Some of you may know that Dragon Age: Origins is my most cherished video game. It is one of the very first games I played as an adult — back when I was not a gamer — and it made me fall in love with video games. Especially RPGs, because they had characters to get to know, stories to engage with, worlds to explore, even romances to pursue. BioWare is known for creating games that capture you in all of these ways, and playing Origins was the start of my passion for these games.
One of the cool things is that I know many people who still love Dragon Age: Origins, even though it’s been out for eight years already. Some people, like myself, even replay it. I try to do so every year. Going back to it, I feel its age — the stiff character animations and the PC visual novel-like dialogue selection feel pretty dated nowadays — but I give myself some time to sink back into it, and then I forget about all that. The game is magical. It’s also timeless, in many ways.
BioWare has come out with many other games since then that I have fallen in love with. Mass Effect is my favorite video game series ever, for instance. But there are a few things that make Dragon Age: Origins stand out, and BioWare has never brought these elements back. It’s okay if they don’t, though I would love it if they did. But in any case, they are what make Origins so special to me.
Athena at AmbiGaming has already written a great blog post about the silent protagonist of Origins and personification. Imposing your own voice on a silent character definitely helps with role-playing. However, I’m still on the fence about whether I prefer a silent main character or a voiced one — I think it depends on the voice actor, and I must say that I’m a big fan of actors like Jennifer Hale as FemShep in the Mass Effect trilogy. I definitely recommend reading the post on AmbiGaming if you’re interested in this topic!
Besides that, here are a few other things Dragon Age: Origins did differently.
You can choose backgrounds for your characters in many BioWare games. It’s one of your first acts of role-playing. But Dragon Age: Origins takes things further than future BioWare games by giving you a one- or two-hour origin story to play through.
You choose your character’s race and history from a handful of origin stories. Do you want to be a human noble living on a grand estate with her family? Do you want to be a city elf living in the elven ghetto, or a forest elf living with his tribe in the wilds? Do you want to be a mage growing up in the Circle where people with magical abilities are trained and carefully watched by the wary Templars? Will you be a dwarven noble or a commoner?
Once you make your selection, you get to enjoy the beginning of your adventures in Dragon Age: Origins. I’m sure it was a lot of work for the writers and developers to add what must have been 10+ hours of game time and story, which each player would only experience a small portion of based on their origin story selection. But it really brings home your character’s history.
In Mass Effect, by contrast, you get to read a paragraph about your character’s history. Throughout the series, others will occasionally comment on it. You get it — but it’s so much more tangible when you actually spend an hour or two experiencing it yourself, as you do in Origins.
For example, in my first playthrough, my character was a human noble whose family estate was burned down and her father murdered. In another playthrough, I was an elven mage who helped my friends escape the Circle. My time spent in each of these experiences made a huge impact on how I played the rest of the game, and the way I viewed my character.
I’ve talked about this before here, but one of my favorite things about Origins is that you can turn to your companion characters anytime, anywhere, and engage in conversation with them. You just click on them to open the dialogue.
My most memorable example of this is when I turned to talk to Alistair after a moving quest in the Deep Roads. My character had blood splattered on her from the battle we were just in. We were standing on a cliff where we had just watched a new friend sacrifice himself for the greater good. I clicked on Alistair, and he confessed his feelings for my character and gave her a swooping kiss. It was an amazing, unexpected moment, and I love that I remember the setting so well. It makes that moment unique to my playthrough. Others may have had that scene with Alistair, but I doubt any had it in the exact same spot as I did.
Blind Dialogue Options
Dragon Age: Origins is the last BioWare game to have blind dialogue choices. It sets them up in a list; and while you get the occasional flirt, intimidate, or persuade option, the vast majority have no indicators as to their tone. Because there’s no voice for your character, you select exactly what you want to say — there’s no extra content when the character actually speaks, as there is in future games.
For example, in Mass Effect, you might select, “Don’t do it” as your dialogue choice, but when your character opens their mouth, they say, “You know better than to do something that stupid.” Maybe it comes out harsher than you wanted it to. But in Origins, your character won’t add anything to your selection — you just make a choice and wait for a reaction from whomever you are talking to.
I like this for a few reasons. First, it feels like a throwback to old text adventures. It also reminds me of the simple but compelling visual novels I like to play, which also give you dialogue choices in a list with no indicators and no voiced characters. Finally, I appreciate the lack of tone options here.
In future BioWare games, a dialogue wheel gives hints about the personality you are choosing for your character by selecting any given dialogue option. In Mass Effect, this is very polarized in a red/blue Renegade/Paragon scale, which tells you what type of character you are creating. In Dragon Age II and Inquisition, it’s a wheel that helps you know whether your character is being inquisitive, sarcastic, aggressive, and more.
But in Origins, you get no such hints. I understand that they are necessary when you are selecting a short dialogue option that your voiced character will expand on in the real conversation. But I appreciate the directness in Origins, and having no hints about tone — or how other characters’ will react — make the conversations feel less “game-ified” and more realistic to me.
Of course, it’s the story and characters that make Dragon Age: Origins so memorable — and so fun to go back and replay. But these elements are what help make the game work so well, and they stand out after all of these years of playing other RPGs and BioWare games.