Please Rate This Review: Dragon Age Origins
Dragon Age Origins: Does it Drag on?
-By Charlie Cook
High:40+ hours of exceptional dragon slaying, fireball throwing, demon seducing rpg goodness. Bioware at it's finest.
Low: Inexplicably powerful persuade ability can make for abrupt and unrealistic conversations. "These are not the Grey Wardens you are looking for"
WTF: The actual source of the dark spawn is, unsettling to say the least.
Set in the savage world of Ferelden Dragon Age Origins continues Bioware's lineage of triple A titles and is as close of a spiritual successor to their acclaimed Bauldur's Gate series as one could hope for. As a result many of the strengths and weaknesses of the aforementioned series remain intact. Expect to bargain with demons, take a hand in the political intrigue of noble families and make decisions that will drastically alter the world around you It's everything previous Bioware fantasy RPG's have offered and more. If you're a long time Bioware fan you won't be disappointed. If you're new to the genre or expecting Mass Effect with swords however the experience may not be what you hoped for..
At first glance the realm of Ferelden will seem familiar to most fantasy rpg veterans. It's filled with the usual dwarves, elves, demons and the usual ilk. What sets Dragons Age apart are the subtle tweaks to the common fantasy mythos that make Ferelden a world worth exploring. The Dwarves are the usual underground society with an inborn ability to forge weapons and armor, but theirs is also a world of political intrigue, assassination and a rigid caste system that is also blessedly free of the stereotypical Scottish accent. Elves are present, pointy eared and long lived, but the elves of Dragons Age are a downtrodden and scattered race. Recently freed from enslavement to the humans their one time proud culture lies in ruin and many of the game's elves live a meager existence as servants or waste away in the crowded elven slums facing racism and prejudice from the humans they live along side. Bioware has created a world with a rich mature mythology that is more than unique enough to keep you interested.
The story of Dragon Age revolves around defeating the oncoming blight, a growing legion of Darkspawn lead by an unearthed Archdemon that twist the very land they walk upon into corruption. The Darkspawn themselves are the descendants of an order of mages who attempted to storm the city of the gods and in the process permanently tainted both the city and themselves twisting their race into a dark mockery of humanity. Shortly into the game you are indoctrinated into the Grey Wardens. A ancient order of warriors whom alone possess the key to defeating the Arch Demon and driving the blight back underground.
Unfortunately for the Grey Wardens it has been centuries since the last blight emerged and the threat it represents to the world has faded from most civilization's memories. It is the job of the Grey Wardens to unite the various factions of Ferelden against the blight and most of the story revolves around this goal.
The method of accomplishing this task will vary greatly depending the choices you make. It is possible to play through the game as a callous bastard destroying lives and putting entire towns to the torch in the name of the greater good. Whether you play as a paragon of virtue or a coercive hard ass you will ultimately still be the hero. The lack of a morality bar is a bold move that allows for a much more organic adventure. It frees players to base their decisions on the situation rather than locking themselves into a good or bad play through. That's not to say that there isn't plenty of devilish fun to be had if you're so inclined. Dragons age plays out in a dark world where the choices you make are more shades of gray than clear cut good or evil. Often times you will be surprised by the outcome of what on the surface may have seemed the right choice.
One feature of Dragons Age that sets it apart from other rpgs is the origin system. The race, class and social status picked in character creation lead you into one of several unique origin stories For example elves can end up as a city elf, Dalish elf or mage. These origins average about 2-3 hours long and serve as both an introduction to the game and a short vignette displaying one aspect of the game's lore. In particular the dwarven noble origin is likely to become a fan favorite. It is incredibly polished and really makes you feel like a privileged noble, want that scholar executed for looking at you? Go for it. Are those common folk too dirty to speak to directly? That's what your right hand man is for. Up for knocking some heads in? You're royalty, just barge right into the arena. The choice is yours.
Each origin story alters the course of the game, generally in dialogue choices or how quests play out, and many of them have recurring characters unique to each. While the origin stories are a great feature as the game progresses references to your origins do tend take a backseat until the climax. A greater impact on the story would have been welcome.
Like most Bioware games dialogue plays a huge role. Conversations are handled in Neverwinter Nights fashion with the player choosing from a list of dialogue options. How conversations pan out ultimately effects the outcome of most of the plot decisions with multiples paths and quests available. All npcs are fully voiced and discerning ears will notice some celebrity cameos and familiar voices along the way. The voice acting is exceptionally well done. The quality voice talent allows Bioware to really push the tension in dramatic moments and sprinkle in plenty of humor along the way.
There are two complaints with the way dialogue in Dragons Age works however. For one the persuade ability common to Bioware rpgs is poorly handled. Periodically in conversations a dialogue option will appear to attempt to persuade the npc. These generally involve gaining a bigger reward or talking yourself out of a fight. The problem is that not only is the ability so effective it never fails, but that in almost every case one line of dialogue is all that is needed to completely change the mind of the character involved.
Individuals you've wronged that are out for revenge with give up with a simple “are you sure you want to do that,” soldiers working for enemy generals will completely shift allegiances with your shockingly diplomatic one liners, storm troopers will decide that these are in fact, not the droids they're looking for. The worst part is that there are options of saying almost the exact same thing that will get you out of a fight, but since they don't have the persuade tag next to them they don't work. It's not such a big issue when you're just threatening bandits to get out of your way but as the game goes on there are situations where the party members involved may genuinely have a reason to abhor your actions, you can almost always keep them happy with essentially a “come on man he was asking for it”. The persuade option is essentially just an I win button for certain situations. It's not a huge issue but it does become fairly ridiculous at points.
The other, much more forgivable complaint is that the groundbreaking conversation style used in Mass Effect is absent from the game. This is understandable considering that Dragons Age was in development at the same time as Mass Effect but there is no denying that many of the more exciting conversation set pieces would benefit from a fully voiced player character and the more cinematic approach used in Mass Effect and fans expecting the same experience could be disappointed.
Combat in Dragons Age is incredibly visceral and satisfying. Critical hits can send limbs and heads flying, bosses are finished in flashy and bloody fashion. Spells can be combined to create unique effects such as igniting ground hit by a grease spell with a fireball or shattering a frozen opponent. The action plays out in real time but with a push of a button individual orders can be issued to party members.
The AI is a bit of a mixed bag, enemy's utilize a wide variety of abilities and can be quite challenging on harder difficulties, which I would recommend playing on if you have much rpg experience. Party members function fairly well but when fighting more taxing opponents with lots of area of effect attacks you'll likely find yourself frustrated when you notice your group mates standing in the fire.
Each character in your group can be programed to follow basic orders on their own depending on the situation. For example you can set your tank to intercept enemies attacking your mage, or your rogues to shank enemy archers. Creating tactic settings eventually becomes fairly complicated as your party gains more abilities and spells and can be frustrating on occasion but for the most part they'll get the job done.
The graphics of Dragons Age aren't going to be dropping many jaws, the characters and spell effects are nice enough and there are a fair amount of impressive set pieces but the general look of environments aren't particularly exciting when put alongside other recent titles. That does little to detract from the world Bioware has crafted as the music and storytelling more than makes up for the average graphics.
The music in particular is worth taking note of, Bioware have outdone themselves in creating an atmospheric sound track that will pull you into the world of Ferelden from the moment you hear the title song. Dragons Age has with out a doubt crafted one of the most powerful musical scores to grace an rpg in years.
While there are a few minor hiccups in the experience Dragons Age will certainly impress rpg fans and newcomers alike. With a fantastically woven plot, a vibrant and believable cast of characters and a fluid combat system few will be disappointed. Add that to the likely 40-60 hours of game play complete with branching paths and multiple story arcs begging to be replayed differently and Bioware has created one of the finest rpgs in recent memory.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 80 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 2 times) there is no multiplayer component.
Parents: There is a good amount of blood and violence as well as the occasionally scantily clad demon. Mature themes are used fairly often in the game. If you wouldn't let your child watch an R rated action flick you likely will not want them playing this game.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Full subtitles are available and easy to read.