Dragon Age: Origins is a great game, but it is a product of its time. BioWare released Dragon Age in 2009 while still working on Mass Effect 2, so Dragon Age repeats many of the same design mistakes that made Mass Effect frustrating at times.
If it’s been a while since you dove into Dragon Age’s rich lore or loveable characters, you probably missed out on the game’s mod scene. Luckily, in the last five years the game’s the community has coalesced around a dozen-or-so stellar mods that everyone absolutely must add to their playthroughs. Before you head into the wilds to face the Templars and the Mages in November’s Dragon Age: Inquisition, start at the beginning with these 15 essential mods for the game that started the series. This list originally contained 18 mods, but we’ve downsized as some mods become unavailable or no longer compatible with the game as it stands today.
Dragon Age, due to its age, does not feature Steam Workshop integration. Heck, it’s a surprise that it’s even available on Steam at all and not exclusive to Origin. All of the mods on this list are hosted only at Dragon Age’s mod nexus, and each will need to be individually installed according to their creators’ whims. To help, I recommend using DAModder, a handy program with a user interface that encourages drop-and-install mod tracking. It’s very easy to use, so you should check it out.
It’s only now that I’ve been immersed in Steam Workshop integration for a couple of years that I realize how janky and haphazard third-party mod hosting can be by comparison. Though using DAModder will save you some headaches, it doesn’t work for all mods. Some mods, like Bash Locks, need to have code pasted into .ini files. Others, like Dragon Age Redesigned, come packaged with individual .exe installers for each element. I still recommend DAModder in general, but it will only help with about half of the mods on this list.
Am I a spoiled, whining, crybaby asking for endless handholding? After many hours fighting with mod installation readme.txts and lore-friendly PDF guides: Yes. I am. And you should be, too. Now, onto Dragon Age: Origins' finest mods.
I almost never roll a sneaky rogue/thief/hacker in a role-playing game. If RPG characters are a reflection on their players, this means that I am the type of person who trips over his own shoes and has broken furniture by accidentally falling on it.
For those of us cursed to wander bullishly through the china shop of life, locked chests and doors are tortuous reminders that we can’t explore every corner of every dungeon. We are not skilled with tiny metal lockpicks, so we can’t enjoy the secrets within.
Unless, that is, you’ve got the Lock Bash mod and a large hammer. With Lock Bash in Dragon Age, warriors and mages can get in on the larceny by smashing open or disintegrating locks, respectively. The mod even includes animated destructions, so you get to see the hinges shatter on that wee, puny lockbox. I did run into a couple of bugs where having Lock Bash installed made me unable to talk to quest-bearing NPCs through doorways (notably Owen the Blacksmith in Redcliffe), and I had to uninstall it to get the story moving again. These hang-ups are rare, though, so it was worth it to keep this great mod on hand.
At once the most useful and most obnoxious mod on this list, Auto Loot eliminates the middleman in your corpserobbing adventures. After clicking on a recently dead enemy, Autoloot simply adds the contents of their inventory to yours, with no intermediary screen. Let’s face it, you were going to click “Take All” anyway—now you don’t have to. The game knows you’re a hoarder, and that’s OK. This mod doesn’t judge you.
The irritating part, though, is that the modder in question, Pheelon, has chosen to make sure you know his work when you see it. When using Auto Loot, a message appears to tell you what you’ve picked up and that this service was provided by Auto Loot© by Pheelon. Every. Single. Time.
This last paragraph was provided by Auto Loot© by Pheelon.
Every once in a while, a melee fighter will kill an opponent with a combo of brutal finishing moves straight out of Game of Thrones. These are supposed to be a rare treat, but if you’re the kind of person who rejects the idea that cookies are a sometimes food, Forced Deathblows can dial up the carnage. A variable setting makes the special kill animations happen slightly more regularly, most of the time, or for every single melee kill all game long. I only recommend the highest setting for the folks who played Sniper Elite with the X-ray gore animations turned all the way up, as it leads to the same amount of repetitive, gratuitous spleen-smashing.
One of the most subtle mods on this list, Improved Atmosphere is the kind of mod you’d never think of on your own—but now that it’s there, you can’t ever go back. Improved Atmosphere breathes life into the background NPCs in each town—the one-line-response, moving furniture types. They gather at campfires, eat, walk around, and generally behave like they’re real people.
Your companions also land on more frequent banter triggers, which is great until you’ve heard Alistair antagonize Morrigan for the hundredth time. Corpses, for better or worse, stick around after you’ve killed and looted them, lending an extra morbid air to the fetid stink of a battleground. This great mod adds a lot of texture to the game, making towns and battlegrounds feel more like real places and less like empty dollhouses generated for your amusement.
Everyone in Dragon Age has awful teeth. Just hideous. “Hey now!” you say, “Brown teeth wrought with decay are a mark of historical realism.” You know what you can do with your realism? You can keep it, that’s what. I’ll be over here with my magic elves, enchanted daggers, and my pearly whites. Thanks to the White Teeth mod, everyone in the game gets a thorough laser whitening treatment. I’ve run the numbers on this, and according to these readings, my favorite characters are now 600% less gross. Thanks, White Teeth!
Uncovering this mod was one of the things that made me realize how old Dragon Age: Origins really was. From Mass Effect 2 onward, that series featured a simple checkbox that made helmets visible or invisible so you could see your characters’ beloved faces—even when they were strapped into a thousand pounds of high-tech armor.
Back in the Bad Old Days, this mod had to do the same heavy lifting. Enter No Helmet Hack, a simple little mod that gives each character a weightless, valueless book to read. Using it toggles their helmet visibility on or off, in turn. Beautiful, simple, and efficient.
Because Dragon Age is starting to show its age, the Dragon Age Redesigned mod is a great place to start for new players. Every facial feature in the game has been given an overhaul, so random NPCs look less like cartoon trolls and more like gritty, bedraggled cartoon trolls. Most of the companions also get an overhaul—some, like Morrigan, have four or five versions to choose from.
The installation process for Redesigned is not nearly as pretty as the character’s new faces: there are two separate instal executables that need to be run to overhaul the NPCs. One of them needs to be run twice in succession, for some reason. Each companion character in the mod has their own set of assets and their own install executable to run, so overhauling your entire party will take eight or nine install sequences. The end results are pretty good, but are they worth all that? I’m not sure, but this mod wins a lot of points for ambition. Note: this mod and White Teeth tend to cancel each other out with some companions, but not all.
The Mabari warhound is a Gray Warden’s best friend, with their snappy jaws, pointy ears, and muscled chest. They’re fantastic, happy partners, and essential tanks for mages and ranged fighters. Still, it’s easy to let your canine companion get left behind in favor of more useful companions who can carry inventory, equip items, and, you know, talk.
With the extra dog slot mod, your mabari joins you as a permanent fifth partymember attached directly to your player character. Adding a bloodthirsty mabari warhound isn’t the most balance-friendly addition to the Dragon Age combat system, but have you seen those big, sad eyes? You can’t leave him behind. No, you can’t. No, you would never. Who’s a good hound? Who’s a good boy?
A dark raven appears on a fencepost. A sour elixir full of evil portent is strapped to its leg. Drink it, and… respec your skills and attribute points at any time!
Well, that was unexpected.
As strategies shift in Dragon Age, it’s great to be able to rebuild a team to better support each other. The Character Respecialization mod pulls this off in a (mostly) lore-friendly way, and can be used at any time. After installation, find the dark-but-slightly-stupid-looking raven perched in most of the game’s major cities.
Hey, Dragon Age. It’s a post-US v Windsor world. It’s time to get with the times and fly that rainbow flag. Equal Love erases gender restrictions on companion interactions, so you can flirt, kiss, and love on any companion you’d like to, regardless of your player-character gender. Best of all, the new genderless rules carry over into the game’s storyline conclusions, so now male player-characters can [spoiler] with [spoiler], provided he chooses the [spoiler] ending.
Contrary to previous reports, enabling these relationships has not put us on a slippery slope toward player character-mabari warhound marriages, and the dog remains a strictly platonic friend.
Most of interpersonal politics, as we all know, begins and ends with the giving of gifts. In vanilla Dragon Age, though, finding a special “gift” item only leads to a bunch of talking as you try to figure out who is supposed to receive it. With the Madd Gift Guide, gift item descriptions suggest which of your companions would enjoy it, saving a lot of trial and error. For anyone trying to win the Most Popular Gray Warden contest, this is a simple but essential mod.
The Human Nobles among you may remember Ser Gilmore as your well-intentioned, but only briefly relevant, childhood friend. Originally thought to be the next Gray Warden recruit, Ser Gilmore instead sacrifices his life to give you and your mother time to escape your burning castle.
Thanks to the retconning of this mod, however, Ser Gilmore is back. Even better, he is ready to join your quest and features full voice acting—a real rarity in the amature modding scene. The voice acting isn’t half bad, and I find it remarkable how well he fits in with the other companions. After installing this mod, you can recruit your miraculously alive childhood chum near the Lothering chantry.
Arl Rendon Howe eventually becomes an irritating thorn for every Dragon Age player, and his sniveling treachery is actually the catalyst that begins the Human Noble storyline. How much of a snarling bastard is he, exactly? Well, he’s voiced by Tim Curry, if that tells you anything.
Whatever the player-character’s specific baggage, eventually defeating Howe is a major story event. For the eye-for-an-eye types, though, it is also a letdown, as Howe is given a movie-villain’s death and the opportunity to spit out a few last words before bleeding out. With this mod, though, you get a chance to really put the boot in, complete with emotional cutscenes featuring the Human Noble’s departed family. Howe is a bad dude who deserves to suffer a bit—and now he does.
For a taste of something a little different—and a break from Dragon Age lore entirely—the Baldur’s Gate 2 Redux mod is a thing of beauty. The first dungeon, Irenicus's Dungeon, has been entirely recreated by a team of modders, including original audio and Baldur’s Gate 2’s famously snappy dialog. Though this project was supposed to eventually include all of BG2 inside the Dragon Age engine, forum posts seem to indicate that the larger effort is all but dead. As sad as that is, the first module is still good for about an hour of nostalgic dungeon-diving.
Another excellent addition to the living, breathing side of the Dragon Age universe, Alley of Murders is an add-on campaign that introduces a serial killer in the grungier areas of Denerim. The local constabulary aren’t having any luck solving the case, so it’s up to the Gray Wardens to step in. This mod is fully voice-acted (to varying degrees of success) and took me about half an hour to wrap up.