We're playing Dragon Age. Except for John, because he's already finished it and reviewed it for PC Gamer. The rest of RPS were a bit later to the party, so to speak. Consequently we're a little... distracted. We offer a few early thoughts below. It's probably fair to say that there will be minor spoilers in this article.
Jim: Is everyone here? Hello? Well, I want to start anyway: the Dwarf Commoner origin was loads of fun, the story was just what I was hoping for - a subtle twist on standard dwarfisms. I like the idea of corrupt, criminal dwarf societies.
Kieron: You are, of course, from the East coast. It's very homely for you. For me – also playing a Dwarf Commoner - is an exotic holiday to the land of ill-spirited shorties. Like visiting Alec's house.
Alec: I haven't finished the Mage origin yet, but like that it's subverting the stereotype of wizardly sorts. The higher-ups seem to be aggressively forcing their acolytes to be certain things - one result of which is the Tranquils, these freaky types who've had all their emotions removed to become men of pure maths
John: Like the City Elf, the Commoner Dwarf is a surprisingly harsh and unpleasant beginning.
Jim: Do any of the origins begin pleasantly? I'm getting the impression that Dragon Age is DARK FANTASY, DO YOU SEE?
Alec: Yes, it's very much "We're not Tolkien, goddit?" Worth observing that the Witcher has already dabbled with a lot of similar stuff. And Risen too, though that's a lot smaller in scale.
Jim: Yes, it does actually remind of The Witcher in a number of ways, particularly that aspiring to grimness.
Kieron: I suspect they're damned-if-the-do-damned-if-they don't, really. But yeah – racism as a theme overlaid over a fantasy environment is very much The Witcher's terrain.
John: The Dalish Elf origin isn't unending misery. Although it is themed around the death of a best friend.So, er, I take that back.
Alec: I can't say I'm enjoying the voice acting, however.
Jim: Really? I think the voice acting is fine. Great, even.
John: Yes, me too. The only dodgy voice is Leliana, and I grew to realise you just know some people with weird voices.
Kieron: Yeah, it's not exactly outstanding, but there's nothing substandard about it.
Jim: At least into the main game, I guess the mages origin has its own characters and silly voices. The acting and story has been the strongest thing so far for me. I'm less keen on the combat.
John: Have you begun the Harrowing, Alec?
Alec: Perhaps I've been spoiled by Risen's array of Northern characters, but the blank plumminess of everyone is grating.
Alec: I have completed the Harrowing. I talked to a rat and a rotting bear in the process
John: Were you slightly let down by the simplicity of it, after the build-up it received?
Alec: Yes, it was very much MMO starting quest. With the demon at the end being laughably easy to kill. But then, I guess there was another point to it. OR WAS THERE? etc.
John: I don't think any of the others are. Well, the Dalish Elf, maybe.
Jim: Yes, the dwarf commoner origin seems pretty dramatic. And even though you can see what's going to happen, it's a fun story: "My dwarf is in big trouble!" (A mountain of trouble, says someone on Twitter.)
Kieron: Yeah – seeing you twitter that, I was playing through the whole origin going “Oh – is NOW when I'm in big trouble?” Eventually the one it was which became clear. Dramatic is the word. It's got a sort of archetypal energy to it... and its' worth noting that compared to most fantasy games, I feel my character actually has motivation for whatever they end up doing. Which is neat for a set-up, I think.
John: Noble Dwarf has a similarly large scale origin, and brilliantly it ties into the Commoner one. In fact, when I played as a Human Warrior and visited Orzamarr there was something going on I didn't fully understand, until I saw the Commoner Dwarf origin, which was a fantastic detail.
Jim: Going back to the combat: initially the balance seemed okay, but now I'm struggling to get through without spamming half a dozen heals. I'm a couple of hours in. And I'm not sure if I've just missed something - I'm sure I'm leveling up sensibly, in accordance with fantasy archetypes, and still seem weak. [See patch post, should render much of this part of the discussion irrelevant. Thanks Bioware! - RPS Editor Sub-brain]
Kieron: I'm only just past the start, so I've had relatively little combat. I have been eating the health though. I think that's actually how the game works. You're meant to use your resources. That's why you have them, after all. Tom Chick's written a lot about this over at Fidgit.
John: Same goes for the Mage story, actually. What class are you?
Jim: Warrior, I hope the balance does change. At the moment I'm only winning fights by dint of heals.
John: I played most the game on Easy. Don't feel ashamed to lower it - they fucked up, not you. It doesn't change. The difficulty is not set right.
Jim: Well I feel like it's an okay challenge, I mean i don't want to win every fight, but the balance seems odd. It's like there should be some other aspect to it that I'm missing
Kieron: I admit, you chaps have lost me a little here. I mean, if you're winning with the resources you have... you're winning. It's not as if you're failing. Healing management has always been part of RPGs, hasn't it?
John: Yeah - going back up to Normal is worthwhile when you realise you're breezing through stuff.
Alec: I suspect I'm going to load my mage with heal spells, then.
Jim: I've played with the tactics stuff a fair bit, which does help.
Kieron: Does it really? I wish they'd intro'd it better. I ended up spending a character point on tactics thinking it'd actually give me something useful instead of actually of something that's a waste of time If I'm micromanaging the orders. And having the Neverwinter Nights issue of the NPC character running off to fight enemies which I can't even see yet and aren't active is silly as hell to have on standard. Though I think I'm managed to make the tactics not do that any more.
John: How are you approaching fights? Are you pausing every few seconds?
Jim: Yes! You absolutely have to in order to manage heals and powers.
Alec: And are you sacrificing a calf to Hecate every 28 minutes?
Jim: I'm all outta calves.
Alec: That'll be it, then
John: There's a lot of tactics you can use. You can flank enemies, and you can make sure to focus on range for as long as possible.
Jim: Yeah, flanking seems tricky when there's half a dozen adversaries, and you are three.
John: But what I found is I became really really good at taking advantage of my team's specific abilities. It's important to play as all three/four, not just as yourself.
Jim: Yeah, I'm using witch-woman a great deal.
John: You need a healer. And you need health poultices.
Jim: have you found yourself playing in top-down, or Warcraftian perspective?
Alec: I've been playing top-down for fighty-stuff, and over the shoulder for trudging about questy stuff.
Kieron: Me too. One for tactics, the other for getting a sense of place.
John: I used top-down very rarely, rather I scrolled out as far as possible before it. So what has surprised you both?
Alec: I was most suprised that you can make incredibly non-elfy elves. Mine looks like a black version of Him From Lost, with a ginger buzz-cut.
John: Poor thing.
Jim: I think I've been surprised by how much I got swept up in the story. I really find it tricky to get into RPGs as tales, but this has captured me quite proficiently
John: Have both of you finished the initial origin and reached Place Beginning With O I Can't Remember?
Jim: Yeah, I'm well past that now,
Alec: No, I'm loads behind you lot due to being away,
John: Ah, so you've met Flemeth.
Jim: And that battle is ludicrously dramatic, despite your tangential involvement.
John: Without spoiling anything for Alec, crossing the battlements is remarkable. What's so funny about the game is that bit you've finished, Alec? That's the pre-titles sequence. You did say it went against wizard norms.
Alec: They're very much not the pious mystic men you'd generally expect. I don't know the whole tale yet, but it's very much mages designed for killing rather than as intellectual types
John: The history of mages and their relationship with the Chantry is fascinating.
Jim: Right, I'm off, bye!
Alec: I've not picked up too much of that yet - it's just going into the perceived differences between mages and Normals (or whatever they call them), but there's a nice sense of mages being sinister outcasts rather than a ruling elite, as far as I can tell.
John: Very much so. I shan't spoil anything. But the key is, people are really scared of mages.
Alec: It seems less surprising to me after having played Risen, which plays with similar ideas and, to my mind, did class choice much more cleverly by having you make it based on how you agreed with instead of selecting a build upfront. but I'm obviously very curious to see what my place in the world is once I get out of mage HQ.
John: If you play the City Elf origin you'll get even more of an idea what absolute dicks the Humans are. I'm interested to experience the game as a Mage. But even more as an Elf, who are the gay black Jews of the game. You've got all the prejudice stacked against you! One of the criticisms I make in my review is that I played as a black human, but somehow had white parents and siblings in an all-white castle.
Alec: I'm playing as an elf, but no-one's mentioned it yet, a black elf, no less. No idea if I'm gay, however. I haven't fancied anyone yet.
John: Go to the whorehouse when you get to Denerim and you'll quickly decide.
What about you lot? Anyone playing? What origin are you playing? Any early impressions you want to share? Expect a more in-depth verdict from us as we get some more of it under our collective belt. (+1 vs eggmen.)