Dragon Age: Origins was just too much game for me to review in one sitting. Here's the second part of my series of observations on the newest fantasy RPG from Bioware.
A lot of hype has been hyped about the Dragon Age: Origins character creation system, and given the game’s post-colon-subtitle, you’d expect a certain degree of speacialness. The character creation widget was released before the game as a kind of taster, so that beardy nerds could either design their perfect character for their first playthrough, or just create millions of slightly different elves.
Considering all of this, then, I was a little surprised to see that there was very little to really set it apart from Fallout. Or Oblivion. Or Tony Hawk, for that matter.
Y’all know the steelo by now. Pick a race – this defines how tall you are and how pointy your ears are, within a given range. It’s then up to you to tweak your character’s eye colour, hairstyle, ear pointyness and a trillion other miniscule details that assure that your dwarf will look like no other (dwarf). Bioware have made a couple of weird choices here, though – you can spend hours making sure your eyes are just precisely the right distance apart to the angstrom, but there’s only about eight hairstyles to choose from for each race and gender. Since all of the game’s NPCs are, as far as I could tell, built from this same palette, you’ll end up seeing the same beards and weird braidy hairstyles quite a few times in-game as well. In fact, it’s alarming how many people in the land of Ferelden have girly braids in their hair. Sometimes you will literally encounter two characters with exactly the same beards arguing with one another. You’ll notice it as well – I’m sure the designers would argue “but their cheekbones have an entirely different structure”, however it’s the hairiness that draws the eyes.
RPGs love to tell you that you’ll never create the same character as anyone else, and yours will be unique. OK, so chances of anyone coming up with exactly, precisely the same look as your carefully-crafted avatar are admittedly fairly small, but the amount of real customisation you can apply to your starting character’s stats are a little less ‘unique’. There are a whole ton of possible choices but are you really planning on having a dwarven warrior who starts the game as a great herbalist but hopeless with a sword? Please. My first character, a dwarf warrior as it happens, spent his initial 4 points on strength, his skill options on combat prowess and his perks on weapon and shield stuff. It’s an obvious path, and I’m sure that I’m not unique in these choices. There’s not a lot of encouragement to experiment with characterful frills beyond the ‘obvious’ choices for your chosen career.
So that’s the first half of the character creation process. Now, remember in Fallout when you had to crawl across the room to your daddy, as a little baby? If you think back even further, do you remember the page of background you got based on your character class in Baldur’s Gate? This fluffy backstory has always been a pleasant aside in RPGs. Now, however, based on your choice from seven possibilities, you are treated to a good couple of hours’ playable backstory before the game proper begins.
We like this. More of this kind of thing please.
That’s right. The first couple of hours of play are entirely different if you’re an elf warrior than if you’re a human rogue. These short plot-builders will come back to haunt you throughout the main storyline (as you’d jolly well hope, these days), and they set the scene with the same deep plot and excellent quality voice-acting that sets the rest of the game ahead of the pack.
So that’s it. Character creation – it’s not special because of allowing you to choose the length of your wizard’s nose, or how good you are at hitting stuff. It’s special because of the lovely playable backgrounds.