This is an ongoing, six-part series, detailing the origins story experiences from within the game. Spoilers are in white text, so you will have to highlight to read it. This is to ensure I don’t ruin the experience for anyone else. Observations, both good and bad, also interweave through the narrative. Enjoy!
Getting it Out of the Way
You can’t jump in the game. As an habitual jumper, I find myself unexpectedly pausing the game, constantly. That is very annoying. Moving on.
Not Your Average Stereotype
Despite my earlier hesitation to start as a dwarf, my first character turned out to be as stereotypical a dwarf as it could get. Meet Bronte, warrior, noble, Aeducan, and second son of the King. What I really enjoyed about this storyline was that the stout race was not pigeonholed into the ale-drinking, beard-obsessed, womanizing, gruff, comedic role the fantasy genre is all too fond of. The dwarfs in Dragon Age: Origins break all norms perpetuated by the medium. The dwarf society is mired in a complex political system, living in a city that is but a shadow of the empire’s former glory, entrenched in greed, lust, and a biased and decadent caste system that favors the nobles and sidelines the wretched.
The very first thing I noticed was the graphics. Earlier in the night, I had seen a friend play the Xbox version of the game on a 50-inch plasma. And despite the HD clarity, I had been somewhat dismayed and underwhelmed by the graphics. Suffice it to say my expectations were not particularly high when I finally managed to load the game on my (monster) PC. I was pleasantly surprised. The world looks intricately detailed, beautifully lit, and much sharper than its console counterpart. The lighting is moody, the environments meticulously crafted and alive with a brisk and diverse population.
Tim Curry is Awesome
The second thing that I noticed was the voice-acting. It is rich, it is fulfilling, and it conveys the emotions and dispositions of the characters. BioWare has taken special care to ensure their characters all feel distinct and real, complete with their own backgrounds, stories and motives. At last count the game had one hundred and forty-four people behind the voice-acting. During the cut scenes and conversations, things in the background blur to an appropriate degree, drawing your eye to the action in the foreground. In addition, life went on. This is to say that unlike the paused game conversation trees in Fallout 3, the world keeps moving in the backdrop.
A Matter of Loyalty
My companion was another dwarf named Gorim who was bound to me in service. A capable warrior, his father had served my character’s father and he was unquestioningly loyal. Guiding my path through the Origins story, he offered helpful advice, backgrounds and interesting tidbits of information. What I loved about this character was how well his dialogue and voice-acting was connected to his sense of duty and servitude.
He suggested but never imposed. He criticized but never in a condescending manner. He supported my decisions and never went against my will.
What the Faint?
An NPC trader fainted when I approached him. When you interacted with him again, it simply said the character was unconscious, but the character stood, like any other NPC, on his own two feet behind his trade stand.
BioWare puts in a lot of polish in the game, so this was especially disappointing to come across.
Betrayal I: A Moral Dilemma
BioWare had previously suggested that betrayal will be a big part of the game. Despite this warning, given my good-hearted nature (my ex-fiance would strongly disagree), I decided to go with the noble choice, the righteous path, and never veer toward a cunning, impetuous or morally dubious choice. I imagined that by choosing the positive dialogue options, the world would open up to me better, giving me peaceful passage through simplicity and compassionate action.
I could not have been more wrong.
Less than an hour into the origins story I found out that my older brother was plotting to assassinate me. I was given a choice here. Should I kill him now, when he is most vulnerable? Should I kill him later? Should I wait and see what move he makes? Or should I simply my younger brother for insinuating such serious allegations against our older brother?
It sounds simple on paper, but it had a powerful impact. I had to sit back, and stare at the screen in amazement. BioWare is notorious for giving you tough choices that subtly tickle the buried psyche of our subconscious minds. But even then this choice made me physically stop and think what I would do in a situation like that. This experience shaped my opinion of the game and my subsequent actions to a great deal, and despite a twist that early, I am now aware that I had barely scratched the surface. I ended up deciding to wait and see. In retrospect, I wished I had the bastard killed. But then again, that would have solved only part of the problem.
Visceral is a word that gets thrown around a lot to define action in contemporary video games. And although it aptly describes the on-screen carnage in Dragon Age: Origins, let’s steer clear of the norm shall we? Combat in the game is a blood-spattering, vicious, and satisfyingly jarring experience. The play and pause gameplay adds a new dimension to the action. You can pause the game to watch that solider fall backward with the force of a shield bash, his face contorted with surprise and pain, or watch a sword in mid-arc, having just beheaded a foe in a finishing move, or an arrow in mid-flight, zipping to its target, all frozen in time for you to observe and screenshot if you so desire.
In a sentence, combat is brutal, dynamic and very, very (ridiculously) bloody.
Betrayal II: The Ties That Bind
Remember when I wrote about the complexity and moral dilemma associated with my choice earlier, and how I initially decided to venture down the path of nobility and righteousness? This event changed it all, and I realized that the unforgiving world of Dragon Age: Origins necessitates an uncompromising, at times selfish, and downright ruthless approach.
Earlier in the origins story, I had to battle some of the greatest combatants the dwarf empire had to offer. After the final match, I had the prize helm sent to my last foe as a token of appreciation for his ferocity in battle. This character later joined my party as we hunted in the Deep Roads. After the inevitable confrontation with my older brother and his co-conspirators, an event that resulted in his death, this warrior betrayed me. He flat-out lied to the assembly elder and to my father the king. Adding to the sense of betrayal was my younger brother, who had plotted all along to turn us against each other, in a bid to ensure he would be the sole candidate for the throne after our father passed away.
I was surprised, appalled, irritated and angry all at the same time. It sounds like a complex amalgamation of emotions, but play through the origins story, and you will feel a sense of helplessness coupled with unbridled rage at how you had been played all along. Even in this situation, the game surprised me further, when my companion Gorim, despite overwhelming (and false) evidence against me, choose to stand his ground and support me, uncaring of whatever consequences. So naturally, I was disappointed when Bronte got jailed, and was separated from Gorim, till some later, unknown point in the game. He visited me in confinement, saying he will always stand by my side, asking me to seek him out, as he too had been exiled to the surface. The sense of loss and despair, strangely enough, was quite palpable for me.
End of The (Deep) Road
I was cast out, exiled from the underground kingdom, sent into the Deep Roads to fight the darkspawn in battle till I perished. My only hope of salvation to find the Grey Warden Duncan and his companions deep inside the tunnels.
Overall, I was enthralled by the incredible complexity, depth and multi-faceted nature of the story. If this is just the beginning of what some claim to be an 80+ hour epic journey, I am hooked. I can’t wait to see what other origins stories have to offer.