Dragon Age: Origin – What A Journey!

90 hours, I have poured into this game.  This has to go into my personal record of one of the longest enduring gaming journey in the category of anything-but-world-of-warcraft.  I seldom complete games these days.  50 odd hours into Mass Effect 2, I thought I was obsessive.  90 hours into Dragon Age: Origin, I reckon I could have read Iliad or Odyssey perhaps once.

You know how I am like when I get excited about something.  Of many whom I have talked to – strangers and friends alike – some are into role-playing games (better still, Baldur’s Gate), just like Dragon Age: Origin, waiting for that one final push to jump down the cliff.  Yes buddy, think no more.  I’ve jumped.  Now it’s your turn.  Some have no clue what this game is about.  Like my mother.  One evening she tapped onto my shoulder and asked, “Is this a game?  It looks like a movie.”  I took off my headset and replied, “Yes mom.  Computer gaming has certainly progressed since the day you and dad got me that Apple machine when I was a teen.”  Some come from the world of Mass Effect and ponder if they would too love this franchise.  And some have completed the game, like I do, and are eying on the expansion Dragon Age: Awakening, like I do.

In Short …

… Dragon Age: Origin sets in the fantasy backdrop of human and elves, dwarves and golems, dragons and dark magic.  The beauty of gaming versus reading or watching a fantasy story is that you get to shape the story the way you want it to be, within the framework provided.  You decide the beginning: a noble or a commoner.  You decide the role you want to play: front-liner or supporter.  You decide how the world should be explored, how to influence the people around you.  There are sub-plots that keep on distracting you, that you may choose to ignore.  And finally, a multitude of endings that you have to decide based on the little things you have done along your journey.  Some gamers may prefer a clinical approach in researching online prior to what is to come in order to shape an outcome that they want.  As for me, I prefer to shape my story according to my own decisions, even if there are sacrifices to be made along the way.  Bearing and living with the consequences is part of the game.

Game Play

Coming from the action role-playing game background (like Mass Effect franchise), I was apprehensive if I would find the frequent game pausing to issue commands to four party members a turn off.  Neverwinter Night turned me off.  Curiously, this game does not.  Though, when I showed it to Cynthia, she went “eeeewwww” because she swears by the real time game play of World of Warcraft.  I guess the reason is that not every encounter requires us to pause and strategize.  And if we do pause, it has to be something extraordinary that can turn the game to our advantage.

Another thing that took me a short while to get used to is that the conversation options chosen by the main character (a.k.a. you) are not read-out-loud.  Like Mass Effect.  Some say Mass Effect is an exception.  I could also loop in The Witcher (by the way, the sequel is in the making) to argue my case.  In any case, the conversation in Dragon Age: Origin has much depth and in a way, I am glad to click my options through.

The Things I Love Most

Character development is one.  It is memorable and you get to hate and love certain characters, love and even more in love with others.  Both the indoor and outdoor scenes are beautiful to look at.  The control is smooth (not sure how the console players can live with only two sticks and that many buttons on the controller though) mapped nicely to recent popular games of similar genre.  The learning curve is steep but one can persevere by trying out different strategies.  The game mechanic appears simple with three distinct classes – warrior, rogue, and mage.  But with different deployment of skill set and specialization, a rogue can play like a hunter and a mage can play like a priest or a warlock.  Lots of reading within the game of course, in the form of codex.

What’s Next?

From my research, Dragon Age: Awakening is the largest DLC (downloadable content) to date.  Despite the price tag that is comparable to the original game, it will likely to take nowhere near to 90 hours to complete.  Much faster.  But if you are already a fan, shouldn’t you dive into Awakening right now?  It turns out that for the PC gamers, you may be better off to wait for a bit due to reported game crashes caused by the latest patch 1.03 that you must apply in order to play the expansion.  Some gamers suffer more than their fellow PC gamers.  And for the console gamers, there are still in-game issues that may worth the wait to see if the developer BioWare is going to do something about them.  When in doubt, check the BioWare forums.

Personally, I wish the experience was as epic as the one with Mass Effect 2.  Unfortunately the experience was somewhat ruined due to the bad patch I have applied towards the end of the journey (if you are still playing the original game and if you could, stop at patch 1.02a).  Game modding is a powerful tool, given to the community.  But to rely on the community to fix some of the game issues using mods is just too strange for me to accept.

So what’s next?  When all fails – and if BioWare doesn’t get the game fixed – we can always look forward to Diablo 3, can’t we?

Of The Three Add-Ons Of Dragon Age: Origins

While I am still far from completing the game Dragon Age: Origins (20% progress on 35 played hours), last evening, I have completed the three add-ons of this epic dark fantasy – a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate.  If you are interested to find out if any of these add-ons worth your money, when the ideal time to begin these quests is and in which order, you have come to the right place.

Depending on the edition of your copy, the game may come with one or even all of these premium contents.  For me, one is free and I have to purchase the other two.  At present, I do not know if there are means to reinstall these paid contents in the future (like Mass Effect 2).  I surely hope so.  Some gamers comment that the add-ons are too short taking only a couple of hours to complete.  Considering how lengthy the original game is and how much these add-ons cost, I can understand the general sentiment.  However, since the price of each add-on is similar to a movie ticket or two, I have no qualm.

“The Stone Prisoner” (USD 15), that comes with the newer game edition, should be the first one to tackle as soon as you are comfortable with some basic combat techniques and crowd control mechanism.  You should complete this add-on at the early stage of the game so as to gain access to a new companion.  Shale is a golem and he (or it?) hits hard, works well as a tank too.  “The Stone Prisoner” probably ranks high on puzzle solving but not too much on story and combat.  The area is rather small and it does not take long to finish.  The most tangible reward from this add-on?  Shale of course.  His dialogs can be hilarious at times too.

“Warden’s Keep” (USD 7) is perhaps the best Dragon Age add-on I have seen.  It is rich in story and combat.  And you get to unlock a new class specialization as well as abilities.  On top of that, you have access to a party stash if you wish to extend your inventory space.  That stash is the only place in the game – officially of course – you can stash your items (for a free stash made by one BioWare developer, click here for my forum post).  Some complain that you have to travel to the castle to interact with your stash.  But it is merely a click on the world map and so far, I have not been held back from any random encounter while travelling to the castle.  The stash is right outside the castle some more.  What’s there to complain really?  As in when it is a good time to visit the castle, I would suggest visiting it when your warrior (or if you are not, one of your companions) has a buffed strength of 30.  You will then be able to use the set item (massive gear).  One word of advice: pay attention to all the details, including the Codex.  If not, you may miss some great loot!

I have a mixed feeling towards “Return to Ostagar” (USD 5).  The area is large, as it is a revisit to the original starting area that is locked after you have completed the prelude.  The combat is not particularly hard (maybe by then I have one of the best tanking gears in Dragon Age?).  Not too much on the story or puzzle solving.  The cut scenes are not as fascinating as “Warden’s Keep”.  But, you get to recover the King’s armours and weapons and more, recruit the dog if you have missed that out during the prelude, and perhaps seek some closure of where the prelude has ended.  You will need a buffed strength of 36 in order to wear the King’s set (another massive gear).  And if I have that buffed strength, wouldn’t I wish to equip the Juggernaut set (require 38 strength to equip) found in the Brecilian Forest instead?  Personally, I wish there is a set item for the rogue or mage class instead, from any of these add-ons.

Looking back, because I have started to collect the Juggernaut set as early as when my warrior reached level 9, the armour reward of the add-ons does not seem to be that attractive.  If I am going to reroll another character, I would dive into these add-ons as soon as I can.