Dragon Age – impressions | Bioware

I am late to the Dragon Age party. For some reason, for a long time I was reluctant to play but now that I have, I am a big fan, with more than 500 hours into the series…and counting. It is by far one of my most played games. This is a big post as there is much I want to say. Let me just share some personal impressions and excitement I get with this series. I like epic reads and epic, elaborate game experiences with quite a bit of thought behind them, so I’ve taken to this game. I like integrity and this game has it. It’s carefully and richly written. If you’re playing this for the first time, I’m jealous. 🙂

TL; DR: it’s a well-written, well adapted fantasy game series, with rich lore, lots of great features, very good characters and hours of replayablity, plus choices that matter and have really far-reaching consequences. Highly personalised adventure.

Some choices are tougher than others


Topics / Headings:

Choices matter
Story overview
Character creation
Quests and Side Quests
Features
Characters I liked
Replayability
Technical note

Choices matter

The number of narrative variants is really amazing in all games. You can shape the charater to be diplomatic or brutal. The Inquisitor in DAI can be a faithful character – and it changes their dialogue lines. You can save or not save characters, you can drink suspicicious potions or not…and then watch the impact of your choice. Choices matter and some are tougher and more long-term than others, like when you need to decide whether it’s a good idea to let an antagonist join grey wardens, even though you risk losing some of your companions? What fate awaits the templars when you side with mages in DAI? You can create an amazingly personalised story.

DA series is the most elaborate work of Bioware, most of all the storytelling is very consistent. Choices from previous games carry over, creating a unique state of the world for each player. There is enough to make the world state of the game very individualised. It’s layers and layers of narrative and each game builds on the previous one. The lore is detailed and incredibly rich. I also want to note that lore and storytelling so far has been amazingly consistent through the three games and strongly connected, beautifully transitioned to and I hope DA4 keeps it that way.

Story overview

Dragon Age Origins: explore the start of the story and introduce us to the world: It’s a world plagued with ancient blights, dragons, dark but also dignified creatures like talking trees. We focus on the kingdom of Ferelden, where an order of Greywardens consisting of all sorts of chosen people, even criminals, fight against the blight..but they are cursed for it with a short life and nightmares. There is a struggle for power and betrayal as an ex-champion of the land – a good antagonist Loghain – seeks to usurp the throne. Templars in service of Chantry mind mages in special enclaves called circles Mages are considered dangerous, dabble in the the world of spirits – Fade, and engage in dangerous blood magic, many fear them. So we follow our chosen hero on a quest to defeat archdemon – they become Hero of Ferelden and at the same time we begin a series of a lot more complicated events. DAO is really precious as the start of the story and is really rich on its own.

DA2 begins at at the same time as early events fron DA1 but the game takes us 10 years into the future, it is an important transition game. It centres on Kirkwall, where a hero, Hawke, a runaway from blight-flooded Ferelden emerges to help with the growing conflict between mages and templars. We meet the ancient evil being with his own ambitions that will reappear in Inquisition. DA2 is an important transition part thha takes place over a number of years, with an interesting story within a story that sets the stage for DA3 from the start. It’s told within early timeframe of Inquisition. We follow the ups and downs of Hawke, see their loses, their relationships all against the background of wider conflicts and their place in them…it’s a good part too, engaging in ts own right but most of all important transition part. Itelaborates, develops the story beautifully. DA2 is a game that does a great job of explaining things that are happening: where did red lyrium come from, why is Hawke so important and their link to Corpypheus and wardens, it explans how things continued to go wrong between mages and templars. It’s an excellent transition.


Finally in Inquistion, the world submerges into total chaos as the ancient power we meet in game 2 reawakens and tries to tear down the barrier to enter the Fade, leaving rifts in the sky and an opening for demons to plague people. It starts with the death of an important spiritual leader – for the murder of which the player character is initially accused as they awaken to an unexpected talent. Believed first to be a criminal, then a divine herald and finally the leader of the Inquisition, we follow the Inquisitor and their companions to a fortress called Skyhold to plan and prepare for dealing with the rifts and forces behind them. But is Corpyheus, who seeks to enter the Fade, all that there is to it? Get Tresspaser to find out. Other problems follow, as templars and mages are both in conflict and in terrible danger. The Inquisitor makes a lot of important decisions, one of them being whether to side with mages or templars.

Each game is distinct but several central conflicts emerge, including mages vs templars, politics behind Inquistion and other powers, Fade as a means of power, and the matter of the Elves, forced into alienages, losing lands to humans. This last matter in particular has been developed, drawn over the course of the games through quests and sidequests, but not yet resolved, while mages and templars problem reached its resolution, one way or another.

Character creation


In Dragon Age Origins; we have a lot of different characters with starting backgrounds and the initial quest here is to see that background. They are voiceless and heavily customised. For instance, a human noble warrior and rogue starts in their mansion and we see the story, the family background, the relations – they make an impact and build immersion and connection with the character. A mage starts in the magi circle – and meets Cullen. A dwarf starts in Orznanmar and we see what sort of problems plague the dwarves. But all types of starting characters are of course continued since choices are transferred. I remember quest for Glory series that fascinated me with that feature. Games like DA built and expanded on those early examples so incredibly.

Dragon Age 2 has a concrete, voiced protagonist Hawke: either male or female. I love that she / he is voiced, more concrete and can reaapear in game 3.

Dragon Age 3: partially returns to the idea from origins. We have different races for protagonists and they have their backgrounds, but their names are set and they are voiced, so a solution that combines and simplifies DAO and DA2. I love the solution from game 3. It’s someting that could have been done in Jade empire. Choices carry over (you need to use dragonagekeep), but that works fine with me, gives possibilities to experiment) and you will hear of Hero of Ferelden as you made them in game 1 or your customised world state through dragonagekeep.

Side quests

the side quests and dlcs are very fun, beautiful, interesting, important; they enhance some of the central conflicts.

The strongest point of Dragon age games, beside the layered narrative, are the side quests and DLCs. There are many and they are varied, many veer around central conflicts and highlight them. There are also personal quests that explore companion’s backgrounds – finally more showing instead of stating, this is the thing I miss in Jade Empire. I can’t name a favourite, I love doing them all, they range from bigger sidequests to small ones like bringing flowers to a grave of an elven woman because her husband is afraid of bandits on the road. Such detail fine tunes the world we play, I love attention to details.

Red lyrium corrupts Templars. But it makes for a beautiful landscape, especially against snow

Some of my favourites locations / quests include the Urn of the Sacred Ashes (character needs to be tested for worthiness), Nature of the Beast, the Circle of Magi where we help Cullen in game 1 but also all Fade-quests , especially with mage hero (the harrowing, lost in a dream, saving Connor, later in DA2 and DA3 as well). Cullen’s quests in Inquistition, most of the main quests in da 1-3 are my favourites…. Hissing Waters (for the resources and treasures), elven temples, Emerald Graves and empress du Lion (the contrast of the white snow and red lyrium is breathtaking). Soldier’s peak DLC in DAO is very good…I could go on and on, I love them. Legacy DLC is excellent for DA2. And I love Tresspasser for DA3.

Class quests
In Inquistion, quests for class specialisation finally have meaning and they make me choose carefully. I don’t feel good being any sort of nercomancer or templar or ravager, knowing their stories. You can decide and the process of choosing is meaningful – it totally adds to the immersion and connection. Besides the previous two games and this one too show you what some of these classes can do. I’d never choose a blood mage /necromancer for a specialization because of that, I strongly disagree with their methods and approaches. Likewise, I would not choose a templar class, for several reasons.

Mages vs Templars
One of the major quests / central conflicts is chossing between templars and mages. You do that in game 1, in game 2 but the decision that has the most impact is in DAI. Both Templars and Magers offer major quests with significant storylines. For the story, I tend to prefer the Templar side because that quest is really interesting, plays on the Inquisitor’s fears as we navigate their subconscious that a demon is trying to control. Templars’ suffering is not obvious, while mages made their suffering known – this is another reason why I like to help the templars. The rewards are also better for the templar’s quest, but it prevents you from chasing down Samson so I usually pick the mage side anyway.

The mage side storyline deals with dangerous time manipulations and altering events. The idea was good, gave an explanation as to why we are in a hurry with main quests like Wicked Heart and Minds and what is at stake if we lose. Alexius, at the centre of this mage quest, is actually a sympathetic character, he has lost much to despair and I pity him. I

DLCs
I haven’t played most of them yet, bu they are important. For instance, the major onces like Tresspasser in DAI or Awakening in DAO provide seamless transitions to the next game, set the stage, present some new characters and plot points. Some of them explain the background of characters like Leliana’s dlc, and there is one that let you play as darkspawn for a different perspective. In DAI, some DLCs add extra places for more loot, adventure, lore, experience and gold. Hissing Waters is one of my favourite places because the valuables are worth good gold. I find them all dlcs are needed and meaningful to the plot. Tresspasser, Legacy, Awakening are among my most favourite.

Characters are reused

Also, I’d like to note how carefully and beautifully the game reuses characters. Cullen is an obvious example, but there is also Dagna, a dwarven girl we meet in DAO. she wants to study magic then..and in game 3 she becomes our arcanist for enchanting weapons…and there are a few other characters like that. It’s wonderful. This is also something noteworthy about Me1-3 series. Like we have this Char krogan character who serenades an Asari woman in ME2…for a little sidequest and he reappears in ME3. I just love such attention to detail, it’s important!

Features

I love DAO for the setup of the world and many fun things, DA2 for being a transition story that also introduced a home base but Dragon Age inquisition is my favourite part because it offers so many extra features on top of narrative and side quests:

  • collect veil fire runes for weapon enchantment and crafting other runes that add damage
  • collect shards – I’m still not sure what they do as I haven’t finished exploring the shard area
  • gain influence points for quests, build up Inquisition’s power
  • customise Skyhold forrtress that is your centre of operations.
  • wardrobe
  • horses and other mounts
  • the exploration areas are big, beautiful and there is a LOT to do in each
  • gather resources- herbs and metals. some herbs can be grown in your garden. I love crystal grace and dawnstone most. Navarrite has a beautiful colour. i love the fact we pick the herbs each time – it;s such a fine detail! I also love that you don;t just slap on a hilt to a new weapon in the middle of nowhere but to craft you do actually have to go to the forge.
  • crafting fun and beautiful armors and weapons that can be colour customised – gather those resources.
  • beautiful collectible codex entries – gorgeously illustrated cards. You can gather songs and other tidbits. Check back the codex entries characters from time to time – I really enjoyed the ones for say Cullen.
  • plenty quests you get using a war table – this is a great solution. Not all of them lead to exploring an area but they do bring rewards.

I also loved

  • night / day system in dragon age 2
  • the storytelling format of DA2 – narrative is told by Varric to Cassandra and sets the stage for DAI perfectly.
  • The locations are a strong point of every dragon age game – they are mysterious, ehtereal, sinister and always beautiful.
  • variety of puzzles and side quests and even diversified missions, e.x in DAI we play through a quest called wicked Hearts and Mind thsat focuses on espionage. It was tricky but a really great change of pace, there are many great ones in DAO and DA2.
  • The music for all games is absolutely wonderful. My favourite track must be Leliana’s song.

Characters are generally very strong in this game, with detailed and explored backgrounds.
As the blog title suggests and as I’ve explained elswhere, I do like a bit of nice love story in my games. It enriches the narrative, adds more invlvement and more lose or gain to be had. In DA romance is satisfying – and most satisfying in DAI.

gxb romance characters I liked

The romance, especially in Inquisition, is very well-paced, and very complete, with beautifully crafted cutscenes. Romance progresses after a major plot development. I was completely satisfied with it.

Cullen

We watch his growth from game 1.

My go-to romance. He’s the perfect g x b romance for human and elven females and, as a straight female, I feel like I need nothing more in this department from Bioware romances like ever, other than making sure he and the Inquisitor stay alive! Cullen is a templar who first appears in game 1 and 2, we see him grow. One of the ways in which he grows is that in game 1 he is unable to overcome his shyness. In game 3, he is still shy but he no longer wants to miss opportunities. He also grows to understand that one side may not always necessarily have all the answers. He becomes a strong person.

I absolutely love that! He fears mages and he has reasons to – we see that in game 1 when we rescue him. In game 2 he witnesses more of what he fears but also discovers something else that finally leads him to question his vocation and loyalty. You can count on him for help when things get really tough. In game 3, he really comes into his own and comes to terms with his past.

If you start as a mage in game 1, then Cullen knows the Hero of Ferelden. I like that as part of his growth process. Playing a mage in DAI makes the romance organic and meaningful to the plotline.

Cullen is strong, reliable, honest and competent and he speaks of his emotions, he is not ashamed to show them. Relief, embarassment, fear – he expresses them. He feels shame and guilt and is plagued by terrors of what he experienced in game 1 but he is able to articulate it and deal with it. The romance is very complete with Tresspasser. Cullen is a personable, honest character, a good commander and a good guy. The voice is great. The cut scenes are beautifully done in this game and give a sense of completion and satisfaction. This is proper romance.

He gives several quests, one is important to support him, the second is a sweet moment that represents the acceptance of his feelings and the third quest is a chase for an ex-templar who corrupted the templars – you get that quest if you side with mages and frankly I really like doing this one because it’s a joint effort for Inquistor and Cullen, a partnership. But quests are not the end of it, there are many lovely cut scenes, up util the end of the game and into Tresspasser.

Even though Varric makes fun of him, Cullen is actually firm and makes a lot of decisions that make him stronger. I love him a lot, he’s the only Dragon Age romance I really need.

Solas

Elven apostate who helps the Inquisitor character from the start. A man who has a way with words and a man who has travelled all over the Fade. I love him, he’s suffering a lot and the story behind him is really rather huge in the end. He’s a man of the world who comes to the Inquisitor’s aid….but there is a LOT more to him than meets the eye. His story deserves more exploring. A true man of mystery, a surprise. His romance is quite soulful, but bittersweet, true to the storyline.

Blackwall
He is introduced as a grey warden but there is also more to him that meets the eye. He finds true meaning for his life in the Inquisition and in the romance with the Inquisitor. I found his ending to be really meaningful.

Fenris

For DA2 , Fenris is my only choice, though not a favourite, and he’s quite interesting all in all. I love his voice and I like how once you get his loyalty, he’ll follow you to hell and back. Even if it means defending mages he hates. He’s a former elven slave with a lot of baggage and he’s very decisive, knows what he wants. He’s there for Hawke when they need him the most , if you play it right and actually says the right thing. He learns that revenge is not constructive but he can build a hope with Hawke with him.

Special mention: Alistair

A grey warden you meet as soon as you leave your home and join the grey wardens in DAO, he is an early companion. He isn’t my favourite, but I love how serious and responsible he becomes if he remains a grey warden in game 3. There are a few things you can do with him in DAO: harden him by telling him to be cynical ( I don’t like that) while doing his personal quest to find his sister, set him on a path of his possible destiny (I do like that path) or let him stay a grey warden. He grows more as a grey warden. Other than that, there are a few other possible outcomes for him.

Characters I appreciate / romanceable for the male character

Morrigan – raised by the witch Flemeth in the Wilds, she’s interesting, independent and strong-minded. She’s a good character, walks her own path but you can never be certain what crazy ritual she suggests next. I both appreciate her and don’t really want her near me. But…she saves the protagonist in the end and does offer advice and help.

Dorian – a Tevinter mage, a romance option for the male inquistor and he is a great friend for the female inquisitor. I really do appreciate his quick wit and loyalty he shows after we show that we believe and support him. I don’t play homosexal romances, I’m just not into it, but Dorian is just a great addition to the cast.

Non- romanceable

Varric – he’s a people person and not your usual dwarf. A storyteller and good friend to both Hawke and the Inquisitor. He has his own backstory, partly devloped in DA2 and continued in DAI. He has affectionate nicknames for everyone.

Cole – is a unique character, let’s say, a good soul, wishing to help others. It makes sense to first meet him in the Templar quest but if you side with mages, he will find his way to you by helping someone else.

Wynne – she was a pleasant character in DAO, I liked her. A mage from the circle in Ferelden.

Mabari dogs – we have some as pet companions through the games and there’s one in Tresspasser, much to my delight 😉 A dog is a good judge of character.

Flemeth – a witch with a surprise. You will see her in all three games.

Gorim – he’s loyal and such a lovely companion to the female noble dwarf, I loved them.

There are other characters but these are the ones I liked. Among non-spoilery antagonists, I like Loghain, a crafty person but he is also a father.

For player character, my favourites are :
DAO: female human mage, female human noble
DAI: female noble mage, female elven mage
I like Hawke as well, they go through a lot and I like their story. Hawke would actually deserve some moment of peace for once.

I love all other origin stories too, I love seeing how the world feels different and how others react to them (e.x mage hero returning to the Circle to help them is one of my favourite moments), there’s just a lot to do with these games and I can play them forever and never get bored.

Overall, I love DAO and DAI the most, DA2 is an important and fun part too and much needed as a transition part in the story – my faroutie quest was the Deep Roads, I think. and the storytelling format, Varric telling the story to Casandra. This is just the beauty of the game, all games are strongly connected.

Replayability:
It’s endless! I can play it again and again and still find something new. In DAI, to collect everything alone you need to replay several times.

this scene is from alistair’s wedding mod. If you like Alistair, get the mods from Nexus.

friend times, fun times. poor Cullen though. oh well, in the end it’s all to cheer up the Inquisitor.

So, is there anyone who’s waiting for DA4 ? I actually worry abot DA4 (will they keep it consistent with the lore and storytelling thus far?) but the greatest strength of the series is that it does offer a lot of freedom in choosing narrative variants. Most characters I cared for had a chance to die and yet thank the game devs there is a way to save them.

Technical note

DAI in particular is a big, heavy game. It runs well on my laptop but does lag sometimes. The most interesting glitch I experienced was at the very start. After you create your character and the story begins in a Temple, you are supposed to cut to a scene with two other characters. But sometimes, instead of that you just wake up stuck in the initial area called the Temple of the Sacred Ashes. The glitch repeats sometimes when loading Skyhold fortress, your base of operations…sometimes when entering rooms, floors and walls might take time to load. Careful, if you enter anyway then you fall down into another area. If the environment doesn’t load properly, you just wander around an incompletely rendered setting. Reloading is the best solution then. Overall, I’ve experienced no game-killing bugs though.

But speaking of falling…you can jump in DAI and you can jump off high places. In the regions you visit, that costs health but feel free to jump from high places in Skyhold. The jumping ability is useful for collecting some items and it’s fun.

Another thing; if you buy Inquisition on the Origin store, you will get a localized version, most likely without the option to switch to English (depending on the region). I prefer playing in English where possible so I just got the game code for origins from an external store.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s