Review: Dragon Age Origins

Dragon Age: Origins is BioWare’s latest escapade into the famed role-playing genre. A genre they (arguably) introduced into the mainstream. No one could have meshed together massive entities like the fantastic Star Wars universe, with turn-based and very nerdy, DnD-esque rules, giving us 2003’s -award winning- The Knights of the Old Republic. So it’s no surprise I’ve been eagerly anticipating Dragon Age’s release. Such expectations can obviously mean a high bar of approval, but I took a deep breath, put the disc in my console of choice, and tried my best to come into the experience with an open mind and realistic expectations.

Genre: Third-person role-playing
Platforms: PC, Mac, PS3, Xbox 360. (Reviewed using PS3)
Players: 1
Rating: Mature
Developer: BioWare, Edge of Reality
Publisher: Electronic Arts

Like most games of the genre, you start your adventure by forging the protagonist. Thankfully the options are well varied. About 10-20 hair options, an assortment of eye colors, 3 races, 3 classes, and in-depth facial customization not unlike that of Oblivion’s or Fight Night’s character creation. I immediately tried to make the most horrendous Dwarf man I could. Once I created a face not even a mother could love, the game makes you choose your class. Being a Dwarf, magic was not available to me, so I settled with being a warrior. Dwarfs and axes go to together like pie and whipped cream, I thought. After you’re finished with that, you are thrust into an exceptionally detailed background story, which is dependent on what class and race you picked. e.g. Human warrior’s start off as a nobleman in their own castle, whereas Elven warriors begin as commoners in the capital city. Each origin story sets the narrative up and introduces the player to the rules of the world. The background system is also the most original implementation in the entire game.

Make no mistake, Dragon Age is as dialog heavy as they come. Since this is the same guys who did KOTOR and Mass Effect, I’d expect nothing less. It certainly helps the immersion affect when you get to pick just how to converse with the world’s inhabitants. Without being too black and white. You can still be a massive jerk if you want, or a goody two-shoes, but I thoroughly enjoyed the wider gray area presented in the dialog options. It made me feel as if my own personality could reflect my playing style and character much more. Besides, isn’t that the point of an RPG? To role-play?

The Combat I have a real problem with however, you hit the attack button, and wait til either you or your adversary fall over. The game’s loading screens did encourage me to set traps and strategize, but it’s largely a waste of time playing on the default difficulty setting. Only on the game’s few bosses, does it seem to be worth the effort. Why waste precious experience points on poison making or trap setting when I can dump it in strength and beat my opponent with just pressing the attack button? There’s no real encouragement for experimentation within the battle system besides some advocating loading screens. It’s a shame too, because I WANT to be a badass stealthy rogue, taking out my foes before they even know I depleted their health bar. But I can’t, because it would mean crouch-walking gruelingly slowly through the various dungeons, and who wants to do that besides the most hardcore among us?

Yes, there's lots of blood.

Thankfully the story telling is where Dragon Age shines magnificently. The main plot, side-quests, and character backstories, are phenomenal for gaming standards. Ultimately it’s you saving the world, yeah, blah blah blah, but the way you go about that, presents so many clever twists and turns and revelations that I’ll forgive the narrative. Besides, open-ended stories are kinda rare. I would’ve liked to of cared more about the fictional world, and all it’s fictional people, but the colorful cast you’ll meet along your adventures, help paint the experience. This is never more true when you listen to some of the voice acting. Which for the most part, is raw and teeming with emotion.

“So it’s an RPG? Yeah we get that, but how long is it!?”. Well I did a good number of side-quests, and it took me 30 hours (approx). And I’m a pretty slow player. There are 4 characters in total to have romances with, if you choose to do so. 2 men and 2 women, and depending on your relationship status with them, the ending will change accordingly. I would explain more of that, but this is a game I rather not spoil for anyone. It’s a fine RPG in it’s own right, but the formula is getting stale.

Rating: 4/5

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