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Score: 8.5/10 (9/10 for PC)
Dragon Age: Origins
Release Date: Nov 3, 2009
Pros: Incredible Replay Value, Interesting Story and Characters, Unique experience for each player, Strategic Combat that varies upon party members, +40 hours of content
Cons: Slight frame rate issues, Graphically nothing to write home about, Ability wheel and targeting take time to navigate on consoles
Bioware is no newcomer when it comes to creating solid RPGs. Some of the best experiences I've had in an RPG have come straight from Bioware (Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, etc). It makes sense that Dragon Age: Origins would also be another solid title to add to their already impressive collection.
What is great about this game is that the story depends on the player. You choose a gender/race/class and one of 6 backgrounds. Each of these backgrounds has a different beginning to the game. It's like World of Warcraft in a sense, you'll start in your own unique setting but eventually end up where everyone else will go.
Regardless of your choice, you are selected by the Grey Wardens, a group of fighters whose sole purpose is to end the blight. Evil orc-like creatures known as the Darkspawn are overrunning the land. Nobody knows their true origin, but it's up to you to amass an army of races and destroy the leader of the blight, the Archdemon. Of course, the plot is a lot more complicated than this and there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. The best part is how the story is shaped around your actions. When it comes to a solid story, Bioware does not disappoint.
I'll admit that I was worried when I heard Marilyn Manson on the teaser vids, I questioned whether this game would be littered with guitar riffs every time I entered a battle. Luckily the soundtrack proves to be as epic as the story. With a pure symphony in the background as you slash your way through darkspawn, you are drawn into the game even more.
The voice acting is another strong point of Dragon Age. You will meet hundreds of different characters in this game, and each one is given a personality all their own. This game relies pretty heavily on spoken dialogue, and Bioware was able to deliver solid voice talent for the respective roles. Truly shining moments include when your party members banter back and forth with each other as you wander around the cities. Claudia Black (Chloe from Uncharted 2), Steve Valentine (Harry Flynn from Uncharted 2), even Simon Templeton (Kain from Legacy of Kain series) throw their talent into some of the more important characters flawlessly.
This is an area where Dragon Age: Origins does not truly shine, but is easily forgiven considering the amount of content. Most of the textures that you see are a little behind the times. There are very few pre-rendered cut scenes, all the events you watch happen in real-time. This is great for a quick switch between a deep conversation and battle, but on the moments that you simply watch a scene unfold you might find yourself distracted by little things.
It's the environments and character models that truly make up for the lacking textures. The worlds and environments you visit are incredible in detail, from underground dwarven cities to dreary swamps. Of particular mention, is "The Fade", a dark realm strewn with a ghostly ambiance and disfigured landscape. The enemies you encounter are truly detailed and Darkspawn possess intimidating features. Weapons, armor, and spells are also displayed well, shimmering in the light and illuminating dark caverns. As an added bonus, if you are in the fight you will find your character covered in blood...it's the little things like this that help you overlook the fact that this game is not nearly as polished as others.
Dragon Age follows closely to the Knights of the Old Republic gameplay. You issue commands to your party and they follow suit. You tell them where to stand, what to attack, and what spell/ability to use and watch as it is played out. Afterward, you loot the fallen enemy for goodies. Simple right?..not at later stages. Though forgiving in the beginning, Dragon Age encourages you think on your feet, using appropriate tactics for each situation. Constantly you will ask yourself questions like; Should I attack the mage or archer first? Should I take the boss out or minions and THEN the boss? Should I keep a rogue in my party for locked chests or go with a Shapeshifter? It's questions like these that make Dragon Age so great, finding a working method for the party you choose.
Gameplay is mixed further by the various classes. The basic three are Warrior/Mage/Rogue. However these classes are expanded on to find a specialty. Mages, for example, can become spirit healers (your party healer), shapeshifters (morphing into various animals), or even blood mages (dark and powerful arts). The variety available allows for some interesting and unique party assemblies.
My problem with the gameplay, lies only in the console version. In the PC version, you are given a large bar for a slew of abilities to hotkey. This makes issuing commands fast, simply clicking an enemy and then an ability. With the console version, you are only able to hotkey 6 commands to the face buttons (Using the R trigger to alternate between them). This is fine on early levels, but as you progress this can become problematic when you gain more abilities. The console version contains a "wheel" that you must navigate through to find the spell/ability you didn't hotkey, taking you out of the action. This is further made frustrating by the targeting system, which you must cycle through all enemies on the field with the D-Pad, whereas the PC is simply a click.
Something I did not expect to affect the game play as much is your choices outside the fighting. You are placed in numerous social situations in which the dialogue option you choose affects the events to follow. There is no morality gauge on this game that rates whether you are good or evil. Instead, it's your choices that influence your party. Deciding to help a beggar may appeal to some members of your party, but not others. You gain favor for some and lose it for another. If your party likes you enough, they may be influenced to boost their magic/attack/etc. Even their presence in your party affects how easy it is to complete a quest. For example, I had one instance where I was trying to have a murderer freed. I pleaded with the woman on one game to no avail, yet when I had a member of the chantry in my party they trusted me and granted his release. It's small things like this that truly makes the game unique: The possibility to avoid fights/finish quests with ease simply based on how I stand with my party members.
Despite a step back in graphics and the dreaded console ability wheel, Dragon Age still gives a solid RPG experience. Though Knights of the Old Republic still reigns high on my list, Dragon Age is not far behind. With over +40 hours of content it's a lot of fun with a huge world to explore. Chances are if you are a fan of KotOR, you will love this title. If the option is available, I would get this game for PC for the best experience.
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