It might look dated compared to the stunning graphics of Inquisition, but Origins might just be Bioware’s magnum opus. The first story in Thedas is crafted with real finesse, to the extent that every single playthrough is even more astounding than the last. You find your way to an ordinary Dalish camp and you’re already hearing all about the Ancient Elves that Solas makes such a fuss over. You talk to Leliana and you’re instantly introduced to the wonderfully murdery politics of Orlais. Go to the Circle and Cullen is just there having a terrible time with everything – the forward thinking in this series is incredible.
The best part of it all is that, if you pay attention, you feel like you know about the entire world without ever having to leave Ferelden. With that much content, you can bet that every playthrough feels entirely different.
Did you know that if you’re a mage, you can get a desire demon to make one of your companions fall in love with you? Did you know that there’s some Elven ritual you can do to get some fancy armor in the Brecilian forest? Did you know that a whole lot of people try to kill you if you have a low coercion skill? Did you also know that Sten’s kinda cool, actually, and I have no idea why I never got to know him before?
Many people in the Dragon Age community started and ended their Thedas love affair with Inquisition, as the gorgeous visuals, massive open-world, and toned-down tactical elements gave the series much more widespread appeal. However, even the most ardent Solasmancers will find something to love in Origins.
Dragon Age: Origins sees you start from six backstories, all of which take about an hour to complete. At the end of each origin, a Grey Warden called Duncan recruits you just as a Blight is about to plague Thedas. Shenanigans ensue, and after joining the Wardens, it’s left to just you and another recruit, Alistair, to defeat the Archdemon and end the Blight.
While in Inquisition you roam Ferelden and Orlais as a near deity, here you’re a nobody, forming a ragtag group with a bunch of misfits while slowly building a bona fide army to take on the end of the world.
The beauty with Origins is the freedom you’re given to do this. You enter the first village, Lothering, with three treaties various groups have signed with the Wardens promising to help them long ago. You’re let completely loose in Ferelden, wanted for an act of treason you didn’t commit and able to forge your own path. You need help, but how you get it is up to you. How wrapped up in the internal politics do you want to get? Can you balance keeping yourself safe, getting who you want on the Fereldan throne, and saving everyone from the apocalypse? You’re never told everything is in your hands, you’re never really given a position of influence – it’s completely up to you to fight for what’s right, whatever that may be.
This is what the new Dragon Age could take from its uglier older sibling: the balance of having all the power and none of the power at the same time. The origins system means you’re literally just a random civilian dragged into a civil war, your only qualification being that, for whatever reason, you’re trapped and have no choice but to join the Wardens. And you were lucky enough to be sent on a safe mission while the rest of them were killed off.
This is something Dragon Age 2 and Inquisition have touched on, although they’ve certainly been more generous when it comes to dishing out power. Hawke quickly becomes the Champion of Kirkwall, and the prisoner with the glowing hand becomes the Inquisitor before you can say “Fade rift.” The Warden is a wanted criminal up until the very end, dangling thousand-year-old IOUs in front of people to desperately get help against the Darkspawn.
The different approaches in the other games made sense for their setting (a story as big as Inquisition couldn’t really have been told unless you were proxy-Jesus), but we’re returning to a single-country setting now. We’re also making the topic of Elven oppression the focus this time around, so playing as a character similarly downtrodden makes sense.
As we enter Tevinter, we’re being introduced to the most mysterious and magical setting yet. The country isn’t too bogged down by pre-established lore to be held back, and the fact mages are in charge for a change means it’s going to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the series. Because of this, it needs to take a leaf out of Origins’ book: be completely wild, full to the brim with compelling narratives and role-playing opportunities.
Over a decade on, Origins is still an ocean deep; a game that was truly about fighting for every scrap of power you could get your hands on. It’s a game that more Inquisition fans need to pick up, and appreciate just how goddamn impressive it is that Bioware has been crafting this story from day one.
Do what you need to do: mod the hell out of it, skip the Fade, add one of those cool fan made hairstyle packs. But please, just get lost in Origins. Take your time with the Hero of Ferelden’s story, and give the game that started it all another look: it’s still phenomenal, and it absolutely oozes with charm.
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Rhiannon spends her time writing, podcasting, and crying about how good Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II -The Sith Lords is online. She’s worked in games media since 2019, and graduated from the University of Essex in 2020. You can find her on twitter @rhi_bevan for puppy pics and occasionally funny content,
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