It took me awhile to get around to Dragon Age: Origins (2009). Yes, yes, that was because of Mass Effect. I think we had DA:O for at least year before I started playing. But after Mass Effect had finally run its course, I hit my fantasy-game stride with Fable II and figured I should give DA:O a try before that phase also passed. That “try” turned into two back-to-back playthroughs and several hours of dewy, dreamy romances…and dragons. There were definitely a couple dragons.
A few years before “dragonborn” became a part of our lexicon, Dragon Age: Origins brought fourth onto our consoles and PCs a magical, mystical land of knights and dragon and evil-doers. You, as a human, elf, or dwarf, transversed Ferelden, a country on the continent of Thedas, to save it from a dark force called the Blight. New players were initiated into a special fighting force called the Grey Wardens and given special powers. After meeting another Grey Warden and nearly dying in a battle with the Darkspawn (evil beings brought on by the Blight), you were then sent out to form a team from other races and people of Ferelden to take on the Blight and ultimately defeat its “ruler,” a nasty and formidable dragon.
Or, that’s the jist of it. There’s so much more to the game than just gathering teammates and fighting hordes. DA:O actually has a fairly complex story full of politics, deceit, and intrigue; and it has a very large cast of characters from kings and queens to mages and peasants. Deviousness, loyalties, and choices…so many choices…pepper the game with plenty of delicious and addictive seasoning. Like Mass Effect, it’s hard to not want to play the game over just to see how different choices affect the gameplay and environment.
And , of course, there were the romances. As is commonplace in many of Bioware’s RPGs, players had the chance to hook up with at least one their teammates. During my first playthrough, I was a Dalish elf named Ursula, who “courted” the dreamiest confection of creamy deliciousness, Alistair.
Yep, I fell for him.
Charming, somewhat naïve, noble, good in a sword fight, kinda hunky, AND a keen British accent. Really, what girl could resist?
Things were moving along just fine until…well, I kinda screwed it up for coming on too strong in the end. He got cold feet and I was all like, but come ON Alistair just, COME ON! And he was all like, oh no no, I…I can’t. JUST CAN’T! (swoon!) Well just fuck. Eh. The chase was better than the catch anyway. I played as a warrior dwarf noble in the second playthrough, and took a very different turn pursuing ex-Chantry member Leliana, as well as everyone’s favorite bi elf Zevran. (Oh, he’s a kooky one that Zevran!) That all was fun, a little bizarre…no, a lot bizarre…but still fun. Maybe. And weird.
Anyway, what was interesting about the relationships in DA:O was how well-linked the characters backstories were to the overall story of the game — the world and its government. As much as Mass Effect encompassed my play for awhile, the stories of the individual characters — Kaiden, Ashley, Garrus, etc. — didn’t grab me in the same way as the stories of Alistair, Leliana, Morrigan, and company did in DA:O. And whereas Mass Effect gave you a whole galaxy to explore (and try to remember, which I was never very good at), DA:O gave players a chance to really get to know Ferelden. Like Albion in Fable, it became a place I wanted to be with people I wanted to know. True, that place and those people had limits, but boundaries aren’t so bad sometimes, especially if they contain fascinating tales of hardship and triumph.
I think I’ll always have a softer spot in my heart for fantasy than sci-fi. After DA:O, I went straight to Fable III; and I continued ME2 much to the dismay of our belabored 360. I never got around to Dragon Age II, but it’s in my Gamefly queue…still. I know it didn’t get the most stellar of reviews, but I still have to try it someday. I’ve heard Kirkwall (Where most of the action in DA II takes place, no?) is something of an interesting place, complete with shops and problems and evil forces, just like any medieval-esque town. I hate to think that Skyrim buried my fantasy-game bug, but I’m sure it’ll resurrect itself soon enough.