An Hour With: Dragon Age

It was with some sense of occasion that I finally loaded up Dragon Age: Origins with the intention of playing it earlier today. This was marked by having beer and pretzels within arms reach of my desk (for that is how I mark occasion.)

What Is It?

The new RPG from genre stalwarts Bioware. This time they’re going back to their roots with an epic high-fantasy setting billed as a spiritual successor to the classic Baldur’s Gate series. Dragon Age, however, is free from the Dungeons & Dragons licence of that series. Disappointingly this means that the manual is also free of pages upon pages of tables and stat-charts.

Why Did You Buy It?

This is the first of these that isn’t for a game that I bought as an impulse during some weekend sale. In fact, short of the game turning out to be a fantasy RPG remake of the webgame Don’t Shit Your Pants, there is almost no scenario that could have led to me not buying this game.

The Playtest

0:05 – Few games impress me within the first five seconds, but the EA splash videos at the start of the game have finally removed all traces of This Is The New Shit by Marilyn Manson making me both happy and relieved.

1:30 – Ok this game’s doing some serious loading right now.

3:00 – Still loading! I’m starting to worry that it’s crashed…

3:05 – No, we start finally. Time for the intro video. “The hubris of men bought the Darkspawn into the world.” Damn our hubris.

5:10 – The intro story is all a bit Icewind Dale. Evil happens and terrorises individual races until the Grey Wardens create a force made up of them all. Victory ensues. The game apparently takes place around 4 centuries after the Darkspawn’s initial appearance… At least I think it does; my handwriting’s a little hard to read at this point in the notes but I don’t think ‘cunturies’ is a word so it’s a safe assumption.

7:00 – At this point I miss the rest of the video because my flatmate comes in to show me a job posting he thinks I might be interested in. At a guess the intro’s ending probably had something to do with the Darkspawn rising up again… or something.

7:30 – I’d already created a character with the previously released character creator. Still I can’t help going back and tweaking the cheekbones and jaw width.

A note on my character: After watching the origin stories videos I decided to go with a female city elf as their origin seemed the most interesting. Typically I’ve gone with a rogue class because my primary interest is in stealing things. Points have been spent on the cunning and strength modifiers. Her name is Mara (my naming conventions draw from a very narrow range of source material) and she is viewable here.

9:00 – I now have some skill points to spend – I spend a while deliberating between stealing and improved coercion but eventually settle on the coercion because the chances are there’ll be very little to actually steal in the starting area and I’m far more likely to need to bullshit my way out of situations.

11:30 – Okay, we’re finally getting into the game itself. A short origin intro explains that the elves were previously slaves and now, despite having been freed, they are treated as second class citizens. SUBTEXT!

13:00 – Huh, apparently I’m getting married today. Surprisingly my character needed to be told this by her friend. The conversation mechanic works in much the same way as the Baldur’s Gate games, with your character mute throughout and you selecting their dialogue options from a list. It’s a little strange at first, especially after Mass Effect put so much emphasis on the player character’s voicework. It does, however, explain why all the voice options during character creation are so terrible.

Wait, wedding?

15:00 – Small tutorial on movement. This is the gaming equivalent to slipping back into a old and comfortable pair of shoes. While the top-down view is a brilliant option to have the game works surprisingly well in the third-person view (even if the WASD controls take some getting used to.) More importantly the space bar is back to its job of pausing the game allowing for tactical planning of battles. Not really much point in pausing the game yet as I’m just wandering around on my wedding day, but its nice to know its there.

20:00 – My father has revealed that this is an arranged marriage. I’ve decided to not be happy about being forced into wedlock with a man I don’t know but, even with my improved coercion skills, dad’s not listening to my concerns.

23:00 – Outside in the city itself I’m approached by some friends of my late mother. I’m not shy about revealing my disdain for this whole marriage business and that I plan to escape. I’m not as forthcoming with what the details of this plan might be.

25:00 – I’ve met up with my cousin, who is also getting married today (not to me, I should point out.) He actually seems more interested in marrying my fiancee than his wife-to-be, which is slightly worrying. Still he drops in as a party member giving me a chance to look at the tactics menu. This essentially allows you to set up macros which will automate your party members behaviour in certain situations and, holy shit, it’s complicated. Again, there’s not much I can actually do without anyone to fight, but it appears to have some impressive depth.

28:00 – I’m speaking to the most melodramatic beggar ever. If I had any money I’d give him some for theatricality alone.

32:00 – I’ve decided to put off the wedding bells by getting involved in other people’s business. A family are moving to a garrison of human soldiers and the daughter is, unsurprisingly, fearful of being in proximity to women-starved soldiers. Today I shall stand up for all women forced into situations beyond their control!

35:00 – Okay, so that didn’t work. My attempt at lying to the father about an anonymous suitor for the daughter was, admittedly, rubbish.

36:00 – Humans have arrived! Randy humans at that. I could play this cool. Diplomacy would probably be the sensible option. Instead I start threatening people.

38:00 – The human has used the classic “do you know who I am” line. Fittingly I have no idea who the hell he is but, when my friend smashes him over the head with a bottle, I’m told that he might actually be quite important.

40:00 – Oh God, my husband looks like a complete tool. Worse still he’s a nervous tool. I’m rarely rude to people in RPGs, certainly less so than in real life for some reason. Still, here I have little problem telling my husband-to-be that the idea of getting married to him makes me nauseous.

You want me to spend the rest of my life with him!?

42:00 – The arrival of the Grey Warden provides another fitting distraction from the ceremony. Note: There are cats everywhere in this city. Hopefully this’ll mean I’ll not have to fight any rats.

45:00 – The Grey Warden is called Duncan, possibly the least heroic name known to man. My tactic in dealing with Duncan is to pretend I haven’t seen the hundreds of trailers that make note of how he’s a Grey Warden and treat him like another troublemaking human.

47:00 – Duncan’s made a fairly good point: He’s wearing armour and has a sword; I’m wearing basic clothes and have no sword. My threats are probably not going to work.

49:00 – An elf Elder has intervened in our little showdown. Apparently he’s the leader of the Grey Wardens. I’m meant to take seriously an organisation that lets their leader be called Duncan? This is going to take some serious suspension of disbelief.

53:00 – At this point the ceremony seems unavoidable. I’m delighted to see my husband is pretty pissed at me as I arrive. I take the opportunity to make mention of running away to my cousin. It’s at this point the humans return. They’re here to collect some ‘whores’ for their party. For all my big talk and threats I go down pretty easily with a fairly weak slap (although it’s a cutscene slap so it doesn’t count.) On the plus side: the wedding’s been cancelled.

58:00 – I wake up in a cell with some pretty hysterical women. My suggestion that we kill everyone in sight doesn’t quite get the reaction I’d hoped for. This is the point some guards come in and kill the most hysterical of the women, which is something of a relief to be honest. It’s at this point my cousin comes in and throws me a sword.

Okay, this looks bad... I promise I didn't kill her.

1:00:00 – The guards are dead. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this but it was only halfway into the battle that I remembered to go into the inventory and actually equip my sword. With my pilfered gear freshly equipped these humans had better watch out.


So I’ve not even finished the origin story yet and have only had one brief taste of battle so its far too early to judge the game’s potential. Still it seemed nicely adaptive to my chosen brand of bitchy psychosis and the way NPCs moods shift based on your previous conversations seems to be natural and fairly deep. My normal tact for these conclusions is to say whether I plan to keep playing the game. In this case the answer’s pretty obvious. In fact I’m off to do so right now.


1 Response to “An Hour With: Dragon Age”

  1. 1 octaeder
    08/11/2009 at 18:27

    I should probably point out the clear lie in the above article: I would totally buy an RPG fantasy remake of Don’t Shit Your Pants.

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