Re-Dragon Age: Origins (of a Replay)

Tea: Créme Caramel tea from the Cult’s home away from home, The Tea Shop in Covent Garden, London. I may also have had a couple of pints with Omarscen at the pub shortly before this, but I’d like to think that’s not relevant. I’d also like to think my beard makes me look stylish rather than demented, so that shows you how effective mind over matter really is.

Reading Mawdrigen’s excellent posts on learning to tank in FFXIV, I wondered what I could contribute to the Cult by the way of blogging about computer gaming. Not being much of an MMO player, beyond a stint on Planetside 2 that was scuppered by changing work shifts and a couple of months on WoW that began to help Loka get a zebracorn, there wasn’t much I could contribute from that angle. Then I remembered that just yesterday I began another runthrough of one of my favourite games, Dragon Age: Origins. Mightn’t it be interesting for me to share my thoughts as I start the 40 to 50 hour trip down Ferelden’s memory lane?

Well, that’ll be your personal opinion, frankly, but I’m going to write about it regardless.

The reason for this new play was necessity born of platform transfer. My previous playthroughs of DA:O, its expansion Dragon Age: Awakening and its sequel Dragon Age 2 (and yes folks, you will be getting my tuppence worth on that when we come to it) were all done on the X-Box 360. However, with the upcoming trilogy finale Dragon Age: Inquisition promising to be rather cut down on the older console generation, not to mention the fact that I now own a PC capable of gaming in the current decade, I found myself in need of fresh save data to transfer forward. Besides, I have always felt the Dragon Age series surpasses even cohorts such as Mass Effect (another series I have many fuzzy, warm feelings for) in its variability over multiple runs, so why not give it another go?

After the intro, in which Duncan, our incredibly tan mentor-to-be, explains the origins (partial title drop!) of the evil Blight and the Grey Wardens who oppose it, we come to the eternal conundrum of character creation. This is even more fraught with difficult choices than usual as there are 6 different prologues to play through, depending on choices of race and class. While I’d only done two full playthroughs of the game, as a male Dalish Elf Warrior and a female Human Noble Rogue, I had played all 6 origins for the sake of completionism (and X-Box achievements), so there wasn’t a question of trying something completely new. Deciding to pay tribute to my very first runthrough, while also adding a fresh twist, I opted for a male City Elf Warrior, with the aim of once more utilising a dual-wield style. Warriors tend to be a little more inclined towards either a two-hander or sword and shield build, but a dual wield warrior, while a tad weaker at lower levels, is almost ridiculously powerful at higher levels. Besides, it just plain looks cooler. After some tinkering with hair (ginger buzzcut), nose (a little more roman) and ears (smaller please), not to mention a facial tattoo (I always give my characters facial tattoos wherever possible. I like to think they got drunk on their 18th birthday and made a poor life choice), we were off to the races.

By ‘the races’, what we actually mean is the elven ghetto, or alienage (because it is fantasy fiction law that you can’t just call something by its regular name), where our protagonist, whom I named Allesian under my ‘elves should have vaguely French sounding names’ policy, was awoken by his cousin for his arranged marriage to a lady with way too much green eye shadow. Dialogue-wise, I decided to go for an ambivalent approach to this, at least partly because I wasn’t sure which romantic option I was going to go for later on yet and I didn’t want to contradict myself later on regarding my character’s sexuality.

Soapbox side tangent: for all my issues with some of their business practices (fuck day one DLC in its fucking face), I absolutely love that EA have taken to providing same sex romance options in their games as standard, and that they have made the game world completely blasé about them. It’s a little thing, since I can enjoy a well-written hetero romance just as much (FemShep/Garrus forever), but it really does make me feel that little bit more welcome, especially given 99.9% of media operating on a ‘no gays here’ policy.

Following chats with my cousin, my dad, some of my deceased mother’s old friends, some bitter bitch and my other cousin (who was also getting married at the same ceremony, because apparently the Chantry take their lead from the Moonies), disruption occurred when some drunken rich dicks showed up to be fantasy racists. My cousin (waking up lady, not also marrying guy) decided to take a page from the Sansa Stark playbook and enacted the ‘talk shit, get hit’ protocol with a jug. This turned out to be a bad plan, as lead dick was the son of the local arl (presumably an earl who hit on hard times and had to sell their ‘e’) and, after an initial retreat, returned during the wedding to steal the ladies and pimp slap me into unconsciousness. Upon waking, yours truly and marrying cousin guy decided to launch a rescue, aided by a local who was a servant at the arl’s palace and armed with weapons loaned to us by Duncan, who had been hanging around but hadn’t bothered to help at all (because on reflection he’s about as useful as a chocolate tea pot). This was a refreshing difference, as I had previously played this origin as a female character, so had been kidnapped post-pimp slap.

Our ‘stealthy’ rescue mission began by running around the palace grounds murdering multiple guards and mabari hounds (pitbulls on super steroids). Don’t worry, I’m sure they were all fantasy racists and deserved it. Besides, I needed the XP. Once inside, we ran into a fantasy racist cook (who got killed by his elf assistant, who I guess really just wanted to give homicide a try), some fantasy racist guards (who we killed), some (probably) fantasy racist mabari (who we also killed) and some more fantasy racist guards who were also into the idea of necrophilia with a newly dead elf lady (who we killed extra fucking hard because what the fuck!?). In between this, we also took time to shake our fists at all the locked chests we couldn’t touch because neither of us were rogues and so couldn’t lockpick. After this mostly justifiable rampage, we finally cornered the dicks, along with my traumatised cousin. Said trauma is never explained but heavily implied to be rape. As understandable as it is that something that horrific is not said by name, it does seem odd EA felt squeamish on that given we’d just slaughtered two dozen men who were just doing their jobs. Negotiations rather understandably failed and the dicks got their justifiable stabbings. With both our brides retrieved (another twist, as in the female version your new spouse dies) along with our cousin, we legged it back to the alienage. Not long after, the guards arrived to arrest me, only for Duncan to finally do something useful and conscript me into the Grey Wardens. After my goodbyes, with everyone thinking I was the dog’s proverbials for sticking it to (and in, repeatedly and violently) those damn dirty humans, Duncan and I were off to the ruins of Ostagar, future site of some DLC and current base of the King’s army.

On arrival, Duncan and I were greeted by King Utter Pillock the First, who took time out of his busy schedule of poncing around in gold armour and not noticing his chief advisor was the most obvious villain in history to say hi and generally reveal his idiocy. As I was endeavouring to play as a heroic do-gooder, I restrained myself from yelling him in dialogue. Besides, he obviously had the remaining lifespan of a goldfish, so why be cruel? After a little chat with Duncan, the general theme of which was ‘yes, I know, the King’s as thick as two short planks’, I was left to my own devices, and so was free to wander around, talking to people to soak up the culture (the game does a fantastic job throughout of world-setting without cramming it down your throat), shaking my fist at more locked chests, shaking my fist at a condemned prisoner who was supposed to give me a key to a special chest but didn’t because I didn’t ask what was in it for me before doing so (I’m unsure if that’s a bug or EA trying to teach us a lesson about altruism) and set up a side quest to help heal a poisoned mabari (because yes we are saving adorable animals, god dammit!). Finally sated for dialoguing, I headed to the quest marker and met long term party member number 1: Alistair. Alistair is our textbook case of hiding personal issues by being a constantly jokey smartarse. Think Spiderman in plate armour. Duncan had tasked him with babysitting the new recruits; myself, Daveth (a thief who couldn’t lockpick, so about as useful as Duncan) and Jory (a whiny knight whose longevity is signposted by being named after a Game of Thrones side character). Thus, the four of us trotted off to the nearby forest, teeming with darkspawn, to acquire some blood and ancient plot devices… sorry, treaties.

This is the first occasion the game gives you a full party of 4 to utilise. Barring one sequence involving a mage, a bridge and bear traps (the difficulty coming from Daveth being the most incompetent rogue in RPG history), nothing too hard occurs and it’s a good place to learn the ropes, or in my case get comfortable with the PC interface. One key advantage on the PC over the 360 is the aerial camera view, which makes party control that bit easier, especially given the friendly AI’s tendency to ignore any tactics presets you give it whenever it’s least convenient. This is a game where pausing and party micromanaging is essential, which really just serves to harden the game’s status as the spiritual heir to Baldur’s Gate.

Blood, doggy medicine plant and the personal effects of the universe’s most oblivious missionary retrieved, we went for the treaties of narrative convenience, only to run into the series absolute best characters: Morrigan (she of disapproval, sarcasm and an outfit with a whole lot of sideboob) and her mother Flemeth (she of just generally being both hilarious and badass). After much sassing back and forth, the treaties were retrieved and we returned to Duncan, who announced that the blood would used for our Joining, wherein we drank from his pimp cup and tried not to die. Daveth failed via dying, Jory failed via wussing out and summarily being stabbed, but I succeeded via being the main character and therefore this being a really short game if I didn’t (cunningly, EA made a DLC with this scenario, the outcome of which is evil wins because Alistair is completely useless unless you’re there to hold his hand). Having tripped balls, I then got to join a meeting of Duncan, King U. Pillock and Teryn Loghain, a man so obviously evil it’s a wonder they didn’t have a puppy hanging around for him to kick. EA, seriously, when you introduce a guy in grey armour who looks like he hasn’t slept in two weeks and he’s voiced by Kain from the Soul Reaver/Blood Omen series, no-one is going to be shocked when he turns out to be a nogoodnik. Anyway, the outcome of this was that Alistair and I would light a beacon to signal a countercharge, because apparently Loghain wouldn’t know when to do it otherwise, despite him being a tactical genius and on the high ground. Loghain sulked about this, then said ominous things that everyone ignored because TV Tropes doesn’t exist in this universe. Or common sense.

The cutscene battle began, before Alistair and I ran across a bridge under catapult bombardment (I confess, I’m a sucker for that kind of sequence), only to find the beacon tower had been taken over. teaming up with an unnamed guard and mage, we battled our way up, once more shaking our fists at locked chests (soon, you bastards, soon…) and enlisting the aid of some caged mabari. Upon reaching the top floor, we were accosted by a ogre, which in this universe looks like the lovechild of the Balrog and a grape. Given how much trouble I remember having with this fight back in my first playthrough, it was actually fairly easy, mainly due to my better grip on the magic system. Unnamed Guard got the kill, bagging himself some gratuitous slow-mo as he shoved a mace into the ogre’s eye socket. Fucking ow.

The beacon was lit, but, and I’m sure this will come as a complete shock, Loghain and his men buggered off, leaving Duncan the useless, King Pillock the even more useless, all the Grey Wardens and a lot of people no-one gives a shit about to get killed by the power of cutscene. Said power also did for Unnamed Guard and the mage, while I took two arrows and passed out. Thankfully, none hit my knee, so I woke up at Flemeth and Morrigan’s house right as rain, having been rescued in a sequence apparently too awesome for a cutscene. After much conversing, a plan was set: we would use the treaties of narrative convenience to create an ethnically diverse army (to appeal to all Ferelden’s key demographics), defeat the Blight and Loghain, and generally show that we were the men now, dog. With Morrigan being foisted on us by her mother (which I was diplomatic enough about to avoid incurring her ever-present disapproval), we were on our way…

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