In the spirit of the massive slew of RPGs coming out this year, or having come out at the end of 2011, let me share an old review of mine, regarding a fantastic modern RPG, Dragon Age: Origins. Its relationship and relative merit to its sequel is an issue I will touch on in another post.
Dragon Age: Origins is an unbelievably fulfilling RPG, one that is so wholly addictive you will be tempted to keep on playing for a ridiculous number of hours on a daily basis. For some, that will be all the recommendation needed. There are some bugs, repetitive stretches and minor design issues to muddy the waters of this role-playing oasis. This is going to be a long review, so forgive me, but the game warrants one.
The role-playing choices you will make in this game are abundant, complex and varied. Dragon Age gives you real choices with dramatic consequences to be made, without an arbitrary good/evil gauge. In the majority of instances, choosing an option can be a real struggle. Do you help an ostensibly noble tribe eradicate their seemingly vicious, merciless enemy? Or, do you try to end the curse that may have turned said enemy into monsters; giving them a chance at a new life, but also risking that they may run amok and regroup later. The conversation options are plentiful, and there are many coercion and lore skill checks, allowing you to role-play a dashing or intimidating protagonist, and breathing life into the skills you select for your character. I must stress this game achieves something most RPG's don't, real choice. There is no illusion of choice here, each decision is a ripple in the pond of the game, affecting even the end game in various ways. The dialogue is interesting and expressive, the only fault is that sometimes characters can be too long-winded, sacrificing succinctness for quantity. While length dialogue is a pleasure in the right scenario, in some cases characters are more relatable if they don't constantly pontificate. Some merchants will speak three sentences every time you take a look at their wares, prompting annoyed pressing of the escape button.
The combat system is fluid and adroitly designed, with each class getting nifty specializations and abilities that make your character appropriately formidable in combat. The warrior/rogue/mage class choice, coupled with the decent choice of builds, makes combat an easy to learn but increasingly complex challenge. Rogues thankfully have a lot of devastating combat options in the game, not being eclipsed by the incredible warrior and mage experience. The combat interface is great on the PC, with a well-oiled camera and a very accessible array of buttons for journals, inventory and such. Combats play out in a very exciting and strategic manner, with minimal pre-preparation and a focus on on-the-spot tactics. Boss fights are a charm, and the much-lauded 'finishing moves' do make an appearance a suitably large number of times. There is a slight disconnect between selecting certain melee abilities and their execution, your character sometimes shuffling into place awkwardly for a second before launching the attack. Occasionally, melee attack animations do not convey the desired level of impact.
Loot gathering is mostly a charm, and money is in limited supply, meaning you have to be careful what you buy and ensuring you will grow to appreciate all the currency that you find. This is a positive thing as many RPGs give you too much money towards the end, making the economy a non-issue. One problem with the loot is that some chests, even heavily locked ones, give you boring, weak equipment which reduces the thrill of pack-ratting and is a pain to lug around until they can be sold.
One major flaw with this game is the presence of several dungeons which have too many rooms and groups of similar critters. The dungeons are simply too long, and despite the exciting combat sometimes quests can seem like hack-fests that must be waded through before the sweet nougat of role-playing can be found. Do not misinterpret this as saying Dragon Age is a hack and slash game, because it most certainly is not, it is a full-fledged role-playing game that happens to suffer from some monotonous spots in dungeons. The game is programmed very well, with very few bugs and a strong effort has been made to stop game-breaking situations, which are all too common in RPGs. One of the minor issues is the rough way your character freezes in mid-stride for a split-second before a triggered conversation is spawned.
The companions are interesting, well-written and feature enjoyable side-quests, as well as many dialogue interjections and topics of conversation. They really will react to the choices you make, and you will get attached to them. The nine companions available seem like a huge number, because you will feel an urge to bring them all along (which is impossible) because you want to know what they would think about a particular occurrence!
The graphics in DA are clever and magnificent. Yes, what you have heard about the technology being a bit old for the time is true, it was not cutting edge, and seems a little bland now. It is modern, however, and features adequately detailed environments, models and expressions. The real brilliance of the graphics is how the engine is used skillfully to create sprawling, detailed environments that the player can muck around in. Many buildings have huge roofs with intricate patterns, support beams and domes, all of which can be seen and zoomed in to with the camera during gameplay. Outdoor areas similarly feature wide open sky and an incredible draw-distance. You will fight many opponents in these beautiful environments without any noticeable lag, even on average computers. The ability to wage huge battles, spells and arrows being flung about; in these detailed environments, without lag, is worth the trade off. Subtle tricks are used to conserve memory, such as pre-drawn 2D landscapes to portray vistas such as standing on a bridge looking on a fighting army, to peering over a crenellation onto a forest below.
The music in the game is very good, but is not as exemplary as many gave it credit for. The celtic female voice-overs are particularly lovely, but the music is quality, but fairly cliche RPG music with the expected soaring crescendos. It does not reach the peak of the first Icewind Dale soundtrack, which I cannot recommend enough. Sound effects are fine, with the voice acting being superb and genuinely supporting the personalities of the people you will meet in the game.
How to summarize a game which occupied me for 170 hours of my life (over two playthroughs)? Dragon Age: Origins is one of the best cRPGs ever made, and most people will love this game whether you dabble in RPGs or are a RPG veteran. It truly is a captivating experience. Some monotony due to the too-large dungeons, some repetition, and some gameplay and visual quirks; make this game not quite as stellar as it could have been. Dragon Age does have more real role-playing choices than most RPGs, but is a bit rough around the edges. Overall, the lasting memories you will have of this game are of the epic storyline, intrepid adventurers and colourful characters; and not of its minor foibles.
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