Dragon Age: “Oi, mate, a darkspawn nicked me mobile!”

Dragon Age: Origins is a game about people with accents living through an invasion of hellspawn and

Dragon Age: Origins is a game about making “difficult” decisions and defending a swamp kingdom while

Dragon Age: Origins is a game where you play psychotherapist to a rag-tag group of

Dragon Age: Origins (DA:O) is a game. It’s well crafted, weaves an engaging story and is based on a strong gameplay system. It also suffers from a completely overpowering atmosphere of grimness, imbalance, and some pretty goofy sex scenes.

The logo, with its bloody dragon, screams "These ain't your daddys dragons!" about as much as a picture of a dragon doing a kick-flip over a dead knight would.

DA:O places you in the clunky platemail boots (seriously, every time your character takes a step, you’ll hear it) of the newest recruit of the Gray Wardens. The Gray Wardens are a sort of high fantasy Navy SEAL team, the best of the best. When the land is at risk of being overrun by Darkspawn (orcs), the Wardens swoop in and put down the Blight. They’re given the right to recruit anyone and everyone, from prince to prisoner, and possess superhuman abilities.

Feel like you could use a little more explanation of those terms? So did I, the first time I played DA:O. And in order to get it, you’ll have to dig through pages and pages of (admittedly well-written) the in-game dictionary/guidebook. Everything gets an entry, from a king you meet for about twenty minutes to a recipe for fish stew to a dissertation on the various kinds of demons. At the beginning, it’s interesting and immersive. By the end, when you’ve got about 300 entries and no way to skip directly to new ones if you didn’t notice when they were added, it’s incredibly frustrating. It’s the equivalent of the chef coming out every two minutes and adding a sprig of parsley to your plate.

Yes, I get it, world-building is an important part of selling any sort of RPG these days. Gone are the times when a king can say “go rescue a princess” and off you go. Now, since we have the technology, let’s add in the entire lineage of the king and a twenty-minute animated film showing how your character came to be in front of the king.

Some of this frustration may be ameliorated if you play DA:O on a PC, where I’d imagine the mouse can be used to scroll around and get a better handle on all of your guidebook entries about magic rocks and fat dwarves. In fact, I feel like DA:O might be better played on a computer, where you could more easily direct your little people to their proper positions and access the twenty different kinds of fireballs your grim and blood-splattered mage can cast. Instead, if you’re playing on your Xbox 360, you can set up 6 different abilities and then promptly forget that all the rest of the twelve ways you have to swing a big sword exist.

And, oh man, will you be swinging that sword a lot. With few exceptions, the conclusion to almost any encounter you’ll have in DA:O is to murder something or someone. Group of farmers trying to collect a bounty on your head to feed their families? Kill ’em! Attempting to negotiate the appointment of a new king? Get ready for whoever you don’t choose to try to cut your head off! It goes on and on like that, because the world of DA:O is so edgy and dark and grim. People are racist against elves! Dwarves are stuck in a rigid caste system! Wizards wear robes made out of animal fur and dumb hats!

And those difficult choices I mentioned? Well…

One difficult decision: Do you feed your dog regular food or DECAYING CORPSES? Choose wisely, as the repercussions may be greater than you think...

The main storyline concerns your Gray Warden trying to unite the elves, humans, mages and dwarfs to stand against the threat of a hellish invasion. In a spectacular coincidence, every one of these groups has a problem that ONLY YOU can solve. So instead of saying “hey fuck you guys let’s just deal with the impending destruction of the land we all live in and then solve our problems” (which would make for an incredibly short game), you get to fix everything. And in the process, you’ll make these “tough” decisions. They generally boil down to “who gets to live”. Do you kill every single wizard because they might turn into a horrible half-demon beast, or do you not be a terrific jerkwad? Do you allow the dwarves to turn the poor into golems through incredibly painful procedures, or do you realize that that’s the dumbest shit ever? Do you murder a bunch of werewolves because, fuck it, they’re werewolves or do you try to find out the truth of their curse?

Basically, every one of these choices comes down to “are you good or evil”, which is exactly what DA: O was supposed to be moving on from. It was supposed (at least, in the preview buzz I remember) to be about how much are you willing to sacrifice in order to defend your home? Are you able to make a tough choice and turn the poor into golems because without that power, you may not make it? How much shit can you eat in order to save your homeland? That’s not a question of good or evil, that’s a question of leadership. And that would be an awesome game.

Instead, we end up with problems that fit very nicely on the Good/Evil spectrum. Of course killing all the wizards is evil. No shit murdering sentient werewolves who only want to end their curse is a bad thing. Yeah, you should probably choose the king who’s most willing to be fair and not just murder his opponents. Or do the opposite of this. But don’t pretend it’s a difficult decision for me to make, because I know that I’ll be able to see the story through to the end either way. It’ll just change what color of dwarf I see at the end of the game.

In fact, there were only two choices in the whole game that gave me pause, and I’d like to talk about the two of them later, since they’re actually pretty cool and inventive choices and worth more than being stuck at the end of this article.

So, if I’ve just spent 1000 words complaining about this game, why did I spend a solid chunk of my life playing it? The answer may shock you: it’s fun. It’s pretty cool running around, killing demons, bantering with people, solving dwarf crimes and finding even bigger swords. More on that soon.

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