BioWare is a company known for their RPGs. Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Neverwinter Nights and the Baldur’s gate series. Their last console title was Mass Effect, a game that was more shooter than RPG, but a good game none the less. Dragon Age: Origins is a game that returns to BioWare’s RPG roots, focusing on hardcore fantasty RPG elements. It’s published by EA for the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. The difference between the PC and the console versions are said to be many so I’ll be reviewing the console one, namely the Xbox 360.
A big staple for most RPGs is a strong storyline, which Dragon Age does not really have. The story focuses around a rather overused plot involving a grave threat and the last of a group of people who are only hope the world has of stopping them. Despite the unoriginal story the game is written rather well in that there are some really strong focuses through out the game’s story. The game creates a really grim world in a beautiful fantasy title. People starving to death in most of the major cities, racism at nearly every turn, and betrayal around every corner.
While the story itself isn’t entirely original what is very well done is the character development and the origin openings. While you have some really over used character archtypes, like the chaste knight or the drunk dwarven warrior, BioWare does a great job of writing the dialogue for all of the characters giving you a real strong emotional connection with the characters or just some funny back and forth between the characters.
The game features three character classes, four specializations per class further in the game, three races, and six origin stories. Each character origin is of particular interest because they’re all entirely unique openings. A Dwarf noble and a Dwarf commoner might start in the same city, but their stories vary quite differently from the start and will effect the dialogue and some of the quests from beginning to end. This makes playing through the game multiple times more worth it to experience every story, especially when the smallest change in action can create a butterfly effect through out the rest of the game.
The gameplay is as unlike Mass Effect as you can get. Dragon Age is an RPG in every sense, with elements foreign to some gamers but perhaps not so much to people who have played DnD. Every ability or talent is effected by in game physical checks and the such, things I’ve only really learned about recently about thanks to the Order of the Stick. There are several stats, each more effective for some classes than the other, not really of anything new there.
The combat with in the game boils down to something that feels extremely similar to KotOR or Jade Empire. You control one character at a time and can change to others in your party. To set up moves in battle you can either create tactics, a set of if-then statements that dictate what the game tells your computer controlled teammates to do in battles, or pause the gameplay for a brief moment to set up actions in the immediate future. It’s very well streamlined into the game, but can take a bit to get used to on the Xbox 360, especially with the hit and miss targeting system.
One of my favorite changes to the game from past BioWare games is the changes to the team character story progression and the morality system. Character story progression in past BioWare games usually only happens if you take a person with you through out a majority of the game. In Dragon Age taking a player with you is entirely up to you as a majority of the character progression can take place through giving gifts to them, allowing for approval to rise rather quickly regardless of how often you use them.
The morality system in the game is unlike other BioWare games in the past in that there really isn’t one. There’s no cut and dry good or evil bar in the game, just your choices as you see fit to use them. This allows you to create a sort of DnD alignment type character class without there being a system to support it in the game. You can intimidate people while still being a kind hero, or persuade people while being an evil ass. It’s a strange but really welcome change when so many games these days have these boring morality systems.
The game does have more faults than the storyline though, just not many of them very significant. Dragon Age, much like Mass Effect before it, has some REALLY long load times, and has them quite frequently. The game tries to make them shorter with animations of your character crossing a map, but you’ll only actually notice no load time if you go from one side of the world to the other without a random encounter. The game also has a tendency to take a long time to register quest completion or enemy kills, often making you sit around for minutes while waiting for loot to drop. It’s frustrating, wastes a lot of time and hardly seems like something that should actually happen with in the game.
Dragon Age: Origins is a strong RPG that doesn’t necessarily have a strong storyline. The gameplay is solid and has flairs that do set itself apart from past BioWare console titles through means of simple changes here and there. The character development and dialogue is strong, as is the tried and true combat system. A few minor squabbles aside, Dragon Age: Origins is a great game that will make you spend hours upon hours in your trek through the game’s world.