Dragon Age: Origins is the newest RPG epic from Bioware, creators of other notable titles such as Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire and Mass Effect. Their newest game takes things a little more old school, returning the quest programmers back to the days of yore, where dungeons waited to be crawled and dragons were there for the slaying. The studio has repeatedly said that Dragon Age: Origins was always a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate, and they weren’t kidding. But is it any good?
Yes. Yes it is. Very good, in fact. This may spoil the rest of the review for you, but Dragon Age: Origins is simply one of the better RPG experiences in this generation.
From the outset of the game, you know that you’re about to be in for an exciting, dark tale with imaginative branching paths. I think the most impressive thing about this game isn’t necessarily the amount of content (at 60 hours for my first playthrough, there is certainly quite a bit of that) or even the grandness of the tale (it is one of the more epic RPG stories I can recall in the last few years)… it’s the different branches that it can take that makes the game shine. Once you create your character, you fall into one of six potential origin stories, each one a separate 2 hour prologue that forms your character’s bio. Rather than being told your origins, you are creating them for yourself over the course of a few hours, so you see how you are uniquely thrown into this sweeping adventure.
The origin stories include different races, classes and genders, and do a great job of both setting up the world of Ferelden as well as how your own character fits into it. From replaying other origins besides my main character and talking to friends, I’m beginning to realize just how open the game is, and how many possibilities there are for you to take.
Characters that appear just briefly in my playthrough as the human warrior turn out to have a huge role in the mage storyline. Had I played as a mage, some characters that were just trivial NPC players to my warrior character have their own back story. This is true for all the classes. In my friend’s game, Arl Howe is just a lackey for one of the main villains- in mine, he is the man that I thirst after for vengeance.
And that doesn’t even begin to take into account the choices your character can make, which is where Bioware has really made a name for itself. If you’re unaware, many Bioware games feature robust conversation systems that allow you to really take charge of your adventure, playing the game nearly however you want. The same is true for Dragon Age: Origins, and then some. Whereas previous games have only had 2-3 options to tackle the story’s issues (good, neutral, evil), Dragon Age: Origins lives in the shades of grey. There’s not always the clear cut “good” and “bad” choices, but rather 5-6 choices that are all equally tantalizing. As someone who lives on seeing every branch, this was completely maddening in the best way possible. One can imagine just why this game has 4 distinctly different endings. I’ve seen them all, and they rule.
I suppose I should get into how the game plays. While combat isn’t quite turn-based in this RPG, it isn’t exactly a pure action system. The swordplay and magic functions more like an MMO, inputting commands and waiting as your characters perform them on screen. You can swap between party members at will for real-time control if you want, or you can set some pretty detailed battle tactics to ensure that they do some fairly specific actions in the right situations. It’s definitely robust and complicated, and while it’s overwhelming at first and lacks a proper tutorial (shame on you Bioware), eventually you will master it and really enjoy the way battles play out. Let me just say that there’s nothing quite like the challenge of taking on a dragon in this game, and it’s just a blast.
If I had to get into negatives about the game, it would start with the length of a few of the dungeons. There are two dungeon quests in particular that will take about 4-5 hours each, making them quite the chore to get through just to see the next part of the story. I think the game would have benefited from having a few more story events, rather than artificially lengthening it out with tediously long dungeon crawling. That’s coming from a guy who loves dungeons, too.
Another negative would be the difficulty. While I didn’t find it to be bad, it would randomly throw a ridiculously hard normal encounter at you, and seemed to be unbalanced. In addition, the lack of a main character voiceover is a little startling at first, but eventually doesn’t really matter. And finally, the last negative I feel I must mention would be the game’s graphics, which are probably its lowest point (it must be noted here that I played on the 360, and I hear the PC version’s are better). I understand that Bioware felt the need to portray a realistic, gritty fantasy world, but it often comes across as uninteresting and bland. That being said, the character designs are neat, as well as the spell effects, character animations and superbly crafted cutscenes.
All in all, Dragon Age is a fantastic RPG with top-notch writing, lots of content, and an unbelievable variety of options and possibilities. If you’re into RPG’s at all, this game is worth checking out, and it’s easily in my list for one of the better games I’ve played this year.
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