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Dragon Age: Origins PC tweaks guide


Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

This article isn’t our usual fare. Its goal is to help people who want to play Dragon Age: Origin on a PC to improve the graphics and gameplay.

Previously it was attached to our Dragon Age world primer, and before that to our Hero of Ferelden character profile. But on second thought it is probably clearer if it is a stand-alone article.

Main illustration by Ti_Cacou  using Bioware assets.


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Playing Dragon Age: Origins in 2014

Here is some basic advice if you want to play DA:O nowadays, since this game is not exactly brand new.

  • All this advice applies on PC, of course – can’t tweak none on a console.
  • The Dragon Age: Origins Ultimate Edition is excellent value and is frequently on sale on Steam and elsewhere. Alas, it is region-locked for distribution (to the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK, I think).
    If you live elsewhere it is worth the effort to procure this edition, via IP spoofing/VPN or simply by having somebody in one of these countries gift you the game on Steam.
  • If you’re both an Electronic Arts Origin user and a Steam user, prefer the Origins version (I’ll explain later).

Rendering

Now that you have the proper version of the game, let’s get to work.

  • DA:O is a prime candidate for downsampling if your current PC is more powerful than the standard 2009 rig. To do this, here’s Corky’s excellent guide to downsampling .
  • DA:O is also a prime candidate for Nvidia Inspector driver hijacking. Just google “Nvidia Inspector” for plenty of information. Here is a suggested high-end series of settings – just remember to turn the anti-aliasing in the game off.

NVidia Inspector Dragon Age: Origins Settings

  • DA:O significantly benefits from SweetFX enhancements (you can google “SweetFX” for more about the tool). The preset at the bottom of this page  is IMO serviceable, though if you already do downsampling and forced driver anti-aliasing you can turn off SweetFX anti-aliasing – it’s overkill.
  • You can see other SweetFX material here  by searching for “lighting” in the title. One uses the mostly-aborted Dragon Age ENB though I’m not convinced it’s worth it (ENB not being compatible with driver-forced anti-aliasing).

Textures

There exist texture packs for DA:O. This is good because the DA:O textures are old ugly low-res console stuff, but there are significant limitations.

  • The big pack is the JB3 , but these are not lovingly hand-crafted textures like in some games (say, Skyrim or Mass Effect) – the textures have simply been enlarged and bulk-processed. Still, I think this is a considerable improvement. However, as the mod description emphasises, it comes with problems.
  • Namely, the DA:O .exe must be patched using software such as Large Address Aware (easily found on Google) so it can use enough RAM to support large textures. This is easy on Origin, but the Steam version of the Ultimate Edition has some inexplicable DRM preventing this (hence the preference for the Origin version above).
    If you have the Steam version, there is fairly simple hack  that requires installing and using the EA Origin client to turn your Steam version into an Origin one. This means you’ll have to download the game twice, though. On the other hand, with the LAA patch in place and a decent graphics card, the game practically never crashes even with full JB3 textures.

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  • I suggest dumping all of your textures in a single folder for ease of management. In DA:O, all mods are installed in an override folder, and you can simply create a “Textures” folder within it. Here is an example path :
    C:\Users\user\Documents\BioWare\Dragon Age\packages\core\override\Textures

    so you can find the override folder in question (replace “user” by your Windows user name).

  • You can grab additional textures from Theta  and dump them into this folder over the JB3 ones – there are far fewer textures, but they are hand-made.
  • The JB3 skin textures are IMO quite dirty and unhealthy. If that’s also your opinion, ViLiSSa  has a mod that includes generic skin textures (“fema”, “kida”, etc.). So you could grab them and dump them into your Texture files to replace the JB3 ones, if you want. However, you’ll need to change the name from ViLiSSa’s naming scheme to the standard one first. Here is the full list of DA:O skin texture files with the standard name :
    uh_hed_dwfa_0d.dds
    uh_hed_elfa_0d.dds
    uh_hed_fema_0d.dds
    uh_hed_infa_0d.dds
    uh_hed_masa_0d.dds
    uh_hed_olda_0d.dds
    uh_hed_quna_0d.dds
    uh_hed_sica_0d.dds

    ViLiSSa’s mod doesn’t have a replacer for all of these, so depending on your preferences you can keep or delete the JB3 textures for the rest.

Mods – general notes

Now we can consider mods beyond simple — but important — textures. Generally, browsing the Dragon Age Nexus by category and in order of decreasing endorsements should give you a sense of what’s out there and you can see what you like. Still, 3 caveats if you wanna use mods :

  • The Nexus Mod Manager is, IMO, quite unconvincing for DA:O. I haven’t experimented with other mods manager, since my needs were covered by simple manual installations, but the main DA:O mod managers are available on the Nexus. Using the Nexus MM will result in problems as it seems to just dump the files in your override folder.
  • The DAZip files you will get in some mods need to be installed using an application called DAUpdater, which is part of your Dragon Age installation. Assuming a Steam version of DA:O, the path would be :
    E:\Steam\steamapps\common\Dragon Age Ultimate Edition\bin_ship\daupdater.exe
  • If you use multiple mods that modify the character morphs (for instance, multiple hairstyles mods) you need to understand how to use CharGenMorph Compiler (available on Nexus) to merge conflicting files.

Recommended mods

There are a few mods that one should strongly consider :

  • The 3 main dialogue fixes mods – Dialogue Tweaks , the Morrigan Restoration Patch  and the ZDF Dialogue Fixes . Read the descriptions to prevent some minor conflicts between Tweaks and ZDF. As often with Bioware games, 6 more months of development really wouldn’t have hurt (well, except financially – that’s the problem), and these handy fixes address some of the issues.
  • The Unobtainable Item Fix  is also frequently recommended
  • Improved Atmosphere  includes sizeable resources and fixes even more issues – just don’t forget the patch, and that Improved Atmosphere and its patch are best installed *before* you start a game. Review it module by module to understand what it does rather than dump everything at once. For instance :
    • the materials stuff have DAZip files, so you need to run those rather than simply put them in your override
    • it boosts the quality of the equipment used by guards, which can make some origin sequences (such as the City Elf one) considerably harder. Just lower the difficulty for that part if that’s an issue.
    • the modified items module boosts certain key pieces of equipment, and makes many bits of equipment cheaper. This can make even a Nightmare game too easy.
  • The DA:O Fixpack  is yet another strongly recommended resource. In particular it debugs many skills.
  • Dragon Age Redesigned  is yet another big round of polish and fixes.
  • If you downsample, the UI of the game will become tiny and illegible – it doesn’t scale. You can fix that using the FtG UI Mod  to have a properly-scaled UI.
  • If you want a storage chest in your camp — which really cuts down on annoyance and pointless round trips for you packrats and crafters — here is a good one .

Playing !

Lastly I’d suggest reading the Ideal Quests order  on the wiki once before you begin. It can avoid significant frustration.

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