Genre: Role Playing Developer: Publisher: EA Classification: MA15+ Consumer Advice: Game deals with issues or contains depictions which require a mature perspective
Release Date: 26th Nov 2009 Platforms:PC
Average of 81 Ratings
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The Good bits
Massive game with a lot of content.
Playable characters have distinct personalities and interact with each other.
Incredible amount of information about every aspect of the game's universe.
The Bad stuff
Character Animations are stilted and unrealistic at times.
Graphical dissonance - some features looking downright amazing while others look pulled straight from the PSX.
Very simplified mechanics compared to Dungeons and Dragons games.
The first video I saw of Dragon Age: Origins had guys fighting with Marilyn Manson's "This is the new sh*t" playing over the top. It is really difficult to get hyped about a game when one of its trailers has music stating everything is a commercialized rehash being shoved down your throat by the mass media.
Whereas the trailer would previously have had some sort of epic orchestral piece, it was clear that the rockin' music behind the trailer was an attempt to appeal to a more general demographic than the standard Dungeons and Dragons nerds. It was all very ironic and funny, but it drastically lowered my expectations of the game. 2 hours in however, all my fears were completely forgotten.
As with all Western RPGs, you start the game by building your character. The three races you can choose from are the standard fantasy types: Humans, Elves and Dwarves; and the three classes you can choose from are also the standard Fighter, Rogue, Mage set. It is a lot simpler than BioWare's previous Dungeons and Dragons based RPGs, feeling more in line with Mass Effect. The game adds more choices once you've chosen your race and class though, as it is then you will see your options for your character's background. There are six different backgrounds, and each is associated with one or two of the race and class combinations. I chose a human mage my first time through, which opened up the Magi background, as it would for an elf mage (dwarves can't be mages.)
Voice and appearance are sorted out next, and as is common these days you can choose a generic preset or customise your appearance as you see fit. The customisation options are reasonably varied, although as usual I can't make a character nearly as beautiful as I am in real life. The voice options are also standard, and have no bearing outside of cosmetic on the overall game. A nice touch for the more casual gamer is the Quick Play button, available when you have chosen your voice and appearance. Choosing Quick Play will automatically assign your attributes, skill points and spells, getting you into the game faster. It is definitely a good idea for someone not fussed on the details, although those of us who prefer a more hardcore RPG experience will definitely pass it by.
Attributes follow, and are reasonably simple to grasp. Strength would be of no use to a mage, and if I planned my party's tactics correctly I could get away with a low constitution. Dexterity contributes to your defence score and ranged attack, so with the mage's primary weapon being a magic staff it needed a boost. The two main attributes for a mage are magic - which boosts the power of spells - and willpower, which increases the amount of mana available and your mental resistance.
The only confusing attribute was cunning. Cunning is essential to a rogue, although it is useful to all classes, as a certain amount of it is required for many of the skills available. 16 cunning is the maximum amount required to master any mage skills, but its description claims high cunning is necessary to persuade people better. At level 9 my character became a master of coercion, and I have yet to find a situation where more cunning is required to make my persuasion effective.
Once you've sorted out your attributes, your next task is to assign skills. Every class has the same skills available to them, and all of the skills are useful in different situations. A mage starts with herbalism - the creation of healing products and other boosts, combat tactics - which adds a slot to the tactics screen and another point to allocate as they see fit. I put my extra point into coercion, as there is nothing I love more in an RPG than talking my way out of doing things. Incidentally, if you are a developer and reading this, please make Planescape: Torment 2, and give it a better name.
Finally it was time to choose my spells. The first thing noticable about the spells which cause damage is the phrase at the end - friendly fire possible. Unlike many RPGs, you can't just call a thirty metre wide lightning storm and expect your friends to dance between the bolts. At first it doesn't seem like it will have much impact on the game, but as your spells increase in power you will find yourself building your party around it. Fortunately, if you don't like the idea of potentially sacrificing a party member to take out your foes, there are plenty of spells designed to target single enemies, or simply decrease the effectiveness of your enemies. You'd need stronger willpower than I have to take them though, and resist the allure of incinerating a room full of enemies with one spell.
Once my character was set up, it was time to get into the game. As a mage, the game starts with you taking the final test to become a mage - the Harrowing. The Harrowing is a grueling test set up by the head mages and the Templars - a holy order of knights set up to keep the
mages from breaking destroying the world and bringing about the blight, as history says they've done previously. You are told you could die during the Harrowing, but the only other option is stilling the Rite of Tranquility, which will sever your connection to the One Power the fade. Your character enters Tel'aran'rhiod the Fade, or dream world and has to defeat a demon before it possesses them. It is an excellent example of the incredible amount of detail BioWare have put into the game, especially considering it is but one of the six different backgrounds available.
Once you've completed the Harrowing you will be asked to join the Night's Watch Grey Wardens, a small group of warriors dedicated to stopping the destruction of the world by the darkspawn. It is with the Grey Wardens that the backgrounds converge, although your particular background still changes how others act around and towards you. It's a great way to provide replayability, as the six backgrounds provide enough of a difference throughout the game to keep interest up for several playthroughs, and the option to select your own order of quests once you've joined the Grey Wardens only adds to that.
The main story is fairly intense with quite a few surprises throughout (some more surprising than others.) I was very afraid when I heard it was going to be the next-gen equivalent to Neverwinter Nights - Both games in the series seemed little more than tech demos until their expansion packs came out. Fortunately it seems like BioWare learned from their mistakes, and while Mask of the Betrayer was still better, Dragon Age: Origins is a step in the right direction.
As much of an improvement as the story is, the story is not the reason I keep coming back. It is the characters and the world itself that draws me back in. The various different NPCs you talk to range from excellent to generic, but the characters who join your party along the way are great. They each have their own personalities, and will talk to each other as you go about your quests. Like KOTOR and Mass Effect, they will also talk to you, and your conversations will affect how they feel about you, and even give them different skills. The most amazing thing about the characters to me though, is that they joke around, and you can make jokes with them too. I can't remember the last RPG where fellow party members understood when I was joking. It might not seem like a lot, but it goes a long way towards making the party members more real.
As for the world, it does a terrific job of pulling you in. Some
things do seem to be a blatant rip off of other fantasy worlds but most of the concepts are very original. BioWare have set up an amazing large world, and throughout the game they do an excellent job of expanding the universe, with in-depth information available in the codex - an in-game encyclopedia familiar to those who have played many modern day RPGs. I've spent at least a quarter of my play time just reading the codex, and everything I read just makes me want to know more.
The beauty of the codex is it is purely optional. Sure, there is information throughout it which can help you with your quests, but the game plays just as well if you ignore it entirely. Any key information you need is explained in game, and provided without making it feel like hand-holding. Ignoring the codex might even be a good idea, if you want to finish it sometime this month, as the game has easily over 80 hours of gameplay including the side quests.
The only things I didn't like about Dragon Age: Origins were the graphics and fighting. The biggest problem with the fighting is the tactics - the AI controls for the party members you aren't controlling. Dragon Age puts you in charge of each character's tactics, with each party member having a couple of basic presets more likely to get you all killed than do anything effective. To get anything out of the tactics you have to set it up yourself, and with the large amount of tactics options available it can be very overwhelming. If you do take the time to learn they can be useful, but not overtly, as they will still run straight over to the centre of your lightning storm without constant supervision.
As for the graphics, I can't be too picky. The character models - while occasionally suffering from some very awkward animations - are fantastic, and a lot of the environment is just as amazing. Throughout the game, however, you come across objects that look... pathetic at best. It might be a fence, a wall or a tree trunk, everything else will look sharp and beautiful and that one object will look like it was pulled straight out of Zelda. It's nothing soul destroying, and the graphics are not the focus of the game anyway, but it can be distracting at times.
Dragon Age: Origins is amazing. Calling it next-gen Neverwinter Nights does it a disservice - it's more the next-gen Baldur's Gate (Ed - That clears it up!). BioWare has done an excellent job making such a huge game readily accessible while maintaining the vibrancy and richness of the game world, and the depth and strength of the story.
It is available for the PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, but was built from the ground up for the PC - and it really shows. Dragon Age: Origins is the best RPG on the market. Any fan of RPGs should get Dragon Age: Origins, regardless of system.