Dragon Age: Origins
Dragon Age is a spectacular experience from beginning to end
Editor's note: Will focused on the PC version for the bulk of this review, but after playing through both the 360 and PS3 version, he can safely note that the only real difference is in the basic control scheme and the game's user interface.
- Wonderfully detailed world, amazing story, memorable characters and party interaction
- Difficulty spikes are frustrating at times, slightly annoying inventory management, camera can get bogged down in the heat of battle
When we first saw Dragon Age at E3, we walked away sceptical, grumbling at the rough graphics and odd focus on character interactions that bordered on high school level drama. Compared to the butter smooth E3 demo for Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age looked like it would end up being the black sheep of the family. Well, shame on us for doubting the wizards at BioWare: they worked their magic and turned that early demo into another must-have masterpiece. Deep and engaging, it's sure to please any RPG fan looking for a long and satisfying adventure. Even better, it will keep us all busy until Mass Effect 2 comes out in 2010.
I remember rushing home from the Woodlands Mall in the winter of 1998, a saran-wrapped jewel case of Baldur's Gate plucked from the cluttered shelves of Electronic Boutique clutched tightly to my chest. I'd spend the following several months visiting my dad's house every weekend only to take advantage of his blazing fast 233 MHz PC as I furthered my quest to restore peace to the Sea of Swords. Fast forward to the modern day and I can't help but hesitate before I slip the Dragon Age DVD into my monolithic iBuyPower gaming PC.
My only real exposure to the title was a Marilyn Manson-infused trailer at Microsoft's over-crowded E3 press conference; my mind was pre-occupied by a lack of sleep and my stomach's refusal of an overpriced convention burrito. With BioWare's wonderfully epic line of fantasy RPG's firmly engraved into my precious, if amazingly geeky childhood (I'd once owned, read and re-read the official Baldur's Gate 2: Shadow's of Amn novelization, for Bhaal's sake) there was no denying that, at least in my mind, Dragon Age: Origins had plenty to live up to. But after playing through much of Dragon Age, it's clear that Bioware has once again struck RPG gold. It's a fantastic title, one that more than lives up to the incredibly high bar that the company has already set not only for itself but for the genre as a whole.
Dragon Age: Origins begins as many typical Western role playing experiences do: with the creation of a unique player avatar. Where this would regularly consist of flipping through a few pre-set character templates, selecting a color palette and rounding it all off with a few attributes and skill points, Dragon Age asks players to take a more personal approach by also selecting an origin for your character. Oh, sure, we've all done that before: you pick an upbringing, get a few bonus perks depending on the text and jump into the same action that would unfold regardless of my background, right? Not quite. Stepping into the nimble shoes of a city elf for my initial playthrough I was soon introduced to the brutality, poverty and discrimination that my pointy-eared protagonist was forced to endure on a daily basis. Two hours later, I had made close friends, lost loved ones, and vowed revenge against the tyrannical rule of those who would dare treat my kind like second class citizens. It was only when I was approached by Duncan of the Grey Wardens and asked to join the battle against the Darkspawn blight did it dawn on me: the game hadn't even started yet! BioWare has never been known for sparing expenses when it comes to immersing their audience in a unique and engrossing lore, and Dragon Age is no exception.
Ferelden is a living, breathing kingdom packed with its own distinct citizens, customs, religions and legends. Even though it may share the same "swords, dragons and dungeons" surface known to so many fantasy adventures, Dragon Age: Origins sets itself apart from the masses at almost every turn as a wholly unique experience with its inimitable characters and defining environments. From the war-torn refuge of Lothering to the wondrous Dwarven city of Orzammar, I was constantly taken aback by the attention to detail in the game's impressive architecture and design. Whether it's trekking through sprawling gothic towers or trading stories at a cozy pub, every shred of scenery contributes to the game's incredibly rich world, especially given the fact that you can make such an impact on it as you progress through the game.
Not Just a Dungeon Crawler
Dragon Age: Origins boasts a typical RPG interface that shouldn't be hard for fans of the genre to become accustomed to. The bulk of the game is played from a third-person street view similar to that of Knights of the Old Republic, but players are also given the option to pull back for a more traditional overhead view at any time. Combat, which makes up a rather large part of Dragon Age, is turn-based affair that allows players to jump from each member of their party at will, micro-managing your warriors by assigning specific attacks, spells and buffs to each one. The option to pause your battles, rotate the map and better plot out your strategy is a simple but invaluable ability and is even more effective thanks to the game's Tactics options, which allows players to set up various rules of engagement for your party's stellar AI. The camera can get slightly cluttered down during the more hectic battles, and coupled with the game's rewarding, yet occasionally frustrating difficulty spikes, I found it incredibly important to pay as much attention as humanly (elvenly?) possible to every minor factor and occurrence in my countless skirmishes. While encounters can border on the unfair at times, it only makes your victories that much more gratifying when you decapitate or disembowel a foe with one of the game's delightfully brutal finishers.
Re-reading what I've written here, I honestly feel like I've barely scratched the surface of what Dragon Age: Origins has to offer, and in a way, I'm glad I'm not able to give too much away. Dragon Age is a spectacular experience from beginning to end, and with an enormous amount of choices to make, cities to visit, dungeons to crawl, NPCs to interact with, treasure to find, quests to complete and crafts to master, I feel pretty confident in saying that Dragon Age: Origins is, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable and immersive RPG experiences I've had since my Infinity Engine days. BioWare has crafted a spectacular journey with Dragon Age, and an unforgettable fantasy realm that's sure to resonate with fantasy and adventure fans the world over.
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