Retro Review: Dragon Age: Origins + Heroes of the Storm

EDIT:

A website has just gone up confirming that “Heroes of the Storm” is the new name for Blizzard All-Stars, so it’s definitely not the next expansion for World of Warcraft.

See you in the Dark Below. 😉

Steam sale strikes again:

Bioware games always give me such mixed feelings, and Dragon Age: Origins does so more than most. Not only are there both many aspects of this game that I hated and many aspects that I loved, but often, they’re one and the same.

Speaking to the elder oak in Dragon Age: OriginsOverall, I don’t think this was one of Bioware’s better games. It had a lot of the right elements, but they just didn’t come together as well as they could have. It’s like a dish with all the right ingredients that just wasn’t cooked properly.

In the broad strokes, Origins is about what I’ve come to expect from Bioware. Fantastic character development and interesting moral choices, but incredibly weak gameplay.

In fact, even by Bioware standards, I found the actual gameplay of Origins to be extremely dull. I find it hilarious that the Steam page for the game sings the praises of its “bone-crushing, visceral combat,” because Origins has what just might be the most pathetically dull RPG combat I’ve ever seen.

Stamina is such a limited resource and ability cooldowns are so long that it feels like half the game is just watching your party auto-attack. On top of that, the attack animations are extremely lackluster and have absolutely no sense of force or power behind them, and there’s no creativity put into ability design at all. My archer’s abilities pretty much all boiled down to “shoot an arrow at them.”

The only saving grace of the combat system is the fact that you freely swap between controlling your different party members, which both allows you to coordinate their actions and gives you something to do other than make a sandwich while the game slays the dragon for you.

Blasting Darkspawn in Dragon Age: OriginsThe ability to swap between party members is the only reason I was able to get through this game. I quickly found out that I didn’t enjoy playing anything but a mage, so I let the AI control my archer and spent my time controlling Morrigan.

With her varied and powerful spells, I found Morrigan reasonably enjoyable to play, though still nothing to write home about.

The one good thing I can say about the gameplay of Origins is that it reminded me how much I enjoy RPGs where you control a party, not just one or two characters. I really wish we could get more of those. There’s just something to be said for the classic feeling of venturing into the wilderness with your party.

It’s also an incredibly big game, but I’m not sure whether to count that as a positive or not. On the one hand, it’s nice to have a truly meaty game — games tend to be far too short these days. But on the other hand, a good chunk of Origins was meaningless busywork, so it started to feel like a bit of a grind after a while.

But no one in their right mind plays a Bioware game for the gameplay, so let’s talk about what actually matters.

My full party in Dragon Age: OriginsCharacter and story:

If there’s one thing I can never fault Bioware on, it’s their characterizations. I expected Origins to include characters as deep, fascinating, and varied as those of the Mass Effect trilogy, and I was not disappointed.

On some levels, I think the characters in Origins are even a little more interesting than their Mass Effect counterparts. They were more colourful. Much as I enjoyed the Mass Effect cast, they could be a bit stiff at times.

Something else that impressed me is that each character has a very unique and distinctive speech pattern. From Morrigan’s archaic terminology, to Sten’s bluntness, to Zevran’s wry flirtatiousness, they all had a very clear voice — and I’m not talking about their voice-overs, though those were also excellent.

Also, Morrigan is awesome. Can we get a whole game just about her, please?

Outside of the character arcs, though, I found the story a mixed bag, at best.

Meeting Morrigan in Dragon Age: OriginsThe overall story of Origins is incredibly cliche, to the point where I think it’s probably intentional. And that’s not always a bad thing; there is something to be said for the classics. I wouldn’t have minded the generic nature of the story if it had been executed well, but it wasn’t.

The main problem with the story in Origins is the same one that plagued Mass Effect 2. It’s Side Quest: The Game. I spent so little time dealing with the Darkspawn that I sometimes forgot they were even a threat. There was no sense of urgency or peril. It was just a lot of running around and solving political disputes.

Origins gives so much attention to the politics of the world that it makes me wonder why they even bothered to include the Darkspawn at all. They don’t really add anything to the game, and a more focused plot dealing with the politics and racial tensions of Ferelden probably would have worked a lot better.

I also found the story oddly unsatisfying. Sure, I beat the Darkspawn, but they’ll just be back in a few hundred years anyway.

And I have to be honest: I loathe Ferelden. It’s a disgusting, oppressive culture, and if it had been up to me, I’d have razed Denerim myself.

The Darkspawn march through the Dead Trenches in Dragon Age: OriginsPlaying an Elf probably had a lot to do with this. Elves are treated so horrifically by human society that spending the entire game trying to save humans left a very bitter taste in my mouth. My character was a proud son of the Dalish clans. Why should he be trying to save the people who conquer, enslave, rape, and torment his people?

I mean, I understand why. The Darkspawn would have killed everyone, not just humans, and I wasn’t really given a choice about becoming a Grey Warden. But, again, it’s unsatisfying. I wanted to at least be able to address some of the the injustice in the world, but I was powerless to do so.

But on the other hand, this can also be seen as a plus for the story. They made me care about the world. The depth of the hate I have for the kingdom of Ferelden shows that I was truly engaged with the world.

And they did do a very good job of making this a morally challenging game. Not having an alignment system like in Mass Effect is very liberating, and I was able to go with the choice I truly wanted every time.

Not that it was always easy to decide which path I wanted to take. Some of the decisions you have to make are pretty brutal, with no easy answers.

My party's camp in Dragon Age: OriginsFor whatever other flaws Origins’ story has, it is your story, and that makes for a very gripping experience.

Ultimately, I’ve come to the conclusion this is why I like Bioware games. It’s sort of like writing fan fiction — all the hard work of world-building and character development has been done for you, so you get to just enjoy weaving your story. For a writer, it’s like giving a kid a box full of awesome toys and telling them, “Go nuts!”

I’m so conflicted.

Final thoughts:

I’m not sure whether I want to continue with the Dragon Age franchise. Sticking with the Mass Effect games despite early misgivings proved the correct choice, and I see a lot of potential in the Dragon Age universe for some truly great stories, but Origins fell way short of that potential, and it would take some radical changes to make the series truly compelling.

I already have the Awakening expansion, and I’ll probably play through it at some point. And I’ll try the demo for Dragon Age II eventually, but I have my doubts about whether I’ll buy it. With my limited budget, there are probably better games I could spend my money on. Although I heard everyone hated DA2, so maybe I’ll love it. I do have terrible taste in everything.

Overall rating for Dragon Age: Origins: 6.8/10

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5 thoughts on “Retro Review: Dragon Age: Origins + Heroes of the Storm

  1. DA2 changes up a lot from origins (imo) and I enjoyed it.

    The graphics got a big upgrade and I felt that the combat got a bit more challenging. I think the story was much better in DA2 than Origins.

    What I didn’t like about DA2 was not being able to customize the looks of your party members. In Origins you were able to equip everyone with anything they could wear. In DA2, your party members really only get weapons, I think boots, and jewelry.

    I also really enjoyed seeing my decisions affect how the world changed.

    Morrigan is supposed to be playing a major role in DA3 btw.

  2. If you were bored by the combat in DA:O, the gameplay is much more active and the animations for abilities are more visually exciting. I liked the overall storyline more but not the characters, and it’s all based on this one city so you end up going through the same areas over and over, which gets very dull.

    “There was no sense of urgency or peril.” I think this is a weird quirk of some Bioware games. They start off with something cataclysmic, and then you have all the time in the world to run around doing sidequests. Feels strange.

  3. For me, I enjoyed DAO, but I still haven’t finished DA2. The combat is so different (more hack and slash-y) and the maps are lazy. You’ll notice that the maps are recycled within the game about an hour in. I enjoyed DAO combat once I started fine-tuning and turn-by-turn controlling my party on nightmare mode. It made it much more tactical and less hack-and-slash. (Can you tell I’m not a big fan of H&S?) I guess I should go finish DA2… the achievement ratio’s bringing down my average.

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