Steam sales bring out a terrible, terrible beast in me. A Doctor Jeckyll/Gamer Hyde, if you will. Games that have never piqued my interest become objects of adoration and unbridled lust if you slap a 75% off sticker on them. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a cheap bastard? Maybe it’s because I missed five years of gaming by going to school and being poor. But whatever it is, I ravenously consume game purchases and, more often than not, I have games that I never play.
I don’t know why I never played Dragon Age: Origins before. I’ve been trying to think of a reason why but I can’t summon one up. It came out in 2009, when I was in college and was busy, so that’s a possibility. It might have been that the intro price was too high for a game that I generally don’t automatically go for (3rd person RPG). It might have just been that my computer couldn’t run it when it came out. But, during the last Steam sale, when the Discount Diety laid it’s head to the bosom of Dragon Age: Origins…I picked it up. And I’m very glad I did.
The overarching story is simple: evil is rising once again and you have to stop it. You run away from your past life (because of a series of circumstances) and become a Warden, a superhero group that is kinda like the Avengers Initiative only with more blood drinking. You do the intro, you’re given a few grand tasks to be completed, and you’re sent on your way. The rest is up to you.
Now, if you stop there and analyze the story…it’s pretty goddamn boring. And cliche. But that “the rest is up to you” part is what makes this game so much fun. To start, you have a choice of elf, dwarf, or human. I chose dwarf because dwarves are bad-ass. Then you have a choice of birth: high-born or low-born. I chose low-born because I’m a low-brow man. Then you can choose your class: warrior, mage, or rogue. Elves can’t be warriors and dwarves can’t be mages, so I chose rogue (which is what I choose in everything ever that gives me the option). To better illustrate my point, here is my rogue. Stabbers. Yes, I’m not good at names.
So you think you’re done there, right? Nope. You can pick your skills for each class, such as Persuasion, Trapmaking, Lockpicking, Herbalism, Poison-Making, etc. Each class has a few ways to handle combat, as well, based on how you allot ability points. Rogues can dual wield weapons or use bows. Warriors can go sword and shield, dual weapon, archery, or two-handed weapons, mages can unlock spell tracks such as Arcane, Primal, Creation, Spirit, and Entropy. AND, as you level up through combat, questing, stealing everything not bolted down, etc., you can choose Specifications once you get the points to allot to which give FURTHER ability tracks. Each class has at least three specifications (six with the DLCs), that you have to either buy books on (i.e. A Bard’s Guide To Shootery and Vocalization) or have someone train you in…
…which brings me to my next point. You are given a few tasks and kicked in the proverbial ass out into the world of Ferelden. You can do whatever you want first. They teach you the basics and kick you out there. Which I love. And the choices you make along the way affect everything. Not like “you saved this guy and now you get more gold to buy things” affect. More like “this is what you said to this lady and it got back to this other lady and now you’re kinda in deep shit.” Everything you do, or say, or DON’T do or say, is a rock thrown into the lake of Dragon Age: Origins. The ripples emanate out and touch every shore, no matter how small the rock you throw is. You can pick up companions to fill out your party based on these choices. Or not. And, let’s be honest, if a game gives you a few tasks (I think it was three), there’s gonna be complications. And quests within quests. And quests within quests within quests. Questception.
At this point I’ve spent about 700 words talking about what I love about it. And I can keep going. But there was one bugbear of mine that hamstrung the game for me and it was the AI. You can have up to four people in your group at any one time but you can only control one of them at a time. You can freely switch between them during combat and use the Space bar to pause combat in order to issue orders. But by default, you had to choose how you wanted each class to act in combat (i.e. Warriors could be a Defender and Mages could be Healing). You could also customize their actions as well by changing parameters in their Tactics slots, which were basically slots that issued if/ then statements to the AI. But the problem was was that it just wasn’t good enough. In order to get more Tactics slots, you had to put points into a skill called Combat Tactics, which allowed you to stack more and more options to each character. It presented a problem, though. You got a skill point every two or three levels (depending on what class) and a free Tactics slot every 4~ish levels (3, 6, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30). So you could sink skill points, at the expense of more useful skills, just to customize what your friends do in combat, or you could just grin and bear it and try to micro-manage everything. And even then the AI was pretty dumb, due to the limits of the if/then statements given. It made combat feel clunky when you came up on things of difficulty and lead me to just tank everything on my rogue because everyone else was bad at their job (which, surprisingly, was effective).
With that small hiccup said and done, I really…really…REALLY loved this game. Immensely. I put in 80 hours in a week and a half. Yes, I lead a sad life but that should tell you how much I liked it. Despite it’s combat difficulties and its tendency to crash during combat (which may have been a dual-core hardware issue, Google it), it pulled me in to the narrative like no game has done since…like…Windwaker. And given how many choices you could make during the narrative, how many ways you could kit out your character, and how vastly different combat is with each class, it’s replay value is incredibly deep. I paid $7.50 for this game (yeah, 75% off) and, honestly, I feel bad for paying that little. I should have picked it up much, much earlier when the hype was real and I could talk to people about it without them wondering why I’m obsessing over a six year old game. To further entice you, here are some pictures of the story of Stabbers, the dust-town rogue and his good buddy Snuggles, the war mabari. Go buy it. And say “hi” to Morrigan again for me.