Review: Dragon Age Origins
Since the release of Baldur’s Gate in 1998, Bioware cemented themselves as one of the top CRPG developers. With the continued success of Neverwinter Nights, they continued to show the world just how good they were. Then all of a sudden, Bioware ventured into the console world with successful games such as Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire, before venturing even further down the path and creating a shooter game called Mass Effect. Now years away from their roots, Bioware has come back to try and reinvigorate a now very niche genre.
Dragon Age: Origins is Bioware’s newest project, and it goes back to being a CRPG in every sense of the word. The story starts with you creating a character, and depending on your race and class, you will be able to choose one of the six origin stories. These stories all lead to you to becoming a Grey Warden. Grey Wardens are people who defend the world against the Darkspawn, a race of creatures that were made out of human hate (or so the story says). Every now and then, a Blight appears, led by an Archdemon who commands the Darkspawn to attack the rest of the world. And as a Grey Warden, it’s your job to end this Blight.
The game plays like a standard CRPG, full of hotbars and endless clicking. While they do keep a lot of the classes and skills simple, the battles themselves can take a lot of time to get used to. If you’re one of the people who like to control every party member, then the pause-and-play becomes a necessity in this genre. While it plays like this on a PC, it is a bit different on the consoles. The best example of how this game plays on the consoles would probably be Knights of the Old Republic. Much like in that game, you mainly control one character and can swap between them with the shoulder buttons. You use the face pad to initiate an attack and assign skills to other face buttons. While you can’t assign all your characters’ skills to the face buttons, they use a radial menu system to access your other skills and a bunch of other commands. The game does of good job of streamlining a bunch of necessary menu functions from PC to console, but there is nothing better than having all your skills at your disposal with your keyboard.
The AI does a good enough job on its own, but if you want to micromanage your characters without constantly pausing to assign commands, then you should know that the game comes with its own unique AI commands. Each character has a certain amount of command slots that the player can use to assign certain tasks to that character. For example; you can tell a character to attack the lowest level enemy, use a health potion once their health reaches below 25% , or use a certain attack/buff if they are surrounded. It can get pretty crazy with all the command tactics you can assign to each of your characters. While I never fully dabbled in all of it, I just made sure that they would heal themselves and they did a pretty good job of doing that.
Just like every Bioware game nowadays, the game isn’t exactly given to you in a linear fashion. The basic premise is that you have to enter certain areas to get help from different people to face the Blight. Each group has its own problems you must solve before you can move forward. The story isn’t anything spectacular, but keeps you motivated to go from area to area.
While the story isn’t totally original, what makes the game more interesting are the choices given in the different scenarios. In any given area, you’re given a choice whether to side with one person or another. While we have all had our fair share of these kinds of mechanics in the past, what makes it so great is that it doesn’t tell you which is good or bad. In fact, there is nothing to indicate what kind of character you are, so you are left in a world full of greys. Instead of knowing which is the good choice and bad one and choosing from there, the game goes more for who would you rather choose.
The audio is as you would expect from this game. With solid voice acting and a few famous cameos, the world is brought to life. Even some of the random banter between your party members adds more character to them. The music in this game is solid throughout, though at times can sound a bit too Lord of The Ringsish. One of the problems I had with the music in past Bioware games is that it never seemed to know when to stop the music during battles. In Dragon Age, they seemed to know when to end it, though the timing is still not so great. Much like a lot of action games nowadays, after you defeat hordes and hordes of enemies, you’re given some sort of noise to tell you that all the enemies are defeated. In Dragon Age they have this weird musical transition indicated that the battle is over. It’s a lot like what they had in KOTOR but a lot more frequent, so it does get a bit annoying after a while.
Dragon Age has been pegged as a big game, a game that would take a massive amount of time to beat. And while that may be true, it’s only because of just how long you are dungeon crawling. Each dungeon seems to go on and on without giving proper notice as to when it’s going to end. In some cases, the one dungeon will lead to another and another. And each dungeon has a ton of enemies for you to defeat. It starts to feel like a chore, and if you’re playing this on the consoles it almost becomes a CRPG version of a hack–and-slash style game. This isn’t exactly a good thing.
The game itself looks fine. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with it, but it just does enough. The game suffers from the talking head syndrome of old. If you’re like me and like to talk to as many people as possible, then whenever you get into the hundreds of dialogue branches in the game, it all looks the same, with a character continuously talking with no real action going on. Not a lot of hand movements, camera cuts or any real interaction between the characters. It’s a bit of give and take because there is a lot of dialogue, so there have to be some shortcomings in the production values. Though Dragon Age does have its moments of epic scaled battles, they come so few and far in between that it doesn’t really amount to anything.
As I stated before, this game is a CRPG. And while the console versions do a good job of porting over a lot of those mechanics, you won’t fully understand just why this is so much better than the Dungeons & Dragons system of old. Instead of worrying about resting, memorizing spells or even trying to understand the rather complicated crafting system of the D&D universe, Dragon Age opts for a more simplified version that is almost reminiscent to what World of Warcraft has. Cool down queues, and restorative health after battles lets you worry more about mana/health chugging and watching out for scripted events during battles. Crafting is also much more simplified. Instead of using the crafting table and putting all items on the table, it becomes a simple menu command that tells you if you have the needed materials to create the item you want and then you press create. Sure, you can’t create your own magical armour but it’s a hit I was willing to take to easily create much needed health/mana potions.
This wouldn’t be a CRPG without it being rather difficult, and I can tell you that even on normal I was always afraid that I would lose a battle, only to barely make it out with just one party member still standing. If you’re new to this genre, I would say stick to easy, as even that could provide a bit of a challenge.
Dragon Age: Origins is one hell of a game, and it doesn’t come without some problems. But because it’s so huge and brings a much needed boost to a stale genre, it’s easy to be forgiving for some of its flaws. Even if one of them is dungeon crawling for an hour and a half. Moving away from the D&D rule set and creating their own universe was probably the best move for Bioware.
|Title:||Dragon Age: Origins|
|Platforms:||Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360|
|Developers:||BioWare Shadows in Darkness, Inc. Edge of Reality, Ltd.|