Given the controversial quality gap between the recent downloadable content of Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age (the beloved Lair of the Shadow Broker and the maligned Witch Hunt, respectively), I thought this was as good a time as any to talk about the quality of Dragon Age as a whole.
(WARNING: THERE WILL BE NON-DLC SPOILERS)
The fact this gets its own entry is not a good sign.
Virtually all your obstacles, opposition and problems originate from the villain: Loghain. This great hero of a former war betrays the King and leaves him, his army and the Gray Wardens to die at the hands of the Orc Darkspawn hordes. He then grabs power and control of the country by declaring himself Regent.
Now he’s sanctioning Elven slavery and sending assassins after you – one of the few survivors of his betrayal and the person trying to stop the Orcs Darkspawn. You and your companions are marked as traitors, while Loghain does nothing about the Orcs Darkspawn that are spreading across his land killing whatever is in front of them.
What evil fiendish plans does this scheming military strategist have? What does all this have to do with the Orcs Darkspawn and the Archdemon? What grand ambition fuels his evil deeds?
He’s just a dick.
Seriously. It’s all just because of what a terrible person he is. He wanted power and he just really sucks for no good reason. There’s no plot twist, no compelling argument. You kill or dethrone him and that ends that.
As for the main plot concerning the Orcs Darkspawn and the Archdemon? You fight pointlessly offensive hordes of cannon fodder and kill their leader which is just a big mindless dragon. That makes the Orcs Darkspawn go away for a bit. The end.
All that and you don’t even break ‘the cycle’ with the Darkspawn. It’s like the whole journey was meaningless. Imagine if Final Fantasy X (which by no means had a good story either) didn’t break ‘the cycle’ in Spira. Imagine if that game ended at Yunalesca, the summoner dies, a guardian becomes the new Sin and that’s the end.
(On that subject, Dragon Age also hastily adds in a ridiculous plot device near the end, similar to that plot line from Final Fantasy X. Albeit with even more ridiculous plot devices to write a way out of it.)
A better comparison than Final Fantasy X, is the first Mass Effect. The main antagonist you’re pursuing – Saren – is intertwined with the bigger enemy and plot. Like Loghain, he can find some repentance for his dickish evil deeds at the end. But unlike Loghain, Saren has a compelling motivation in that he is choosing submission over extinction and he will even try and convince you of this.
It’s not just Loghain that’s a problem. You know you’ve done something wrong if the most likeable character you’ve written has a vocabulary consisting entirely of the word ‘Enchantment.”
Let’s examine the party members:
An illogical harpy with an inconsistent moral agenda.
The former bard/spy/assassin, exiled and turned Joan of Arc-esque nun with a message from God. Has possibly the most convoluted back-story in Bioware history. I’m pretty sure they just merged a cut character into another one there.
Is a dog. Therefore the best character. But still manages to be boring.
Wynne and…The Dwarf
Does anyone even remember these two?
Sten and Zevran
There’s no reason given to recruit the former if you’re playing a good character, and no reason to recruit the latter at all.
Other Bioware games have had ‘dark side’ characters, some just as optional. But the games give you no reason to turn down Wrex or Garrus or Canderous Ordo or HK-47 or Black Whirlwind or Silk Fox or etc.
Well, he’s alright.
Then there’s the other NPCs. Most of them want to kill you and will try and kill you. Or they’re horrible and murder each other. Especially in the main quest in Orzammar.
Two unlikeable candidates and the game doesn’t give you any real indication of what they’re really like, unless you played the appropriate Origin story. Yet you have to take a side. And all the Dwarven people are crazy and stupid enough to let all this play out.
I found myself wondering if the people of Ferelden deserved to be saved from the Orcs Darkspawn. If they weren’t so rubbish, you wouldn’t have to jump through so many hoops for them. (Let’s not even get started on what you have to do just to speak to the Arl of Redcliffe)
Lack of dialogue options
This is a pretty big problem in a Bioware game too. There’s very few options to talk your way out of a fight or around a situation. Then there are times where you just aren’t allowed to make certain decisions or reason with people.
Like kill the Dwarven guy who turned out to be awful when he got into power. Or convincing the dwarves to do something better with their time, or fix their broken system. Or elect the one random passerby who seemed much smarter and better than literally everyone else in the city.
- Tell Flemeth I’ll lie to Morrigan, then give Morrigan the book and tell her the truth.
- Convince characters not to leave your party for stupid reasons.
- Use every point in your arsenal against Loghain politically.
Not to mention that every other Bioware game has allowed you to skip to the next line of dialogue without skipping entire scenes, but Dragon Age: Origins on the other hand…
This section would have been titled ‘Dungeons’, but then I realised that is synonymous with gameplay in Dragon Age. Badly designed grey and brown dungeons, specifically.
In a game intended for multiple playthroughs, they actually made The Deep Roads and The Fade. The latter of which PC modders had to invent something just to remove it from the game!
It’s hard for me to judge the actual combat objectively, given how completely sick of it I was after all the constant fighting. Full disclosure: I was playing the Xbox 360 version and it’s possible that you can actually strategize on the PC version.
But the game would still have that the same bad design like the pointless gauntlet through the equivalent of a warehouse before the last boss fight.
It’s no secret I’m a Bioware fan. Even with a distaste for ‘generic fantasy’ I wanted to like Dragon Age: Origins. But it’s honestly the worst Bioware game I’ve ever played – it’s more like an Obsidian game. It confounds me that it has any following at all.