The game developer Bioware has created some incredible role playing games in the past so when Dragon Age: Origins was announced fans naturally got excited. With the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series and Mass Effect they created some truly incredible experiences. Dragon Age is no exception.
Released on PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, the RPG is a remarkable piece of storytelling and game play. The enemies are interesting and challenging and the way you interact with the world is truly exceptional. Unlike most games these days, playing DA isn't a short 8 hour experience. This is a massive game and will take over 40 hours to complete. The result, is highly satisfying and completely depends on the decisions you make as a player along the way.
The story is set in the land of Fereldan, a very Lord of the Rings like place, were an evil force known as The Darkspawn are making preparations for an all out invasion. You become a member of the Grey Wardens, a group of protectors that have been fighting the Darkspawn for thousands of years. After tragic events occur it is up to you to unite the different races of the land to fight under your banner and together stop the Darkspawn by killing their leader. There are four main factions you need to win over before you can engage in the final war. For each there is a long series of quests that will have you crawling dungeons and beating back everything from Ogres to Werewolves.
If you have ever played Baldurs Gate II or a similar RPG, you will very familiar with how this game works. However, like other Bioware games, it is the little differences and innovations that make the game exceptional. The first thing you will notice is that the game unfolds unlike most RPGs. The story isn't linear, as such, but gives you more choice as to how to go about getting the tasks down. They still lead to the same general story progression but depending what you decide to do and how other characters feel about you, the story can take very different twists and turns.
When having conversations with other characters, you are presented with a variety of responses and how you respond determines the outcome. You can choose to be pure and wholesome or be a nasty evil-doer and the people around you will react accordingly. You want to get your party members to like you though as the more they like you the more skills are unlocked for use by your main character.
The strange thing about this game is that you become rather emotionally invested in the characters in your party. I played the game through to the end as an Elf female mage (I always play female characters in games, I guess I just like chicks that kick butt). As you move further into the story, the other Grey Warden in your party, Alistair, reveals secrets about his past that sets him on a path that may see him leading the armies against the Darkspawn. (I am trying to be as vague as possible here, to not give away the story).
As the game went on, my character was liked more and more by Alistair and I thought it would be really nice if the two ended up together at the end of the story in a "happily ever after" scenario, so I started choosing answers to push that agenda. When he broke up with me on the night of the final battle I was horrified but that is what is so brilliant about Dragon Age. The choices I made along the way, determined what would happen. I may have been pushing for the two to end up together but I pushed a little too hard and he didn't like that too much. It was hilarious that I was getting dumped by a video game character and I was actually feeling kind of sad about it. That is how invested you become.
The game play is squad based combat. You can pause the game at any time and tell each character what you want them to do. You have four characters in the party at any given time and you need to be very careful about who you choose to take along.
A warrior is essential in any group make up, one that can use a sword and shield. You will send him in and let everything beat on him. He is not invincible though so you will need to have a healer. Mages can be damage dealers or healers so you need to have at least one mage in your party. It's a good idea to have a damage dealing mage as well since they have some of the most powerful attacks in the game and can attack from range. The last person in your party can be pretty much any damage dealing class.
At first I went with three mages, and then I replaced one with a melee rogue, then a two handed weapon warrior and finally settled on a rogue archer. The rogue archer was a little weak at first but became quite a useful character as the game went on. Only rogues can pick locks and there are plenty of chests you come across that only they can open. Also, in the final battle, I found having a rogue in the party made it extremely easy, I won't say why though. I don't want to ruin your fun.
While the game was exceptional in many respects, it did have its mediocre elements too. Some of the voice acting is pretty bad, the story can get a little clichÃ© and predictable at times and some of the dungeons got tiresome now and then.
However, the good far outweighed the bad. The story is far more involved than a simple "go here and kill this and come back" that you get in many RPGs. The story is more complex than I first thought it would be and the ending was surprising and unexpected.
This isn't a game that relies on cut scenes but it does have a few here and there. The cut scenes are done well and have a very Lord of the Rings feel to them. The environments are beautifully detailed and the graphics, on a whole, are excellent. The Xbox and Playstation 3 ports are surprisingly easy to play, although I finished it on PC.
Another complaint I would probably aim at the game is that there just weren't enough gear upgrades as you went through. Most of the things that dropped from monsters or chests seemed to be geared toward melee classes. My mages were still wearing some of the same gear they started the game with when I killed the final boss. There are a few pieces here and there on vendors that are great but the cost of buying them is very expensive.
One piece of advice when playing this through is to use your professions well and think about how you want your characters to develop as you go through the game. Each time you level, you are given a few attribute points to spend and can choose a new skill. Give some thought as to how you want to spend them as once spent, you can't unspend them and you may find you want a useful skill later on that you just can't get to because you don't have enough levels left before the end of the game. Of all the professions you can choose, make sure you, at the very least, have someone to make potions. Having to buy your own potions will get very expensive fast and you need potions to survive.
Dragon Age: Origins is one of the better RPGs to come out in recent years. It isn't perfect but it is in keeping with Bioware games of the past and is their best yet. The story is complex and fulfilling to play but most of all, it's a load of fun. This is a game you will have to dedicate a lot of time to playing but even once you finish it, you can play it all over again as a character from another race or simply make different decisions to see an entirely different outcome. It is well worth picking up, especially for sword and sorcery RPG fans or those that loved Baldurs Gate.