Thursday, 18 March 2010

Dragon Age: Origins Review


Well I went to bed early last night, finally started to get a good night’s sleep which doesn’t happen often with my over-active mind. Began to enter some weird dream that I really wanted to find the conclusion of, only to find myself startled awake by a series of shrill beeps; my rather imprudent alarm clock had decided to set itself “accidently” to wake me at five in the morning. Needless to say I am now very tired and I never did find out what the point of that weird dream was. Anyway, as I went back to bed I found myself thinking about Dragon Age and its new and upcoming expansion pack Awakening (out tomorrow,) and how I should review Origins before it comes out. So on that note I’ll stop trying to get sympathy and move onto what the title of this post promises, (I’m also doing it in a similar format to Sneeze who’s done a very good job of writing reviews so far.)


The gameplay has received a fair bit of complaint. I got this game for PC which gets a pause option (I’ve heard this isn’t available on console versions,) and I’m glad it’s there. The main problem with the game is the fact that it’s difficult and unbalanced. Mages are by no doubt the most powerful and easy to use. I’ve also had the problem that when you play another class you then only have two mage characters to choose from, Morrigan who is slightly dark and Wynne who is too up-righteous. I used an evil rogue on my second play through and spent a while getting Wynne haste so that I could attack faster with my dual wielded swords, just to have her abandon me based on one of my decisions. I tried to find a way around it but even a high friendship value didn’t seem to make a difference. (There’s also a tactic where two mages use cone of cold to keep a target permanently frozen, but I can no longer do that either.)

The battle system feels like it's in real time, however it's actually turn-based and works like Neverwinter Nights and Knights of the Old Republic, in that it uses a dice to determine when you are successful. You may like this if you’re a fan of the other games, but I also know some people (Sneeze), who aren’t too keen due to the randomness and certain reliance on luck. You also have the option to set A.I which is a good feature, but it’s hard to get right and you’ll often find you don’t have enough slots to set states.

Despite some of the annoyances, I still managed to enjoy the game-play a lot. Some of the spells were fun to use; causing chaotic explosions and setting things on fire. Dual wielding is also an exciting feature. I like how the system works, with the right skills, allowing you to mix and match items in both hands. There are also options for Alchemy, Poison making, enchanting and trap construction, so as far as an RPG goes you won’t be feeling like it lacks on options. I also like how you can pick special classes alongside your main one to give you extra skills and abilities. These classes must be found to be unlocked so you have to have a good look around for them – Arcane warrior with the sword Spell Weaver is particularly cool.

The choice system is also one of the best I’ve seen. You can’t see a meter for good/evil so there’s nothing there to influence you, and characters have differing opinions on the actions you take. Most things are usually followed on as well. For example, there are six different starts to the game which have their own mini stories and characters. Later on in the game however, they do seem to get mentioned despite being slightly different on different play-throughs. I was also amazed to find that in certain places I was able to ignore a quest resulting in consequences. On other games I have often found while taking the evil route you're not really given the choice to refuse quests for help, and then looking like a complete moron you end up having to go back to accept the quest in order to continue the game(the illusion of choice at work here.) Yet in Dragon Age I refused to help Redcliffe and left; on returning it had been destroyed.

There are a fair few hours of game-play. You can find yourself easily racking up to one-hundred hours and still feel like you haven’t seen everything. The main story is of decent length and there are a tonne of side quests to get through. You do have to have patience to play it however, as this game contains a lot of dialogue. You may also want to try it on easy mode if you’re mostly interested in getting the story as the battle system does take some time to pick up.

The story

Dragon Age is about the rising of a threat called the Darkspawn, led by a fierce dragon like creature known as the Archdemon (the last time this happened was around 400 years ago.) The Grey Wardens are a force built to deal with this blight and recruit new members by forcing them to drink the blood of the Darkspawn; a ceremony called the Joining that could possibly kill. By drinking the blood the person becomes immune to the taint that they spread and is also capable of achieving another purpose (a spoiler I shall not mention.) The lucky player is dragged off from where they live to undergo this ceremony to join the Grey Wardens; luckily the player does survive to be given the chance to live out the rest of the story. A battle follows, which later goes wrong, resulting in a close shave for the player and another Grey Warden called Alistair, and the deaths of a lot of men. Alistair and the player are saved by a powerful witch called Flemith, who insists that her daughter Morrigan goes to aid them. Realising that there isn’t a force powerful enough to deal with the blight they decide to go and attempt to recruit an army; which involves going to the Elves, Dwarves, mages and Arl Eamen of Redcliffe. Doing this allows them to be selected in the finale of the game, providing you with extra backup.

The story is really good, although not my favourite as far as Bioware games are concerned (I personally place Mass Effect slightly higher on this one.) However, it keeps you very interested all the way through and some of the choices and consequences this game present are the best I’ve ever seen. I absolutely love the final choice presented to the player, which is incredibly deep and emotional. Before the end credits you also get presented with snippets of text that explain what happens next as a result of your choices, and it doesn’t seem to leave anything out. I would however, like to see a second game that carries it on in the same way Mass Effect 2 carries on from Mass Effect 1. The end of the game does leave you wanting a little bit more. I’ve heard, however, that the expansion pack will clarify a little bit on some of the story elements, like allowing you to rebuild up the Grey Wardens at Vigil Keep.


Bioware games have never really been known for being on the cutting edge as far as graphics are concerned, and this is certainly no exception. A few people are also bound to be feeling slightly alienated after they released that wonderfully lush looking TV trailer. It still has some pretty visuals however and even if you are a graphics whore I’d say they’re good enough not to affect enjoyment of the game. I particularly like the visual style which is quite dark and gritty; it’s nice to see a fantasy game that actually has some blood and gore in it when you stab people.


I was very impressed with the quality of the sound in Dragon Age. The music is brilliant and reminds me of what you’d find a Lord of the Rings film - it’s very emotional and atmospheric. I bought the soundtrack for myself after playing the game, my favourite track being Leliana’s song, which you can only hear if you have her in your party upon completing the 'Nature of the Beast' quest in The Brecilian Forest. ‘30 Seconds To Mars’ also wrote a song specially for the game called ‘This is War,’ which isn’t normally my thing but sounds epic upon hearing it on the end credits. It really fits the game well.

The voice acting is also pretty good. A fair few voice actors have been used (at least over 100), meaning that it’ll take a while before you start hearing repeats. I was especially surprised to find Claudia Black doing a voice-over for Morrigan, who also happens to be in one of my favourite TV programs of all time Stargate SG1. (She’s also worked on game titles Mass Effect 2, Uncharted 2 and Crysis.) Other actors include Tim Curry, Steve Valentine and Kate Mulgrew.


I was left quite impressed by Dragon Age. Bioware have done it again and produced a game with a really good choice system. It’s not perfect and contains a number of flaws, but they seem to be forgivable because on the whole is a pretty solid game, (I also liked it enough to go straight through onto a second character straight after completing the first.) I guess a lot of people must be in agreement with this in consideration to the fact that upon its release in November 2009 it has managed to earn itself a fair few positive reviews and has won many numerous awards including best PC game. I realise I could have probably said a lot more about it, but I’m pretty tired and it’s getting incredibly hot here at the moment. I think I need to go play a game to take my mind off the heat...

+Great Story
+One of the best choice systems so far
+Lots of game-play (20GB in size) – good value for money
-Difficult/unbalanced battle system
-Not enough varied party members to choose from
-Graphics not as crisp as they appear in the trailer

"Now, let us crush something soft and watch it fountain blood. That is a girlish thing to want to do, yes?" - Shale

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