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Dragon Age: Origins PDF Print E-mail
Written by Silver Sorrow / Starfox   
Monday, 07 March 2011 00:00
Article Index
Dragon Age: Origins
The Hands Of Destiny
The Grey Wardens Wants You
Too Damn long to write here!
Talents, skills and other things
Character creation and other self-torments
All Pages


Dragon Age: Origins


It Doesn't Matter Whether You Win Or Lose; What Matters Is If You Had Several Of Your Ribs Removed So That You May Properly Congratulate Yourself For Beating The Game On Nightmare, You Dumbass Loser

Gameplay: this is where the game kills you every single time. If you are a careful player, open to utilizing tactics, then you probably won't have too many problems once you get the hang of it. That was the most optimistic statement in this review. And, like all examples of optimism, it is totally false.

See, the idea here is a so-called "tactical" RPG, something which Bioware seems to find interesting. Aesthetics fall by the wayside as the entire purpose of the game is to toss the player into a meat grinder.

Let me just say here, for the record, that some of Bioware's other games -- specifically, the Mass Effect series and Jade Empire -- were a lot of fun and weren't designed to make you hate yourself and everything everywhere forever. But for some reason, games like Neverwinter Nights and Dragon Age are more inclined to just kill you quickly and be done with it. I remember hating NWN and its stupid combat...but never mind that.

Happily, though: in contrast to NWN, DAO *is* playable, but it's infuriating if you don't plan your character carefully, by which I mean: start as a mage, unlock the Arcane Warrior specialization, and nothing will trouble you again. Melee characters (warriors, unless you pick up archery as a skill, or like the crossbow) will have a horrible time of it...in fact, warriors are just cannon fodder to distract the bad guys while rogues and mages toss arrows and magical goo at them, respectively. Rogues straddle the line between useless and useful, as archery is a great skill...but melee fighting is just asking for a headache.

Mages, however, do far better. Indeed, the gameplay is spectacularly unbalanced in favor of mages, which is reason enough to award Bioware at least one gold star for excellence. And when you think about it, this unbalance does fit in with the game: everyone's scared to death of powerful mages, and with good reason.

Indeed. After playing as a mage you understand why the Templars (the guys who are tasked with hunting down mages that go rogue) don't want to confront one unless they have a little army to back them up. Considering the number of "rogue" mages one encounters in the game, its obvious that Templars are not doing a very good job (probably too busy soiling their trousers). And Templars are especially trained to fight mages so other kind of warriors? Not even a match. Low level mages may experience some difficulties but it takes a lot to stop middle/high level mages.

Still, the warriors and rogue get it square in the nuts. A good strategy is to target enemy mages first and kill them as quickly as possible before anything else. This may prove a problem, as upon seeing you, many of them will rip away with a fireball or, curse them all to fiery damnation for all eternity, a Misdirection Hex. (One of the worst things in the game, besides being stuck in Crushing Prison by two mages who each keep spamming you with it.)

Ah, the infamous misdirection hex. Imagine that: during about 20 seconds, your character continues to perform attacks but absolutely none of them hits. Arrows get lost in the wilderness, sword cut thin air... Quite unnerving, especially because the enemy will probably reduce you in tiny bits before you have time to recover and without you being able to do anything to prevent it. Underestimating mages in Dragon Age is the worst possible error you could make.

And there's nothing better to fight mages than another mage. If you take the proper spell called Mana Clash (it's a high level one so not directly accessible at the beginning of the game) you can finish most mages in just two seconds if your spellpower is high enough. This spell nullify the mana of the enemy mage but also makes them loose as many hit points as the amount of mana they have lost. As most mages have more mana than life, the calculation is easy to do. And Mana Clash is an area of effect spell so you can target several mages at once. So not only mages are very good against any regular ground meat you throw at them but they are supremely good against other mages.


Dragon Age: Origins


Okay, while I say the game is playable, it's not without moments that make you wish you were a vengeful psycho angel of death smeared with the blood of the just and unjust alike. Instead of the snivelling pathetic pasty-faced weasel you actually are, I mean. Maybe it's just me. But what can you say when you get into encounters with overpowered bandits? Do what I do: I say "GODDAMMIT!" at the top of my lungs and break a keyboard. Okay, not  anymore. A long time ago I learned the John Bonham method of peripheral slamming: how to hit something and make a loud, satisfying sound without breaking it. For example, an optical mouse, slammed flat on a Func mousepad, will make a satisfying sound without killing it. Multiple slams, accompanied by an enraged "GRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAG!" is a fine stress reliever, and is far more satisfying than squeezing a rubber sand-filled object. Those things are for touchy-feely New Age vegan pussies anyway. Stumbling outside in a rage to sledgehammer the neighbor's dog, now THAT'S the way to deal with stress. And, when your neighbor shoots your ass for killing his spaniel/rat mix, you can die easy, knowing that you've killed one more example of mankind's fudgery with canine genetics.

But as I was just about to say, it's a tad infuriating to survive an epic battle with a planned encounter, and then travel to a new location via the map, only to be jumped by a sugarload of overpowered bandits, or a sugarload of overpowered Darkspawn, or a sugarload of overpowered wolves, on your journey. These random encounters are by far the thing I hate most about the game (besides the Overwhelm ability that the dratted werewolves and spiders use far too often on my character): they don't seem to be scaled very well (everything in the world is better than you! HA!), and they're annoying as fork-all.

For example: a tiny section of forest with a narrow path leading up to a ridge. A perfect ambush point, yes, but I would have hoped that my group was smart enough NOT to blunder into obvious traps...a futile hope, as it turns out. Of course, the path to the boss bandit (of course there's a boss...almost every single encounter has an overpowered boss!) is strewn with fireball traps and leg hold traps...and it doesn't help to try and disarm them. If you tell your party to hold up while you (or your rogue) attempts to disarm them -- if the skills in question aren't good enough, that's too diddly-dum bad for you -- the bad guys will just kill your guys while you disarm it. If you don't hold your guys back, they'll just blunder into the trap and everythig will get a lot worse than it was. I...just hate it. I really do. It makes no sense, and it's a serious drain on my already-thin patience.

In short, the random encounters while traveling is a stupid feature that should've been canned.

Although the most stupid of all the random encounters does not even feature a fight. it's a merchant dwarf you meet on the Imperial Highway and that the game typically throws at you when it doesn't find any ambush to pester you with. Problem is: this merchant does not level up (likely a bug) so at the end of the game when you're likely to encounter him a lot because you exhausted all other possible encounters, he will propose you the same very low level crap, and when I say "low level" I mean the kind of stuff you start the game with. And like if one time wasn't enough, the game is likely to make you meet him several times... possibly in a row. Only things interesting this guy has to sell are a book and a couple of gifts for your party. Once you bought them all the game should stop pestering you with this useless guy but it doesn't. Sometimes you just feel like killing him but its not even an option.


Dragon Age: Origins


Plastics...I Mean, Tactics.

One alleged feature of DAO is Tactics. Bringing up the Tactics screen and assigning actions to your henchmen/followers/companions/WHATEVER is assumed to be the key to life itself.

Don't believe it. Relying on default tactics will be the death of you and everyone else in your party. Unless you manage them extensively, your companions will let you down every single time. They're morons, what can I say? (Again: "GODDAMMIT!") Your melee types will not take healing unless you direct them to do so via tactics; your mages will not be overtly useful unless you specifally tell them what to do in a given situation (for example, "use Cone Of Cold on the big scary freaking dragon instead of shooting weak little zaps at it from your staff, you goddamn idiot"); and your archery-gifted rogues will switch to melee the first chance they get. (I have not yet found the magic words that will get them to hang back and use their bows...they always switch to their daggers and run directly into the middle of the whole mess.) Leliana is a friggin' idiot on so many levels, by the way. She keeps switching to melee, even though I specced her to be a great archer, and she talks about the Maker constantly. Frak the Maker, I say. Just learn to use the fruit-cupping bow, you ding-dong.

The only tactical trick in Dragon Age is the same than used in Neverwinter Night: the spacebar (which pauses the game while allowing you to issue orders to your party). If you really want to go tactical with this game (and as only one order can be queued for each member of your party) it goes like that: Strike with your sword -- HIT THE SPACEBAR -- check the health of all the party, tell your mage to cast Crushing Prison on the enemy mage other there, tell your warrior to intercept the bad guy who obviously want to go after your mage, tell your archer that it's better to fire arrows on the enemy archers rather than on the guy who's standing right at their feet especially because he's the one that your rogue is currently attacking (dammit) -- HIT THE SPACEBAR -- Go with a couple of sword strikes and -- HIT THE SPACEBAR -- do the check / order thing all over again. Tedious but well, it can be done for those with a huge well of that thing called "patience". Generally the tactical screen is OK for quick and messy combat with few or no challenging opponents but it simply is not extended enough to replace the spacebar and common human sense in all those difficult fights where one has to micro-manage combat (and in Dragon Age it happens a lot). Plus there is not enough tactical slots available to make the thing really interesting even when you fully max out your tactical skill.



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