Mon
Jan 25 2010 12:17pm

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Dragon Age

Dragon Age: Origins

This is part game review, part cry for help.

I admit to having an addictive personality. I smoked for a couple of years in and after college, and still miss it (even though it’s been around fifteen years since I quit) as a girl I played Defender obsessively on my Atari, Final Fantasy obsessively on Gameboy and PlayStation, and then as an adult, yes, World of Warcraft. I quit WoW a couple of years ago, thank goodness. And, like smoking, I miss it sometimes.

And now there’s a new addiction: Dragon Age.

I know Bioware has done immersive RPGs before. I played Baldur’s Gate, and tried Neverwinter Nights, and they were fun, but both failed to hook me. Then I got Dragon Age, with its golden, barbed hook that felt soooo good...

Dragon Age is a game that allows you to, yes, save the world from the horrendous monsters, but the real attraction of this game is the plot itself and the deeply-detailed dialogue trees you can use to change the outcome of the game or learn more about your NPC companions’ pasts and secrets. Other RPGs like Final Fantasy have romance that’s pre-set and limited (in Final Fantasy VII, the most wiggle-room you have is the male PC go on a chaste little date with the woman you’ve had longest in the party; if you have played the game with neither, you go on a confused date with Barrett, one of the male NPCs.) But in Dragon Age you can have romances with several of the characters, some are bi-sexual, and your experience all depends on how you treat them in the dialogue trees.

Unlike many RPGs, there’s no real good or evil alignment. You can be kind to the point of being a wuss, and you can be mean to the point of just gutting people in conversation if you don’t like them. Your companions will have opinions on your actions, though, and may choose to leave you if you keep being a right bastard and cutting open everyone you meet.

I prefer to play the game with the strategy guide—I don’t see it as cheating because these don’t feel like “games” to me. They’re interactive stories, and if I have the strategy guide, I can see all the parts of the story that I want to. The clever bastards at BioWare have made it necessary to play the game through multiple times to see all the stuff, too. You can start as a human, dwarf, or elf, and you can be warrior, rogue, or mage (with specializations coming at higher levels). Each has her own origin story showing her life at home, and then Something Happens to make her leave the warm confines of home (the dwarven noble gets framed for her brother’s murder, the human noble escapes her family’s slaughter, etc) and then gets sent to be part of the Gray Wardens, an elite army with admittedly questionable hazing rituals. Chugging beer at frat houses got nothing on being forced to drink demon blood, and oh yeah, you might die.

Incidentally, for some reason, the game doesn’t think it’s bad for you to strip your companions bare before the hazing—er, the “Joining”—and then, after the ritual, sell their stuff for gold. Not that I have done this. Terrible practice. Really.

So besides the sweet dialogue romancing, you also have a chance to invite your companions to “join you in your tent” at camp. You have your choice between the cranky mage Morrigan (voiced by Claudia Black from Farscape) who’s strictly hetero; the innocent, bisexual rogue Liliana; the shy, delicious, straight, wry, virgin warrior Alistair; and the bisexual male elven rogue, Zevran, who you meet farther in the game than I've gotten. You can apparently romance more than one at a time, although they may notice and confront you. So, uh, can you tell which one I’m trying to currently romance? Yeah. Like I said, people: cry for help, here. Even though Alastair says adorable things like, “Have you ever llllicked a llllamppost in winter?” during an innuendo-heavy discussion.

Alistair the WarriorI've yet to entice Alistair to lick any lampposts, sadly. He gave me a rose and I thought he was good to go, but when I invited him to my tent, he turned me down. Too shy. Dammit.

(Brief aside: In searching the web for images, I did find many of Alistair. Apparently characters in Dragon Age wear nothing but undies under their armor and end up nearly nude if you strip them. It seems people have a habit of stripping Alistair, arming him with a sword, and sending him into battle. This is terrible. I did not enjoy these images at all.)

What, gameplay? Oh all right. It's quite good. It has to be; even kick-ass storytelling and character interaction are not enough to keep me going through a shitty game experience. Some of the combat is rather difficult if you don’t have the right party or have the right tactics set up, which are very simple commands to dictate your NPCs' actions: if Enemy is <50% heath, then attack with fireball, or if PC is about to die, then heal them, etc. But this game shines in every aspect. Some games you pay $50 for your game to give you a couple of hours of gameplay, but Dragon Age promises scores of hours, and that’s only with one play through. I game on the PlayStation 3 but it’s available for XBox 350 and PC, as well. (Wikipedia claims it’s out for the Mac, but I’ll be licked like a lamppost in winter if I can find it.)

So if you’re a stronger soul than I am, I recommend this game. I don't recommend it if you're liable to become its very willing slave. In fact, it’s lunchtime now. I get my half hour to eat, or play Dragon Age…. Coming, Alistair!


Mur Lafferty is an author and podcaster. She is the host of I Should Be Writing and the author of Playing For Keeps, among other things. You can find all of her projects at Murverse.com. She isn't really infatuated with a cartoon character. Anyway, no one will replace Hong Kong Phooey in her heart.

39 comments
Marcus W
1. toryx
Incidentally, for some reason, the game doesn’t think it’s bad for you to strip your companions bare before the hazing—er, the “Joining”—and then, after the ritual, sell their stuff for gold.

Man, that never occurred to me! I'm going to have to be sure I do that next time. Brilliant!

I've been playing Dragon Age on the PC for about a month now and I'm still working my way through it for the first time. I haven't actually done any romancing (I didn't know you could invite them to your tent!) but I really enjoy the relationships that develop between the characters.

Alastair I personally consider to be a sort of wanker so I hardly ever travel with him even though I'm generally a goodie two-shoes who can't be rude to anyone.

I really like the difficulty of some of the choices that have to be made and the gameplay has been a blast. The one complaint I have is that a party of four people is just too small. I need room for at least one more person.

Overall, I totally agree with you. It's a great game and oh so easy to get addicted to.
stupergenius
2. stupergenius
Any game that lets me kill people mid conversation is good in my book. Oh how I enjoy being a bastard.
Fade Manley
3. fadeaccompli
The game is indeed out on Mac, though you have to jump through a few website hoops to find it; it's only available for Macs as a downloadable version.

It's also the reason why I'm getting a lot less done this month than I should be. (Must...go through...all dialogue trees...with companions in camp...)

I think my favorite moment so far in the entire game was a casual conversation between two of my party members while I was wandering around Denerim, looking for plot. They started talking about my character's sex life. Complete with a comment on, "Do you think he can hear us up there?" "Nah, he's distracted."
Marcus W
4. toryx
stupergenius @ 2:

One of my favorite tactics at higher level is to carefully approach new rooms, take a look to see if it's filled with potential bad guys and if it is, drop a Blizzard right into it before anyone even knows I'm there.

The best part is if there's a cut scene that occurs when you first enter the room, the Blizzard will continue while that's happening, and minions just keep taking damage.
Luke M
5. lmelior
I'm now on my second playthrough myself! The first time I was a goody-goody, sword-and-shield wielding, human male warrior. I tried to make him look like me. This time I'm an evil, female Elven mage, who I tried to make look like my wife. I derive great pleasure in showing her the dastardly deeds that she performs, like killing the prisoner in the cage at Ostagar, choosing the mean dialogue with almost everybody, and generally just slaughtering anybody who crosses her.

I always play through once without looking at a strategy guide, so my choices weren't always the best the first time through. But this time my mage is insanely powerful. I haven't had my whole party die once, whereas those blasted Mabari in the basement of Redcliff castle killed my warrior's party half a dozen times before I gave up and came back later.

@toryx
I do that too! Tempest works for this as well. In fact, in my current playthrough I have Morrigan cast Blizzard at the same time my Elven mage casts Tempest. Wynne can get Earthquake pretty easily, but I haven't gotten that for her yet. I'm sure the effects will stack quite nicely though!
Kate Baker
6. Kate_Baker
I love, love, love this game. So much so, that I kept forcing myself to go back to camp just so I could make out with Alastair.

What?

;)
Lannis .
7. Lannis
In searching the web for images, I did find many of Alistair. Apparently characters in Dragon Age wear nothing but undies under their armor and end up nearly nude if you strip them. It seems people have a habit of stripping Alistair, arming him with a sword, and sending him into battle.

Aaaaaand now I have to go visit Google... Ha!
Mur Lafferty
8. mightymur
@ fadeaccompli - my favorite convo between NPCs is Alistair saying, "Liliana, you're a woman, right? I need some advice on how to talk to someone special." She replies, "Well, the first thing not to do is question whether she's a woman."

@ lmelior DAMN THE MABARI! That pack slaughtered me more times than I'd like to admit. Bad doggies! I only recently read ahead in the guide and now realize that even though I had the foresight to know what immediate conflicts are coming, I haven't set up my character well to do what Needs To Be Done at the end. (no spoilers. But dangit.)

@ Kate_Baker I'm shocked. SHOCKED. I would never do such a thing. I have never DONE such a thing. Your deviant nature is truly dreadful.
- -
9. heresiarch
"Dragon Age is a game that allows you to, yes, save the world from the horrendous monsters, but the real attraction of this game is the plot itself and the deeply-detailed dialogue trees you can use to change the outcome of the game or learn more about your NPC companions’ pasts and secrets."

Dragon Age features one of the most flexible plots I've found in an RPG, but for me it really highlighted how far the genre has to go. It's nice to have potential responses ranging from "Of course I will help you find your puppy" to "...in order to EAT IT!" but when there's such a range to cover there's not much nuance--at any menu, you basically have the violent option, the mercenary option, the goodie two-shoes option, and maybe one or two others. What if I'm good, but the "good" option is too compromising for my templar-esque character?

And then there's the chronic role-player/monty hauler fork, across which I am always divided. Do I drop character in order to take the quest assassinating some poor virtuous schmoe (or saving the drowning kitten), or do I stay in character and pass up my only chance at getting the awesome quest reward? I think I'd like the game better if after having responded one way consistently five or six times, the game would just stop offering diametrically opposed dialogue options. It could offer more options within my chosen character morality, maybe even options opening up new quests to compensate for the ones I've passed up in the name of role-playing. Sort of an adaptive testing deal.

toryx @ 1: "Alastair I personally consider to be a sort of wanker so I hardly ever travel with him even though I'm generally a goodie two-shoes who can't be rude to anyone."

Yeah, I hear you there.

My favorite tactic is Petrify-->Stonefist. Most non-boss opponents shatter for an instant kill. I never got Blizzard--I went for the fire spells. Inferno's a bit irritating because instead of resolving instantly, it takes several seconds to cast, by which time the enemies have wandered out of the AoE. One good option is casting Earthquake or Fireball first to keep them in place, but it's not ideal.
- -
10. heresiarch
toryx @ 4: "The best part is if there's a cut scene that occurs when you first enter the room, the Blizzard will continue while that's happening, and minions just keep taking damage."

I love that. Also if you enter conversation right after battle and your party is still on fire.

"Can I ask you something personal?"
*swathed in flames* "Perhaps we should wait until we are in camp."
Pam K
11. PamK
In all the hours I have spent playing this game (and let me tell you, it is A LOT), it never occurred to me to have the characters run around Ferelden in their undies. (Pam's first rule of adventuring: Everybody wears pants.) I am somewhat disappointed in myself for not thinking of it!

Relatedly, you do not have to strip the other initiates to sell their stuff after the Joining ritual, it's all deposited in your inventory automatically. Of course, if you're in it for the scantily-clad gentlemen, that's a different matter!
Marcus W
12. toryx
mightymur & lmelior:

Yeah, those Mabari suck. I ended up just sneaking past them and avoided the fight with them entirely.

@5: I've actually given Morrigan both Blizzard and Tempest. So a lot of the time, I'll have her cast Blizzard and freeze people in place, and then follow up with Tempest to zap the hell out of them.

heresiarch @ 9: My favorite combo is to have Morrigan freeze someone in place and then Wynne follows it up with Stonefist. It has the same effect, though the freeze factor might not be quite as effective as Petrify. I'm going to take the Fire path next time.
- -
13. heresiarch
toryx @ 12: "My favorite combo is to have Morrigan freeze someone in place and then Wynne follows it up with Stonefist."

Hee. Wynne and Morrigan in the same party? They must have some neat conversations.

"I'm going to take the Fire path next time."

There's a lot more re-playability value with mages than with warriors or rogues, isn't there? Mages can mix and match any spell progression they want, but most warrior and rogue talents are locked into particular weapon-power combinations. I'm currently playing a dual-weapon rogue (because I missed the Ranger specialization last time around), but in combat she's basically the same as Zevran.
stupergenius
14. maplebee
The big points with Alistair come from looting Arl Eamon's desk at Redcliff, and then restoring his mother's necklace to him... He doesn't seem very concerned with how you got it.

He'll submit eventually. Just takes some persuasion. And then depending what origin you started with he'll make you hate him even while you love him, haha.
Luke M
15. lmelior
@ heresiarch #13
I wonder about that. I'm still not sure what I wanted to do with my rogue playthrough, if I wanted to try an archer. It seems like it'd be a major pain trying to keep a healthy stock of arrows. I'll probably go the dual-wielding route though. If not I'll probably make a dual-wielding warrior afterwards.

Yeah, I'm addicted too. :)

Speaking of mabari/Ranger specialization, Dog was one of my favorite characters once he got Overwhelm. Charge into the middle of a group of enemies, Dread Howl to stun everybody, then Overwhelm any magic user. So I'm definitely making my future rogue a Ranger at Level 7, and bringing in the wolf or bear. My mage is working on getting the Glyph of Neutralization, so hopefully this tactic is not so necessary this time.

Oh and she'll definitely be a Blood Mage too, as I hear Blood Wound is damn near cheating. :)

Also, more tips:
1.) If you are on your second playthrough and you missed buying the specialization manuals, load any save from your first playthrough and buy them, and they'll be unlocked for your other playthroughs.
2.) Go to the mages as soon as possible, for the permanent attribute boosts.
Sarah Wilson
16. Wilson
Completely and unashamedly addicted to this game, though I do try to limit time spent in order to be a proper mom. Nothing says neglect like, "yeah, I'll get you lunch after i slaughter these darkspawn..."

The dog rocks, the characters are awesome, and I just love the dancing through dialogue to achieve the ends that you want.

I personally think that anything Bioware touches is gold, but that might be national pride. Go, Canada, Go!

Also, love the way you can stack up the mage powers and create combo type moves. And how you can climb up on orges when their health is low and shove a sword through them.

I don't have the manual, but have played through 1.5 times as well as downloadable content. To all those out there not in the Dragon Age zone, you are definitly missing out.
- -
17. heresiarch
lmelior @ 15: "It seems like it'd be a major pain trying to keep a healthy stock of arrows."

Well, you don't NEED arrows--archers have an unlimited supply of mundane ones. It's only the magic arrows that are unlimited. And Arrow of Slaying is ridiculous.

"Oh and she'll definitely be a Blood Mage too, as I hear Blood Wound is damn near cheating. :)"

Really? My experiences with blood magic went like this: my mage activates blood magic, casts one spell and then dies. It didn't thrill me. Maybe I just didn't get the hang of it? I dunno.

Wilson @ 16: "And how you can climb up on orges when their health is low and shove a sword through them."

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend finishing any high dragons you encounter with a melee fighter. Very sweet finishing animation.
Sarah Wilson
18. Wilson
heresiarch @ 17

Thanks, I will try that the next time i search for the urn.
stupergenius
20. Caitrin
I love Dragon Age! I admit I'm throughly addicted now! And since Alastair was a bastard and wouldn't marry my lovely Dwarf Noble I'm playing a Human Noble now intent on becoming Queen. I WILL RULLLLLLE!!!!!

*coughs* ahem >.> So much fun to play :D
deviousjen
21. deviousjen
My boyfriend received Dragon Age for Christmas and - being the wonderful man that he is - brought it with him the next time he came over. He played through to Ostagar and then handed me the controller... which was the last time he got to touch the game all weekend. :) I spent the next 2 days laying waste to Darkspawn with my fierce Dalish warrior.

One of my favorite things about the game is the "choose-your-own-adventure" dialogue. I'm still only on my first playthrough, but I can't wait to check out the other origins and see how the gameplay changes.

I've yet to entice Alistair to lick any lampposts, sadly.
I feel your pain. Despite many attempts, I had to give up on Alistair (I suspect I lost his favor when I sanctioned the use of blood magic to save Connor - oops) and switched to Zevran. He's no Templar/Grey Warden, but Zev's sleaze knows no bounds and it brings me joy. :)
stupergenius
22. boquaz
The storytelling towards the end of the game goes into overdrive. I've never quite been so *angry* at a game before, it was great! Make sure you play it through.

If you can pick up the "Stone Prisoner" addon, the dialog added for Shale (new character) is very good.

"Death to all pigeons!"
Mur Lafferty
23. mightymur
@Caitrin Hah! I have a Dwarven noble rogue just languishing because I found out she couldn't be queen, so my noble human warrior is on the job now. Wish I'd made her a rogue, though.

Maybe I should make the dwarf sleep with Alistair and then dump his ass before he dumps her...

I'm gratified to know I'm not the only person with a healthy... appreciation for this game.
stupergenius
24. Teka Lynn
Oooh! This sounds EXACTLY like the sort of game I love.
Lachlan Brumley
25. leper_puppet
The game is great. Combat is moderately simple, but still has a lot of depth. The characters are wonderfully voiced and well written and its great to hear to your companions talking to you or to each other. Quests have plenty of solutions, most of which aren't clearly good or evil outcomes.

I managed to romance my way from Morrigan to Leliana to Zevran and then back to Leliana in the same game. I'd like to add Alistair to the list for the sake of completeness, though I'm not sure if he's into men and he's also a tad angry at me for killing Connor. I can always try and buy him off with gifts though.
stupergenius
26. JV Mallory
Ooh. Thank you for this! (Or curse you, depending on what follows. *g*)

I get addicted really easily, so I haven't actually played a game (other than an occasional round of Minesweeper) since I was at school and StarCraft first came out. Recently I've been wondering whether this self-imposed game ban should stop, just because I'm so bad at taking time to relax in the evenings.

I'm so out of touch with what's around, though, that I've been delaying my re-entry into gaming. I'm glad to have a review to rely on: DragonAge sounds like something I'll really enjoy. I think I'll treat myself to it... if I find that Mac version!

Thanks for the review.
stupergenius
27. PhotoJim
I'm having too much fun with this game now. Unfortunately, I have two teenage sons and a wife who also like the game. Laughing about things that happen without giving away the plot lines to each other is a bit tricky though.

I'm not sure what my favorite dialog is to date. My eldest's occurred while intimidating someone the other day. "In my travels I have slaughtered hundreds. You are but a number to me."
Marcus W
29. toryx
heresiarch @ 13:

Actually, Wynne and Morrigan are fairly civil together. There's been the occasional touchy conversations but not many.

On the other hand, Oghren (sp?) and Morrigan are hilarious. I was so glad to get Oghren in my party that I dumped Alistair on the spot. He's a riot.

I'm not sure about the re-playability for warriors and rogues. For my Dwarven Noble Warrior, I've focused exclusively on the Weapon and Shield fighting style so that next time I feel like playing a warrior I can try something different. I haven't even looked at the other weapon use talents yet so that it'll still be something new to explore and experiment with.

Oh, and the finishing animation for a dragon is pure awesome. That was a great fight all around.
Luke M
30. lmelior
@ JV Mallory
Looks like Direct2Drive has it here, Gamersgate has it here, and GameTreeOnline has it here, all for Mac, downloadable-only as has been said above. It appears to be US/Canada only.

@ heresiarch
Well, you don't NEED arrows--archers have an unlimited supply of mundane ones. It's only the magic arrows that are unlimited.
Wow, I had no idea. I never really controlled Leliana or Zevran when I equipped them with a bow and arrows, but I just know they would always end up with their daggers out. I had assumed that happens when they either run out of arrows or their tactics make them switch, but I guess it's all tactics. Learn something new every day! Maybe I will go with an archer rogue after all.

Oh and I definitely agree with the finishing animations. Way awesome.

Shale comes with the game if you buy it new, at least for a limited time. His dialogue can be hilarious. I like when you unselect him from your party, he says, "Pigeon crap!" And his farewell if you don't take him to fight the Archdemon is great.
- -
32. heresiarch
toryx @ 29: "Actually, Wynne and Morrigan are fairly civil together. There's been the occasional touchy conversations but not many."

I'm almost disappointed. I hear there's one part where if you choose the Morrigan-pleasing/Wynne-displeasing option when both are in the party, Morrigan actually approves more.

lmelior @ 30: "I had assumed that happens when they either run out of arrows or their tactics make them switch, but I guess it's all tactics. "

I think they autoswitch if someone closes to melee range. Same with my Arcane Warrior and staff-->melee. So irritating!

(I'm glad you understood what I meant, given that I accidentally wrote that magic arrows are unlimited.)
Marcus W
33. toryx
lmelior @ 30:

This is the second time I've heard something about some limited time freebies that you get when you buy the game. I don't know anything about how you get ahold of it though. How do you go about doing that?

I'm going to have to create an account online for that sort of thing, aren't I?

heresiarch @ 32:

Actually, it may well be true that Morrigan actually approves more if you choose something that Wynne disapproves of. I hadn't thought to pay attention to that.

I'm also trying to straddle the fine line of keeping them both happy at the same time. So far I've been pretty successful, but I ended up leaving Morrigan behind entirely when I got into the Circle Mage quest just to avoid pissing her off.

It's an interesting challenge.
- -
34. heresiarch
toryx @ 33: "I'm going to have to create an account online for that sort of thing, aren't I?"

I'm afraid you are. Shale's worth it, though.

"It's an interesting challenge."

It is. My first game I let chips fall where they may as to who liked me, but this game I'm being a bit more careful. It might be too finicky and therefore too annoying to keep up--it's a pain to reload a save because a conversation didn't have the outcome I'd hoped for. Time will tell.
Marcus W
35. toryx
heresiarch @ 34:

Well then, I'll have to set up my account online tonight when I get home.

The only real concern I've had in terms of my NPCs this first time around is keeping them fairly happy. I didn't do a good job of that with Alistair, which initially made me feel kind of guilty for some reason, but I've done well enough with the rest. Next time through, I'll focus more on developing the romance thing. I almost had it going with Morrigan but I had to go and put my foot in it and tell her I didn't think we had time for that sort of nonsense. Oops.

I have to say, I'm enjoying having a chance to talk about this game with other players. The only problem is, it makes me want to play even more.
Dan Sparks
36. RedHanded
I'm in the middle of my 2nd playthrough of Borderlands which is consuming much of my free time but damn this is making me want to go buy Dragon Age right now, sounds amazing. I'd probably opt to get the strategy guide too as I'd probably want to do everything. I have a feeling that a lot of my time is going to be spent gaming this year since Final Fantasy is coming out in March also.
Marcus W
37. toryx
So it turns out that the reason I didn't know about the free downloadable character and quest is that the card with the codes were not included with my game. The jewel cases says they should have been, but I somehow didn't get them.

Waiting to see if EA or Black Isle will help me out with that.
- -
38. heresiarch
toryx @ 37: {i]"So it turns out that the reason I didn't know about the free downloadable character and quest is that the card with the codes were not included with my game."

Oh, that is really not cool. *sympathies*
Jennifer Baughman
39. JenniferBaughman
Hrm. I'm catching up on my reading, and I don't know if anyone's still reading this thread, but I'll throw this out there just in case. I happen to know some of the support people at EA, and asked one of them how to handle the missing code situation -- xie said you have two options to contact Support:

* Via the E-mail Us link at http://support.ea.com and make sure to specify that it's a code issue and not a technical one.

* Via the support number listed (usually) on the back of the game manual.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment