or worse. The dialog system truly turns this into a “choose your own adventure,” when dealing with tasks and missions, and there is weight to the choices made. Frequent saves are advised if the player is seeking certain results. As the story progresses, the fate of Ferelden changes based on the player’s decisions, and there are plot twists along the way that effect alliances with various tribes, creeds, and kingdoms. This brings a sense of value to the story, and it never becomes only about leveling up. Level grinding is not a necessity, as there is plenty of combat to be had within the scope of the story.