Review—Dragon Age: Origins

8 06 2010

Yeah, I know it’s an old game now, but I wrote this a while back when I decided to be a real-life blogger. Take it for what it is. –Dustin

 

Dragon Age: Orgins might have the least original name for an RPG since Kill Mans with Swords, and there’s not too much new here in terms of fantasy elements: elves have long hair and bows, dwarves are short and carry axes, and orcs—ahem, hemlocks—pillage the land. Beyond that, however, this game is all originality (see what I did there?)

Bioware’s latest epic follows in its predecessors’ footsteps in giving the player a fantastic story wrapped in perfect role-playing mechanics. You take on the role of a Grey Warden, one of a long line of heroes tasked with protecting the land of Ferelden from the demonic Darkspawn hoard. After being betrayed by a powerful enemy, you’re tasked with uniting the various factions of the kingdom to take out—you guessed it—a giant dragon.

If you’ve played a Bioware game before, you know what to expect in the presentation: dialog trees and cut scenes that change based on the choices you make. And, yes, you can choose to be a noble hero or a bonafied bad-ass. But don’t think it’s as easy as “here’s a puppy: do you want to pet it or kick it?” In this game you’ll see nothing but shades of gray. Which flawed dwarven king will you support? Is the elf who asks you to help save his villagers hiding sins of his own? Only through multiple playthroughs will you learn the entire story of the Warden.

Where the story really shines, though, is through your party members. Not just silent attackers, your comrades have their own agendas and opinions on what goes on. Please them and they’ll fight to the end of the world for you, but piss them off and they’ll leave… or attack you outright. And none of them are left on the airship in this game—you’ll want to play with everyone, if only to learn more of their backstory or hear them banter with one another as you walk through towns.

All of them can be legitimately funny: from the wisecracking-rookie-cum-hero to the RPG-cliché-noticing-hermit-witch to the I-got-nothing-to-say-so-I’ll-brood-monosyllabically warrior, each character has moments that will make you laugh. And don’t be surprised if some of the characters turn out to be something other than what they seem—and if the things you do influence them to embrace a different attitude.

And, of course, there are more intimate rewards if you please certain party members. The romances aren’t just races toward a sex scene in this game. In Origins you actually maintain a relationship with a significant other or two, and watch that relationship grow and even affect the ending of the game if you play your cards right.

Of course, we aren’t talking about a movie here. What’s a game without solid mechanics? Dragon Age: Origins is played out in modern RPG fashion, with real time battles that you can pause to issue commands to your party members. The game’s three classes play differently enough to warrant multiple playthroughs (as if the branching story wouldn’t do that on its own) and you’ll spend countless hours searching for loot and solving sidequests.

The game isn’t perfect, however. The difficulty can vary wildly from room to room, going from a cakewalk to a nightmare with no warning (read: save often). This is made all the tougher by the fact that revival magic for fallen comrades is extremely hard to come by, and can be missed altogether in a single playthrough. The inventory system is serviceable, but takes some getting used to. The games looks about as good as Mass Effect (1)—which was a good-looking game four years ago. And in an RPG where everything you do has consequences, why is there no final moment with your significant other?

These are just a few fine points, however. In general you have a rock-solid game with a fantastic cast of characters, killer voice acting, hours of varied side quests, and a story that’ll keep you coming back for more (which is good, as the game has a two-year DLC plan). What more do you look for in an RPG?

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