Dragon Age: Origins- What Keeps Me Interested?

In my latest attempts to beat the fallow, I’ve turned to Dragon Age: Origins. Several of my friends started playing this, so I decided to dust the grime off it and take it for another spin. To my surprise, I’m actually quite enjoying it.

I got Dragon Age on release date, and played it for several hours as a human noble. Eventually though, I got bored stupid of it and left it by the wayside. This is actually true of most Fantasy RPG games that I play in this style. Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights (1 and 2), and so forth. I don’t know what it is about these games- I usually really enjoy them, but for some reason I end up putting them down one day and never coming back. Strangely, this also happened with FF VIII, and FFXII (although I have to say I dislike the latter, but found VIII to be pretty fun. Sorry Spoony).

So what is it about Dragon Age that is actually holding my interest in this way the second time around? What can I extract from Dragon Age that could be applied to other games to make them better? I've narrowed it down to a few points, so let’s have a butchers.

I’ve had rants about videogame writing before, so I’m not going to repeat them here. Suffice to say that generally the quality of videogame writing is appalling. In Dragon Age though, this is not so. Bioware made big claims that Dragon Age is aimed at a more mature audience, and to my surprise I found they where actually right. Most ‘mature’ games are actually just a string of blood and tits, and while Dragon Age certainly has these… assets, the characterization, presentation and dialogue are all very mature. Emphasis is placed on tough moral decisions, and looks at areas such as racism, responsibility versus freedom, tradition versus rights, sexuality and so forth.

It’s very rare to see such a mature and interesting look at these fields in a videogame of all things. And while the game does let itself down at times with cheap shots and poorly executed dialogue, for the most part, the thought and ideas behind the quests keep me interested. It’s better than the standard of writing found in most fantasy games, which is ‘save world’ and not much else. Again, Dragon Age does have the ‘save world’ meta plot, but the stories woven inside that are far more interesting and emotive that those found in other fantasy RPGs.


This is everything the gambit system in FFXII should have been. Simple, clean, effective and actually useful. Now the gambit system was all of these things, but the rest of FFXII failed it. The way the game played meant that in the early hours the gambit system was just too simple to be useful, and the need to actually buy the commands for use in it was just stupid.

In Dragon age, the only thing you need to buy up for the tactics system are the slots- everything else is just there and ready to go. The result is that you end up able to create some phenomenally interesting and useful set ups right off the bat. Unlocking Tactics slots lets you refine these ideas further, but Dragon Age gives you plenty of options right off the bat.

For example, my preferred set up is to give Alistair the best armour I can and have him use the threaten mode to draw Aggro. He also uses taunt on any enemy that’s attacking my mages. The result is that everyone wails on Alistair, and between his armour, some buffs and an ungodly Con score, he can take it. Add in tactics for him and other characters to use interrupts like shield bash and dirty fighting to lower the DPS against him, a healer to automatically heal him (using one of their tactics slots), and a poultice command if his health gets really low- and you have a set up which keeps the entire party safe.

This sort of in depth scripting is an excellent example of something that’s been missing from these top down RPG games for a very long time- it rewards you for thinking laterally, coming up with good tactics and shaping characters to work together. It also means your tactics meld together seamlessly with the precision you only get through automation. Plus it saves you pausing every 5 seconds.

An excellent world.

In his review of Dragon Age, Yahtzee rather unfairly accused all fantasy writers of ripping off Tolkien. And while that may be true, many authors have taken the formula and done something interesting with it. Dragon Age is one such piece. Interesting set ups and ideas like the Elves being recently released slaves, the dwarven socio-political system, the circle of the magi and so forth, distinguish it from other fantasy settings which just offer the same standard ideas and presentations.

These are mostly still present in Dragon Age, but that gives us a basis that is already familiar on which the writers have built the unique elements. By creating a ‘vanilla’ fantasy world, there’s no need to waste time expositing about standard crap to ensure you understand the ins and outs of the situations you are getting involved in. This leaves plenty of game time to be devoted to the unique aspects of the world setting. In many games, either too little attention is paid to the basics of a whole new setting, leaving you scratching your head about the most basic parts of the society, or the game is just going for ‘Generic Fantasy’ with nothing to differentiate it. Thus by mixing the two Dragon Age lets us explore it’s uniqueness, but with a comfortable and familiar backdrop.

I always look forwards to what I’m going to find next. The intrigue, the setting, the quests, everything has an interesting twist or some sort of hidden idea, or even just something new that I haven’t seen in the fantasy genre before.

So there we go, a few bits and pieces that keep Dragon Age: Origins interesting where other fantasy RPGs have failed. I hope to see more of these in the future, and kudos to Bioware for pulling it off so well. I still can't quite figure out what put me off the first time though, but I do remember the difficulty spiking very badly just before I called it quits. Perhaps Bioware fell to one the deadly sins.

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