Game: Dragon Age: Origins
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC, Mac (limited release)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 3, 2009
Rated: M – for Mature
Bar Wenches and Pages, welcome to a time of High Adventure! Hope you packed a loot bag full of healing potions, poisons, weapons, and armor because you’re gonna need it.
BioWare has officially hooked me with this one. I absolutely fell in love with this game, and it has brought me back around to gaming after about a decade of not touching video/computer games. When I was at PAX earlier this year, I briefly got a peek at this game and thought it might be pretty cool to check out whenever it was released. I wasn’t frothing at the mouth to get my hands on it because honestly, I was mainly using my 360 to play Tetris at that point. Since I bought my copy in November, I’ve not only spent 60+ hours on my first run-through of the game, I think I’ve bought one of every piece of merch BioWare has for this game (including the Collector’s Edition 360 version).
I have become obsessed.
(Includes spoilers for the first part of the game — your character’s origin story)
Dark days have fallen on the nation of Ferelden as the Darkspawn are gathering to have a proper Blight (something that hasn’t happened in hundreds of years). The king, his men, and the Grey Wardens are gathering forces at Ostagar to try and stop the Blight before it has a chance to start. However, things are never that easy in the fantasy genre and that’s where your character comes in. No matter what race and origin story you choose, you’ll end up getting recruited into the Grey Wardens by Duncan (a senior Warden) and taken to Ostagar. There you go through a blood initiation and are thrust face first into battle against the Darkspawn. Through treachery that is never really explained, everyone gets massacred at Ostagar except for you and one other Grey Warden (Alistair). It’s your job to gather up an army and kill yourself an Archdemon after that. Along the way, you’ll gain a party of varied peoples and talents, do side quests that will impact how your story ends, and may be even find time for a little loving if you’re so inclined.
You start out much like other games of this type: you get to pick and build a character from three races (human, elf, dwarf) and six different origin stories. Each origin is detailed and inventive (for example, the elves are treated as second class citizens that the humans treat like dirt — far from the noble creatures they’re usually represented as). There are a fair amount of facial features and hair styles/colors to choose from (though I really didn’t care for any of the hair styles the females were given, so my character was bald). You don’t get to tweak the body types at all, but you are given the option to make your character look really old or like the walking dead. Slap a name on him/her and go for your life through an almost “choose your own adventure” style game.
The game play was very easy for me to pick up. I found the tactics system to be interesting and totally got sucked into trying to optimize each character in battle so I wouldn’t have to switch between party members and my character. During some of the bigger battles, I definitely had to do this because the tactics aren’t 100% perfect. You can set a party member to heal himself if he’s down to 50%, but if things are hairy and nasties are coming at you left and right, certain tactics are going to take precedence over others. This is where figuring out how best to combine your party members comes in handy. I died many times and had to kick myself for not having a proper healer/tank/etc. in my fighting party.
The other part of the battle game play is the radial menus (the computer version has the action bars). At first, and even in the thick of things, that radial menu was a bit of a bear to deal with (mainly, getting it to stay open while I hurriedly looked for the appropriate spell to use on an ogre or hurlock). For the most part, it wasn’t that big of an issue to deal with, but it was the one aspect where I thought that this game was probably intended for playing on a computer and not a console. You can assign abilities or items to the XYB buttons (Xbox), but you can’t really rely on that alone when you’re surrounded by the undead. A plus side to the radial menus is that play stops while you’re in them. Not going to lie; this came in handy a few times for me.
With Dragon Age: Origins, BioWare has created a massive world for us to play in. You get the feeling that the actual game you’re playing is but a drop in the bucket that is the story they’ve created here. As you go from place to place, you pick up pieces of that story in your codex, and all of that is just as interesting as the actual game. The world is so huge that I couldn’t help but find myself emotionally invested in this game and what could happen with the characters in it, as surprising as that was for me. I don’t do that with forms of entertainment on a regular basis. I think the last time I was this invested in a story was with The Lord of the Rings, which might be a tired comparison in the fantasy genre but is a valid one in this case. When you think of big fantasy stories, you can’t help but compare to Tolkien, and BioWare is in that sphere of awesomeness with this game in my opinion.
Usually for me, it’s play a game for an hour at the most, put it away, then come back to it a few months later. With this game, I would find myself on the edge of my seat, physically reacting to what was happening in the story (heart racing during an intense scene, laughing at the dialogue between party members, being thoroughly disgusted with an entire section of the game that was hard to get through). I actually lost weight because I was barely eating for the entire month of November. I just couldn’t pry myself away from this game, the story was that engaging.
The story wasn’t the only thing that got me hooked; the sounds and voice talent are excellent. The soundtrack for this game is on par with a motion picture soundtrack. It’s moving and beautiful on its own, but in game definitely brings the playing experience up a level or two. Like with Mass Effect, the voice overs are spot on and made the in-party banter more enjoyable than it probably should have been. I must have spent a good number of hours running to banter prompting spots just to hear what each party member would talk about with each other.
That’s not to say I didn’t have issues while playing. There were glitches and there were things that made me laugh out loud because they were pretty ridiculous. The glitches I ran into (and from the sounds of it, I got lucky) were the characters talking but no dialogue would accompany it. Also, not a glitch, but the fact that the character you play doesn’t have a voice was a minus for me. I expected there to be a voice over for the character (again, like Mass Effect), and I think that would have helped with some of the more emotional parts in the story (i.e., where a party member is talking about some serious stuff and your character is just staring off into space blankly can take you out of your suspension of disbelief).
The graphics look good — really good at certain times — but other times it looks kind of clunky and goofy which pulled me out of my immersion into the story. The blood splatter your team gets on them after a battle is pretty funny, not to mention if you have a particular sustained ability on as an Arcane Warrior you become see-through. Nothing like sucking face with your chosen love interest and being able to see your eyeballs out the back of your head.
Speaking of love interests, while I was thrilled that the story was as mature as it turned out to be, the love scenes were a howl and a half. I’ve not seen maneuvering like that since 1985 when I made my Barbie dolls make out with my G.I. Joe figures. I’m not saying I was looking forward to some hardcore business or anything like that, merely that it was enough to, again, take me out of the story for a while. But not enough to not engage in every love story I could in order to get the achievements.
In the end, despite losing any kind of social life I may have had, Dragon Age: Origins was totally worth it. Between the game you get out of the box and the DLC BioWare’s already made available (according to the extras on the DVD in the Collector’s Edition, there’s supposed to be at least two years’ worth of DLC to come), this is a game you can get lost in. I’m really looking forward to the sequels I’m hoping BioWare is going to make. I may even have to buy the tie-in novels that are available for purchase now just to hold me over.
Rating: 5 / 5 Stars