Where it all Began
Release Date: Nov 3, 2009
Rating: M 17+
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform I Played On: PC
Platform(s) Available On: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre(s): RPG, Fantasy
Difficulty I Played On: Normal
Version I Played: Dragon Age: Origins Ultimate Edition
I have partially replayed Dragon Age: Origins (DAO) from different save points for diverging choices and whatnot. Since my first playthrough, I have started a few games but never made them to completion. However, I have watched, read, and listened to much of the Dragon Age fandom content that’s out there so I am very familiar with the events in DAO. Tbh I don’t have a lot of desire to replay this game at the moment. Perhaps in the future I’ll replay again, just not today~
Taken from the official Electronic Arts Website
You are a Grey Warden, one of the last of a legendary order of guardians. With the return of an ancient foe and the kingdom engulfed in civil war, you have been chosen by fate to unite the shattered lands and slay the archdemon once and for all.
Why You Should Play: The Shortened Version
>> In depth story, classic hero
>> Fully fleshed out characters
>> Fully developed in-game-universe
>> Dark fantasy game with lots of lore
>> Foundation of the Dragon Age series
Recalled First Impressions
Since I started Inquisition, I thought I could not claim to be a Dragon Age fan without playing the game that started it all. I remember thinking, “it’s simply time to play the game where it all began” and did just that. I bought the Ultimate Edition from steam and binge played the game in its entirety.
I knew the bulk of the story prior to playing the game because of my appreciation of Dragon Age: Inquisition (DAI) and somewhat obsessiveness in understanding the lore. It was nice to play the game that I had heard secondhand accounts and opinions of. So, there were no surprises or truth bombs for me personally. It was simply nice to experience everything firsthand and fill in any gaps from the lore present in DAI.
I also knew that they retconned quite a bit from DAO to fit the story told in Dragon Age 2 (DA2) and DAI. So I knew there would be some inconsistencies lore between this game and the other two. I was not expecting the same experience as DAI when playing DAO so the changes didn’t bother me.
The Story and Overall Execution
Beware there may be minor spoilers below depending on one’s qualification of a spoiler. Read at your own risk. In my opinion, this review should not spoil any new player’s experience with the game~
Disclaimer: This is my HOBBY blog with my own opinions, please take that into consideration~
This is the only Dragon age game (so far) that we actually have separate origin stories. We get to choose from essentially six different options, two for humans, two for elves, and two for dwarves. All these character creation choices do eventually narrow down into the main story. My canon playthrough is a rogue female city elf because I feel like it gives allowance for your character to grow and learn more of the world in which you were kept out of for much of your childhood and adolescent life.
The origin stories all converge with the protagonist becoming a Grey Warden, an elite mysterious guard dedicated to protecting the world from the Blight. An oversimplified description of the Blight is when creatures called darkspawn come out of the depths of the earth and wreak chaos and havoc and poison the land wherever they tread.
DAOs premise is that there is the beginning of a Blight and through circumstances we are the only ones who have the ambition to put a stop to it progressing to the civilized world. The story is essentially recruiting various entities for the final fight against all the darkspawn and an archdemon, a corrupted old god. Through the recruitment there are additional events that slow progress and some truth bombs along the way.
This game has a fairly straightforward classic fantasy setup in that you are the hero, calamity strikes you, and you go out to save the world. What makes this game special is the amount of story detail, lore, dynamic characters that set this apart from other fantasy (dark fantasy if we are going to be specific) games. For many DAO is an excellent example of Dark Fantasy.
Throughout the game there were different consistencies of treatment, dialogue options, and various outcomes depending on which race and class you choose. I really liked the strength in this because it made the world come alive in that there were social customs and certain beliefs that innately favored certain races or classes to others. Depending on your character’s race you choose you could potentially end up being queen or simply a mistress which honestly for a fantasy loosely medieval based game made sense considering the customs and social hierarchy the in-game world (as brutal as it may be).
Many of the in-game dialogue options range from roughly four to six answer/question options. The game boasts the most versatile dialogue choices out of the Dragon Age series. You have the option to gain as many or as few companions to aid you on your quest. In fact, in my canon playthrough I don’t have all the characters because it simply does not make sense to take them along with you on your journey. You also have the choice to please people or piss them off which can be entertaining. On a side note, you can really choose to be an A-hole or a decent person so that can affect various outcomes of the story. This really is the only Dragon Age game where you can truly be a real jerk while saving the world.
We have quite a few locations to visit and explore concerning our quest for allies. There is the small town of Redcliff, a circle tower (a mage place), an elven caravan, a dwarven city, the deep roads (an area full of tunnels underground), to the capital city of the country of Ferelden, Denerim. Each of these locales has subplots and main story components. Most which are engaging, however, in my opinion the story focused on the Dwarven areas seemed to last forever, I avoid them as long as I can!
The ending is somewhat predictable in terms of the great battle that ensues but there are a few interesting minor twists prior to the battle which can change the general outcome of the story. Depending on your choices in the game, the post battle wrap up can have different implications for the future of Thedas (which many of which have been retconned).
Being a fantasy game there is A LOT of terminology that can take some getting used to. There are a lot of terms being casually slung here and there which if you are used to fantasy is fairly typical with the genre. The game utilizes the terminology well by having all the universe specific words being reused and reiterated into the story. Each term has an important addition to the universe. Having played the third game first this game really gave me a needed background on how integral and important the Grey Wardens and the Blight are to the core of the series. I guess it really does pay off to actually see and experience rather than just have a casual info drop in a later game haha.
After this game Bioware decided to retcon portions of the lore and societal structure in the game. So don’t get extremely comfortable with details of the world and social structure in this game because it is liable to change. Some characters have the potential to die and they simply ignored the fact in the sequential games. Playing as a female elf when we first play the game it almost seems as if it’s a huge deal to be a woman Grey Warden to the point that there is specific dialogue pointing it out. In DAI there seems to be an abundance of female warriors (Grey Warden and Military) everywhere.
After playing DAO I kind of liked that there was more social hierarchy in terms of sex and race. It feels less prominent in DAI to the point where we are simply told about things and not shown. Play the city elf origin story, it showcases how little humans thought of the elves and there is a difference when you play as a guy or gal elf. In DAI we are simply told about things being bad rather than being shown like the backgrounds in DAO.
DAO simply does a good job at establishing rules in the Dragon Age universe and does not try to make the society a game with “rose colored glasses”. DAO does this right and portrays a society that isn’t 100% right and has clear cut instances of morally grey situations. I can see where if you started out with DAO DAI would feel dumbed down and less about internal Thedas politics and veering towards mystical beings. DAO was grounded and felt akin to traditional fantasy while having unique portions of lore.
While there are some interesting moral choices and insight in Ferelden’s recent history the portions of the story are somewhat flat in my opinion. We are given so much lore and details throughout our journey I think it is borderline too much. For example, I could do without werewolves, mystical urns, and the extensive journeys in the deep roads. I just think it has too many fantasy tropes and could have been trimmed down a tad. I have heard that DAO wasn’t intended to have a sequel and it shows.
The game does in fact show its age quite a bit in many different areas from storytelling, characterizations, visuals, etc. The bones are still good to the core with the general premise of you starting your quest and going to various places of the world to complete it. However, some of the plot points and characterizations I don’t think would be done in a modern game. This outdatedness is not a bad thing in the case of DAO, in fact, I think it does give it charm that the other two games lack. In order to fully play DAO you need to cast aside your perceptions of modern gaming and get into the mindset of being in 2009 and how epic of game this must have been!
Variety // Relationship // Time Appropriate
Since there are so many characters in DAO, I decided to keep it brief and write a character review and ranking in the foreseeable future~
The whole array of potential companions is quite varied from various walks of life, skills, and abilities. Each has their own quest stories you can partake in (or not) that expands upon the characters motivations and personality. This is what Bioware really excels at, building up the various relationships throughout the game.
You have two characters that are essentially with you from the beginning to end (unless certain choices are made) Morrigan and Alistair, a witch (survivalist mage haha) and Grey Warden respectively. These two are essentially polar opposites of one another in terms of ideologies and personalities. Morrigan and Alistair are by far the most well known and loved characters in the fandom.
You have the potential for seven other companions throughout the duration of the game. You do have a dog as a fighting companion but that’s about it… The next two you can obtain are Leliana, a cloister girl, and Sten, a Kunari who is convicted of murdering a family. The next two I usually end up getting are Zevran, the assassin elf, and Gwen, a mage from the circle.
I usually end up getting Shale, a golem, who is only obtainable if you have the DLC or the Ultimate Edition. Shale is hands down still one of my top Dragon Age characters! Lastly there is Oghren, a dwarf with a drinking problem and a mystery companion if you choose to obtain the character later on in the main story.
Within the realm of choices DAO offers, a big choice for many is the in-game romance options. Dragon age origins have four candidates to pick from: Morrigan, Allistair, Sevran, and Leliana. Since these four are all companion characters, they all have their own backstory in addition to the romance specific scenes. Two of the romanceable characters have specific sex requirements while the other two do not.
The way you can woo your romantic interest is the same exact way as building up friendships, easily done through preferred gift giving. The romances in this game were probably way ahead of their time in its initial release, but tbh nowadays it hasn’t age too well. I’d honestly prefer even more fade to black scenes for the intimate scenes because the animation is just so awkward… 😶 In my canon playthrough my warden does romance Zevran, an assassin elf, because it works for my character haha.
Overall, most characters I like or at least can appreciate/understand where they’re coming from. As I have said before this is an old game so certain dialogues, character quirks, and simply the character themselves may not be to one’s liking. Just play the game with these in mind and you can still enjoy the experience.
Our Hero: The Grey Warden
Backstory // Silent // Not as Much Attachment
The Grey Warden, arguably the most customizable protagonist in the entire Dragon Age series. The addition of specific backstories really made this game stand out and allowed players to see and experience what their warden was like and what he/she left behind when becoming a Grey Warden. I really appreciate BioWare for taking the time to have separate origin stories because it makes the Grey Warden special despite some of the other shortcomings.
The greatest downfall (in my opinion) is that your character is silent and has a very stoic face. These two components make some of the intense conversations or moments feel stiff because your character really doesn’t have much reaction and is stiff as a board. Even if silent, I think I would’ve preferred a bit more reactions or facial expressions at minimum. I mean why even bother showing our character at all tbh 🙃
However, I do know that having a silent protagonist did enable the game to have much more varied outcomes so in that sense it would take away from if voiced because of the narrower scope in character dialogue choice. Idk to each one’s own I suppose…
I know some people are really attached to their Grey Warden but out of the existing three protagonist the Dragon Age series has to offer. Out of the three Dragon Age protagonists I feel the least amount of attachment to my Grey Warden. Idk maybe it is the lack of voice and overall sense of character? Even though I know we are the driving force of many events it still feels like there is an “it” factor missing about the warden.
To be honest there are some DLCs for DAO that I really haven’t had the desire to finish or just simply never have touched since I first played them. For those reasons I won’t go into depth for every single DLC but reflect on a few of them that had the highest impact. If you have the ultimate edition you basically have everything included.
Return to Ostagar
The title kind of implies what you do in this DLC. You return to Ostagar, the place where the DAO’s story truly begins. You get to explore the desolate camp and have a few areas where you need to explore. Basically, this is supposed to be a touching moment seeing the destruction of a place that was a key part in the Warden and Alistair’s journey. It’s a nice addition to see what happened there post attack/blight.
The Stone Prisoner
One word: SHALE! This DLC gets you the additional DLC companion Shale, who is one of my favorite characters in DAO and possibly the entirety of the Dragon Age series. Honestly if you were to only get one DLC this one would be it because I cannot imagine the game without Shale being present. Her story actually made me interested in Dwarven lore which is not an easy task!
This is one of the biggest expansions of DAO and takes place after the events in the main story. This DLC gives some interesting insight to the blight and the deep roads. This DLC has new companions, including Anders who is one of the companions in DA2.
This is a whole mini story in it’s own right and presents some interesting lore implications. This DLC contains themes and events that could still have future implications of Dragon Age lore if utilized correctly (only time will tell if they actually include it). It’s fun for the people who wanted more DAO content.
For people that really liked Morrigan this follows up with some of the events pertaining to her from the events of DAO. One thing I will say is that the moment everyone waits for pretty much is at the end of the DLC. With my canon warden’s choices in DAO let’s just say I don’t have as much investment in Morrigan’s story as others may have. Honestly, I don’t go out of my way to play this one, but I thought I’d mention it because depending on your choices and overall world state this DLC may be important to some people.
Clunky // Age // Windowed Screen Issue
There are actually three different classes you can choose from: warrior, rogue, and mage. For the warrior and rogue classes, you have two weapon choices; warrior having a shield and sword or one handed weapon and rogue having daggers or a bow and arrow. Mages only get one option which is the staff.
This is a game from 2009, therefor this game does show its age quite a bit. I really do not enjoy the combat at all in this game. For me, it feels as if there is significant lag time in between movements, particularly with the mage and warrior classes. In most other games I prefer to be a distance fighter but due to the clunky nature of this game I really hate playing as a mage. After restarting the game at least 4 times I finally found a weapon class I was comfortable with. Playing as a rogue with daggers ended up being my preferred playstyle which is highly unusual given I hate the dagger ability in both DA2 and DAI. I think the combat for the time it was created would have been enjoyable, many people still claim that DAO has the best fighting mechanics, to each one’s own~
There is a game breaking point for me that drives me nuts and its during my time in Denerim I have to play in a windowed screen because the game consistently crashes. It truly has been a game breaking moment each time I’ve played through which is super annoying. This apparently is prevalent in the PC version and actually was never fixed. Once again, thank you steam forums for helping new players get around this annoying game crash.
The version I played I got on steam opposed to EA’s Origin. Due to the overall age of the game, it was a bit clunky to install due to some various issues such as requiring you to go to a website that to no longer exists in order to launch the game. Thank goodness for the Dragon Age steam community on providing workarounds for the installation process. This was a bit irksome to the point that it does contribute towards my overall desire to replay the game.
Graphics, Artistic/Aesthetic Style, & Ambience
Brown/Red // Area Variance // 2000s Graphics
I’d say overall the graphics and visuals are not the strong points of the game. To be blunt this game does not look pretty and there are many reused visuals. I don’t think one would want to play this game for its appearance unless you want a mid-2000s graphics throwback.
The animations and character models also leaves the game less to be desired. They are quite stiff and the NPC models ALL LOOK THE SAME, I sometimes think Morrigan is the only actual different looking human model in the entirety of the game.
The basic aesthetics are quite medieval in essence but do range a bit for each location. There is minimal cityscapes and mostly nature or underground caves. I like the premise of Denerim with all the alleyways and whatnot, in a modern game it would be quite enjoyable to experience it. The other area I really enjoy is the temple located in Haven, a cult run town. The temple is intriguing and possesses snowy/icy landscapes which I am always fond of.
Overall, most areas heavily repeat the same imagery once inside with minor differences. It can feel more like a dungeon crawler vibe than actual exploration which would have worked a bit better if the scenery was not has recycled between the subareas of locations.
The overall color palate of the game is brown, red, and grey. I cannot emphasize the sheer amount of brown undertone present throughout the entirety of the game. I wish there could have been a bit of a palate change in the various areas of the game. On the flip side the darker palate really emphasizes the imminent danger and gritty nature of the game. My biggest desire would just to have a bit more balance and a few different color choices throughout the game.
I think, again, for the timeframe this game was released in the architecture and aesthetics would have been fine. I wish there was a bit more variety in terms of shape, movement, and color choice. If this were a modern-day release, I would expect more details universally; from the NPCs to the architecture presented this game could be a visual spectacle.
Lack of Support from BioWare or EA
From a simple players perspective this game seems to have the least resepct from BioWare and EA. As of 2022 BioWare announced that there were no plans to remaster any of the Dragon Age games. This is such a shame because this game would be really cool to experience with updated graphics, animations, and at least streamlining gameplay.
Some say that this is the only good Dragon Age game. While I may not share that sentiment completely this game at minimum warrants a fix to the installation process for PCs. When a game that is still currently being sold on major platforms such as Steam and EA’s Origin it should an easy installation. The fact that the game makes you go to a website that no longer exists in order to get the game starting was super annoying. All I can say is thank goodness for the posts on the Steam community board for uploading a workaround for getting the game to play because there hasn’t been much from Bioware in making life easy.
As the PC version stands now, I think the only people that would be willing to go through all the hassle of installation would be Dragon Age fans or people who want a throwback RPG from 2009. In comparison to other games of this time period it has not aged well.
Would I Still Recommend?
Overall, this game is not my favorite, but I have to give it the respect and love it deserves for being the starting point of a series I really enjoy. I enjoyed the game but there were issues with overall execution, gameplay, and potential for replay ability.
Speaking of replay ability, this is my least replayed game in the entirety of the Dragon Age franchise and for a reason. It is clunky, in some cases a bit too cliché of fantasy/character tropes, and the graphics are not smooth and visually appealing. Compared to other games released around 2009 I think other games have aged better than DAO.
This is a game where people have to seek it out opposed to it standing on its own two legs. In my opinion it needs a remaster so more modern audiences could at least be intrigued by the story and potential replay-ability. Unfortunately, as of 2022 we have been told we are not going to get a remaster for and Dragon Age series which is disappointing.
As stated before, this game is also where the series all began. Without it we would not have the other two games and people clamoring for the next installment. We have to give the game respect and acknowledgement that it is from a different era of gaming but still has a potential re-playable experience.
I feel once you enter the Dragon Age universe it can be very hard to completely pull away from it. So, if you like a lot of lore and continuation of stories in games this is definitely a game to start your journey or fill in the blanks acquired by playing the later games first. This game, in my opinion, is the only one from the series one can also easily be the only game you play from the Dragon Age series since it has a fairly finite ending so if you don’t want to feel the need to be attached to two other games this is the one to play.
I you are a graphics or visuals snob, don’t like playing older games, dislike a lengthy story line, or not a fan of fantasy games I’d say this is not the game for you. The game is old and hasn’t aged gracefully. If you are not invested in the Dragon Age Series, an avid RPG fan, or a Bioware fan it may not be worth your time and energy playing this game.
I you are a fan of fantasy, a strong plot, or choice driven games I would say give it a go. Playing this game last I appreciated some of the lore gaps being filled for me that were merely mentioned in the later games. It feels appropriate to have actually played all three games rather than simply playing Dragon Age: Inquisition and nothing else from the series. The story presented along with the character interactions gives this game a strong edge. Despite my various criticisms, for people who like the classic tale of a hero and dark fantasy, DAO is a game that should be a staple in your game library! If you are a Dragon Age fan who has only played Inquisition play this game because you simply need to. In my opinion, it’s important to give respect to the game that started it all.