How Dragon Age Origins Rekindled My Interest in RPGs - A Review
Every once in a while, a game comes along that reminds you of why you loved that particular genre in the first place. For me, Dragon Age Origins is that game. Back in the days of the PlayStation 1 I couldn’t get enough of RPGs. However, over the last few years I have gradually shied away from the genre. Alongside my ever diminishing attention span, and fuelled by a rapidly increasing library of games, I have been reluctant to invest long hours (40+) into any game. Dragon Age Origins, against all odds, won me back over.
Things start out with an in-depth character creation, where you can choose between different types and classes of humans, elves and dwarves, going into as much or as little detail as you desire when it comes to appearance, and even voice. I plumped for a human noble (I know, I’m boring) with an outstanding handle bar moustache and a war dog called Lionel. By the end of the game, I was so attached to my character that I couldn’t imagine his facial hair or pooch any other way.
The first hour consists of one of three entirely unique origin stories, dependent upon character choice, and from there on out the narrative follows the same path in all three. As a newly recruited member of the Grey Wardens, a mysterious and powerful band of warriors, it’s your task to stop the encroaching Blight while recruiting as many allies as you can. You balance politics, maintain fragile alliances and make life or death decisions whilst journeying towards your inescapable fate; a showdown with the mother of all foes, the Archdemon. I can’t recall the last time I was so engrossed in game narrative. Often times I was rushing maniacally through battles just to get to the next conversation that would push things forward.
In true BioWare fashion, moral decisions play a central role, shaping the main character, his companions and the narrative. These choices rarely seem forced, being intrinsic to the game and remaining a tireless joy throughout. Player made choices directly influence companions and how they view and react to you. The deeper you go into the game the more you care about your fellow traveller, which says a lot about the excellent character interaction and development. By choosing to favour one character, another may become jealous and shun you. Show an assassin the edge of your blade as opposed to your forgiveness and you can miss out on an entire storyline, yet uncover another. The intricate relationships are the jewel in the crown, as you find yourself balancing the fragile emotions of your companions, pushing some away while embracing others. And that embrace, fuelled by gifts and some well placed encouragement, can lead straight to the bedroom, with my character doing his best impression of Wilt Chamberlain in a room full of air hostesses. Or for my fellow Brits, John Terry in a room full of team mates’ wives. Each character has a rich back-story, and for the most part it’s entirely at your discretion as to how far you want to immerse yourself.
The combat is a rather simple affair, at least it is on the PS3, and there are only a handful of fights that need any advanced preparation. Once you settle on the right mix of characters and classes for your 4 combatants, its pretty easy going. The proceedings can be customised with macros/tactical slots, allowing for more controlled and strategic battles, but the system does little to innovate, taking a backseat to story development and character interaction. The PS3 version does demonstrate a fair amount of slowdown when the screen gets busy, which is quite a distraction at first.
This leads us nicely into the only real problem with Dragon Age Origins: that it’s a little rough around the edges. Those expecting the polish of a Square-Enix RPG will be sorely disappointed. A huge amount of effort has clearly been put into creating the land and lore of Ferelden, evidenced through the hundreds of collectible codexes, Bard’s songs and unique people, architecture and beliefs within each area of the kingdom. It’s just a shame that the same care wasn’t lavished upon other areas of the presentation. Graphically, it’s far from impressive and there are a number of recurring problems, such as inaudible dialogues and the aforementioned slowdown.
The people who populate the universe of DAO seem to suffer from the same genetic disorder as the henchmen of Uncharted 2, as you will often come across an NPC who looks identical to someone you have spoken to previously, sometimes even one of your merry band. I swear I saw at least two other Alistairs during my travels. This repetition also rears its ugly head in spoken dialogue, as some of the voice actors have been recycled over and again. However, these faults are pretty minute in the grand scheme of things, and are not good reasons to play or avoid DAO. Still, it’s not unreasonable to expect a certain amount of polish in our current generation titles.
Barring a few minor faults, Dragon Age Origins is an excellent game. Never before has a game made me think so long and hard about how my actions and words would affect in-game characters, and that really richens the entire experience. DAO offers a long and detailed campaign, and if you are so inclined, the divergent paths and choices afford multiple playthroughs. It is an exemplar Western RPG and a hugely enjoyable romp through a universe that comes across as very familiar, yet occupies a place entirely of its own. Highly recommended.