Last weekend I found another few hours to play, and decided to finish off the last two Dragon Age: Origins — the human noble and the dwarven noble.
I started off with Taizu, human noble warrior who — cough cough — doesn’t look anything like the other members of her family. There was no particular intent to make her look Asiatic when I sat down, but that’s how she ended up in the character creator and given her looks and class I named her after one of my favourite early C. J. Cherryh books, The Paladin. In the first screenie below you’ll see Taizu’s whitebread — if very noble whitebread — family, and below that you’ll see Taizu herself, with her mother. I kept wanting to ask Mater if she had something she wanted to tell me.
The human noble origin is, in many ways, the most standard in terms of both RPGs and fantasy fare in general, just as the Daelish elven one was the most D&D-like (explore dark underground temple). What that doesn’t mean is that either are bad. Dragon Age does a great job at taking fantasy and RPG tropes and using them both well and, when appropriate, humorously. Much has already been said about having to kill (ten-ish) rats in this origin, so I won’t bang on about it here.
Taizu’s story is somewhat cliched, but it’s still very involving and I found myself empathising with her much more than I expected. She’s a warrior, but she has to stay behind and “watch the castle” (aka do nothing useful or fun) while big brother and Dad get to ride south to help in the war with the Darkspawn. It doesn’t help that Mum, who was once “quite the swordmaiden herself” — in her own words — has now settled down to being a noble chatelaine, and isn’t very sympathetic to Taizu’s requests to be allowed to go off to war and/or join the Grey Wardens. (Duncan is there, of course, as he is in all the Origins.)
Very early on Taizu had to go fetch her supposedly misbehaving Mabari Wardog out of the kitchen pantry, which was a nice touch. Ferelden noble culture is based on those hounds, and in most of the lore you get to read that isn’t written by a Ferelden native, Fereldans are described as being only a few short steps past barbarianism. (Of course, all the cultural and historical lore in DA:O is very evidently skewed by the perspective of its writers, which adds another layer of depth to an already complex package.) Civilised or not, Ferelden nobles love their dogs and anyone as exalted as Taizu and her family apparently are wouldn’t not have some of these. I’d already found that out from playing previous Origins, and it was another example of how consistent the game is in general.
There’s not a whole lot else I can say about this Origin without giving spoilers. The human noble Origin plot isn’t, as I said, particularly difficult to predict, but it’s excellently executed and paced. There’s a great mix of furious fighting and pathos, and no punches pulled when it comes to the wanton murder of innocents. There’s a reason this game has an M rating and it’s not just the silly gore. The only downside of this Origin is that I was so involved in the story that I didn’t even recognise Tim Curry voicing Arl Howe. At least, I’m pretty sure Arl Howe was in this one. Hopefully I’ll get to meet him again later in the story.
By this time I was getting pretty tired of having to stop playing a character every time they started to get interesting, so I was glad to get to the final origin. I’d seen the spousal unit play this one — Dwarven noble — out of the corner of my eye, and since the Dwarven casteless origin had left me kind of meh (more the setting than the story) I wasn’t all that fired up.
So I made Kaitou more out of a sense of duty to you lot than out of any real enthusiasm. She’s a rogue, mostly because I’d only just finished a warrior origin and because and given the choice between fighter and rogue, I’ll always pick the rogue. Also, I wanted to see how a non-warrior type would play out in the Dwarven noble origin, which seemed on the surface to be rather biased towards being a fighter.
(For those who care about such things, “kaitou” means — or so the internets tells me — sharp sword in Japanese, and it took me a while of going through words until found one I liked and wasn’t too un-Dwarven. Just now, while double-checking this assertion, I Googled “kaitou” and apparently there’s a slew of anime and game characters already called this. Goes to show that there’s just no being original with character names anymore. Sure, I could have used a “standard” Dwarven name but I’m pig-sick of those, just as I am of “standard” elven names.)
Anyway, I figured I’d blitz my way through this Origin and finally be able to pick a character for good and move on with the story. I hadn’t counted on yet another bloody good introduction, this time replete with political maneuvering and intrigue. Dwarves in DA:O aren’t the standard greedy-but-jolly types you’ll tend to see elsewhere. They’re greedy for sure, but they’re certainly not all jolly and they have the most restrictive caste system this side of medieval India. If you’re not born it, you’re pretty much SOL. And even if you are born it, you’re SOL if you don’t know how to play the game… and Kaitou isn’t the sharpest political player in the deck, at least not at the start of her Origin (not the way I was playing her, anyway).
I’d also not counted on her faithful Warrior-caste friend, who shows up in Scene 1 and is by her side right up to the point the shit hits the dwarven fan. When I first saw him I thought he was a glorified minder and Kaitou thus instantly disliked him, but he turned out to be amusing, loyal, and full of hard common-sense that stopped Kaitou from putting her foot in it once or twice. Despite plenty of opportunities for it in the other Origins, this was the first time I actually felt one of my characters might want to get something romantic started in DA:O, though the opportunity didn’t really arise. Most of the time we were too busy trying to make sure we weren’t about the get stabbed in the back or ambushed from the front.
It’s difficult to post any meaningful screenies from this Origin without giving spoilers, so again I’ll ad a few as thumbnails and you can avoid them if you please. They’re not captioned or anything and I don’t think they’re too spoilerish, but you never know. Click at your own risk etc etc.
I won’t reveal who I ended up deciding to play onward (it wasn’t who I was expecting, that’s for sure!) — that’ll be for next time, whenever that is, and provided I can write anything without giving too much away. There’s so much story in this game that it’s almost impossible to say anything without, er, saying anything!
I’m very impressed that I found each of the six Origin stories entertaining. Some were more to my taste than others, but that’s down to personal plot preferences and playstyle, and there’s enough variety in the backgrounds that I’m pretty sure anyone can find a character they’ll enjoy playing, unless they’re dead set on making a Dwarven mage, which just ain’t gonna happen.
While I don’t usually like to grade stuff or even give recommendations, I will say this: if you’re still on the fence about this game and if you’ve got the wherewithal to get it now, do so. Otherwise you’ll be dodging spoilers for the next few weeks/months, which may lessen your enjoyment. On the other hand, if you’re not bothered by spoilers then it’s no big deal to wait, especially since a few useful things (like a chest in the party camp) are being patched in as we speak. Not that I’ve applied any patches after last week’s silliness, but sooner or later I’ll get round to it.