52 Weeks of Canadian Gaming - Week 45
Dragon Age: Origins
Release Date: November 03, 2009
ESRB Rating: Mature
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
There is nothing like a good role playing game. I have always loved this genre of game for it favoured those with a quick mind over quick reflexes.I quickly outgrew the flashy but empty experiences of Japanese RPG and embraced North American ones in the place. Among my favorites have been the huge detailed worlds crafted by BioWare. This year BioWare brings us what could prove to be their biggest and most ambitious role playing game to date.
The storyline in Dragon Age: Origins appears to be borrowed straight from a Tolkien dream. The world of Thedas is not a safe place anymore. A new Blight appears on the horizon. An army of Darkspawns is amassing in preparation of mounting an attack on the citizens of Ferelden, who all have their own share of problems. It is up to the game’s main hero to save the day. He/she must take ownership of their title as Grey Warden, sworn enemy of the Blight. Our hero must amass an army from what remains of the humans, dwarven and elvish population. They must unite templars, blood mages and assassins. They must save the world.
As with all good role playing games, players can create the sort of hero that they desire the most. The first choice would be to choose a gender (nothing fancy here, male or female), then to choose a race being human, dwarf or elf. Depending on the choice of race, a social ranking must be selected next. Humans will also come from nobility, but elves can be a city elf or Dalish elf. The next choice for gamers is the class selection. All heroes fall into 3 classes; Mage who favours magic, warrior who depends on weapons and melee combat and the rogue which is a combination of a mage and warrior. Humans and Elves can select from any class, but dwarves cannot be mages. Each class then offers four specializations. For those following the entire process, the game offers 96 different character possibilities. This is before we add on skills. The game offers eight different skills with four levels of proficiency for each skill. Skills will greatly influence a hero. Now we have over three thousand different possible characters that can be played. Once I factor in all possible mage spells and warrior/rogue talents, the number of different character starts to become astronomical. Needless the say, the game offers plenty of choices.
The graphic in Dragon Age: Origins are a mixed bag. Some of the locations, character and monsters are simply amazing, while others are sub-par. Overall the visuals do not match those found in Mass Effect (in my opinion), but the game does not suffer from the texture pop-ins or occasional system frame-rate problems that plagued Mass Effect either. A few things really annoyed me though. One was the way the armour kind of just appeared to float on the soldiers. Another was that my character was bald (homage to my Mass Effect character) and in the back of his head appeared a small gap between the head texture and neck texture causing my character to look like a bobble head. By default the game comes with plenty of blood. So much so that at the end of combat, characters was covered in the stuff. The effect was kind of cool at the start, but become quite ridiculous when fighting a few small rats caused both combatants to be drenched in blood. If this was not bad enough, the two characters then when about their business, covered in blood without a single person making any type of comments. I turned off the blood and found the game more enjoyable.
The voice talents for the game, as per BioWare’s lineage, are very well done. There are plenty of conversations going on everywhere. Conversations with in-game characters fall short of Mass Effect’s offering; also it is a shame that the hero does not have a voice in the game. Still the voice acting and various sound effects in the game only adds to the illusion that the player is in a real medieval setting. I just wonder why everyone always sounds so British in traditional role playing games.
The combat system is where I had the most problems warming up to the game. I grew up on Japanese style RPGs were all games features a turn based combat system. These games allowed each battle to be analyzed and formulate a tactical plan of attack. There is no such luxury in Dragon Age: Origins as all combat occurs in real time. This would not be so bad if the game provided the option to pull back the camera view (as it does on the PC version) so that the entire battlefield can be viewed at once, but this option is not available on the console. In its default configuration, combat is nothing more than a chaotic mess of people and creatures running around with no apparent logic or reason; a recipe for disaster if I ever saw one. The good news is that with a bit of tweaking, this need not be the case. Turning on an option to keep the game paused till an action is selected when pulling the left trigger will provide the player with plenty of time to develop strategies as the rotary menu is somewhat transparent allowing the battle field to be viewed without enemies roaring down on the party. While on this menu, instructions can be given to each party member before allowing the battle to continue. Once each character performed their desired action, pause the game again and re-analyse the situation. It is not a true turned based system, but it is as close as the game offers.
The game also offers “tactics” for each party member. These are basically nothing more than scripts on how to respond to a specific situation. For example by default party members will not heal themselves when near death. Instead of having to monitor the health of each party member during a chaotic battle, the player needs only create a tactic that tells the party member to use a health potion or healing spell when their health has reached a specific threshold. Learning to use this useful tool is instrumental from stopping the brainless bunch from running about attacking the weakest monster while the gamer defends against ogres. One final comment on the combat system. The low camera view causes playing the game on the hardest difficulty, which enables damage inflicted by party members, to become about as much fun as banging one head against a brick wall. Party members were constantly getting in each others way and getting mowed down by team-mates.
Whatever the game lacks in combat finesse, it more than makes-up for in shear content. The amount of content available in the game borders on insanity. At every corner there are book to be read, conversations to be had, quests to be completed and items to be discovered. A full twenty hours into the game and I only managed to secure the assistance of one single group to fight the Blight. Now because of the shear amount of content that is shipped with the game, I will not add this as a negative, but once again and EA game has shipped with day 1 downloadable content that can be had for a price. Granted if the game was purchased new, a few pieces of this DLC could be obtained for free, but others like the Warden's Keep must be purchased and this DLC provides more storage space for items found in game which is a very desirable feature to have. I said I would not complain about feeling a bit shortchanged for the game is huge, still it is interesting that there is more content on the first day for Dragon Age: Origins than was released for Mass Effect so far. Must be the EA effect.