on November 4, 2009
Dragon Age is a kind of game that is becoming increasingly rare: a deeply immersive single-player RPG with an interface clearly designed for the PC. It's easy to sling around the word "immersive" at any game that looks pretty, but DA isn't messing around - the world of Ferelden shows a unified sense of design and depth that blows even famously vast games like Oblivion out of the water. Coupled with consistently excellent writing and across-the-board quality character design even down to relatively unimportant NPCs, the game truly does feel like it's reacting to your choices dynamically from the very beginning, and how you play your character can have amazingly subtle effects on the way the story unfolds.
Graphically, the game's a little uneven. All the design elements are there, and it has plenty of high-quality textures and strong environmental visuals - particularly fire effects. The polygons themselves, particularly on character faces, are a little simpler than you'd expect from a 2009 game. Overall, the game looks about on level with Oblivion, although the visual distinctiveness and design ethic of areas and characters are significantly better. Animation stands out as a strong suit here, particularly during the game's frequent dialog sequences, with none of the dead-eyed staring or bizarre walk cycles that plagued other RPGs like Fallout 3.
Gameplay is pretty straightforward, and very much in keeping with previous Bioware titles like Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect. You control a party of up to four characters, each of whom develops a plethora of useful abilities to keep track of. The inclusion of a minor programming element (very much in keeping with the gambit system from Final Fantasy XII) will let you set up a few default actions on each character so you're not stuck frantically switching between them to make sure they drink their healing potions, but battles frequently require some degree of tactical planning. Setting up ambushes and planning your party strategy to play to strengths is necessary to get through some tougher areas. The interface is, shockingly, clearly tailor-made for the PC (the console versions have their own interfaces designed from the bottom up and are apparently easier games to allow for the sacrifice in easy access to skills). You have an insane number of quick-access slots, and nearly the entire keyboard is bound to one thing or another. It's the kind of interface that hasn't been in vogue since before the PS2 came out. The game is extremely linear, although the frequent and varied dialog options give it the feel of a more free-roaming game, and it's very tempting to go back and replay huge chunks of the game just to see how the complex and dynamic conversations will play out. The main downside is that there's no easy way to level-grind, which is to the game's benefit to a point (no tedious circling around killing wolves) but occasionally means you can get in over your head.
What the game sacrifices in terms of sandbox free-roaming it more than makes up with in the excellent writing and characterization. An absurd attention to detail and across-the-board excellent voice acting breathes a lot of life into the game's conversations, which make up a significant chunk of gameplay. Characters are extremely varied and the interplay between them is a major draw, a trademark of Bioware's games, but Dragon Age has some of the most likable characters I've ever seen in a video game and the excellent performances from talents like Tim Curry, Kate Mulgrew and Claudia Black really put the game a notch above. Even the game's fairly generic-on-the-surface fantasy world is livened up by a few critical details - for example, the elves in Dragon Age are a massive underclass of servants.
It's actually difficult to find things to level complaints against in this game. One petty gripe is Morrigan's visual design - her character is one of the game's strongest, and she has great personality and some very clever writing, but visually she's a pair of giant breasts with a cloth draped improbably over them. Other women in the game are treated with a bit more restraint, though, and female armor is gratifyingly sensible. Another issue is that it can be difficult to manage battles on the fly, and accurately targeting enemies with skills frequently requires tactical pausing just to line the cursor up over their relatively small active areas. It's a petty annoyance, but the game clearly wasn't meant to be played Diablo-style anyway.
A few other things to know about the game:
-The game is mostly DRM-free, and ships only with a simple disc check. EA has a reputation for fouling up its customers' computers with DRM malware, but DA seems to be free of those problems.
-If Dragon Age were a movie, it would be rated R. I don't remember ever seeing any swearing, oddly, but the game is rife with violent imagery, extremely dark themes and frank sexuality (including a handful of relatively tasteful sex scenes and occasional demonic nudity). The game handles all of it with maturity and depth, but it's clearly not meant for children, and even parents of younger teens should be cautious.
Overall, Dragon Age is one of the strongest games to come out in recent memory, and is another installment in Bioware's increasing resume of superbly-written RPGs. Players looking for a fast-paced hack-and-slash "rpg" should look elsewhere, but anyone who likes deep and elegant plot development, memorable characters and excellent role-playing will love this game.
on November 10, 2009
Before diving into the review, a brief summary: Dragon Age Origins is the epic role playing game that many of us have been waiting for since we first fell in love with the genre with the classic Baldur's Gate. It drops the player into an immersive fantasy world rich with lore and compelling settings. The aesthetics and score are as pleasing and engrossing as a good cinematic feature or novel. And while it is spectacular in just about every way, it is not without its faults (mostly technical in nature, and affects players with very specific computer hardware as far as I can tell - I'll explain more later). In short, if you're a fan of the genre you will do yourself a favor by purchasing and experiencing this game. I have never felt more comfortable suggesting a RPG to the Internet-at-large as I do right now with Dragon Age. I will swear upon whatever holy text you prefer that it's the best single-player RPG to come along since Fallout 3. If you're not a theist, I suppose I could place my hand upon a photograph of Carl Sagan before making the same solemn vow. But I digress. Onto the review. Aspects I found positive are preceded by a (+), negative aspects a (-).
(+) Dragon Age (hereby referred to as "DA") plays like a perfect hybrid of turn-based and real-time RPGs of yore. The controls are a mash up of overhead tactical maneuvering ala Baldur's Gate and the third-person RTS-like mechanics found in Knights of the Old Republic. You control character movement with either the WASD keyboard directions familiar to MMO and FPS players, or via mouse-click navigation (concurrently). You can play from a third-person perspective to get a full view of the world around you, or zoom out into an overhead tactical view to aid in unit placement and positioning (in which the graphics take on the painted look and feel of Baldur's Gate - a nice touch). The camera may be controlled with either the keyboard or mouse. All around, stellar.
(+) The UI makes a powerful and elegant use of economy of space (it fits a lot into a little, all while looking and playing extremely well)
(+) Character customization is as rich if not richer than any other RPG hybrid or pure RPG on the market - past or present. You have standard archetypes (warrior, mage, rogue) which alone have various "trees" or avenues of progression focusing upon things like weapon preference (sword + shield, dual wield, two-handed, etc) or general and crafting skills. In addition there are specialist classes that excel at specific vocations (such as the mage-nullifying Templar, shape shifting mage, or crit-happy Duelist - to name a few). On top of this, special abilities and vocations may be unlocked by finding rare items or special quests (often a combination of both)
(+) Combat is highly tactical, taking into account elevation, range, "crowd control" mechanics, and vast synergy between the abilities of your party members
(+) A deep tactics system can be utilized, in which you assign a custom AI to each of your characters based upon a variety of criteria and situations. For example, you can tell your mage that every time they're surrounding by two or more melee mobs, they cast a certain crowd control spell. If a party member has less than 50% health, heal them. Or have your tank taunt mobs that attack the mage. Or have the rogue stun the mobs your main character is fighting. Etc.
(-) Melee-centric characters draw from a pool of stamina to perform their various abilities and group-enhancing skills. This pool feels very limited, even when you invest heavily into the stat that grants more stamina. It's further hampered by injuries that your characters will sustain, on occasion, while fighting (which are treated with injury kits or by resting at your camp). Hopefully this will be tweaked in a future patch.
STORY, PRESENTATION, & SETTING
(+) The seemingly hackneyed story (you`re the last in a long line of sacred warriors who's mission is to vanquish a very particular foe) quickly unfolds into a compelling, immersive, and interesting tale that rivals those found in quality fantasy novels and movies. Each race, town, city, and region are wholly unique and diverse - from the political intrigue of Dwarven society to the juxtaposition of the city and forest Elves (and the layers of complexity involved therein). I can't go too much into this without potentially spoiling the many excellent stories. Suffice to say, it's superb.
(+) While the world isn't technically "open", being divided into many instanced zones (if you will), it is nevertheless truly vast. Most areas are substantially large. There is no limit to draw distance: your viewing distance is essentially to infinity, and most zones can be fully explored to the smallest nook and cranny (and it pays to do so). You unlock more areas as the game progresses (and the areas vary depending upon your origin and choices), and there's a complete underground zone in addition to the zone all non-Dwarves start within.
(+) The story is always evolving and changing. Your most minor, or major, decisions regarding plot or character interactions will have lasting repercussions that may not come to fruition for some time. You can build intimate relationships with characters, and being an active participant in the dialogue and lore pay huge dividends in the end
(+) Replayability is very high - due largely to the aforementioned dynamic story, as well as the "Origins" part of the DA title: different race and class combinations have different starting stories, and merge into the overall arc in different ways and at different times
(+) The games looks, sounds, and plays perfectly well on middling hardware
(-) If you own a dual or quad core AMD CPU, expect gradually increasing load times as your session time increases (the longer you play and the more you transition between zones, the longer the load times become). From 5 to 7 seconds at first, upwards of 5 minutes after 45 minutes to an hour of play. This can be resolved by restarting the game, which literally only takes about 20 seconds. But still, it's frustrating, and many people are reporting it on the official forums. Hopefully it will be patched.
(-) The first PC patch was a bit of a goof: the new build included a newer version of the Visual C++ 2005 runtime, while the retail version had an older build. The result was that many people couldn't launch the game after patching. A trivial issue for the computer savvy (I just checked my event logs and saw the issue then patched), but the lay person would have no idea what's going on. After days Bioware has yet to respond officially with the obvious fix, leaving it to the community to resolve. That behavior and communication casts doubt upon the level of commitment Bioware has in regards to DA from a technical support perspective.
Overall, the few technical issues are far outweighed by the overall quality of the game. I would provide a more in-depth review, but I am honestly afraid that I'll accidentally spoil something, as this game is ridiculously vast. Buy this game. You will not be disappointed.
on November 3, 2009
First things first: in the past I have chastised EA a number of times for its release of cookie-cutter games, crippled with atrocious DRM schemes. So, in all fairness, I now have to say this: DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS IS A GAMER's DREAM! It is an excellent game - and it comes FREE of any DRM madness. So, thank you EA for listening to your customers (let's only hope this new trend holds...).
This is one of those games that are easy to control, a joy to roam through and fun to play at no end.
I am a huge cRPG fan and cannot remember such a great companion/squad cRPG ever since the Baldur's Gate Saga. And to tell you the truth, this is the game I was dreaming of being able to play one day while playing BG (yeah, by now we all know that NEVERWINTER NIGHTS never delivered).
There are about a dozen gender/race/class/background choices and a great many combinations in forming your party. The armor and the weapons are exceptionally made and everything shows on your characters. And the graphics are truly beautiful! You have to see the rendering of flames to believe them.
Nevertheless, what really stands out is the gameplay. Every battle is a puzzle to be solved, pausing ever so often to reallocate enemies to the best suited party members (a feature I loved in BG!). Of course one can always turn off the autopause feature and let the AI take over the rest of your party and turn the game into an hack&slash action RPG (not exactly my cup of tea but, hey, it's still nice to know it's there).
Finally, this is a game made just like the classics in many ways, including duration. I am now playing the game for over 20 hours and I feel that I barely scraped the surface! DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS is one satisfying RPG!
My only gripe is this: I did not appreciate such short dialogue options. Most fit a single line and more often than not they consist of a couple of words. I like my RPGs to be wordy and challenging to my verbal imagination as well - and I want my characters to participate in the humor, not just provoke it or react to it. Remember the long dialogue options in BG? Well, expect to find DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS much more laconic.
I guess 10 years of fast-paced FPS and blitzkrieging RTS do take their toll...
The blood sprays, the swords clang and the spells explode. The animations are beautifully made and add a lot to both enjoyment and immersion. There is a verse in Homer's Iliad I love: "the warrior fell and his armor echoed around him" - and I was reminded of it many a times throughout the game.
This game will stay with you. Do not miss on it.
on November 25, 2009
After paying forty bucks for a game, it's really disappointing to find out that many of the best-sounding quests are DISABLED until you cough up MORE MONEY to add them.
I don't have a problem with a game company offering additional content for additional money. What bothers me is when you're going along in the game that you paid for, and hear about an interesting quest, but when you try to accept it, it won't allow you to unless you pay money to Bioware. This disrupts the flow of the game and makes the game feel more like a demo than a fully paid-for product. For me at least, it ruins the game.
This is a lousy way to treat a paying customer, and I won't likely be buying another Electronic Arts product.
on November 12, 2009
If you don't want to read my retarded ode to Bioware, please skip ahead to where it says, "Actual Review!".
Ah, Bioware. You're like an old girlfriend. The one who defined love for me (1). Then you hurt me (2). I still loved you, but I didn't understand; why did you have to do that?
You went your way and I went mine. Eventually I learned to forget. I met new people; sometimes I'd fall in love, but it was never quite the same (3).
We'd see each other every couple years, and we'd have a lot of fun for a night or two (4). But other times I thought to myself, "What are you doing with your life? We could be happy together! Why are you doing this? (5). After these ultimately disappointing hookups I'd always dig up our old photos and go through them (6). I'm not ashamed to say I cried a little.
You always told me you were searching for something. Learning who you were, and how to be.
Then, one day in early November, you called me. You said, "I know now; I know who I am. I know where I belong: with you." And then you came back home to me.
Then it all became so clear; you HAD been learning. It was the old you, but a new version! Everything past was prologue to this; the version of you I always knew was there. I just needed to have faith, and you'd see it too, and we could get back what we had, what we'd always known was us.
I love you Bioware. I realize now I've always loved you. Thank you for being in my life.
1. Baldur's Gate I and II, the infinity engine that led to Icewind Dale, Fallout, and Planescape
2. Neverwinter Nights
3. The Elder Scrolls, Neverwinter Nights 2, FFX, FFXII
4. KOTOR, Mass Effect
5. Jade Empire, Sonic RPG
6. all those replays of BGII
This is the best cRPG experience I've had in ten years. It becomes very clear within the first few minutes of your Origin story that you're experiencing gaming history. Not the revolutionary, innovative, awesome new mechanic kind of gaming history. This is analogous to a new album from your favorite artist that's been doing experimental side-projects for the last few years, and now comes out with a solid, deep, meaningful effort in a well-established form.
All the old ingredients are here: rich, meaningful character relationships; deep, tactically challenging combat; well written, thought-provoking dialogue trees. In short, everything you knew Bioware was capable of, but hasn't been fully present in any of their games since BGII.
Don't get me wrong; I've liked almost all of their games since then (Jade Empire and the Sonic RPG being the exceptions). It's just that none have fully satisfied me, or they've left me with the nagging feeling that something's just not quite right (re: KOTOR and Mass Effect feel slightly underdone).
This game is an instant classic, from a master of the genre. It's the kind of game that will be added to the roster of eminently replayable games (BGII, Fallout 1+2, Morrowind, Final Fantasy [pick your favorite], etc.). It's as good as or better than all of those.
Now, those of you that have NOT played Baldur's Gate, Fallout, Icewind Dale, NWN2, beware.
As evidenced by the very few negative reviews, the ad campaign for this game is not very representative of the content. This is a true western RPG, especially if you're getting it on the PC. Combat is challenging on every difficulty mode but easy.
IT IS BY NO MEANS a hack-and-slash or action RPG!!!
I still recommend it, but be prepared to open your mind to a new experience.
For those of you trying to decide on which version to get, here are some things:
If you played and loved Baldur's Gate, and got it because you bought into the "spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate" thing, get it for the PC, no question.
On the console, the camera is locked in behind the character in the style of Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect. This is fine for those who fell in love with Bioware since their console years began, but not if you want to play it for full tactical enjoyment.
Also, if you have a capable PC, the graphics are far superior to the consoles, which is often the case.
360 vs. PS3?
PS3 looks better, 360 moves smoother. 6 of 1.
Don't hesitate. Buy this game.
Bioware is Back.
on November 9, 2009
I purchased the XBox version as a pre-order, then took the plunge on the PC because I simply couldn't wait any longer. After about 10 hours of gameplay (I take my time, so it may be akin to about 5 hours for others) I give this game a big thumbs up. As a Bioware fan, I still am a bit skeptical of hype of any game (didn't care too much for Jade Empire for some reason as an example).
The game plays passibly well on my older Dell machine. Be prepared for advanced loading times in between major areas/transition points. The good news is once that's loaded you should be fine for the entire area and even interior transitions and back.
I've seen a comment about how crappy the graphics are, and I want to add my piece: I like my fantasy worlds to look like a fantasy world to an extent. The trees and buildings in the far distance look right to me vice having perfectly looking things that I can't explore to anyways.
Although I played ME through (LOVED it), Baldur's Gate (and all expansion packs), DA reminds me most of KOTOR. ME had banter between NPCs, but the tone of the banter is more like KOTOR so if you liked that game you will probably like DA. DA is obviously heavily influenced by Peter Jackson's LOTR movies for lighting, music, cinematics, which is fine by me. Call it a smidgeon of ME, the general feel of KOTOR, and undertones of LOTR.
The story line has some Star Wars feel to it, where becoming a Grey Warden is like moving up to be a Jedi Knight. The explanations of darkspawn, how they came to be and their relationship with Gray Wardens, makes sense. In fact, as a Human Warrior my backstory coupled with the way Gray Wardens are introduced really made me feel emotionally invested in my character. It goes beyond leveling up into wanting to pay back old debts/seek vengence for what happened to my past. The character has a motivation for doing what they do, and you are drawn into that motivation.
I'm guessing I will play this through a couple of times, because the dialogue options don't cycle as much as they have in past Bioware titles. Simply put...there are choices I made early in the dialogue options I assumed I could recircle back on like I could in past games, but that's rarely the case with DA. Also, forget about bashing open chests if you aren't a Rogue class. Knowing what I do now I probably would pick a Rogue because there isn't too great a penalty for a "fighting thief" but you will get annoyed at chests you can't open until after you have a fully-formed party.
The Mage class in this game is handled about as well as I've ever seen in RPGs. Yes, they aren't tanks that can absorb true melee free-for-alls, but several battle outcomes tipped in my favor because of the mage in my party. At the key point, they made the difference in all of us dying or not. Here again, I may play a Mage class character in a future playthrough, which is saying a lot about the replayability of this game to me. I shun this normally because it takes too damn long to nurture magic-users in most RPGs into the high level powerhouse potential.
I'm expecting a downgrade in the graphics for the Xbox version, but will probably still enjoy the game. Per their normal way, Bioware has a superb and believeable storyline with characters you care about. I'll take that over eye candy anyday.
Check this game out, either on the PC or Xbox, for the adroit way Bioware has put the best of their titles and mashed in Star Wars and LOTR into a cohesive and immersive game experience.
on November 17, 2009
Just finished my 1st run through so I could make an overall review: But first something that grinds my gears...
This goes back and forth on the internet but to me it smells of typical EA Nickel and Diming it's customers:
The DLC content that is available from day 1- provides something that is critical in long RPGs like this, which is:
Storage. A place to keep things too valuable to throw away but not needed in your day to day adventures in the game.
BioWare provides this from release, claiming that it *was part of the original game* but 'due to deadlines' couldnt be integrated - so instead of content that *was supposed to be included in the original game* we get to BUY it 'for a small additonal charge'. If it was some lost missions, maybe a side talent or something, fine, I probably wouldnt care, but because storage is so crucial and their excuse so convenient- it really struck a nerve... /rantoff
The Game itself, is REALLY polished and pulls you right in from the beginning, Cutscenes are very well done: the voice acting keeps your attention. Although this isnt what is traditionally considered an 'open ended' rpg, there's so much to do and see that you never get that 'on rails' feel. There are quests all over the place, from the lone stranger in towns seeking help to factions that help out 'interested parties', there's lots. Another thing very cool is how the everyone is '6 degrees' from each other, something you'll see as you play other Origins. Unknown people who you helped in one origin (just to be nice or to get exp) could be key characters from another Origin - so be nice to all you meet!
Nice Achievment system in place, you'd be suprised what you get achievements for.
Quest system has nice options for those who get lost, but what's better is the ability to toggle it on or off (for those who dont like hand-holding).
Unlockable abilities for companions makes going back to camp it's own little mini game.
Gifts to favor your rep with party members - some gifts mean alot more to some than others.
Way too many features to go over. I had the bar set pretty high for this title and I'm suprised it was more than I expected. Replayability is very high because each origin is very different and exclusive from the last one played.
The final thing that I really liked: At the end of your game, they recap all (well, a LOT) of your in-game actions and how they affected the people and country. If you were playing the game with a 'good' or 'evil' persona, THIS is where you see the fruit of your labors.
This game would have gotten 5 stars EASILY but because of their shady handling of the Day 1 DLCs - clearly you can see the apple (BioW) not falling far from the tree (EA).
on February 9, 2010
I am writing this review for one reason: to pose a counter-argument to all the five-star reviews for this mediocre game.
Some information about myself up-front: my favorite computer role-playing game (cRPG) is Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (BGII). For those of you who are not avid cRPG fans, that game was also made by Bioware, and is considered the "spiritual father" of Dragon Age: Origins (DA:O). Other cRPGs I have played include Fallout 2 and 3, the Witcher, Eschalon, Mass Effect, Morrowind, Oblivion and the original Baldur's Gate. I say all this so you know that DA:O is one in a long line of cRPGs I have taken the time to play.
Dragon Age is an ambitious game, and my review will reflect this. I have divided the game into three sections - presentation, gameplay and story. Presentation will cover the graphics, music and sound. Gameplay will cover the camera and combat system. Finally, story will cover the writing, from the overarching plot (the Blight) to the four major quests, six origins and numerous subquests.
Before I begin, I would like to summarize my review. The game is well-made, but that does not make it a great game. Where DA:O falls flat is the story.
Graphically, DA:O has good-quality textures and resolution, but a disappointingly small number of character models for a project its size. As other reviewers have pointed out, there is no difference in body types between models (dwarves have two, one male and female, and so do the elves and humans), so the only noticeable difference between characters is the facial model used.
Sound/music-wise, DA:O also does a good job. Sound effects are appropriate, and the music sets the appropriate mood for the various scenes. The voice-over work in particular is very well-done, with the voice-actors playing their roles more than competently. I don't recall cringing at any of the performances, which is a definite step up from many other games.
While the overall presentation is good, gameplay is the first area where DA:O really begins to suffer.
The camera system, while not broken, could use a fix or two. There are two primary viewpoints, "tactical overhead" and generic third person. The "tactical overhead" view in particular has some problems, which amount to it getting stuck on some other model in the game (usually an overhead arch of some sort). The third-person viewpoint works well until combat begins, at which point it usually becomes necessary to switch to the tactical viewpoint in order to give commands to party-members.
Combat itself is reminiscent of BGII at first, but soon the differences begin to crop up. Combat unfolds in real time, although you have the ability to pause at any time, issue commands, and then unpause the game and allow the action to continue. You can control all of your party members (you can have up to four), although the game allows you to passively control your party members' actions through its tactics system. The tactics system allows you to set conditions for certain actions to be taken by your party members. It works well enough in combat against weak enemies, but in any difficult battle (and even most of the moderately difficult ones) you're better off disabling it and taking direct control of your entire party. The reason for this is simple - the tactics system simply can't cover the countless combat situations in which you will find yourself.
Combat is repetitive (at least on Normal) because the mechanics driving the combat engine itself lack balance. Unlike BGII, where knowledge of enemy tactics and abilities are vital to success, DA:O only requires that you have enough patience, and use enough health potions, to persevere. The mechanics are such that there are no abilities that truly offset one another (such as evil-vs-good in BGII), and you will rarely encounter an enemy that makes your equipment decisions, or your choice of spells, seem like they matter (aside from the: more damage/armor is better).
Overall, gameplay suffers because the combat system has a weak foundation. While BGII had numerous quests that required thought and not brute force, in DA:O there are only a handful of quests that do the same. The game plays more like a tactical Diablo than the spiritual successor to BGII.
The greatest disappointment in DA:O is the story, and rightfully so. Bioware has told many great stories in the past, beginning first and foremost with Baldur's Gate. They know how to do it, so it is that much more disappointing that DA:O fails to deliver. I feel the primary problem with the story is a lack of focus. I think that the creative team behind DA:O couldn't decide whether they wanted an idea-based game (in which the focus would be the world they created) or a character-based game (in which the focus would be the characters that populate that world - BGII is an example of a character-based game). In the end, the creative staff's inability to decide between the two basic concepts of storytelling is what led to the story's mediocrity.
To summarize, the basic plot of the game is this: evil demonic creatures are invading the nation of Ferelden (an event known as the Blight). An organization of warriors known as the Grey Wardens exists specifically to fight the leader of the Blight, a dragon called the Archdemon, but they are few and must rely on the nation's standing forces to face the Blight's lesser demons in battle. The player is one of the Grey Wardens, and must take the lead in organizing the army that will eventually meet the Blight in battle.
The world Bioware has created, while attempting to combat the "typical" fantasy cliché, becomes a cliché itself. DA:O features dwarves more concerned with politics and internal squabbles than their own survival and elves who are the class-equivalent of slaves. However, even with these "differences," all the clichés are still there: dwarves are strong, stout-hearted blacksmiths, while elves are artistic, bow-wielding rangers. Humans occupy the middle ground with swords and adaptability on their side. What it all boils down to is that, in attempting to escape from the Dungeons and Dragons theme, DA:O essentially remains the same world, with just a little bit more blood and sex than the other.
In-game, DA:O suffers from long-winded NPCs more inclined to impart encyclopedic information than sound like they could possibly be a real person. In text-form (like BGII or older Japanese RPGs) the problem would not be so apparent, but thanks to the voice-overs, the game's dialogue becomes even more monotonous. Even the Origins stories so highly-touted by Bioware are more style than substance. In real life, such differences in origin would engender a different response from more than just a fraction of the world's denizens. In the game, such distinctions are rare, and rightfully so - to do so would require at least twice as much dialogue as there currently is within the game.
It's so difficult to properly review Dragon Age, because it is so ambitious. The game attempts to introduce a brand-new world, with a "unique" take on traditional fantasy norms. It attempts to give the player power to make meaningful choices, with meaningful consequences. It attempts to make your character's background matter through the six origin stories. It attempts to revive tactical combat in a mass-market RPG.
As you already know, I believe it succeeds at none of these things, and the reason behind that is because it tries to do so many of them. The world they created fails to excite the imagination. The choices and consequences are offset by the poor writing and lack of truly interesting, likeable characters. The origins required too much additional writing to be implemented effectively - in the end, they feel like a poorly-tacked-on "feature." And the combat is like the rest of the product, bland and repetitive.
It's not that I think Dragon Age is terrible - it isn't. It's just not great, as so many others would have you believe. If you need an RPG to satiate your appetite, then it will suit your needs, but don't expect it to change your life and have your children...or deliver a 5-star gaming experience.
on November 9, 2009
Dragon Age: Origins could nearly be considered two games, the one for the PC and the one for the Xbox / PS3. Unlike other titles such as Mass Effect, Bioshock or Halo, the computer version of Dragon Age offers a unique and different experience than the consoles. Either version is likely to be considered one of the top ten games of the year as this RPG is more accessible to the masses than titles like Oblivion or Fallout 3 but just as rewarding and challenging to the hard-core RPG player.
On the PC Dragon Age can look and feel similar to Diablo or Neverwinter Knights, but the structure more Mass Effect (another Bioware title) in fact, players of Mass Effect will find that this is very much that game set in a time a 1000 years earlier. The movement for example, for fans of games such as Final Fantasy or The Witcher, it may be off-putting to not have a world to wonder freely, for this game, like Mass Effect, gives you destinations on a map which you travel to while the area is loading, but you can't simply go walking about outside of each area. But, don't let that get you down, because each area will cost you plenty of hours, and hours, and hours. This game is huge.
The PC version gives you the option of a top-down view, the characters become very small and graphically it now looks like Diablo, you have hordes swarming you, you can pause, direct your four players one command at a time and then watch them carry it out. Although some crave this level of control and strategy, others of us who want to finish the 100+ hours of exploring and side quest can find it daunting. The PC does offer an "easy" level for those of us who do our battling in real time, but be warned, only the strong survive and easy is not so easy.
PC or Console, Dragon Age will force you to talk to everyone and finish a vast amount of side quest or suffer defeat after defeat after defeat in battle. Why? Because there's no world map to go out and level-up on! You have to get levels up completing side quest and get better weapons and armor through exploration and selling-off what you find but don't want. You'll also find that you have to talk people into joining the battle or when attacks come your small team will have not-enough-help and little things like clicking on some barrels to find out there's oil in them can later translate into a knight on the battle field you tell about the oil creating a massive fire barrier the enemy has to get through to attack. That's how this game works.
Dragon age also gives you 6 possible origin stories depending on who you play as and how you customize them. The origin stories give you about two hours of different locations and plots before the game congeals into the basic monster that it is. Eventually who you are and where you came from are not that important, you're a Gray Warden and that's that, but early on it does make a difference. Now, just like in The Witcher, what you say and if you can convince people of certain things drastically changes outcomes. You want to save before important conversations as you may need to try over and over until you get the outcome you want. It also changes the way your party sees you, loyalties may falter, comrades may just leave if they don't like you, since some are honest and forthright, others are thieves or murders you've recruited -- and it is possible to completely miss party members along the way and never recruit them! -- so you really need to take a middle-of-the road approach keeping everyone happy some of the time if you want them to all stay.
So PC Vs Console? Well, both if you can. The PC has superior graphics. The XBOX is grainy and weak, the PS3 better but the PC is awesome -- if yours can handle it. My rig is an Asus M3N-HT-Delux Mobo with a AMD Phenom Quad Core CPU @ 2.5 GHZ per core, 8 Gig DDR3 1066 SLI Ram, 2 Nvidia GTX250 SLI cards in 16X each PCI-E Slots (yes, my mobo allows true SLI at twin 16X speeds) and I run the game at 100% graphics at 1400X900 16:10 resolution with 60fps and no drops. The graphics are full, lush and you never see them render, it gives me full distance at full quality all the time.
My PS3 looks like the PC graphics set at all Medium Quality. Grass is constantly growing before me as I move, the images are sharp and a little flat, not natural and well shaded like the PC, the distance view is never any further than your feet. Considering how amazing Final Fantasy XIII looks, this is a major let-down.
However, playing on a console does have its advantages. Unlike the PC version, the console has no-drop-down view so tactical pausing isn't really desirable, though you can do it. However, it compensates with auto-targeting allowing a faster, if more hack-and-slash, playing model.
In Conclusion, if you are playing more for story and exploration and want battles a bit simplified and less daunting, then the PS3 version is the best, and easiest way to view on a large screen as well. However, the PC offers vastly improved graphics (for the mid to high-end PC -- see my specs above) and a top-down view that pause-and-play gamers will want. There's also the option, if you can afford it, of doing both, I'm playing a game simultaneously on PC and PS3 and the experience is varied enough that I enjoy both -- though I only paid for the PS3 add-ons.
Dragon Age: Origins is a MUST HAVE for RPG gamers, this is up there with the best Final Fantasy, The Witcher, Mass Effect, and for those of us who still remember the NES games, this is like those, on steroids.
Just a few comments. Both the PC and especially the PS3 have unreasonable loading times. Some areas on the PS3 stop and load at every door. On the PC, with 8 gigs of ram, 2 gigs of video ram and a quad-core processor there shouldn't be so much loading either.
I also recomend turning off "persistant gore" as the game is just as violent, except every battle doesn't leave everyone covered in unreasonable splatter until the next battle.
On the PC the camera control is annoying. You can't use the mouse for it, you have to use the keyboard. So, if like me you are used to WASD and look-with-mouse, the option is not there. The PS3 / XBox version gives you camera on right stick, movement on left but no "top down" tactical veiw -- however it's more automated and fighting can be made far simpler on the console.
I've also noticed some frame drop and screen split on the PS3 and I get none of this on PC.
on November 22, 2009
Dragon Age: Origins / B001IK1BWC
I've been played RPGs pretty much all my life; I cut my teeth on the first Final Fantasy games and the last 20+ years have been one long love affair with RPGs as a genre. I still am a big fan of one of Bioware's previous RPGs, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, which I hold as a model example of how to build a intuitive, easy to pick-up-and-play console RPG, so I was excited to get my hands on a copy of Dragon Age on launch day. Only a few weeks later, the price has already dropped by 1/5 and while I am enjoying the game, I'd be lying if I said I didn't see the reason for the price drop.
First of all, before I get flamed too heavily, I just want to say that Dragon Age is a good, solid game. I'm glad I bought it, I'm glad to be playing it, and I'll go back to playing it again after this review. I'm not writing this review to 'bash' the game - just to let people know what to expect from it, and to help them decide whether to buy it now or wait until it's a little cheaper, or a few more patches have been released.
As far as what to expect, Bioware certainly made little secret that this is a very dark, violent, and rather sexually explicit game. A lot of effort has gone into creating a Crapsack World where pretty much every person and institution you encounter is corrupt or diseased to the core. And while I enjoy a cup of moral ambiguity in the morning just like everyone else, it's possible that Bioware may have overdone this effect just slightly, with respect to your party members. Personal preference is going to govern this, of course, but KOTOR veterans should take note that one of your party members is basically Carth with a palette swap, and Bastila is back, but with most of her clothes missing. Thankfully, Bioware included more romantic interests this time, but as a general rule, there's going to be at least someone in your party that you look forward to seeing die in combat.
Unfortunately, this will get old quickly, because currently the party companion AI is a load of crap - something that really shocks me after loving KOTOR for so long. This game takes so many steps backward in comparison to that classic that I'm just blown away that this is the same game company. The game advertises itself as a "tactical" game, meaning that you're supposed to pause at the start of every battle and issue orders to each party member - and, as a KOTOR veteran, I'm ok with that. However, Bioware has completely gutted the engine, failing to allow players to cue up attacks. In KOTOR, you could take control of each party member, cue up several commands, zip over to the next one, cue up several commands on them, rinse, lather, repeat. On Dragon Age, you can only issue one command at a time - so, basically, at the start of the battle, your only option, really, is to pause and tell everyone to whack Monster A.
The problem is, that after everyone gets their single whack on Monster A, they all start doing their own thing and if you DON'T want them to do their own thing, you have to pause and re-issue orders. Now, this wouldn't be SUCH a big deal with decent AI. But the Dragon Age AI is so bad that after Bob the Warrior hits Monster A, Bob will then dart across the room to start flailing at Monster B. Jim the Archer, on the other hand, will send off a single shot to Monster A, per orders, and then focus on Monster C - who will, inevitably, be behind a sight obstacle, meaning that none of Jim's arrows will *ever* hit, and Jim will never reposition himself so that he can hit his target. Carl the Rogue, on the other hand, will launch himself into a kamikaze attack against monsters D, E, and F, dying instantly. You, the player, will then die because your meat shields have all hit the dust - seriously, on "Normal" difficulty, you will have to bind the Quick Load key to a mouse button just to get anywhere.
Bioware seems to have understood that their AI is terrible (how could they not?) but they have "rectified" it with a truly terrible "Tactics" system that is so gimmicky that it feels like a nice punch to the face. Each character has three "slots" that you can program in a situation-and-response, in order to craft the AI to not be so darned dumb. Want to tell your characters to heal themselves when their hit points are low? That takes a slot. Want to tell them to focus their attacks on the monster your main character has targeted? That's your second slot. Want to tell them to *move* out of an area of effect spell? That's your third slot. Oh, you wanted to tell them to cast support spells as needed? You'll need half a dozen slots for that alone, so no dice. Oh, you want more slots? Well, you have to buy them at each level with the skill points you're allotted - skill points that *should* be going to Strength and Wisdom and the like. You *are* allowed to save Tactical setups... but you get three save slots, you can't name them anything unique, and they won't port over to other characters easily. Some people will love this, but to me it just reeks of Fake Difficulty and it's irritating. And I really enjoy watching my support characters stand there like lemons because my mage broke off combat to heal someone, meaning that she's no longer targetting anyone, so therefore neither will the support characters.
Funny enough, Bioware has already released its first patch, which seems to acknowledge the issue - they haven't been able to make the AI smarter, but they did buff up their hit points so that their idiocy won't get them killed so quickly. But it throws you out of the immersion to see characters standing dumbly in the middle of a fire spell, without even trying to move out of the burning circle, and it feels like such a step backwards after KOTOR - I thought we'd mastered this technology by now? And it's annoying that I basically can't play my mage because of the she's-not-attacking-so-the-fight-must-be-over mentality of my moronic support staff - I instead have to possess one of my useless grunts and set my mage to constant healing with the tactics nonsense. So much for wanting to cast attack magic.
As for the "origins" gimmick that was so loudly hyped, it's basically the same stuff you've seen before - the origin you pick gives you a unique tutorial starter area, but after the 2 hour mark, you converge into the main plot and everyone seems to have pretty much the same story from then on. There's nothing bad about that, but it's not quite the messianic revolution that the hype was making it out to be, so just be aware what you're plunking down money for. It's not bad, but it probably won't compel you to complete the game 6-8 times for the 'variety' that isn't really there. The conversations between characters are wonderful, and up to the usual Bioware standards, but the ability to go back and ask questions previously shown in the conversation tree is gone, probably in an attempt to try to shoe-horn in "replay value".
All in all, I really *do* like this game for the story - I gave it four-stars, after all. Post-patch, and set on "Easy" (something I NEVER do, but I'm in this for fun and the awesome story, not for the 'challenge' of reloading every five minutes because my warrior got his face stuck in a wall), I'm happy enough, but then I was one of those freaks who didn't find Carth insufferable. I *do* recommend Dragon Age, and I figure that eventually enough patches will be released - either by Bioware, or more likely the players - to make the AI more sensible. I hear there's already a player-made patch to grant full "Tactics" slots to everyone so that you can at least program a decent AI for each character. So I'm happy I bought the game, but I'm sad that so much of what I loved about KOTOR was stripped out here, apparently to make room for more blood-splatter physics. Also, and I'm beating a dead horse here, but why doesn't the game have the capability to download and apply Bioware's patches itself? As it stands, I have to go out and look for them online and download them on my own. And, seriously? I didn't have to do that with KOTOR - I'm just saying.
And since we're discussing technical aspects now, I can confirm that Dragon Age runs smoothly on Windows 7 and that the low-key DMR is everything it should be - the game was extremely easy to install and play, at least for me.
~ Ana Mardoll