I Am A Game Photographer: Dragon Age: Origins (PC)

Rock, Paper, Scissors asked it; here’s my answer: I most certainly am. This time around, I’ve posted six galleries — with a combined total of over 2,600 pictures — from my lengthy playthrough of BioWare’s Dragon Age: Origins. Thanks to the limitations of Google+, I’ve split the screenshots into six galleries, which are linked at the end of the article.

And because there are a lot of screenshots (29 in total) that I want to include in this article, let me start you all off with just a handful:

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My initial character. I will explain what I mean by that in a bit.

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There is a lot of gorgeous scenery and lighting in the game, to be fair.

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Even the Fade, warped and twisted as it is, is visually quite stunning.

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Morrigan, voiced by Claudia Black, is one of your companions...and mostly a total b**ch.

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She was, however, useful in one sequence of the game, where in fact she became the character I controlled.

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Leliana, a bard that can join your quest. She was one of my core party members.

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Wynne, a mage, and another potential party members. Another of my core group.

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Sandal is not a companion per se, but he is one of the more amusing characters in the game.

Dragon Age: Origins, as you all hopefully know, was BioWare’s epic fantasy RPG of a few years ago, featuring an evolution of the engine that powered Neverwinter Nights and a storyline that tilted hard toward dark fantasy. It was in development for many years, and was indeed only released once Electronic Arts acquired the company. Its long, violent, blood-spattered (literally) story tells the tale of the nation of Ferelden, in the land of Thedas, as it is beset by a Blight. A Blight, for the record, is an eruption of foul, demonic creatures called darkspawn, who — led by a dragon-like Archdemon — spread corruption and death over all the land in a maniacal, homicidal rampage. They carry with them a disease also known as Blight, which turns those it infects into ghouls…or worse.

The darkspawn are always present beneath the surface of the world, digging in the halls of abandoned dwarven kingdoms; they are driven by a call only they can hear to seek out the buried Old Gods. When an Old God is found, its dragon-like form is infected with Blight, and it becomes an Archdemon. It is when this event transpires that a Blight actually begins, and the Archdemon must be slain in a very specific manner in order to end the threat.

Your character — who can be a human, a dwarf, or an elf from one of about six different backgrounds — begins the game going about his or her daily life, when some manner of disaster strikes. At the outcome thereof, the Grey Warden Duncan recruits your character to join the Grey Wardens, the ancient order that guards Thedas against Blights, and who in fact are necessary to end said events; an Archdemon can only be permanently slain by a Grey Warden, to the destruction of both.

The first major battle between the armies of Ferelden and the darkspawn that the player witnesses quickly turns into a rout after a villanous lord of the land refuses to send his troops in to support the vanguard led by the king of the nation. The king and his army are routed and slain, and the lord — one Loghain by name — quickly assumes de facto control of the land (even though his daughter is technically in charge, in her role as queen). The player and another Grey Warden barely survive the battle, and are rescued by a witch named Flemeth who bits her daughter, Morrigan, to join the player’s party and assist in helping Ferelden overcome the Blight.

From there, the game becomes more or less open-ended; the player must gather different allies from among the races of men, dwarves, and elves, and must rally these disparate armies into a single fighting force to defeat the darkspawn, slay the Archdemon, and end the blight. The game takes the player through idyllic countrysides, enchanted forests, ancient ruins, stately cities, haunted magical towers, majestic castles, foul dungeons and caves, and immense dwarven halls beneath the world.

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The dwarven halls are seriously the best-looking part of the game.

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Here, have another.

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And another.

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See what I mean? Gorgeous.

Along the way, you accumulate various companions, with different skills, abilities, and moral bearings, all of which factor in to how the game plays out and what consequences your decisions in it have. In at least one case, failing a persuasion check after performing a particularly nasty act will require you to slay a party member. It all comes to a head in the massive Battle of Denerim, which is a fantastic series of battles through a variety of glorious scenery set-pieces. This battle culminates in the slaying of the Archdemon, which brings about the end of the game.

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Die, demon, die.

Now, here’s the thing: I began playing Dragon Age: Origins in June of this year, if not earlier. I had a few false starts, and created three or four characters (one each time). Initially, I just couldn’t get into the game; the combat was (as is often the case with the Aurora engine and its derivatives) too tediously slow for me. Plus, I didn’t actually like the Human Noble origin story. So finally, I restarted the game as an elf, played through the (rather more brutal) origin story for her, and then quickly found a couple of mods that sped up the combat action and made the “epic kill moves” trigger more often. After that, I was in the game, and determined to finish it.

Of course, it still took a while, and there in truth I didn’t play it for almost all of the summer. And when I came back to it this fall, I decided that I just didn’t like how my character looked. Rather than restart the game (please, no!), I found a way to hack a previous character’s face onto the current character’s body:

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Much better.

And this character saw me through to the end of the game, and through some of its major DLC.

Dragon Age: Origins is a very long game if you want to complete most of its main and side quests, but it tells a riveting story with a well-developed history and mythos. It borrows liberally from the best fantasy writers, adds in some of the usual BioWare trappings (romances, for example), and keeps the encounters coming at a steady pace. With the combat sped up, it’s a heart-pounding game in many of its segments, especially the ones where you’re tasked to defend towns and civilians.

There is an advanced stat and skill system in the game, both of which play important roles in gameplay. Building up combat-related skills and area-of-effect powers in your warriors and mages (and, to be fair, rogues) is a must, as is keeping skills like Cunning topped up so that you can find better solutions to sticky situations in dialogue. The game also boasts an advanced tactics system which you can use to govern how each of your party members behaves in combat…or how your own character behaves, if for some reason you assume control of someone else in the party for a bit. If I can offer one piece of advice to you, as regards the tactics system in the game, it is this: make sure all your party members are set to use a health potion (poultice, in the language of Ferelden) if their health drops below a certain percentage. This will save you so much hassle.

The game is a few years old now, and shows its age in some ways…but for the most part it still looks damn gorgeous. The characters are expressive (and well-acted, again for the most part), the models detailed, and the scenery lush and vibrant (when it isn’t dank and spooky).

BioWare has released several pieces of DLC for the game, some of which add content to the main plot, and some of which offer separate games to play entirely, which must be accessed through a sub-menu of the main screen. These expansions — the largest and best of which is Awakening, although a mention should be made of Witch Hunt as well — are set in the aftermath of the defeat of the Blight, and tell the continuing story of the your character (assuming he or she did not perish upon slaying the Archdemon). As such, save-game importing is enabled on all these expansions, although it can be a bit buggy.

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Oghren is actually a character from Dragon Age, but they brought him back for Awakwning.

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Awakening is even more gorgeous than the main game.

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The Mother, the ultimate antagonist of Awakening.

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Once again, the dwarven areas look the best.

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Off with his head! This is one of the epic kill moves.

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The outdoor scenery in Awakening is also very pretty.

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Sigrun is another dwarven character you can recruit, and she might just be my favourite party member thus far in the entirety of the Dragon Age saga.

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The Architect, another antagonist in Awakening.

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This did not end well for me.

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Battling the Mother.

Awakening sees the player’s character thrust into the middle of an uncertain situation. Darkspawn overwhelm a Grey Warden fortress, and then disappear again into the depths of the world. After much investigation into this and other odd things plaguing the region, the player discovers two warring factions of darkspawn — one led by a being called the Architect, and another led by a monstrosity known as the Mother. The Architect has figured out a way, or so he claims, to permanently free the darkspawn from the call of the Old Gods, which in theory should end any future Blights. However, it was his experimentation that caused the blight that you have to overcome in the main game, after his method failed when he attempted to use it on the Old God he helped unearth. In like manner, the freedom he brings often comes at a steep price, triggering madness in many darkspawn who suddenly find themselves cut off from the “beautiful” call of the Old Gods; this is what happened with the Mother.

You are given the choice of helping or slaying the Architect in his cause; I chose to slay him. What effect this will have in Dragon Age 3, I’ve no idea, but I imagine I’ll find out in another year or so.

Awakening is an enjoyable piece of content, and the story (despite a limp start) is probably my favourite storyline in the Dragon Age: Origins setting. It’s engaging, well-paced, and has the potential to radically alter the shape of things in the series finale. I did, however, find it to be quite buggy; saving often is highly recommended.

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Exploring a library.

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Battling an existential crisis.

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Dwarven ruins, again. Gorgeous, again.

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An ancient elven mirror...and portal.

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This will probably not be the last my character sees of Morrigan.

Witch Hunt is the last expansion/DLC released for Dragon Age: Origins, and wraps up the story of the character Morrigan. It’s a short little investigative romp, which can end with your character either killing Morrigan, letting her pass through the elven portal she has uncovered, or joining her in the passage proper. It introduces a couple new characters as party members, and a couple of new (and gorgeous) areas to explore. Story-wise, it certainly doesn’t measure up to the main game, but it ends on a cliffhanger of sorts and teases many things about what’s in store in both Dragon Age 2 and Dragon Age 3.

There are other expansions that can be played as well, some of which tell “alternate history” stories to the main game or related events, but I didn’t get around to playing those. These two seemed like the major pieces of content to focus on before heading in to Dragon Age 2, and I was anxious after a few months and many, many hours to finally leave Origins behind.

Galleries:

  • Gallery 1 of 6 – This set, the first of six, covers the first part of the game as I played it. The set ends at the start of the Dalish quest storyline.
  • Gallery 2 of 6 – This set, the second of six, covers the middle part of the game as I played it. The set begins at the start of the Dalish quest storyline (with a brief “Stone Prisoner” excursion), and ends just prior to my journey to Orzammar (the dwarves being the last race I recruited to fight the Blight).
  • Gallery 3 of 6 – This set, the third of six, covers the ending part of the game as I played it. The set begins at the start of the Dwarven quest storyline, and ends with my character breaking into Arl Rendon Howe’s home in Denerim.
  • Gallery 4 of 6 – This set, the fourth of six, covers the ending part of the game as I played it. The set begins during the break-in to Arl Howe’s home in Denerim, proceeds through the Landsmeet and the Battle of Denerim, and ends with my character killing the Archdemon.
  • Gallery 5 of 6 – This set, the fifth of six, covers some of the major DLC for the game. The set begins with Return to Ostagar, and ends roughly midway through Awakening, as I am battling through the Wending Wood.
  • Gallery 6 of 6 – This set, the last of six, covers some of the major DLC for the game. The set begins partway through Awakening, in the Wending Wood, and ends with my character walking away from Morrigan at the end of Witch Hunt.