Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

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?

I was under 16 years old when a friend first showed me bits and pieces of Dragon Age: Origins. I played through some parts 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. When he eventually also showed me the (then newly released) Dragon Age II, it only took me a short time to come to a proactive decision. One day, I collected my saved pocket money, and after school I went to the game store to buy Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age: Awakening and Dragon Age II (all physical copies, because that’s how it used to be back then). I will always remember that day. Why? Because, strictly speaking, legally I wasn’t old enough to actually buy these games at the time (I was 16 instead of the required 18). However, the salesperson apparently couldn’t care less and never asked for an ID. I’ll forever be grateful for that negligence, though, for I played all the games in direct succession, and I’ve been hooked to Dragon Age ever since.

There were many elements I was blown away by when I played ‘Origins’ in those years. The most impressive to me was the great extent to which the world and characters reacted to the choices my character made, starting with your gender and origins (the unique character backgrounds for which the game is named after, each unlocking an alternative playable start of the game). It was my first real experience with roleplaying and the possibilities rocked me to my core. Another element that truly amazed me were the relationships you could build with your travel companions. In a similar way,  the now famous Bioware romances of course had a profound attraction to me. I would blame my teenage years for this, but experience has shown I’m still very much vulnerable to their charms.

Although the plot is at its core a traditional story about a hero gathering allies to fight evil, there are enough twists and turns and interesting dilemmas along the way to spice things up. Depending on the choices you make, your character might not even be a true hero. In that regard, Origins is not afraid to take common tropes and spin them completely around, something that’s also apparent in the unique worldbuilding. This leaves the game with an – at times very dark – enthralling atmosphere.

Dragon Age: Origins is a relatively old game now. The graphics will not impress anyone (though it seems there are some magnificent fan-made mods out there that solve this somewhat) and the game mechanics can be quite clunky. Furthermore, though Origins was quite progressive for its time when it came to societal values, the game does not meet the standards that exist today. For me, all this doesn’t take away from its charm, but take this disclaimer as you will.

Out of all the Dragon Age games, I’ve replayed Origins the most times with very different characters and choices. Still, I have yet to see everything this wonderful game has to offer. In conclusion,  I can’t wait to plunge myself into this game once again.

I’m sorry about the rating folks, please let me explain before you lynch me!

Video games have a nasty habit of aging poorly: especially high fidelity graphics are superseded quickly, game mechanics and controls are enhanced over many iterations, and overall user experience is improved. As time passes, most games simply lose relevance.

There are exceptions, of course (I can think of a number of examples in the RTS genre), but I find that often, games that are more than a few years old are only worth playing for nostalgia (which requires having played the game before), or because of some unique gameplay or niche mechanic. Indie games tend to score better in those last departments than triple-A titles.

So where does Dragon Age: Origins sit? The game was released over ten years ago. In all honesty, I simply wouldn’t be writing this review if it weren’t for my [conversation] with Jop – because I think that Dragon Age is sadly one of those games that is no longer relevant for the modern market – superseded by more recent iterations of similar games (not in the least the later instalments of the same franchise).

Would I have been reviewing this when I first played it, Dragon Age: Origins would merit a solid 3.5 or 4-star rating. I loved being able to make choices, the world looked really cool and the character progression was satisfying. But in 2021? I would cut that rating in half. Not because the game was bad in hindsight, but because I see little reason to play it today. Of course, the story still stands, and there are still lots of lovely little details – for example, the roleplay-heavy origin stories and the random conversations between the NPCs in your party. But overall, I don’t think the game aged well enough to merit a playthrough for new players without warm memories of first picking it up in 2009. The graphics and play areas really show their age. ‘Open’ world areas like forests are really little more than corridors, rocks are textured blobs, every tree the size of a giant sequoia, some cities little more than a sparsely populated square. The gameplay (especially combat) is a slow and indecisive mix between the third-person action RPG it is presented as and the isometric, top down tactical RPG Baldur’s Gate which Dragon Age claimed to be a successor of. The world building is decent but not particularly original, and not a reason in itself to play the game. It also isn’t a game that you can blast through in a couple of evenings to get what all the fuzz used to be about: I’m guessing a full playthrough takes around 50 hours.

In short: Dragon Age: Origins is a game that used to be good, but that time caught up with.

I strongly disagree with Peter on this one. Let me explain. Dragon Age: Origins is the first proper video game I played from beginning to end. Ironically, I played it at Peter’s place.

Sure, Dragon Age is old. Lots of good things are old. And while I agree that the graphics are kind of dated, there’s plenty there to make up for that. The characters are fun, the setting is well-developed and unique enough to set it apart from other fantasy settings (although it is in many ways a pretty basic fantasy world). The music is beautiful and haunting. The story is classic but just extremely well done.

Not to be a huge stereotype, but I was instantly hooked on this game the moment I realised I could flirt with people. I’m not a particularly huge fan of romance as a genre, but I love romance in video games.

I think what I like most about Dragon Age is how real it feels. Yes, you matter to the story because you are the one who has to save the world. However, even if you weren’t the main character, you would still matter to the friends you make in the game. Those little touches, like the option to romance characters and have long conversations with others about their lives are what make this game so good. It’s the full experience of being part of a fantasy world.

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