Game Review: Dragon Age Origins
Release: November 3, 2009 (US), November 5, 2009 (AUS), November 6, 2009 (EU)
Available Platforms: Playstation 3, PC, Xbox 360
MSRP: Xbox 360, PS3 – $59.99, $74.99 (CE), PC – $49.95
ESRB Rating: Mature (xbox 360, PS3, PC) for Blood, Intense Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content
Thedas. The country of Ferelden. You choose how your journey begins: Human Noble? Human or Elven Mage? Dwarven Noble or Commoner? City or Dalish Elf? The choice is in your hands. Also in your hands, once you complete your ‘Origin’ story and are recruited into the Grey Wardens by Duncan, is the coming Blight. The darkspawn have once again ventured from the depths of Thedas to lay siege to your land. This Blight looks to be the worst yet, and the only person able to stop this walking pestilence from ripping your world to shreds is you. That’s right: YOU. You must gather the greatest, most powerful, and courageous warriors, rogues, and mages from across the land to put down this Blight once and for all. With this task charged to you, you begin your journey.
In Dragon Age: Origins, you choose your gender, race, and class at the beginning of the game. The character creation system is very much like the system from Mass Effect in that you are given a choice of preset characters and facial features, or you can create your own from a number of attribute/skill/talent points as well as a blank canvas for your physical character traits. Once your character is made, you begin your Origin story (which can take from one to three hours, depending on your style of play). Once you a recruited by Duncan, your journey as a Grey Warden begins, and it is a LONG, LONG journey. I haven’t completed my main character yet and I’ve already invested 60+ hours. The combat system definitely has a learning curve, so please read the manual or pay close attention to the on-screen help during your play. I will talk more about the difficulty in the game later. I’ll just say this for the time being: Dragon Age Origins is MUCH more difficult than Mass Effect.
As you gain followers (and there are quite a few; I currently have eight), you will have to choose three from among them and leave the others in your party’s camp. This is where the true decision-making begins, as your followers will chime in on your responses and choices involving certain requests. You can also gain (or lose) approval based on your choices. This will make keeping all of your followers a difficult task because if you fall too much out of favor with party members, then they will choose to leave your party and cannot be regained. I cannot stress enough: Make sure that what you say or do is what you really want to say or do. You’ll thank me later.
BioWare has yet to disappoint me with any of their titles. Dragon Age: Origins provides an absolute mountain of replay value and such a deep universe that I find myself spending hours simply reading the codex entries regarding the history and lore of Thedas and Ferelden as well as the Chantry, the prophetess Andraste, and the Circle of the Magi. And that doesn’t even include the entries regarding your followers’ pasts as well as the different races and areas outside of Ferelden (Orlais, for example). There is just so much to go through that I would recommend spending a solid month doing nothing but playing Dragon Age Origins to truly get the all-encompassing experience that the team at BioWare wanted.
The voice-acting was absolutely phenomenal (minus the player’s character, who isn’t voiced; more on that later). The voices for each follower and major NPC were well-chosen, making the overall experience even deeper. A definite area of improvement since Mass Effect is the following. When running around in Mass Effect, your two squadmates wouldn’t exactly randomly chime in with little mini-conversations, but there are a number of times when, in my case, Morrigan, Leliana, and Alistair will start having a discussion or a mini-squabble. It’s rather funny in many cases, which spices up the periods where there is no action or dialogue.
With all that is positive about Dragon Age Origins, the game is not 100% perfection. For starters, this game is REALLY REALLY HARD. I’ve been having to bounce between Normal (difficulty that most RPG veterans can handle easily) and Casual (for RPG beginners). I’ve been doing better of late, and perhaps my tactics at the beginning weren’t that great, but I would like to have seen it be a little more forgiving. ‘Hard’ and ‘Nightmare’ difficulties introduce ‘Friendly Fire’, which REALLY throws a kink into many players’ tactic of ‘Let’s just run in with swords swinging’. You have to be quite the field general when setting your tactics for each player (yes, there is a menu where you can meticulously set and tweak each individual follower’s tactics; it’s THAT deep).
My other main problem with the game is the fact that the player’s character isn’t voiced. With all of the fantastic voice talent that they were able to secure (none of whom are main-stream actors, mind you), you would think that BioWare could have had a few men and women voice the player’s script. It’s certainly not a game- or story-killer, but it would have added a sense of companionship with the characters that I was able to feel in Mass Effect. Also, the romance scenes were extremely devoid of feeling and looked like something you would see in a B-rated movie on cable. I did, however, like where BioWare went with allowing a gay relationship to evolve (with Zevran) and a lesbian relationship to evolve (with Leliana).
Patrick’s Final Say: I’ll say this first. Dragon Age Origins is my game of the year for 2009, and it’s not even close. There hasn’t been an RPG to hit consoles (or even PC’s for that matter) that has this level of depth coupled with such an epic, broad storyline in such an incredibly diverse universe since Mass Effect. If there is nothing out in December or the first part of January that catches your fancy, now would be the time to go through Dragon Age: Origins.