Review: Dragon Age: Origins
Dragon Age: Origins is yet another exciting title from BioWare, the guys behind Mass Effect, and needless to say it was a highly anticipated game. Typical of BioWare, the game boasted a large and realistic game world, deep characters, an engaging plot and tons of difficult and crazy game choices. Has it lived up to its promise?
- Worth The Time?Yes, it's exactly what the RPG-deprived ordered.
- Things LovedThe gameplay is great, awesome and visceral combat, the world is rich and begs to be explored, the story is engaging, the characters are amazing, it's highly immersive, there is tons to do and it more than justifies its length, it's challenging.
- Things HatedThe graphics are slightly under par, there are various bugs and glitches, the game is hectically difficult at times even to experienced RPG players.
- RecommendationTo RPG fans and veterans, you nearly can't go wrong with this game. It's exactly what you've been craving. Perhaps casual gamers should be wary of this and try it out first, because of its unforgiving difficulty level.
- Name: Dragon Age: Origins
- Genre: RPG
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: BioWare Edmonton, Edge of Reality (console versions)
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Price: R350 (PC), R500 (PS3, 360)
- Reviewed On: PC
At the beginning of the game you’re introduced to the backstory and setting of the game through an interesting, storyteller-like cutscene. After the initial cutscene you’re immediately sent to the character creation screen, where you’ll be choosing your gender, class, of which there is warrior, mage and rogue to start with, and race, either human, dwarf or elf. You’ll also alter your appearance and voice and, best of all, select your background story. The great thing about Dragon Age: Origins is that your backstory actually determines how you start the game, your overall story itself and how different people react to you. For example, if you select a human and choose “noble” to be your background story, you’ll be of royalty and high importance, where as if you decide to be an elf, who in the game are considered to be second class citizens, you’ll be getting very different treatment. It might sound quite standard in words, but as you learn more about the game you’ll begin to realise just how deep and amazing it really is. Despite your character creation choices though, the main threat is still an ancient evil, named the Darkspawn, who are an army of monstrous creatures that live underground, but have at various points in history (four times in the past before the time of the game) risen to attack the people in massive assaults known as Blights. Soon after the game begins your character comes into contact with Duncan, who is the leader of an elite group known as the Grey Wardens – soldiers who devote their lives to killing Darkspawn. As destiny has it, you end up joining the Grey Wardens after a series of trials, and so the game begins, with a new Blight incoming.
Now you might be asking at this point why there are only three classes. See, the great thing is that these three classes are what you start out as, but as you play through the game you’ll unlock specialised “prestige” classes that you’ll be able to go into. Unlike other games, once you unlock a special class it sticks with your account for good and what’s even better is that you’re able to go into two different special classes to create your own, unique character. To elaborate, let’s say you choose a warrior as your starting class. Warriors have a number of skill trees, such as the exclusive warrior talents, alongside skill trees for dual weapons, archery, sword and shield or two-handed weapon fighting – and it’s up to you where you choose to pour your talents. These class talents are in addition to your character skills that you’ll choose every level, such as trap-making or pick pocketing. As you progress further you’ll earn specialisation points (one on level 7, the other on level 14) which you can then, if you’ve unlocked the class, upgrade yourself to a prestige class. Each of the three base classes have their own special classes to get into, like a warrior can become a templar and/or beserker while a mage can become an arcane warrior and/or blood mage.
The game’s plot is pretty standard and you’re not really going to be interested in it as you play through the early hours of the game. This is not because the story is bad, but the reason is that while the plot itself is quite simplistic in its nature, the in-game events, both significant and insignificant, characters and sub plots are just so deep, engaging and amazingly well done that you’re hardly going to be focused on the main story. The game’s extraordinary and mighty interesting characters, referring mostly to the main characters who can join your party, really add to the experience, to the point that they themselves both have and create new stories for the game. Coupled together with the spectacular locations and settings and already you’ll see that Dragon Age: Origins excels at what it does. You’ll probably start focusing on the story when it nears its end, as things start picking up and familiar faces begin popping up, but until then you’ll be thoroughly immersed in the game world.
Perhaps the best way I can think of to describe the gameplay would be to picture a combination of Neverwinter Nights and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, both of which were, incidentally, created by BioWare – and those who have played the above two games will notice some similarities while playing Dragon Age. To those that haven’t, the gameplay can be pretty easily explained, but extremely difficult to get the hang of if you’re inexperienced at these types of RPGs (like me). Basically, you’ll be playing this game two ways, either from bird’s eye view or from a third person perspective – and this can be changed in real-time by moving the camera. Throughout the game, you’ll be exploring and traveling the lands, completing quests, both main and secondary, satisfying your curiousity, finding items, interacting with people and generally running around acting as though you’re the business.
Already from the early hours of playing, you’ll discover that the game world is very much open and you’ll be free to travel wherever you please either to get on with the story, explore, discover new locations or complete quests. Not only are the locations large and expansive in size, but there are plenty of things to do in every one of them to delete hours upon hours of your life. Getting around the game world is a simple and enjoyable affair. You’ll be able to quick travel to any location on the map, but be on alert because your trip can be interrupted while quick traveling, by things such as story-related incidents, gangs of mercenaries after your blood or a traveling merchant on the road. While on foot, your move speed is nice and fast so you’ll have no frustrations getting around.
At any time in the game, you’re allowed to instantly pause, either to take a break to get KFC back in the real world or to formulate a strategy in fights. This feature is one of the most useful tools in the game for many reasons. I guess this is mostly because Dragon Age: Origins is very, very difficult, especially if you’re unsure of what you’re doing or are inexperienced in RPGs. It’s doesn’t welcome newcomers to RPGs or casual players with open arms unless you are playing on the easy difficulty, and even then it can still be quite challenging at times. I’d definitely recommend that you play on easy if you have doubts about your RPG skill (you can change the difficulty while in-game, at any time, which is great), because then you will mostly be able to play and fight battles in real-time. Any difficulty level up and you’re going to be pausing constantly to choose your next attacks, use healing items, observe your characters’ situations and so on. This is not a bad thing at all, but gamers who like to constantly be in the action would much prefer to play in real-time, so the easy difficulty would be the best option, while those who want a challenge will have their skills strained in the higher difficulties. Naturally you’re still going to be pausing the game in easy quite a bit, but not nearly as much as the other difficulty levels. One thing is for certain though: Dragon Age is no joke, it’s a very challenging game that doesn’t show you any mercy.
The combat is definitely one of the game’s highlights. Typical of games like these, you won’t be using your weapons until you’re facing enemies, where you’ll then gain access to all of your abilities and moves. To the game’s credit you’ll acquire a wide array of fighting moves, special attacks, passive upgrades and activated power up abilities as you progress through the game – and almost all of them look awesome. All characters in the game have a stamina bar, next to their health bars, which governs how many special moves they can pull off before they either have to use an item to recover or finish the battle to begin healing. Generally fights are conducted through a series of pauses, either to select attacks or use health potions (and you’re going to use a crap load of them), plan or go madly rushing in. It might sound a little repetitive and boring, but once you become accustomed to it you’ll see that it is a really great system and will inevitably start enjoying it – when it’s not mercilessly punishing you by death that is. Otherwise it’s more or less your standard RPG affair, where you’ll be constantly comparing new weapons and items with your current ones, enchanting your weapons for elemental or special bonuses, earning money and experience for murdering people and doing quests, exploring the vast game world, leveling up your characters and so on.
The game uses a very simple system for character relationships, but unfortunately it’s a bit too simple. It works spectacularly in the game for all the other characters, but you can’t help but feel annoyed at times since you, the player, can’t really change. See, there is no karma system in Dragon Age, so doing good or bad deeds doesn’t change anything for you personally. It’s great to see how your choices effect the outcome of various situations and the story, but since you aren’t given good points or dark points you’ll most likely end up choosing the option that’s easiest or most rewarding. To the games credit, tons of situations are done excellently, to the point that they actually tug on your conscious and you’ll be left thinking for a few minutes on how to proceed. In order to combat the lack of an alignment meter, your party members each have approval bars. The approval bar decides how much your accomplices like or hate you and this is changed as you speak with them and make decisions during the game. It’s interesting to see which characters disagree or are in favour of the many, many choices you’ll make, but unfortunately there are some issues. Firstly, it isn’t always clear whether or not a member is going to agree or disagree with you, and even when you think you’ve figured out what upsets certain members, you’ll end up getting surprised a few times when a choice you thought was acceptable turned out to be disliked by a character you want to be friendly with. You can always resort to giving gifts to your friends to get the approval rating up, but keep in mind that people have specific tastes when it comes to these gifts and they won’t always like what you give them. One thing is clear though, every single character in the game is done amazingly and they each have so much depth to them that it’s sometimes mind boggling.
The conversation system is almost identical to Knights of the Old Republic. To those who aren’t familiar with it, when speaking to an important NPC, or one that you can interact with, the top and bottom of the screen will black out, giving you the impression of a movie or cinematic. From there you’ll be listening to the NPC speak and at set times in the conversation you’ll be given the option to reply – or voice your opinion if the conversation isn’t directed at you specifically. The one letdown is that you can’t hear yourself speak, but rather you’re given the options at the bottom of the screen and you select the one you think most appropriate. There are tons of options in most cases and they can lead to catastrophic results if you’re not careful with your words, but unfortunately there is one major problem with the system. For the most part it works brilliantly, as it did in Knights of the Old Republic, but the one severe issue is that often you’re fooled into thinking you have multiple options. What I mean by this is that, while most of the time each option will lead to different results, quite often you’ll be given about six different dialogue options but they’ll all lead to the same result directly after you choose them. Despite the fact that BioWare have done an amazingly impressive job when it comes to options and variety, this does make you feel slightly cheated or annoyed at times. Overall though, this is yet another area where Dragon Age shines.
Graphically, Dragon Age is quite good. It’s nothing spectacular, but it doesn’t disappoint either. The locations, cities and environments look really nice, especially when considering the sheer size of them. The character models are probably the highlight of the graphics as they portray life-like animations and movements and they look awesome. Some might argue that Dragon Age could have looked a little better visually and they’re not wrong in saying this, but in its current state it still looks good. On a technical front Dragon Age is mostly solid, but unfortunately it does have a number of problems. You’ll encounter minor graphical bugs, animation bugs and some bizarre glitches such as you remaining in attack position even though a battle has ended, which is irritating because while in this position your move speed is reduced. The game has some fantastic sound tracks and music, all of which do well to illustrate the fantasy themes. There is some real quality work here as far as music is concerned.
It’s time to answer the two ultimate questions. What makes Dragon Age origins so good and what makes it deserving of its score? I believe there are many positive answers to these questions, but I think the following is the most relevant. Firstly, and in all honesty, Dragon Age has arrived at a time where there aren’t many great RPGs around. You might think that this is a rather silly observation, but if you look at it from Dragon Age’s perspective, it certainly holds the advantage as far as competition is concerned. This is not to say the game isn’t good, which brings me to my next point. Dragon Age is a solid experience that you’ll have a blast playing, even more so when taking into consideration the dangerous amount of hours you’ll spend playing this game. Regardless of how you go about it, the game will easily eat over 20 hours of your time – it’s certainly time well spent, but it’s definitely a game that requires lots and lots of attention and its hellishly addictive nature doesn’t help this situation.
Dragon Age: Origins is a solid RPG title that is well worth your time and money. While it doesn’t present anything entirely new, it quite simply excels at almost everything it does and provides an excellent, immersive and action packed experience set in a brilliantly crafted world with rich and deep characters. The gameplay is great, the world amazing, the choices exciting and the characters awesome – what more is there to say? It’s a complete RPG title that draws all the great elements from many other successful titles like it and combines them to form one fantastic game. While its extreme difficulty level, slightly under par graphics and various bugs bring the game down a notch, the experience it provides is nearly masterful. Dragon Age is another awesome addition to 2009’s list of games, so do yourself a favour and check it out.