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.
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.
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.
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.