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While the three basic character types in Dragon Age: Origins (Warrior, Mage, and Rogue) are quite formidable in their own right, their effectiveness can be further enhanced by the introduction of specializations. Characters unlock their first specialization point at level 7 and the second at level 14.
When choosing a specialization, characters receive a one-time stat boost, as well as access to a new talent tree. These additional trees give access to powerful new abilities and bonuses that grant huge bonuses to combat effectiveness, healing ability, or open up entirely new types of attacks and spells.
The main character is able to choose two separate specialization trees, while companions in Dragon Age are able to add one additional specialization once they've reached the appropriate level. Once you've unlocked a specialization, you will be able to choose it upon all subsequent playthroughs without again satisfying the unlock requirements.
You can use this fact to your advantage. Saving the game before purchasing a tome, for example, will allow you to gain the new specialization, then reload your previous save to retain both the unlocked spec and the money you spent unlocking it.
This tactic will work with specs only unlocked through story events, as well. Save your game before agreeing to defile the Urn of Sacred Ashes and you can earn the Reaver specialization, then reload your previous save and retain those party members who would have left your party because of the choice.
Each class has four specializations to unlock. Check out the full listing, as well as how to unlock each spec.
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The first Rogue specialization, Assassin, comes with an immediate bonus of +2 to Dexterity and +2.5% to melee critical chance. Assassins are skilled killers, relying on stealth and poisons rather than brute strength in order to take down their enemies.
Zevran will teach you the Assassin specialization if you raise your standing with him to a high level. Alternatively, you can purchase the manual at Alarith's Store in Denerim's Elven Alienage late in the game.
The Bard is a master of manipulation, using their songs to inspire their comrades and confuse their enemies. Becoming a Bard grants a +2 bonus to Willpower and a +2 to Cunning.
Lelilana will teach the Bard specialization once you get on her good side. You can also buy a manual from Alimar in Orzammar's Dust Town.
Within The Pearl brothel in Denerim, players will find a crafty rogue named Isabella fighting off a group of thugs. If you can convince Isabella that you are trustworthy either by sleeping with her or beating her at cards, she will teach you the Duelist specialization.
Duelists specialize in light armor and weapons, and are quite skilled at wielding two weapons simultaneously. Their talents grant bonuses to attack and defense that counteract their weak armor, and they move with a skill and grace unrivaled by other warriors.
Becoming a Duelist grants a bonus of +2 to Dexterity and +1 to damage.
To unlock the Ranger specialization, purchase the manual from Bodhan at the Party Camp. Note that you can use the save and reload method to get the specialization for free.
Check out page two for the full listing of Mage specializations in Dragon Age, and continue on for full information on Warrior specializations, as well.
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The first Mage specialization, the Arcane Warrior, is something of a Warrior/Mage hybrid. These powerful sorcerers are capable of wielding higher-level weapons and armor, thanks the the ability to use their Magic stat in place of Strength to satisfy usage requirements.
Specializing in Arcane Warrior grants an immediate +5 bonus to Attack and +1 to Dexterity.
The Arcane Warrior specialization is unlocked during the course of the Nature of the Beast questline. On the lower floor of the Brecilian Ruins, there is what appears to be a ruined library of some kind. There will be a broken stone altar in the room. In one of the corners you will find a glass phylactery. Upon touching it, your character will experience the memories of an ancient Elven warrior. He will offer to teach you the specialization in return for setting his spirit free. Simply place the phylactery upon the altar to do so.
The Blood Mage specialization is unlocked during the Arl of Redcliffe storyline. To receive it, the player must be a mage and offer to enter the fade to track down the desire demon that is responsible for the Arl's sickness. During the mission, choose to speak with the desire demon rather than killing her. She will offer you the Blood Mage specialization if you choose to make a deal with her. This is the only way to unlock it.
Blood Mages can use health to power their spells rather than mana, drain the health from their allies to increase their own, and can even control the minds of weaker-willed opponents. Blood Magic is illegal, and Wynne will leave the party if you reveal to her that you are a Blood Mage.
Blood Mages receive an instant bonus of +2 to Spellpower and +2 to Constitution.
Shapeshifters receive an instant bonus of +2 to Constitution and +1 to Armor. These crafty Mages are capable of altering their physical form, becoming a bear, spider, or swarm of insects at will. These abilities can be significantly improved by learning the Master Shapeshifter talent, as well.
Unlock the Shapeshifter talent by speaking to Morrigan before you've raised your approval rating with her to 30. Once you've raised your relationship above neutral, however, she will not teach it to you.
You can also buy the specialization manual from Varathorn in the Dalish Camp. The book will cost you about 12 gold.
Spirit Healers are by far the best healing class in the game. Mages can throw out a healing spell here and there, but the Spirit Healers can keep your party alive and fighting like no other.
Specializing in Spirit Healing grants an immediate bonus of +2 to Magic as well as a minor in-combat health regeneration bonus.
To unlock the Spirit Healer specialization, purchase the manual from the Wonders of Theadas shop in Denerim for around 15 gold. Wynne will also teach you the specialization, if you raise your approval rating with her high enough.
Page three has the full rundown on Warrior specializations in Dragon Age, including Reaver, Templar, Berserker, and Champion.
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Berserkers sacrifice finesse and strategy to harness the raw power of their rage for increased damage. Their talents allow them to deal additional damage at the expense of stamina, though later talents can mitigate this disadvantage somewhat.
Becoming a Berserker grants an immediate bonus of +2 to Strength and +10 to Health. To become a Berserker, either increase your reputation with Oghren until he volunteers to teach you, or purchase the manual from Gorim in the Denerim Market Place.
Champions are skilled and seasoned warriors, capable of inspiring courage in their companions and fear in their adversaries. Their talents can increase the combat effectiveness of nearby allies and demoralize foes they face.
The Champion specialization is granted after curing Arl Eamon at the end of the Urn of Sacred Ashes quest. He will offer to teach it to you if his offer of a reward is not refused.
Champions receive an immediate bonus of +2 to Willpower and +1 to Cunning.
The immediate bonuses of becoming a Reaver are a +1 bonus to Constitution and a +5 to Physical Resistance. These fearsome warriors are capable of using fear as a weapon, draining health from nearby corpses, and becoming more powerful the closer they come to death.
The only way to unlock the Reaver specialization is to befoul the ashes of Andraste with dragon's blood in the Urn of Sacred Ashes quest. Kolgrim will teach you the specialization after you defeat the guardian.
Templars are the Mage killers of the Dragon Age world. They are capable of resisting and countering magics, and are subsequently feared foes by the world's sorcerers and shapeshifters. Becoming a Templar grants an immediate bonus of +2 to Magic and +3 to Mental resistance.
To become a Templar, raise your standing with Alistair until he deigns to train you. You can also purchase the training manual from Bodhan in the Party Camp.
Each of the specializations offer unique and useful abilities, and because of this choosing between them can be something of a chore. Luckily, multiple playthroughs are encouraged in Dragon Age: Origins, so you can experience them all if you're willing to put in the time.