Dragon Age: Origins Review
Written : Saturday, November 21, 2009
By: Lee Abrahams (GT: jackanape)
Everyone loves a good RPG, well, in actual fact, a lot of people would rather go the other way. So the challenge has always been to make a role playing game that appeals to the hardcore fans while still drawing in new players who might usually be put off by pages upon pages of statistics and the knowledge that somewhere, a D20 is involved. Dragon Age draws upon the best elements of more traditional titles while also throwing in a top notch story, interesting characters, great action and the odd bit of fun too.
One archer against five, I like those odds.
Developed by Bioware, this game has obviously been based on much of their work with the Baldur’s Gate series, which was critically acclaimed in its own right. With the same kind of epic backdrop and characters, this game has kept in all of the best aspects of that series while also toning down the more obvious reliance on statistics and advanced character creation. Older fans may well be upset by this perceived ‘dumbing down’ but it really helps to streamline the experience and make things easy for newcomers. Plus, it means players can just focus on having fun rather than constantly tinkering with their team and abilities.
Right from the off you have full control of the story you want to see. The type of character you choose will drastically alter the initial Origin story that you play through, which acts as both a tutorial and prologue to the events that follow. So if you choose to be a human you can witness your families turbulent introduction to the Blight, play as a Mage and you will start off at the Circle of Mages and have to undergo your initiation – with six different paths to choose from you could easily spend a few hours just playing through them all to see which style of character suits you best before even touching the main story.
Regardless of the Origin story, you will end up as a member of the Grey Wardens, an order of warriors whose sole purpose in life is to fight the Blight – a collection of evil beasts and fell creatures led by the Archdemon. The last Blight was centuries ago and Grey Wardens have fallen from grace since then, so your task is made that much harder. To go any further would pretty much spoil the plot but, suffice it to say, you can expect any number of double crosses, alliances and epic battles as you struggle through your quest. Along the way you can also find any number of interesting background stories and texts to flesh out the world in general and provide some interesting snippets of information.
RPG titles always attract skimpily clad females – funny that.
What makes the story that much better are the characters involved and the superb level of interaction with them. As with most RPG games you can collect a motley crew of allies as you travel, including drunken dwarves, pigeon hating golems, a bisexual assassin and a convicted murderer. Not just your usual suspects really. The great thing is the fact that you can engage in conversation with them at any time and, as a result of these chats, change their opinion of you. If you are constantly mean to them then they will not just sit back and take it, as certain characters will outright rebel leading to them leaving your posse forever or even challenging you for leadership. Of course you can also flatter them outrageously or ply them with gifts to get on their good side, leading to nice stat bonuses for them and maybe more should you try to woo certain party members. With a great list of dialogue, personal quests, romance options and crisis moments (where certain members will turn on you if you make the wrong choice during one of the plots critical junctures) the level of interaction is second to none. The cast really start to feel like friends and family rather than just another spellcaster or warrior, and they can greatly influence how your story pans out. Of course, players can also choose not to interact with them at all really and just get on with the job at hand – but why would you want to do that? It also helps that the voice work is top drawer and the characters all have their own personality.
The main game is the usual mix of exploration, combat and side quests that you would expect in any RPG, though thankfully along fairly relaxed lines. Once you have completed the Origin story and a couple of other missions, you are totally let off the leash. At first the world does not seem that big, especially when compared to something like Oblivion, but that actually works to the game's benefit as you are not forced to trek for miles to get anywhere. Instead you can hop around the map at will, though your journey could be interrupted by random encounters with bandits, darkspawn, merchants and Superman (seriously). Each location is self contained and your goal is generally the same – to drum up support against the darkspawn invasion. However, how you go about getting that support can vary in each instance depending on your own choices.
The main plot quests see you making choices about dwarf kings, mages running wild, an elven curse and a poisoned nobleman. How you solve these issues will determine what allies you get, and also what rewards and sidequests become available to you. The moral choices are never made simply black and white, so it is refreshing to actually struggle to choose sides, plus you may well face repercussions for your actions later on. Even little things, like stealing from Elven hunters or helping out a barmaid can result in rewards or punishment further down the road. It makes you feel like you are always in control of the world around you and can lead to every game being different depending on how you approach it.
The main quests also have any number of little side quests running through them too, or you can pick up some tasks on the side by speaking to interested parties or even members of your own group. You can also do the occasional odd job for the religious Chantry, Mage collective or Blackstone mercenaries should the feeling take you. These quests can range from simple collection tasks through to assassinations, treasure hunting or monster slaying. Thankfully they are always fairly varied and most of the time you are under no obligation to actually finish a task if you do not really want to, though obviously you may well miss out on some serious loot or experience if you take that approach.
As with any RPG you can expect a bucket load of combat and the game takes an extremely tactical approach to things. You can set up your team with specific orders before combat to cover pretty much any eventuality. You can have your healer cast restoration spells should any member of your party fall below a certain level, or even have them focus on a certain member should you feel they will take the brunt of the damage. You can also directly take control of any of your current squad and issue them controls manually. As you level up you will gain new spells, combat moves and external talents – such as the ability to make traps or potions, or even spot you foes early on the mini map. You also gain new tactical slots, so you can have members with a whole list of situation specific actions to cover every eventuality. The beauty of it is that you could also just go in swords swinging and directly control every action should you so wish to, making combat as simple or difficult as you would like.
The main issue with combat is that the game seems to make you play in a certain way. As the key to enemy attacks is that they will always assault the foe they perceive as the biggest threat, so you obviously do not want that to be your mage or rogue. So you are forced to have a bulky warrior whose skill set helps to increase his threat level in order to handle your foes. Your mage and ranged team mates can then deal damage from afar in relative safety. Those players wanting to go crazy with a big group of warriors or mages only will be sadly disappointed as you really need a mix of skills to succeed.
There is always time for some showboating.
Quests, battles and searching can lead to experience which in turn leads to levelling up. Each class of character has their own skill set which you can also alter slightly by gaining specialisation skills at certain levels. Turning your rogue into a duellist or your mage into an arcane warrior will give them helpful boosts and also open up new talents to master. The system is fairly intuitive and well explained, so it is not too hard for you to build your team just the way you like. You can also boost your teams skills and attributes with the right mix of weapons, armour and accessories, which you can loot from your fallen foes, buy in stores or are given for completion of certain quests. Certain weapons can also be enchanted to boost their powers and give you an edge in combat. There are a wealth of items in the game, but you can easily compare and contrast them until you have the perfect balance of gear so it never feels overwhelming.
As with most RPG games you can expect at least fifty hours of playtime to get anywhere near the maximum one thousand points, you can also snag another hundred points via DLC if you bought the game new (for the Stone Prisoner) and download Wardens Keep. If you save prior to all of the major plot turning points then you can get most of the achievements by just reloading your save and making a different choice. There are also points for romancing your companions, killing darkspawn and reaching high levels with your main character. Not to mention some random points for doing a ton of damage, finishing all of the Origin quests and exploring the wide open world. A fairly balanced list and one that should not really require a ton of playthroughs – though you are welcome to do that anyway should you so desire.
This is undoubtedly one of the best RPG games to emerge in recent times and has a perfect balance between out and out fun, mixed with action, romance and comedy. It still may not be suitable for anyone and some of the obviously mature moments (especially the romance sections – where everyone seems to have the same underwear) can come across as unintentionally funny. On the whole though the whole look, feel and attitude of the game is perfectly balanced to draw players in and not let go. It is certainly a game that demands multiple plays to really experience everything that it has to offer. Play it and lose yourself for a few weeks, you won't regret it.
A superbly epic score and some superb dialogue makes this the complete package. The only downside is some unintentionally humorous conversations – but that is what makes an RPG great.
Overall the game looks extremely detailed and lush, though there are a few clipping issues and certain NPC characters have a habit of just vanishing in front of you until you leave the area. Some of the lip syncing is also a bit off.
Easy to pick up and play for people of any level, and you can pretty much make the combat as complex or simple as you choose.
A superb RPG with a top notch story, excellent characters and multiple plotlines depending on your mood – pretty much perfect.
A solid list for an RPG and one that does not require too much effort if you are canny with a few extra saves at key points. Plus picking up points for wooing members of the opposite sex is always good fun.
This is a top notch RPG that rattles along at a great pace and never seems to get dull. Some of the side missions are a bit inane but the wealth of interesting background information coupled with some fantastic characters means you cannot help but be sucked in. Give it a go and you will not be disappointed.
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