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Being a Dragon Age Origins Shapeshifter
Shapeshifter is the most contoversial of the Dragon Age Origins mage specializations. You either love it or hate it. A little surfing of various Dragon Age forums reveals that many fans find the shapeshifter completely useless, while for others it is a favorite. A major issue with this specialization is that it doesn’t allow you to cast other spells while you’re in shapeshifted form. Also, you get an unavoidable party member early on with shapeshifter, so taking it yourself can be redundant.
Yet at the same time, shapeshifter allows you to jump right into the fight and become a tank, and so is great for those who aren’t happy with a mage who stays in the distance and doesn’t see much action. Plus, shapeshifter can be useful by allowing you to do damage even after you’ve run out of mana. And last but not least, it’s pretty cool to be able to turn yourself into a bear or a giant spider. So take a look at the information below, which will help you decide if this Dragon Age specialization is for you or not.
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Dragon Age Origins Shapeshifter Spells and Benefits
The arcane warrior gains a permanent +2 to consitution and +1 to armor, as well as the following tree of new mage spells.
Spider Shape: With this sustained ability you get to turn into a giant spider, which can be more or less powerful depending on your spellpower score. You get two fighting abilities to help you out, Web and Poison Spit, and a decent nature resistance bonus. This isn’t that strong of a shapeshifted form by itself, but becomes much more useful with the added abilities you get after learning Master Shapeshifter.
Bear Shape: This sustained ability turns you into a bear, with two new abilities: Slam and Rage. As with Spider Shape, your spellpower determines how powerful this form is. You’ll also get bonuses to both armor and nature resistance. This form is generally more powerful than the spider, especially after learning Master Shapeshifter.
Flying Swarm: A little different from the first two forms, this spell turns you into a swarm of insects. You get the ability Divide the Swarm, which as it suggests lets you attack more than one foe at once, and you’ll do more or less damage to your enemies based on your spellpower score. The Flying Swarm is hard to hit, and is often considered the best of the shapeshifting forms especially as a last way to cause damage when your health is pretty low.
Master Shapeshifter: Once you learn this ability, you’ll gain permanent bonuses to the above three forms whenever you use them. In the Spider Shape you are now a corrupted spider, and in the Bear Shape you are now a bereskarn—both much powerful than the original versions. With corrupted spider and bereskarn you also gain the ability Overwhelm, which is very useful. Also, as the Flying Swarm you now drain health from enemies whenever you do damage, which is really what makes that form effective.
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How to Unlock the Shapeshifter
There are two ways to unlock the shapeshifter specialization. You can learn it from fellow party member Morrigan, but only if her approval of you is neutral or less. So talk to her a lot early on, until you get the option to ask her to teach you. If you miss the opportunity you can always try decreasing her approval, or you can buy the shapeshifter manual. It is available for about 12 gold from Varathorn in the Dalish Camp.
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Now that you’re a shapeshifter, what second specialization should you take? Or if you’ve aleready taken a first specialization, is shapeshifter for you? In this case, there is one option that stands out as a good compliment to the shapeshifter: the arcane warrior.
Arcane Warrior + Shapeshifter: This is the only specialization that really complements the shapeshifter. Both are intended to let the mage, a class that normally fights best at a distance, join the actual combat and possibly become a powerful tank. The bonus stats you get from each specialization compliment each other as well. Taking both arcane warrior and shapeshifter allows you to deal out damage for as long as possible. Since arcane warrior spells take such huge chunks out of your mana, when you run out you can switch to a shapeshifted form and continue to do damage this way, since you can’t cast spells while shapeshifted. Alternately, if your health is low due to fighting the arcane warrior way you can switch to Flying Swarm and take damage to mana for a while.
Blood Mage + Shapeshifter: You can’t cast spells while shapeshifted, and spells are really the highlight of the blood mage specialization. Nor can you be in blood magic mode, which allows you to cast spells from health instead of mana. You could build a tank by choosing these two specializations and go in and out of shapeshifted form and blood magic in turns, but this isn’t as effective as using arcane warrior. So this combination is not recommended. There is one really nice possibility if you do end up with these two specializations, though: Blood Magic + Flying Swarm. When running out of health from casting blood magic spells, switch to flying swarm and take damage to mana while regenerating health (especially with Master Shapeshifter).
Spirit Healer + Shapeshifter: These two specializations don’t really compliment each other either. The combination might appeal to those who want flexibility, to use their mage for both close combat and healing, but spirit healer + arcane warrior is much better for that. You can’t cast healing spells while shapeshifted, after all, so you don’t have the same ability to keep yourself alive that you have when pairing arcane warrior and spirit healer. If you do end up with this combination, try casting spirit healer spells until you run out of mana, then shapeshift to deal out damage as long as you can.
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Tips for Maximizing your Shapeshifter
Stats: You’ll want a very high spellpower score, since that increases the power and damage of the shapeshifter forms. So a lot of points in Magic is recommended. The shapeshifter is effectively a warrior while in alternate form, so Strength, Dexterity, and Consitution are also important.
Combat Strategy: You won’t want to spend all your time in shapeshifted form, since you can’t cast mage spells this way and you’ll take a lot of damage. So use the forms strategically. Try casting a lot of your best mage spells early in the battle, then when you run out of mana switch to the spider or bear. Alternately, if you’re running low on health do a quick switch to flying swarm to stay alive. The nice thing about a shapeshifter with flying swarm is that it is very hard to die. Learn Master Shapeshifter as soon as possible, since it is what really makes the three forms effective. And carry plenty of potions—you’ll need them.