‘The currency of war is life. We pay the cost and hope in the end it was worth it.’
The currency of war is life. But, at the same time, it’s war that determines the damned souls it devours to be aware of the real value of life, in those unique circumstances they experience. War, more than any other event, generates the most surprising of stories, as if all characters involved in the bloodshed would feel the Apocalypse in the air and rush into frantically living their last moments. Dragon Age: Origins is a game about war. Although the narrative flows in a very Tolkeinesque manner, the seriousness of the confrontations brings doesn’t reveal the war between races, but, as I underlined above, a colorful bunch of characters, with distinct lives and origins.
Before seeing Dragon Age: Origins as a fragmented, yet coherent and addictive universe, it should be underlined that the developer himself, BioWare, defines this game as the spiritual successor of Baldur’s Gate. In consequence, it would have been natural for Dragon Age to be animated by the same Dungeons & Dragons rules and mechanisms. Yet unlike other titles in the Baldur’s Gate vein (especially Neverwinter Nights), here the Ten Amendments of D&D have been substituted with a new, simplified class-based system, with the developers hoping to achieve a much more fluid and accessible gameplay.
The differences are obvious right from the character creation screen, where all the classes we could get lost into in other titles have been reduced to just three: Elf, Human and Dwarf. The classes and specializations have been also thrown away, leaving us with just three ways of surviving: Mage, Fighter or Rogue. On the other hand, the fighting system is still based on “dice rolls” and it is still influenced by the classical Stats parameters.
Not the same can be said of the Skill tree, which is comprised of eight elementary tricks. Survival, for example, allows for easier detection of enemies, while Tactics makes the AI of a certain character a bit better with every point invested. The well-known Pickpocket is no longer a class-based skill and can be learned by any character. As for Combat Training, it affects the Mage’s concentration and the weapon skill of the other two classes. Three of the skills form the crafting system, so that characters in Dragon Age can either brew potions and poisons, or build traps.
In contrast to other crafting systems, the one in Dragon Age: Origins is closely linked to the Skill level and has nothing to do with Stats. Basic recipes are automatically added to the crafting list as you invest points in the skill, while other more interesting recipes must be bought from merchants. All craftable items require two types of ingredients to be created: consumables you can find in the environment and consumables that can only be bought. In other words, you have to stock up before going on an adventure, if you want to rely on potions. This differs from other RPGs, where all recyclable junk could be found in containers scattered throughout the levels.
Coercion remains the most interesting skill, as it is the Dragon Age equivalent of both Persuade and Intimidate. Depending on how many points you have invested in Strength or Cunning (Dexterity), your character can either impose his will or crawl under people’s skin to have his way. Still, the Skill Check is made before initiating conversation. Which means a Skill Check failure doesn’t result in a negative reaction from the NPC, but rather in your inability to try to convince him of anything. Which means that in Dragon Age: Origins, manipulation of other people is not essential for survival.
Still, proving your point does make life easier and more interesting in the game, through unlocking secondary missions and avoiding a lot of confrontations, especially when things start to get complicated. But Dragon Age does not feature classes not focused on death and destruction. Which means that having a silver tongue is more of a bonus, rather than a proper gameplay style.
This doesn’t imply that Dragon Age has lost in complexity. The only difference is that the hidden labyrinth behind the story does not tire the player from start, but will rather reveal itself gradually, as a grander beast.