The lights are on
As most people were just finishing their Mass Effect 1 playthroughs in 2008, they caught wind of another epic game entitled Dragon Age: Origins. First announced at E3 2004 as "Dragon Age", game developer Bioware, famed for games such as Baldur's Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, and Jade Empire, began a journey that would end in 2009 with the release of a new heroic legend. Dragon Age: Origins is a RPG with heroic fantasy elements, in a Tolkien-like world, filled with everything from humans, and elves, to ogres and dragons!
The games massive story, set in the mythical Ferelden, begins in one of six ways, called your "Origin story". Whether you begin as a human noble, dwarven commoner, etc is up to you, however it will affect your strategies in the battle, and how your companions/other NPCs treat you. Along with picking your origin, you choose a class with each race, such as a human noble warrior/rogue, human/elf magi, dwarven noble warrior, etc. Each of these pre-game choices determine your history leading up to the games start, and again, how NPCs treat your character, or who you know at the games start. No matter how the game starts, one way or another you draft into the Ancient Order of the Grey Wardens, destined to defend the land against the Darkspawn. They are orc-like creatures who follow a being known as the Archdemon, whom can only be defeated by the Grey Wardens. You eventually are given the quest to unite the different races of the country against this threat, giving you access to an open world, free to do the main objectives in any order you choose.
As you progress through the story, you level up as you would any other RPG. When you reach that point you receive points to level base attributes, a talent point (To upgrade archery, dual wielding, etc.) and every few levels you receive a skill point, used to upgrade special talents like coercion, stealing, trap-making, etc. Along with your base class, you can acquire specialization points, which allow you to not only have a rogue, but a rogue assassin, or rogue bard, each one having their own benefits/detriments. Another interesting feature of the game is how each of your actions, or even the order you do quests in has some sort of impact on the story. For example, in one instance you can come across a possessed NPC. You can either attempt to cure them yourself, or if you did a separate quest on the other side of the country for the magi, you could enlist their help. This really emphasizes the freedom you are given in how to explore the world.
The game feels right at home on a keyboard and mouse setup, and even allows you to quickly pause the game by freezing the screen to remove some pressure and do things such as manage your inventory, issue orders, or change characters. The origin stories serve as your tutorial, introducing you to the basic mechanics of the game, whether it be character interaction, managing equipment, and introduce various fighting styles. However one complication I found was when the game was introducing me to a mechanic know as "character tactics", which set how each character, when not controlled, would react in a battle. When you had just one character to set, it was relatively simple, however as you piled on all of the companion characters, with their own classes, and the respective spells/attacks, the mechanic became quite daunting, pushing me to not bother customizing them, and leave them on a default setting.
The real meat of the game next to the non-linear narrative is how you fight. As opposed to other action RPGs, the game pushes the pause and play mechanic, where as you enter a fight you can choose to pause the action, and assign buffs and attacks to either just your character, or the other members of the four person party. The pause feature helps in other ways such as altering weapon setups mid-battle, switching up who fights who depending on the character class, or using potions/healing spells. Though as much as they try to ease you through combat, for players new to the RPG genre, the sheer amount of options and strategy in combat are intimidating.
Running on Bioware's Eclipse engine, the graphics are not the best quality, however if your PC is able to run a smooth version of the game, the medium-high graphics selection will still deliver a fantastic experience. The environments are rich with detail, however when I entered encounters with a large amount of people the frame rate dipped, and although it was slight, I was able to notice it. The voice acting in the game is excellent, with many unique and memorable characters, whether it be the witty Allister, sly Zevran, or mysterious Morrigan. The atmospheric orchestral soundtrack is spectacular, and during special cutscenes, they blew me away! The music delivered the perfect amount of emotion, whether it be an action scene, or a romance scene.
The sheer amount of main story content could keep the average player busy for 50+ hours per playthrough! Coupled with the fact that there are six possible starting locations, adding in various classes, a non-linear story, side quest, this game could have 200+ hours of content. My first playthrough was 54 hours as a human noble warrior, with my second 52 hour playthrough as a dalish elven rogue being another completely unique experience (Do not even get me started on my third!). A long hundred and fifty (or so) hour story short, the replay value is very high.
Despite such an epic game, as stated the graphics are not perfect, the inventory system can become overwhelming to a player unfamiliar with a RPGs depth and the camera work can become pretty shoddy during encounters. During several encounters, the camera had trouble focusing on the character I was controlling at that moment. The camera would rotate to different angles, which was frustrating, also the game does not tell you that you are able to zoom in/out to get a new perspective on the field.
All minor errors aside, this is an enormous game to tackle, with the reward being worth it. Depending how you end the game (Yes there are all kinds of endings too!), you will be left craving more, or wondering, "Well what would happen if I did THIS first, or brought along that OTHER companion.” Many times during my playthroughs I would have to get pulled from the computer after five-hour playing sessions, because I would constantly want to "Just do one more quest" and I would just happen to find another quest along that road, or I would want to get enough gold to buy a certain sword. Dragon Age: Origins takes many themes and elements from all kinds of RPGs, combining them into one of this generations must-plays.
Nice review, this is still one of my favorite games of all time. The second one didnt get me hooked like this one, but it was still decent.