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Dragon Age: Origins

BioWare`s Old School RPG Is Off To A Good Start
by Jeff Marchiafava on Sep 29, 2009 at 04:49 PM
Platform PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Publisher Electronic Arts
Developer BioWare
Rating Mature

BioWare has been good to RPG fans over the years, with games like Mass Effect and Jade Empire. But for players that prefer elves and orcs to aliens and kung fu, it’s been a long wait for a more traditional, D&D-style adventure. With Dragon Age’s release just a few months away, the wait is almost over. After some more hands-on time with the PC version, it seems all of BioWare’s hard work is ready to pay off.

The most impressive aspect of Dragon Age thus far is BioWare’s continually refined storytelling abilities. Usually, the more narrative freedom a game offers players, the more diluted that story becomes, with generic cutscenes and a series of isolated plot points. Dragon Age seems like a prime candidate for such a problem, with its six different introductions to the game via the Origin stories and the continued effects that your race and class choices have on your interactions with NPCs – not to mention the innumerable decisions you make throughout the game. But in our time with Dragon Age, something strange happened; BioWare somehow kept the plot potent, the characters unique, and cutscenes cinematic – all to a level usually reserved for highly linear games. We’ve yet to see everything Dragon Age has to offer, but ultimately the game’s biggest success might be the balance between telling you a story and letting you meaningfully affect that story with the choices you make.

Which is not to say that the gameplay disappoints; although combat seems deceptively simple at first, the complexity multiplies as you unlock new talents (moves) and acquire items. Battle Tactics add another layer to the strategy, allowing you to select basic behavior patterns for party members or script your own individual actions. This helps take advantage of spell combos, and allows for you to tweak your approach for specific skirmishes.

Trust us, it all comes in handy; some of the enemies you face are as cunning as they are dastardly, employing traps, ambushes, and powerful spells. The game successfully endows a real sense of survival. The first few missions we played outside of the main camp not only left our party (and gaming ego) mortally wounded, but imparted a sense of urgency to get back to safety so they could rest and recover – and to give us a break from the tense and tactically heavy battles. While the combat can feel overwhelming at times, health and stamina quickly regenerate after battles, and a forgiving autosave staves off any feeling of frustration. So far Dragon Age has just been *** fun. Check out our timeline on the right, and prepare yourself; the adventure starts November 3rd.

Dragon Age: An Introduction
Your time in the first hours of Dragon Age depends entirely on the character you choose. Here’s what happened in our first few hours of play:

Hour 1: We make our character, a warrior with the human nobleman origin. It isn’t an easy choice; each race has a unique place in Dragon Age that affects your experience long after your Origin story plays out. Some tweaks to the standard set of facial features left us with decently distinguished character, rather than the abominations customization sliders usually result in. After wading through the plethora of skills and talents available, we take our first steps in the world of Dragon Age around our father’s castle.

Hour 2: We acquire our first party member, a Mabari hound who was terrorizing our long-time nanny in the pantry. We name the dog Barf, and fight our first fight against – what else – a pack of giant rats. When mom asks how it went, we can’t help but select, “Nan’s head exploded and my hound ate the kitchen staff.” Fans of the jerk dialogue option won’t be disappointed with Dragon Age.

Hour 3: All hell breaks loose as enemies storm the castle. The cinematics and voice acting are top notch, but the voiceless main character is distracting. Combat requires thoughtful consideration; we set Barf’s behavior to “Aggressive,” and teach him to attack enemies knocked down with our “Shield Bash” move. The combination works well. Our Origin story is complete – time for revenge!

Hour 4: Duncan – a Grey Warden we met earlier – introduces us to his apprentice, Alistair, and King Cailan. All of the characters seem complex; it’s hard to tell who’s good or bad, and how much is affected by our character. We’re given a mission in preparation for our induction into the Grey Wardens, which requires a journey into the Korcari Wilds.

Hour 5: We face our first formidable foe. A Hurlock Emissary leads us into a group of bear traps outside his camp, and we are slaughtered in the ensuing ambush. A change in approach – using our bows to pin down and pick off foes from a distance – ultimately leads to victory. Fallen warriors are revived after battles, but suffer persistent injuries that penalize stats. By the end of the mission one member is deafened, one has a cracked skull, and another has head trauma.

Hour 6: We meet Morrigan – holy cleavage! After becoming a member of the Grey Wardens, we battle more Dark Spawn. We have to change Barf’s “Aggressive” behavior; he was charging into battle like Leeroy Jenkins, and got the party killed more than once. We defeat my first Genlock Emissary, an enemy skilled in magic. Alistair finishes him with a special death blow, slicing his head clean off. We continue on, knowing these are just the first steps of our journey.

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Dragon Age: Origins

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
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