One of my favorite things about Dragon Age: Origins is the dialogue system.
For one thing, there’s just so much dialogue. You can have over a dozen deep, involved conversations with each of the characters who can join your party. More conversations unlock as you progress. Maybe you win some approval points from Leliana for something generous you did, so you unlock new dialogue with her. You won’t know it until you try to engage her in conversation and see the new speech options you can pursue.
Characters also talk to each other at seemingly random times. You choose a party of up to three people to take with you on each quest, and while you’re roaming around with them, they’ll talk to each other. The secret there, I believe, is that some parts of the environment trigger the dialogue (like walking over a bridge). That can be really fun, because characters will comment on things that have been happening — even romances. For instance, the wise old mage Wynn may have some things to say about your relationship — she might even disapprove of it, at first — and she’ll talk to your partner about it if they’re both walking along behind you.
But the coolest thing to me is that you can talk to your companions anytime, anywhere. For instance, if you’re out in the Korcari Wilds, fresh from fighting a bunch of werewolves, you can turn to Alistair or Zevran or whoever is with you, click on them, and start conversing. You might get to talk with Morrigan about her mother in the middle of the forest; in my game, maybe I had that same conversation back at camp, or in the Deep Roads, or in a castle. And the conversation isn’t exactly the same, anyway, because you can react and keep the conversation flowing (or not) with your choice of dialogue options. The spontaneity of these conversations makes them feel unique and personal to your playthrough.
Sometimes a character will comment on where they are or the quest you’re on… but much of the time, opening up dialogue with someone leads to character-based conversations you can have anywhere. They’ll tell you a funny story about their past, ask you how you’re doing, confess some secret. Due to these ever-evolving discussions, you’re always learning new things about these characters, like you’re getting to know them in a natural way.
Another thing I appreciate is that the dialogues are not just data-dumps. In some other BioWare games (to be honest here, as much as I love them), when you try to engage a character in conversation, they give you a history lesson about themselves, their culture, etc. It’s interesting information, but it’s a lot to take in all at once, and it feels a little scripted. However, in Dragon Age: Origins, the information comes out gradually, and it’s often a result of you asking them a question or a realistic response to some comment you made. Want to know more about Alistair’s past as a Templar? You ask him about it…. 0r maybe something you say will make him remember a funny story about it.
The fact that you’re constantly interacting in these conversations makes them even more exciting. You don’t just say “I agree” or “Got to get back to work” — you can flirt with the characters, ask them about their families, sympathize with them if they’ve gone through something rough (sometimes with details of your own backstory). They’ll respond, too. Maybe your romantic interest likes what you say, or maybe your answer will turn them off. Just like in real life, you might not get along with some people.
There are no hints about what a character “likes” in conversation. You’re constantly gaining approval (or losing it) based on your dialogue with each character, and you’ll see this feedback after exiting a conversation. (The top of the screen will say “Morrigan Approves +3,” for instance.) But during the discussion, you have no idea what your companion is thinking. There are no red or blue dialogue options that define your character — you’re just in the middle of a chat with someone, feeling out their personality and learning about them as you go.
I wish BioWare would incorporate this conversation system in other games. All of the BioWare games I’ve played are great at letting you get to know other characters through dialogue, but in most games (like Mass Effect and later Dragon Age titles), you have to go to specific locations to have conversations, and there’s a little more data-dumping in some cases (i.e., you inquire into a subject, and then the character spills everything they know about it in a lengthy monologue).
Dragon Age: Origins, on the other hand, just nails the process of getting to know someone through conversation, in a gradual and spontaneous way.