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.
A note that will make modders mad at me
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.
Auto Loot© by Pheelon
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.
Graphics and background mods
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!
No Helmet Hack
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.
Dragon Age Redesigned
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.