Dragon Age: Origins is a single-player role-playing video game developed by BioWare's Edmonton studio and published by Electronic Arts. It is the first game in the Dragon Age franchise. The game was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in November 2009, and for Mac OS X on December 21, 2009.
Set in the mythical kingdom of Ferelden during a period of civil strife, the player assumes the role of a warrior, mage or rogue who must unite the kingdom to fight an impending invasion by demonic forces. BioWare describes Dragon Age: Origins as a "dark heroic fantasy set in a unique world", and a spiritual successor to their Baldur's Gate series of games, which took place in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise.
Upon its release, Dragon Age: Origins was lauded with overwhelmingly positive reviews and considered a critical success. Aggregate review site Metacritic ranks the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 versions of the game with scores of 91, 87, and 86, respectively. The game also received multiple awards from numerous outlets, ranging from IGN's "PC Game of The Year (2009)" to the Academy of Interactive Arts & Science's "Role-Playing/Massively Multiplayer Game of the Year 2009".
An expansion to the game, titled Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening, was released in March 2010, and the official sequel, Dragon Age II, is set for release in March 2011. BioWare intends for Dragon Age: Origins to serve as the foundation for a much broader intellectual property. Even before its release, plans to expand the universe introduced by the game were underway; this included sequels, pen and paper games, books, and comics that would expand the scope of the Dragon Age franchise. Several of those projects have since been released.
The game incorporates "origins" for each race and some classes. For example, a dwarf noble begins the game as part of the royal family in one of the dwarven cities, whereas the dwarf commoner origin story begins on the streets of the city. Origin stories determine the background of the player's character prior to the main events of the game's story, forming an introduction to the world (and a gameplay tutorial) while also comprising hours of play. Events of an individual origin are reflected in the following game. Characters that the player meets during the origin story may reappear throughout the game, some as adversaries.
There is no tracking of moral alignment as in previous BioWare games, but the moral choices of the player will still affect the story throughout the game. The player will accomplish different goals depending on if they choose to be good or evil, but the decisions that the player makes in the process will change the game world accordingly – deciding who will become king, for example, and affecting nations, races and their places in the world. These decisions will also influence the companion NPCs, possibly causing an NPC to leave the party or even attack the player if they disagree strongly with his or her actions.
The game has been described as the spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate by BioWare co-CEO Ray Muzyka, as players are able to issue orders to NPCs in real time, but pause the game to queue up actions such as spells and special attacks, a game mechanic from the Baldur's Gate series. There are three base classes to choose from: warrior, mage, and rogue. These classes can be upgraded into a specialized class such as the berserker or templar for the warrior class, shapeshifter or spirit healer for the mage class, and assassin or ranger for the rogue. The game uses a party system similar to that of the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, another BioWare roleplaying game, featuring the main character with up to three active party members chosen from a pool of NPCs.
The game features a degree of interactivity between spells, such as a fire spell igniting a grease slick before being put out by a blizzard. The game contains many combinations which can be discovered by the player either by accident, or by finding clues as to which combinations are valid.
The camera is a third-person, over-the-shoulder view which can be rotated around the active character. The PC version allows for a more expansive zooming experience. The console versions lack a full zoom feature, but still allowed minor zooming. Zooming out affords players a detailed overhead view, allowing them to spot important features in a scenario that may be positioned up above, such as a dangerous lurking creature. The HUD details are not visible in the zoomed in view. When zoomed out, the camera is an isometric-style view.
Additionally, both the PC and console versions allow for the user to freeze the action of the game to allow for tactical input by the user. The PC version of this pause feature is the most robust, allowing the user to micromanage their team by commanding each character before beginning action again. The console version is much more limited. The pausing occurs when using area of effect targeted magic or items to allow for the placement of the affected area. Console users also are able to pause the game to change tactics or equipment of the characters at any time during combat utilizing the menu system.
BioWare has described Dragon Age: Origins as being a "dark heroic fantasy" story told on an epic scale with mature themes.
The game is set in Ferelden, one of several countries that makes up the mythical continent of Thedas. The game opens with an animation which details the origins of demonic creatures called the darkspawn, that dwell within the Deep Roads, an underground highway system created by the dwarves long ago, deep beneath surface of Thedas. Every few hundred years, the darkspawn swarm the surface world in a movement known as a Blight. Beginning with the first Blight, Thedas relied on the legendary order of warriors known as the Grey Wardens to drive the darkspawn back. Dragon Age: Origins begins on the eve of Thedas's fifth Blight.
The player begins the game by completing one of the six origin stories corresponding to the race and background of the character he or she created upon choosing a new game; the choices are Human Noble (for Human Warriors or Rogues), Magi (for Elven or Human Mages), Dalish Elf or City Elf (for Elven Warriors or Rogues), Dwarf Commoner or Dwarf Noble (for Dwarven Warrior or Rogue). The origin section introduces the players to the mechanics of the game and the fictional world through a personalized context. The origin story determines the biography of the character and how NPCs react to the player for the rest of the game. For example, elves are often viewed as second class citizens by humans, while mages are treated with suspicion and fear, while the human noble is treated with respect. In every origin story, the player is introduced to Duncan, a Grey Warden who is trying to find recruits to fight the Blight. By the end of his or her origin story, the player's character is selected as a potential Grey Warden, and leaves with Duncan.
The player and Duncan journey to a fortress called Ostagar in southern Ferelden, to join Cailan, the king of Ferelden, and Loghain, a legendary general and Cailan's father-in-law. The three leaders plan to make a stand against the encroaching darkspawn before the Blight can overwhelm Ferelden. Duncan can sense the influence of an archdemon, a god-like being hosted in the body of a powerful dragon that commands the darkspawn, which means that this would be the first true Blight in over 400 years. It is of utmost importance that this Blight is ended before it can gain momentum, as previous Blights have left Thedas all but in ruins.
Duncan initiates the player into the Grey Wardens through a dangerous ritual called the Joining. The Joining involves imbibing darkspawn blood, which can either kill a person or imbue him or her with the powerful darkspawn essence known as the Taint. After surviving the Joining, the player and Duncan attend a council of war, where it is decided Cailan's army and the Grey Wardens will lure the darkspawn into attacking. The player, along with another Grey Warden, Alistair, is given the task of lighting a beacon at the top of the fortress which signals Loghain's men to charge the horde's flank, breaking the darkspawn and ending the Blight. After fighting through many darkspawn, the player lights the beacon. Loghain, upon seeing the signal, inexplicably abandons the battle along with his army. King Cailan and Duncan are quickly overwhelmed by the darkspawn horde, who kill them, massacre Cailan's army, and seize control of Ostagar and southern Ferelden.
The player's Warden and Alistair are nearly killed at Ostagar as well, but are saved by Flemeth, a powerful witch who lives in a secluded hermitage with her daughter and apprentice, Morrigan. The player, along with Alistair and Morrigan, decide that in order to stop the Blight from destroying Ferelden, and possibly all of Thedas, they will need to gather a new army and slay the archdemon. Using ancient Grey Warden treaties, the player's Warden must travel across Ferelden to enlist the aid of the Dalish elves, the dwarves of Orzammar, the Circle of Magi, and Arl Eamon of Redcliffe. Unfortunately, all of these factions are facing problems of their own, which the player must help resolve to secure their allegiances. Meanwhile, Loghain returns to Ferelden's capital city, Denerim, to inform Queen Anora, his daughter, of King Cailan's death. Loghain blames the Grey Wardens for abandoning the battle and betraying Ferelden, outlawing the order and hunting down any survivors. While Queen Anora inherits her husband's authority, Loghain quickly declares himself her regent and effectively seizes control of the kingdom, becoming a brutal and tyrannical ruler, igniting a civil war between himself and Ferelden's nobility, who refuse to acknowledge his authority.
While exploring Ferelden, the player will be presented with the opportunity to partake in numerous side-quests to flesh out the Dragon Age mythology, acquire powerful equipment, and earn experience points. Potential companions with their own special combat specialties and back-stories will also present themselves and offer to join the player's quest.
After the player successfully obtains the assistance of all the primary factions, a meeting known as the Landsmeet is called among the nobles of Ferelden. There, the player confronts Loghain and rallies support from the rest of the kingdom to face the darkspawn. The player is also presented with the option of executing Loghain for his crimes or sparing his life. Sparing Loghain causes Alistair to leave the player's party in anger and disgust (if Alistair has already agreed to marry Anora and become king, he will remain in Ferelden and be present at the end of the game, but he will not rejoin the player's party for the final battle). If Loghain is spared, he is forced to undergo the Joining and takes Alistair's place as a Grey Warden.
At this point, the player learns that only a Grey Warden can slay the archdemon because of the Taint present in a Grey Warden's body. Killing the archdemon releases the demonic essence within it, which is automatically drawn to the Taint in the Grey Warden who slew it, and effectively kills him or her as well; if anyone else slays it, the archdemon's essence survives and finds a new host in the nearest darkspawn, making the monster effectively immortal. On the night before the final battle, Morrigan offers the player's Warden a way to slay the archdemon without sacrificing anyone: Morrigan believes that if the player succeeds in conceiving a child with her, that the child would also carry the Taint. Once the archdemon dies, its demonic essence would be drawn away from any Grey Warden to safely merge with the unborn child instead. The resulting child would be born a demigod, which she plans to raise on her own. Morrigan admits that this was her true motive for joining the player's campaign all along. The player can accept Morrigan's offer, convince Alistair or Loghain to take part instead, or refuse the witch's proposal, causing her to leave the party. If the Warden is female, she can only refuse Morrigan or convince Loghain or Alistair to do it.
The next day, the player and the newly assembled army of Ferelden fight their way through the city of Denerim, which is now overrun by the darkspawn. After fighting their way through the darkspawn horde, and an epic final battle against the archdemon atop Denerim's highest tower, the player is given the chance to deliver the killing blow or to let Alistair/Loghain do it. Either way, the archdemon is killed and the rest of the darkspawn army retreats from Denerim, marking the end of the fifth Blight. Unless the player chose to sleep with Morrigan, whoever slew the archdemon also perishes.
The story ends with a ceremony attended by the people of Ferelden during which the player and his or her companions are honored for saving the kingdom. The game then presents an epilogue in text and pictures which details the ramifications of the player's in-game choices on the future of Ferelden and the lives of his or her companions.\
The main character of Dragon Age: Origins is the player-controlled character, whose biography (choice of multiple beginnings) and combat specialization are customized at the start of the game. While the player can choose his or her avatar's first name, the character is usually referred to as "the Warden" by other characters and the game's narration.
Players also have the opportunity to recruit companion characters who appear throughout the game and volunteer their services. Companions for the game include Alistair, a reluctantly heroic Grey Warden with a sarcastic wit; Morrigan, the sultry but cynical dark mage who has little regard for authority and social mores; Leliana, a member of Ferelden's religious Chantry whose optimistic and virtuous demeanor belies an aptitude for espionage and combat; Sten, a proud but stoic warrior of the militaristic Qunari people; Oghren, a dwarven brute whose love of alcohol is only matched by his penchant for violence and sex; Wynne, an Elder Mage of the Circle, and a maternal figure to the party; Zevran, a rakish elven assassin who is fond of treasures and innuendo; and a loyal Mabari War Hound, which the player can name and use for scouting and combat. In the DLC, Shale, a sarcastic Golem with a mild ornithophobia is also available.
Adding these companions to the Warden's party enables the player to control them during combat and exploration. Through conversation, the player unlocks unique quests and dialog which furthers Dragon Age's lore. A relationship system in the game tracks approval and disapproval between each companion and the player's Warden. The player can gain or lose approval with each companion based on conversation choices and quest-related decisions made throughout the game. A high approval rating improves a companion's morale, resulting in bonuses to combat abilities. A significant approval rating also makes it possible for the Warden to pursue a romantic relationship with certain companions. Conversely, lowering a companion's approval to a significant degree can result in him or her leaving the party or turning on the player.
Other than companion characters, NPCs significant to Origin's plot include Duncan, the Grey Warden who recruits the player; King Cailan, Ferelden's naive, but courageous leader and son of the legendary King Maric; Queen Anora, Cailan's wife, whose youth and beauty are matched by a commanding personality and political-savvy; Eamon Guerrin, the noble Arl of Redcliffe who lends political support to the player's Warden; Riordan, a Grey Warden from the neighboring kingdom of Orlais (though born in Ferelden); and Flemeth, Morrigan's mother, who appears to be a harmless old woman in public, but in truth is an infamous dark witch of Ferelden legend. The game's main antagonists, other than the faceless Darkspawn horde and their monstrous leader, the archdemon Urthemiel, are Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir, once a respected war hero and father of Queen Anora, now gone mad with ambition and paranoia, and Rendon Howe, the greedy Arl of Amaranthine who allies with Loghain.
The game contains a large amount of voice acting recorded in the US and the UK. Actors include Tim Russ, Steve Valentine, Kate Mulgrew and Claudia Black. A considerable amount of ambient dialogue takes place between the non-player characters in the adventuring party, adding to their background story and lending more depth and credibility to the characters. Conversations involving the main character are complex and varied, and conversation options can have a significant effect on gameplay. Translations and voice-overs were made for several languages other than English. An automatic lip-syncing algorithm was used to provide passable facial animations for all dialogue.
Dragon Age: Origins was first announced during E3 2004 as Dragon Age. On July 10, 2008, the title was changed to Dragon Age: Origins. The PlayStation 3 version of the game was originally delayed. However, BioWare later retracted that statement and announced that, in North America, it would be released on the same day as the other versions.
The Dragon Age Character Creator was released on October 13, 2009, allowing players to create a character in advance and to import it into the full game upon release. BioWare also released a "developer-grade" toolset to allow extensive modification and customization of the game exclusive to the PC version.
The retail PC version of Dragon Age: Origins does not use the SecuROM copy protection software used by other EA games, opting instead for a standard disc check.
The developers have cited "realistic" fantasy fiction such as George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and fantasy paintings by artists such as Frank Frazetta as inspiration for the game. The soundtrack for the video game contains the song "This Is War" by 30 Seconds to Mars, while the original score itself was composed by Inon Zur. In the development of the lighting of the game BioWare used Turtle, a rendering and baking plugin for Autodesk Maya used for lighting and content creation, made by Illuminate Labs.
BioWare has stated that the game runs "very well" on Windows 7, and a Mac OS X version of the game was released on December 21, 2009, as a download, using TransGaming's Cider Portability Engine.
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