Dragon Age Origins: Initial Impressions

I love character creation. I can happily fiddle with sliders for hours trying to create something I'm happy with (and get a sense of their personality while I'm at it). Dragon Age is a good place to look for customisation, though I gather some other games have recently done an even better job.

We have the usual starting point: male or female? I've recently been spoilt by Demon's Souls which has a slider bar for gender, allowing you to be androgynous or anywhere you like along a spectrum. I thought that was pretty awesome, and I sighed a little at returning to the binary choice here. It was expected, though.

Choosing a female character, I was told that women and men are considered by most people to be of equal skill. Since then, my character has been subjected to a lot of talk about how pretty she is but that she's proving difficult to marry off. Every second character I've spoken to has commented on the fact that I'm female, and that it's highly unusual for women to join the Fellowship Spectres Grey Wardens. I've also had a lot of dialogue options say things like "Oh stop whining! I'm braver than you and I'm [just] a woman!".

I don't actually mind if a fictional world is presented as equal opportunity or not, because I think they can be a useful space for exploring issues. A strong female character in a society that doesn't always recognise it isn't automatically a terrible story. But you can't really have it both ways. I think this may be the result of them trying a bit too hard to prove they have catered dialogue to different kinds of characters.

Moving along, and we come to deciding between being a human, dwarf or elf. Sadly, the elves and dwarves really just look like differently-proportioned humans, and I much prefer my different races to look, well, different. When the elves in game have a hairstyle that covers their ears I often can't actually tell them apart from the humans. This is a large part of why I really like games that let me play more unusual races like orcs or lizardmen. It actually forces the designers to create something.

The male dwarves don't look too bad, and I think beards might help slightly to hide how plastic and expressionless these characters can be in the cut-scenes (Mass Effect wins slightly here over Dragon Age for at least allowing your character to speak). But my partner is going with the dwarf option, so I decided to stick with human.

Dragon Age made a big deal out of its character backgrounds, and getting to play through a short origin section. As a human rogue my only option was, of course, to come from a noble family (um... sure). I chose to ignore this when I was customising my character's appearance, and created the rangery character I actually wanted to play. She has relatively dark skin and hair, with facial henna tattoos and almost tribal-looking hair. I was then plonked into my mediaeval castle with my very pale English-looking parents discussing arranged marriages and such. I imagined I must be the product of an affair, which everyone pretends to ignore despite her different heritage being plainly visible. I don't think adoption is much of an option when everyone is going on about the age and importance of our family line.

So, I got some amusement out of all of that, but it really was not ideal. There will, I'm sure, be plenty of good points to this game now that I can settle into it properly and stop laughing at the ridiculousness of my starting point.

The gameplay leaves a bit to be desired, but that isn't always Bioware's strong point. The camera angles and cooldown management were done better in WoW, while the full-party management was better back in the Baldur's Gate days, or in Final Fantasy XII where the AI settings (gambits/tactics) were more intuitive and sophisticated. Dragon Age feels like it has tried to lump all of these games together, with mixed success. I can at least see the potential in what they tried to do, but I hope they work on it more for future games.

The story is incredibly generic so far, but that's what I knowingly signed up for, and most other games lack worlds and character interactions as complex and interesting, sadly (Demon's Souls, for example, has fantastic gameplay, but it doesn't even try to include a story worth a damn). I dream of Bioware one day making something that isn't playing things quite so safe, but in the meantime I guess I'll be busy trying to build an army for an epic battle against Sauron the Darkspawn.