Combat and Magery in “Dragon Age: Origins”

Dragon Age: Origins is one of the first video games I played as an adult, and it got me hooked on gaming. Without it, I might not be here writing this today, and my life might have taken a very different path. I love Dragon Age: Origins for the clear story, feeling of heroism, character development, and romance. The fact that I started playing it for the first time on my birthday makes it feel even more epic in retrospect, and I’ve since played it a handful of other times. I’m just flat out in love with the game.

mage dragon age

Unfortunately, many people complain about the combat system in Dragon Age: Origins, and I can totally see why. The combat tries to be fast-hitting but instead feels clunky and far too methodical. The system might befit a turn-based tactical game, but it doesn’t quite work for this particular type of RPG battling.

Initially I played on Xbox 360, which requires awkwardly holding down buttons to view and navigate menus during combat – and if you lose your grip on that first button, you’re screwed. The menu goes away, the battle starts up again, and you’ve got to start over with finding that special combat move you want to do or that health poultice that’s about to bring you back from the brink of death, if you get to it in time.

66 Missed one riddle, just ONE!

After a few playthroughs on 360, I started playing on PC and had a much better time of it. (You can read my whole crazy playthrough of the game here!) The game is initially set up to pause the game as soon as combat initiates, giving you a chance to set up an attack. It was much easier to program my moves by having them laid out on the screen, as only a computer screen can show. I did have a bit of trouble with clicking on NPCs and loot chests when my character was blocking the way, but playing on PC, I had an easy time of scrolling the mouse wheel backwards to zoom out and up. This gave me a tactical view of the playing field, making combat particularly interesting. It was also a breeze to click on different characters in my party, hit the spacebar to pause combat, and set up the party members’ tactics one by one – with no pesky menu wheels to manage.

However, these improvements do not eliminate the problem of the combat feeling weighed down, heavy… slow. I played mostly as a rogue – first a two-handed wielder, then an archer – and I found the second class almost unplayable because my girl sent out arrows so haltingly, even if she did look kickass with a crossbow.

The methodical style simply doesn’t work well for most classes. When you’re a rogue wielding a couple of daggers, you pretty much want to target the enemy right in front of you – and you want to deal damage, fast. On PC, this means adjusting settings so combat doesn’t automatically pause at the start of a battle. It means you don’t necessarily need that tactical view of the battlefield, unless you want to jump skins from character to character to deal damage all over the field. And on any console, you probably want the game to clip along at a much faster pace while you’re delivering hits.

What I found myself doing during the archer playthrough was jumping over to control Morrigan, my party’s primary mage and healer. I had played as a mage before and enjoyed the sheer number of relevant spellcasting options; the skill tree for mages is easily the most rewarding, partly because everything applies to them – whereas with other classes, you might only choose the archery options versus the dual-wielding, etc. Plus, I always feel better about things when I’m the healer in the party. When I have a choice of paths and one involves healing, I always go for the healing. I did that in Star Wars: The Old Republic with my Imperial Agent, because I just couldn’t pass up the Operative’s medic abilities.

Mages can also freeze dragons...
Mages can also freeze dragons…

But there’s another benefit to playing as a mage in Dragon Age: Origins: the deliberate combat style suits the mage more than any other class. Magic is largely about crowd control, in my opinion, and pausing combat to choose my spell and select the area of effect worked beautifully. It’s hard to fast-target enemies with crowd control spells, such as casting an inferno of fire into a wave of genlocks; it’s much easier to pause combat, move the camera around to spot that distant enemy mage, and freeze him in his tracks with Winter’s Grasp while the rest of the party deals with the genlocks in close quarters combat.

I still enjoy the combat in Dragon Age: Origins, playing as any character class. But for new players and anyone frustrated with the system’s clunkiness, I highly recommend playing as a mage on PC to take full advantage of the meticulous battling style that punctuates the Dragon Age: Origins experience.

— Ashley

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8 thoughts on “Combat and Magery in “Dragon Age: Origins””

  1. After replaying Origins a few million times, it’s hard not to get frustrated with the combat system. Thankfully it’s one of those games that contains a plethora of qualities outside of gameplay and combat, but it tends to get a little tedious to me, especially when I’m switching between DA:O and DA2. We’ve talked about this before, but I adore DA2’s combat system. I just love any fast-paced gameplay, especially if there is more story to reveal.

    I’m extremely curious to see how Inquisition will blend the two combat types. It would be nice to see a fast-paced tactical system that managed to run smoothly with the gameplay. I have high hopes it!

    1. I remember you saying how much you like the DA2 combat! I like it too (and more than Origins), but I don’t have the same problem with Origins combat as a lot of people do. But I also enjoyed the skill tree set up in DA2 a lot more than Origins.

      As you said, I’m super excited to see what happens with Inquisition! I like your idea of a “fast-paced tactical system,” that sounds perfect.

  2. After playing Origins and DA2, I definitely prefer the combat system in DA2 like Crystal said in her comment. At the same time, I wasn’t too frustrated with the combat system set up in Origins either. Maybe it’s because it was one of the very first games I played for the 360, or it could be that I was more focused on the story and characters to really pay attention to the flaw in the game’s system. I do agree that the combat in Origins is probably better suited for the PC.

    I definitely can’t wait until we get Dragon Age 3 and see how they marry the best of what the first two games gave us! 🙂

    1. I think I’m like you. I preferred the DA2 system but had no major problems with Origins either. Maybe you have something there — since it was one of my first games too, I didn’t have a lot to compare the combat to, so I just enjoyed the story! =)

  3. I agree with you, especially on the mage part. I have kind of an obsession for the mage’s class and I tend to always choose them in a rpg game.
    Anyway, I found Dragon Age very satisfying, it was one of my very first games as an adult and I really enjoy the pause-and-choose attack system, maybe just because I play the mage as a dps. I understand it’s a little bit trickier with a rogue or a hunter kind of class; anyway, I just tried it on the PC and never had problems with choosing the attacks.
    I also really liked the focus on the plot and how realistic and engaging are the relationships with the many companions, I think sometimes some rpgs tend to forget about it and focus on the combat.

    1. I love playing as a mage too! To me, it always tends to be the most diverse class, just in terms of the variety of skills you can use. I always go with frost mage when I can.

      I’m glad you liked the pause-and-choose combat system too! It had a lot of flaws to me, but as a fan of tactical games, I saw a lot of good there too. But as you said, I think the focus was definitely on the plot and relationships, which is why I keep going back and replaying the Dragon Age games!

  4. I never got too frustrated with with the combat, and I play Xbox 360. It just took a bit of time to get the hang of pulling the trigger to open up the menu, and you definitely need to make sure you change the toggle setting so that it stays open without you having to hold it. Do that and there is no problem with slipping. I got more frustrated with Wynne dying all the time, and having to constantly watch her health (because she was my healer, I always found Morrighan pretty useless at it.. and she disapproved of nearly everything I ever did). That was a Warrior play through that I really enjoyed. I’m started a proper Mage one now (I did half of one the first time I played the game but realised I’d completely missed getting Leliana as a companion!).. I just really hate the Mage origin quests.. all the Fade stuff, and Jowan is so annoying! I’d say the game is generally more geared towards playing as a Mage in that you spend quite a bit of time in the Fade, and it’s far better to go in as your character than get stuck with Wynne who has really rubbish offensive abilities (because you left Morrighan at camp!)! I would imagine that rogue is the hardest class to play as.

    I agree with the other commenters though. Combat is the one element that we can agree that Dragon Age II got right… shame about the rest. Dragon Age: Origins has so much else going for it, that at the end of the day combat does’t matter. I play RPGs for the story and engagement, not for the fighting!

    1. Yeah, the first time I played DA:O, being a total gaming newb, I didn’t know I could change the control settings and stuff. It was a long playthrough… As for Wynne, I know what you mean! That’s actually another reason I like to control mages, so I can make sure they get their health poultices and don’t die on me. Anyway, I agree with you that I play RPGs for the story first and foremost… and if the battle system is good, it’s just an awesome bonus!

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