Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

December 26, 2021


Collected on: December 26, 2021

Forced by circumstances to leave your old life behind, you join the ranks of the Grey Wardens, an ancient order sworn to protect the world against the murderous Darkspawn. Though the fate of the whole continent lies in the balance, you’re the people’s only hope to stop their imminent advance. However, you’ll have to navigate the politics of several factions and explore dangerous locations to stand a chance. Shall you succeed?

Jop: Welcome to this in-depth, spoiler-free discussion of the video game Dragon Age: Origins (yes, the first one), which our curator Jop has added to the Escape Velocity Collection, a series of items that we believe represent the absolute peak of what the speculative genre has to offer.


I challenged Jop to defend this addition to the Collection – why should everyone start their Dragon Age journey at the first installment?

Defended By




As usual, I would like to start the conversation by asking when you first played Dragon Age: Origins, and what makes you remember it so fondly more than ten years after its release?

I was under 16 years old when a friend first showed me bits and pieces of Dragon Age: Origins. I played through some levels without any knowledge of the overarching plot and the specifics of the world. However, I remember I was deeply impressed by the extensive lore and the elements of choice. This was my first experience with roleplaying that offered me choices that the world actually reacted to, and I thought it magical! Here there was this gigantic, mystical fantasy world with its own detailed history, and I could impact how the future would look like? Not only that, I was able to travel with companions that really were well-rounded characters that had their own opinions on things? It evoked a weird mixture of wonder, adventure and godlike hubris in me, that I haven’t often felt since those early days of playing.

Even nowadays, the scope of the worldbuilding is something that gets to me. However, I think it is the unique way in which Bioware handles companions that I’m still deeply in love with. It’s not something I see well executed often.



 You just said that the worldbuilding was one of your favourite elements of Dragon Age. Dragon Age is set in a relatively generic medieval European fantasy setting – we have men, elves, dwarves, not-orcs called darkspawn, and, unsurprisingly, dragons; A kingdom with politicking barons, rivalry between mages and the church. At first glance, nothing new under the sun. If we dig a little deeper, what are the elements of worldbuilding that really drew you in?

Though you paint a fairly correct picture of what Thedas (the Dragon Age setting) looks like, Dragon Age actually manages to subvert many of the archetypes and tropes you would expect. Elves are not the superior species, the fair folk, but rather the outcasts of society and constant victims of discrimination. The dwarves are not a traditionally loyal and proud warrior culture, but instead a society of mostly merciless and backstabbing brutes. BioWare lures you with a false sense of familiarity with their tropes, but then surprises you with their execution.


Aditionally, what really stands out to me in Dragon Age’s worldbuilding, are the many secrets it harbors. Way too often in speculative fiction, you get told how a world works, and than that’s it. No twists and turns, just a clear and static world. But not so in Thedas. Sure, you’ll get tonnes of information and worldbuilding tidbits thrown at you, by both characters and in-world codexes. However, just like in the real world, it seems the truth of these sources is often very subjective. Things are not what they at first appear, and even things that seem clear-cut might suddenly be highlighted from a completely different perspective. To discover the ultimate truth, you’ll always have to delve a whole lot deeper.


I know you love character driven stories, and, as you said, that too was one of the aspects that drew you into Dragon Age. Could you elaborate on how the characters in Dragon Age are different from the stereotypes that we often see in video game writing?

The funny thing with many of Origins’ characters is that they very much seem like stereotypes, but they always come with a significant twist. Take the nobleman’s bastard, trained as a templar, for example. He’ll probably be a natural born leader, right? Well, not in Dragon Age. Your “mentor characters” are callous or short-sighted, while the characters that appear ruthless can suddenly harbor a misleadingly soft-hearted side. No one is predictable.


Furthermore, something that really stands out te me is how the characters develop as the story moves on, partially depending on your choices. Especially in the case of the companions. At the end of the road, it is as much their story as it is your character’s. I really love that.

You mention character development, which is a trait we associate with literature (or perhaps film) more often than with video games – could you perhaps elaborate on how the characters develop, how you experienced it and how that is different in a game compared to a book?

Certainly. Origins comes with the so-called approval system for your companions, in which the game tracks to what extent your companions like (or dislike) you. Dependent on their relationship with you, your companions open up about their (tragic) backstories and you get the opportunity to discuss your opinions. In addition, when a character likes you, they are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt when you perform a deed they find questionable. This allows you to somewhat shape your companion’s views. Especially Alistair and Leliana can undergo some significant character development in this way.


I really liked how my character wasn’t the only one with opinions and goals. It feels less like you’re playing a video game on your own. I also think this is where it really differs from character development in books. When you’ve personally travelled with someone for hours, chatting with them when you feel like it (or even romanced them), their eventual character development hits closer to home. It feels like you were part of that development. It’s less static than how its done in books.


You mentioned the choices as a key part of your enjoyment of the game, so let’s take some space to discuss those. Right when you load into a new game, before the rest of character creation, you are presented with an option for an origin, giving the game its name. The origins range from wood elf to dwarven slum dweller, and each of them comes with a unique, role-play heavy origin story that acts as a sort of prologue to the main game. In the main game as well, you are presented with a fork in the road from time to time.


Could you tell us about some of your favourite choices, without spoiling too much?

Oof, without spoilers, huh? Well, one of my favourite choices might actually be the option to choose your origin at the beginning of the game. Like you said, these are some wildly different beginnings to the game, and they all really impact how you play your character through the rest of the story. You choose to be an city elf or an mage? Prepare to be distrusted by almost everyone you meet. Alternatively, if you begin as a human noble, you’ll find that some of your privileges actually carry over till later in the game.


Some other choices I liked were the ones concerning your companions and the gathering of allies. These are often quite difficult and both choices tend to be morally ‘grey’. At times the stakes of these choices are also very personal, so deciding on a way forwards can be a delightful conundrum.

On a critical note, it sometimes felt to me like the choices you are presented with create a rather superficial divergence of paths – as an obvious example, each of the origin stories eventually leads to the start of the main game, which is a relatively fixed point. You’ll run into similar fixed points or outcomes as you play further. Do you feel the choices in Dragon Age: Origins have a meaningful impact on the player experience?

I certainly think the impact is meaningful, though it depends on what you’re looking for as a player. Your choices shape the future of the world and are reflected in the lore. Characters will respond to your actions and remark on them. Furthermore, when you play the later installments in the series, you are occasionally reminded of the choices your previous characters made. This is something I truly enjoy.


However, when you look at the impact your choices have on a gameplay level, its scope is much smaller. Though you have a lot of freedom to choose which paths you take in which order, there are certain fixed checkpoints you’ll always have to pass.

One gameplay element many people might be curious about is whether you feel the choices create replayability. A (perhaps unfair) example is the second installment in the Witcher-series of video games, in which a couple of choices at the start of the game can mean playing through a completely different storyline. To what extent do you feel Dragon Age lets you play a different story if you make different choices?

The Witcher 2 example is quite tricky, because that’s a kind of mechanic I’ve seldom encountered in any other games. Though it’s very cool, it is not easy to match. Like I admitted, Dragon Age’s story has some fixed points that will be the same for every playthrough, both in the terms of gameplay and lore. Yet, out of all the Dragon Age games, I’ve replayed Origins the most times with very different characters and choices. And still I have yet to see everything this wonderful game has to offer. If that isn’t a testament to its repayability, I don’t know what is.


Speaking of gameplay, I notice that it was one of the points you did not mention at the start of this discussion when I asked you what made you love Dragon Age. Is the gameplay a secondary consideration for you? Playing the game, you’ll likely encounter a whole lot of it…

There’s gameplay in games?


All joking aside, yeah, gameplay is indeed only a secondary consideration for me. I’ll be one of the first to say that Origins mechanics are quite clunky. If you want it to be, the combat can be pleasantly tactical and challenging. However, I’m more the kind of player that will set a casual difficulty when playing games that are driven by story or characters. I know there are people who absolutely adore Origins gameplay, as well as people who thoroughly despise it. I can only say I didn’t mind it either way.


I know Dragon Age has often been called a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate, another RPG by BioWare that I love a lot. Looking from a distance, the games might not look alike at all, but upon closer inspection, there are many similarities: both role-playing games where you gather a party of companions and embark on a quest to save the nation; in both of the games, a lot of the roleplay takes place via text-based conversation menus; both games allow for detailed customisation in character progression; both games allow you to pause the game mid-fight, take control of you companions, and order them to take specific actions.

Really, if you think about it, the only real difference is the game’s presentation of the world: where Dragon Age takes more of a fully rendered approach similar to many third-person action-RPGs (which, really, it isn’t), Baldur’s Gate has classic top-down isometric graphics. Perhaps surprisingly, it feels to me as if Baldur’s Gate has aged a lot better, despite being simpler and older.

The question that all this leads into is: would you still recommend Dragon Age: Origins to people in 2021 (or by now I shoudl be saying: 2022)? Do you feel like its presentation and age hold it back?

Am I not right now discussing how Dragon Age: Origins should be added to our Collection? Age doesn’t matter when a story is unique and well-executed. I know you believe this is true for books, and I state it’s also true for video games.

Yes, the graphics will no longer impress anyone (though it seems there are some magnificent fan-made mods out there that solve this somewhat), but why judge a book by its cover? The ‘soul’ of the game is timeless, how it tells its story and provides the gamer with heartfelt choices and characters. Frankly, I wish there were hundreds of similar games I could recommend in Dragon Age’s place, but this isn’t the case. In all these years, there are only a few who managed to match its strong points. In my opinion, Origins was somewhat of a trailblazer and – though it’s far from perfect- I think everyone wit a love for fantasy, roleplaying and the ‘choice matters’-format should still give this game a go.

I might touch upon one other point where the game shows its age. When I sat down with my girlfriend to start a new game of Dragon Age: Origins for this review, she chose to play a female wood elf. The first thing that appeard on the screen was.. an elf girl in bikini armour. Some of the outfits of important female NPCs are little better. That’s jarring in this day and age, and a serious strike against the game for me. Would you agree?

I agree that’s quite jarring. Though Origins was quite progressive for its time when it came to societal values, the game does not meet today’s standards on multiple accounts. For me, it doesn’t take away from its charm, but it is a fair disclaimer to share. Later Dragon Age games score a lot better in this regard.


And I have a feeling we might see some of those other Dragon Agetitles in this space at some point as well! With that said, I think we can conclude that if you are interested in a choice-based, character driven video game experience and aren’t too bothered by gameplay or graphics, Dragon Age: Origins is as good as they come even after a dozen years. Is there anything you would like to add to that conclusion?

Yes, swooping is bad…

That’s been us for now folks, and the message is simple – if you have time to kill this holiday season, why not give Dragon Age: Origins a spin?

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