Billed as “the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate”, Dragon Age: Origins was released at the end of 2009 to critical and commercial success. It’s particularly notable for its success as an RPG on both consoles and desktop platforms. The gameplay sees you create a character with one of six different “origin” backgrounds. Which you choose will affect your starting location (and prologue quests) as well as a smattering of differences throughout the game in terms of how others react to you. From there, you explore the world, take on various quests, and form a party of heroes to help you on your way. The majority of the game is spent either fighting or talking.
Fans of Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights will appreciate the ability to pause the game at any point in order to issue commands to your team members– although you can typically only have up to three others accompany you at any time. Whereas in the console version, you were limited to an over-the-shoulder viewpoint, here you have three levels of zoom, including an almost top-down perspective, which in many circumstances seems the best way to play. Other interface improvements over the console version include a hotbar along the bottom that you can drag skills and one-shot items into (each of which is mapped to a number key).
The combat itself can be a bit hit-and-miss, with certain battles frustratingly difficult, whilst others can be a breeze, depending on your equipment and skill loadout, and which party members you happened to have accompany you. That said, the difficulty can be dialed up and down as required, so you should be able to keep yourself challenged. You can freely switch between party members during combat and assign them all orders, or you can take a more hands-off approach, delegating to the AI, which itself can be tweaked through a “tactics” panel, whereby you can set up rules for what each character should do in each situation. Frustratingly though, you have to have each character unlock several tactic slots through levelling up (and thereby sacrifice other possible upgrades) to get the most out of this system. Another annoyance is that if a character is knocked out during a fight, they will sustain a random “injury”, which permanently decreases their stats; making them increasingly less useful in subsequent fights. Injuries can only be removed through the use of injury kits, which are in very short supply throughout the game (particularly at the start).
The pacing of the game is generally pretty good. By the end of the game your party will be mobile powerhouses decked out in top of the line gear, and you’ll have more gold than you know what to do with (although you will end up with a castle to maintain). Bizarrely, the “junk” inventory management system featured in the console versions (whereby you designate unwanted items as “junk”, thus filtering them from your inventory screen until you can sell them) is absent from this version.
Conversations are frequent and long (they can be skipped with the escape key), and theres a ton of lore present in the world, from the histories of various items and places you’ll encounter, to numerous books and scrolls. A lovely touch is that all of these are transcribed into a section of the menu, so you can read them later at your leisure (or not at all). Your interaction with other party members is shaped by how you deal with issues, and how you talk to them. A mage in your party will disapprove if you side too frequently with the Templars (who are themselves tasked with policing the Magi throughout the world), whilst on the other hand a high approval with someone can unlock an additional skill or romance subplot. You can also boost these approval ratings through giving them “gifts” which ends up straying a bit too far into The Sims territory for my liking, but isn’t really immersion-breaking.
The overarching plot is grand but a bit lacklustre, but in all other areas, from the characterisations and dialogs, to the masterfully woven theme of blood, the writing shines throughout. Almost every major subplot involves a battle between two different ideologies, and the outcomes will be decided more on moral grounds than anything else. Should you destroy the child possessed by a demon, or attempt to rescue him, and risk unleashing the demon upon the world?
Performance & quality
The game runs very well indeed, and you’ll barely notice any differences compared to the Windows version of the game, save for a few less graphics options. We’ve encountered an issue where the game doesn’t launch properly the first time you run it after a reboot (force-quitting and relaunching it tends to resolve the problem), and an issue with the separate DLC installers installing to the wrong folder (if your home folder is not on your startup disk).
If you choose to log in to your EA/Bioware account (it’s important to note that this is a choice, and has no bearing on the gameplay at all), there are several online features become available. First of all, your entire progression through the story can be logged online, recording key plot points for you to view online and share with others. It will also allow you to upload screenshots (although there’s a limit of 50, which seems quite low), and it will even take screenshots automatically at predetermined intervals. Finally, will also track achievements and various statistics if that’s your sort of thing. It all seems well-intentioned enough, and doesn’t stray into mindless monetisation or rewarding you for registering with EA as more recent takes on this approach seem to have.
It’s possible to mod the Mac version of the game, but only with DAZIP mod types (not EXE ones). Many of these can be found on the Dragon Age Nexus. To install the mod, you’ll need to download Modzapin, and run it. Then double-click the DAZIP mod file.
The “Ultimate Edition” also includes all the DLC released to date:
- Awakening Expansion Pack
- The Stone Prisoner
- Warden’s Keep
- Return to Ostagar
- The Darkspawn Chronicles
- Leliana’s Song
- The Golems of Amgarrak
- Witch Hunt
- Feastday Gifts
- Feastday Pranks
Some of them will just add new items, missions or locations to the main game, whilst others (such as “Liliana’s Song”) are standalone modules to be played separately. The “Awakening” expansion is designed to be played on completion of the main game. There are many, many hours of game included here.
All in all, it’s a great package, and if you consider yourself a fan of the RPG genre (or even if you’re merely curious), you owe it to yourself to give it a look.