Dragon Age: Origins adventuresses. Left to right: Leliana (bard/archer), Kallian (fighter/player character), Wynn (mage/healer), Morrigan (swamp witch/shape-shifter).
“This woman beside me is a native of Ferelden, risen to the ranks of the Grey Wardens. She is proof that glory is within reach of us all. She has survived, despite the odds. And without her, none of us would be here.” —Alistair
If I remember, BioWare’s award-winning Dragon Age: Origins had been out for over a year before I finally got the chance to play it, and it remains one of my favorite action RPGs to date. The graphics were well above average for when the game came out. The game play is straightforward, character customization is fairly versatile, and the combat remains among the more streamlined I’ve played in fantasy action role-playing. But it’s the engaging, epic story that makes the game the enduring classic that it’s become. I mean, yes, ultimately it’s a story about uniting a politically and culturally fragmentary society against the Dark Spawn horde—a threat so mind-bendingly evil that makes Sarumon’s Uruk-hai look pleasant-natured. But while the final outcome is the same regardless of how you play it, the getting there is a bloody tale of death and violence, betrayal and revenge, politics and war, civil strife, racism and slavery, even a bit of romance, where the player’s choices can determine everything from character relations to the succession of kings.
The characters too are extremely well thought out. From party members to villains to NPC quest-givers, characters were clearly and believably fleshed out by the game designers. The party members are believable, sympathetic characters, if not always likable, and will react convincingly to events throughout the game. Similarly, many NPCs have personalities of their own and will react differently depending on the player’s actions. Even the villains are convincingly portrayed and seem to have rationalizations for their dastardly deeds, beyond simple greed or cruelty.
One aspect of the game that I still occasionally see debated in discussion forums, however, is the armor for female characters throughout the game. I occasionally see Dragon Age offered as an example of some of the better video-game armor out there. But just as often I see it treated as a mediocre example. Thus I thought I’d give my own thoughts and analysis of some of the individual pieces and offer an overall grade for BioWare’s efforts.
Bear in mind, I’m focusing strictly on armor for the purpose of this analysis. While there are plenty of caster robes for the mages in the game, these are pretty much identical to the one Wynn is wearing in the top picture, with just a few variations. (As for Morrigan’s… outfit and its practicality, Morrigan is a witch of the wilds—she doesn’t really give a f*** about her appearance nor about what people think of her appearance, so who am I to criticize. Plus she can probably make my head explode.)
I’ve asked the lovely elf Grey Warden, Kallian, to model some of the various armors for me. While there are lots of different sets of armor throughout the game, there are really only a handful of different styles available, nearly all of the others are variations on one of the following styles.
This first piece Kallian is wearing is the basic suit of studded leather armor. For leather armor, this is actually fairly heavy-duty, with layered plates of hardened leather across the chest and banded leather strips for flexibility at the waist. I have a certain amount of issue with the sculpted breast pieces, however. While they’re not as dangerous to our Grey Warden’s safety as boob-plate, any blow that hits between them tends to be directed inward at the adventuress’s heart, rather than safely away from her person. I recognize that in combat a fighter will generally keep one shoulder toward her attackers, largely negating this as a weak point, but even so, the sculpting is unnecessary at best.
I like that there’s a lot of protection for the joints at the shoulders, knees, and elbows, plus grieves and bracers to protect the legs and arms. The waist skirt with the leather plating at the legs and the studded leather strips give the armor sort of an Ancient Greek feel. Lastly, the fingerless gloves seem thematically appropriate, as studded leather is the armor of choice for the rogue classes.
The obvious weak point of this armor is the exposure of the upper chest. While this isn’t as bad an idea as, say, leaving the bowels exposed, it’s still not wise to leave that much skin bare just above our heroine’s heart. While the ribs and sternum can take a surprising amount of punishment, even a simple linen undershirt would be wiser than leaving this area bare to piercing or cutting attacks—particularly against a foe like the Dark Spawn, who tend to include a lot of jagged edges and serrations on their weapons.
Overall grade: B-
Aaaand, here’s where the game loses the most points, armor-wise. What we have here is the leather armor worn by the Dalish (forest elf) huntresses. While it has a lot of the positive features of the regular leather armor above—bracers, grieves, waist skirt, as well as joint protection for the knees, elbows, and shoulders—bare midriffs in combat are a really stupid idea. I don’t, in fact, qualify this as armor because all of our Grey Warden’s vital areas are fatally exposed to Dark Spawn swords and knives. And as Dark Spawn swords and knives tend to have nasty little hooks and barbs on them, there is a very good chance that any slash our elf takes to the belly is going to pull things out with it.
And two, realistically, boobs are about the only non-vital part of our adventuress’s torso. In fact, they really kind of function as padding of their own. So making an armor that covers only covers her boobs is akin to making a protective covering for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s shell but nothing else.
Overall grade: D-
I’m not entirely certain why this outfit is referred to as “chain mail,” as there isn’t any visible chain mail anywhere. What we have instead is scale mail with leather padding. The lowest visible layer consists of a shirt and trousers of light scale mail—durable, while allowing our pretty Warden a wide range of flexibility.
The spaulders and bracers are thick, hardened leather, possibly stretched over metal plates, though we can’t tell that from the image. Neck and throat are protected by a leather mantle while the splinted skirt allows a great deal of flexibility at the waist. The leather plating on Kallian’s chest and belly provide additional protection of her vital areas without creating cleavage that can accidentally direct stray blows toward our heroine’s heart. In addition, it offers similar padding at the joints as does the studded leather armor, and the fingerless gloves offer rogue characters the dexterity they need for picking locks or pockets.
Despite the “chain mail” misnomer, I honestly find this to be the most effective armor in Dragon Age: Origins.
Overall grade: A+
The next armor up for analysis is the splint mail, a middle-of-the-road armor option. As the name suggests, the splint mail is made up of metal splints riveted over leather armor. Like with the studded leather armor above, the breast cups are unnecessary, but as they are not part of the same single plate, there isn’t the risk of a blow to the chest slamming her cleavage through her sternum. There’s still the same minor risk of blades and spearheads taken between her boobs being directed inward toward her heart, however.
As far as the rest of her armor goes, however, this is likely one of the better pieces so far. The spaulders and bracers are heavy duty—excellent for deflecting or absorbing blows from Dark Spawn swords and maces. The the banded splints at the waist offer both protection and flexibility under most combat circumstances.
Overall grade: A-
Well, frick. And out comes the boob-plate cuirass. Dammit, BioWare, you were doing so well, really starting to make up for the elf leathers. As discussed in numerous articles that are finally beginning to get more attention from artists, game makers, etc: plate armor sculpted as breasts is a really bad idea. What this essentially amounts to is that the sculpted cleavage functions as a wedge next to our Grey Warden’s sternum, and thus any blow she takes to the torso slams that wedge into her sternum, potentially breaking it and sending bone fragments into her heart. A quick, but nasty, way to die.
Aside from the boob-plate, however, this isn’t actually a bad piece. The leggings could be more protective, but the arms are well armored and the plated gauntlets can almost be used as shields in their own right. The chain mesh mantle and skirt offer additional protection for the upper torso and upper legs. The version for non-elf characters also includes a large spaulder on the left shoulder for additional protection in heavy melee. While these features don’t make up for the structural flaw with the cuirass, they do indicate that the attempt was made to create a strong set of heavy armor.
Overall grade: C-
The “massive armor” available in the game is another of my favorites. I like that it looks very high-medieval Gothic, to start with. The gilded plating and some of the embellishments might be a bit overly ornate, but to be fair, this particular piece originally belonged to a king. The armor is thick and durable—and most importantly is not shaped like her boobs.
From neck to toe, our Grey Warden is covered in strong full-plated armor. The spaulders are large and protective, though I think the larger neck-guard on the right shoulder would be better off on the left instead. Arm pieces look good, with reinforced joints and heavy gauntlets. Breastplate is thoroughly reinforced. Waist features leather-covered hip pauldrons over a chain-mesh skirt. And the legs feature full-plating in boots, grieves, knees, and thighs.
All in all this is an effective outfit for a fighter character who expects to be in the thick of the action, felling Dark Spawn with gusto. Nice armor indeed.
Overall grade: A
If I were offering a grade for the game’s armor as a whole, I’m thinking a solid B. I think I’d even go as high as an A- if we agreed not to count the elf armor at all. If it was graded on a curve, however, compared against most other games out there, I think I’d lean toward an A or even an A+.
All screen captures taken from game play.