Dragon Age: Origins

Dragon Age: Origins
Dragon Age: Origins Cover
Platforms Xbox 360, Windows, PlayStation 3
Genre Blood-splattered action
MtAMinutes to Action 15
Keep Playing? Yes
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BioWare has been on a roll the last ten years, kicking the decade off with Baldur's Gate II, delivering more Forgotten Realms fun with Neverwinter Nights, revolutionizing console RPGs with Knights of the Old Republic, revolutionizing themselves with Jade Empire, and of course, introducing the world to Mass Effect, one of my favorite games of all time. BioWare decides to close out the decade similar to how they started it, with a fantasy epic: Dragon Age: Origins.

Dragon Age: Origins was released in early November on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. It has seen some pretty great success, and is one of the notable games released this holiday season that does not necessarily compete directly with the behemoth that is Modern Warfare 2. While I've never played Baldur's Gate, I am a big fan of the Mass Effect series and am excited to give BioWare's fantasy genre a spin.

This is by no means the first Dragon Age content we've featured on the First Hour, Grant reviewed the first hour of Dragon Age Journeys, a flash-based web game set in the Dragon Age universe. In October I read Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne, the first novel set in BioWare's world, though it is not a novelization of the game. Dragon Age: The Calling, the second book in the series is out and is on my to-read list. Definitely check these other forms of media out if you're a big fan of Dragon Age. And on that note, here's the first hour of Dragon Age: Origins for the Xbox 360.

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)
00 - I select New Game and the first hour of Dragon Age: Origins begins. The game begins loading immediately, and then a quote from the Canticle of Threnodies appears. Quite ominous. A narrator begins talking about how dark spawn have descended on the world: the mages destroyed heaven, and returned to earth as dark spawn. They were a Blight on the world.

01 - First the dwarves fell. The cutscene is showing a whole ton of dwarves in battle, lots of blood and gore.

02 - The Grey Wardens sacrificed everything to fight off the dark spawn, and won. Lots of action featured on the screen, violent action. Four centuries later, the Grey Wardens have been forgotten.

03 - I think we're looking at the narrator now, he's a Grey Warden. The cutscene ends and we enter character creation.

Dragon Age Origins Human Battle

04 - First up is the gender, male. Then race, either human, elf, or dwarf. Let's go elf. Next up is the class, warrior, mage, or rogue? Not many choices, but they're the obvious ones. Let's go with warrior. Finally, my background. I can only pick between Dalish Elf or City Elf. As a Dalish Elf, I'm considered a true elf, and the City Elf are essentially slaves to the humans. Think I'll go Dalish. The game suggests the name Theron, works for me I guess.

06 - I can edit Theron's features, besides the typical facial changes, I can also pick among a few different voices: wise, cocky, experienced, mystical, suave, and violent. Well, I don't want to spend too much time on character creation, so let's go with the default look... and a suave voice.

07 - Now to spend my attribute points. Since I'm a warrior, I'd like to add a few more in strength and dexterity, not to mention constitution. Then I get to pick one skill from nine short skill trees. I decide to go with Combat Tactics.

08 - Okay, two talent points to distribute now. Fourteen choices on this screen! I go with the two Warrior talents, Powerful and Precise Strikes. Finally, the difficulty: normal!

10 - Loading again... The narrator is going over my background. I was born in the woods and my people refused to join the human dominated world. Wow, not only do we hunt deer but also humans! This is kind of crazy.

11 - An elf is pointing his bow right at a trio of humans, and then another elf joins him. The first elf is me! The humans are begging for their life, I get my first option of what to do. I could kill them, but I'm interested in what they're doing in the forest.

Dragon Age Origins Duncan Grey Wardens

13 - The humans found a cave. Something to note about the dialogue is that your character does not speak the option you selected, it's just assumed it was said.

14 - I spare the humans and get control. We're going to head to the cave and check out a demon the humans mentioned. I take one step and the game auto-saves.

15 - Wow, you move really fast in this game! Maybe it's just because I'm an elf. Oh, here we go, our first battle against some wolves.

16 - Well, that was a bit chaotic, felt a bit like playing World of Warcraft for a minute.

17 - I approach some items in the forest that are lit up and investigate them. Some information gets added to my codex and I receive some experience points.

18 - Haha, we reach the cave and I get another look at our pair of elves: we're absolutely covered in wolf blood! That is a really neat effect. If a bit overdone. We enter the cave and are welcomed by a loading screen.

Dragon Age Origins Blood Splatter

20 - We get into a fight with some spiders, I'll take back what I said before about it feeling like World of Warcraft, you still have to press the A button to fight.

21 - I pause the game a moment to check out my inventory and options. My character sheet also shows I'm halfway to level 2. Tamlen isn't collecting experience, that is not a good sign for him!

24 - We enter another room in the "cave" and are mobbed by some spiders. I walk into a hidden trap and am frozen in place.

25 - I'm still surprised at how fast this game is, it feels almost twice as fast as Mass Effect.

27 - We come across a statue that it seems I should recognize, Tamlen knows some history about it: ancient elven past.

28 - You can switch party members with the bumper buttons similar to Knights of the Old Republic. Oh dang, I foolishly runs through a trap that poisons both of us and attracts two skeleton monsters. I'm almost out of health after that battle! But it regenerates automatically.

Dragon Age Origins Morrigan Mage Battle

30 - I open the door to the main chamber, and it's a good thing my health came back because the demon is inside!

31 - Wow, it was some kind of demon bear monster that actually pounced on me and ravaged me to death! The moment I died though control switched to Tamlen and he was able to take him down. Hey, I still leveled up too! Three attribute points and one talent point, no skill points though? I learn the Mighty Blow talent after a bit of thinking.

36 - All right, I'm back after checking out my new armor and skills. We wander up to the mirror in the middle of the room, something fishy is going on with it. Tamlen is seeing things in it and we move up close to it.

37 - Theron doesn't see anything though, it's probably good as it has consumed Tamlen! I get thrown back though, and awaken a minute later with the narrator Grey Warden standing over me.

38 - The game updates me on some of the stats I achieved over the first level, and then quickly moves on to a cutscene at camp. Tamlen has not returned yet...

40 - The Keeper approaches, she's a very old elf woman with a lot of face tattoos. We talk about Duncan, the Grey Warden, who rescued me. She's not familiar with the mirror though.

Dragon Age Origins Duncan Sword

41 - There are so many dialogue options, but unlike Mass Effect, it doesn't seem like you can select them all before advancing the conversation forward.

42 - The Keeper asks me to take Merrill to the caves to rescue Tamlen. She mentions that the three humans we drove off at the beginning went back to their village and staged an attack against my clan! Human scum! Or should I say shemlen, what the elves call humans.

44 - I spoke too soon, I'm now able to try out all the dialogue options regarding the cave, mirror, and Tamlen. Turns out Merrill is a mage of some sorts.

45 - I regain control and head off in the direction of the caves. Where's Merrill? There she is, at the edge of the camp. She's ready to go, and so am I.

48 - We quickly encounter some darkspawn and Merrill help in taking them out by shooting some blue orbs at them. She'll definitely be useful.

50 - Another battle that we make quick work of. We're on the exact same path to the cave as earlier with Tamlen.

Dragon Age Origins Duncan Conversation

51 - In the cave now, Merrill mentions that the ruins are of human origin but that there are lots of elven artifacts scattered about.

53 - I set off another trap before a battle, this one sets me on fire! And in the next battle after that, I actually need to use a healing potion!

55 - We're right outside the inner chamber again... what will be inside? Duncan! He seems perfectly fine, but where's Tamlen?

56 - Duncan has seen mirrors like this before, they're used for communication, but this one has been infected by the darkspawn.

57 - He breaks the mirror in one heroic sword stroke, and says we should head back to the camp. He assures me that Tamlen is beyond help from the sickness.

58 - We instantly warp back to the camp (thank you!) and we begin speaking with the Keeper.

60 - I regain control but it looks like the immediate action is over. I'm allowed to wander around the camp again, but Duncan and the Keeper are talking privately. That's the end of the first hour of Dragon Age: Origins!

Dragon Age Origins Dragon Mage Battle

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 15

What was awesome: Dragon Age: Origins moves very fast, it reminds me a bit of the speed of Sacred 2 but even quicker. Maybe I just forgot what it's like to play a fast-paced game after playing Mass Effect so many times, but it was refreshing to go from point A to point B so quickly in a three dimensional game.

What I liked: It seems that depending on what race and background you select, your first hour experience would be incredibly different from mine! This is an impressive feat, as by my estimations, BioWare must have produced at least five or six of these for the varying races and backgrounds. I want to keep playing after starting as a Dalish Elf, and if all the rest somehow pull of this feat, my hat goes out to BioWare.

The graphics of Dragon Age: Origins on the Xbox 360 didn't look quite as good as I had expected, but that doesn't mean they still didn't look great. The environments were pretty stunning and the character models were above average.

What I didn't like: The conversation system isn't a smooth as some other Western RPGs I've played, but it works. It's a bit disappointing to have a silent player character again, as after Mass Effect, it's hard to expect anything else. But BioWare was going wide with all the races so it's hard to argue for it.

Not too much else to complain about here except for having to run over the same terrain twice in one hour. Oh, there is an excessive amount of blood splatter on the player characters after a battle! It's incredibly distracting once you enter a conversation with someone, but I hear you can turn it off. I may have to do that after getting the giggles from it a few times, I just felt immediately removed from the game upon seeing such excessiveness.

Gameplay: Fast-paced, battles are quick and exciting, and tons of different ways to customize your character with different skills and attributes. It played differently than I expected, but I liked it.

Fun Factor: Conversations were a bit dull without the player character speaking, but other than that, I was really enjoying myself. I wish I had time to play the first hours of all the races and backgrounds.

Graphics and Sound: The game looks good, but it just seems to be lacking the polish I had anticipated. Nothing notable on the sound side, but it's not something I'm always listening for, unfortunately.

Story: I found the elf story a bit more boring than I would have liked, especially with having to return to the same area twice. It was definitely interesting being faced with moral choices so quickly though, and I wonder if I had killed those humans would they have attacked the village? And what about Duncan? Lots of questions early on.

Would I keep playing? Yes, but I think I'd create at least one other character to get a sense of their story.

Dragon Age Origins Ugly Ogre Battle