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Saturday, April 23, 2011

For The Grey Wardens! - Dragon Age: Origins - The Review

I first played Dragon Age: Origins at the end of 2009. I had picked it up on a Steam sale and was interested in trying it out. I wasn't very happy with Bioware after playing Mass Effect (Which I loathed) but I was willing to give them another chance. DAO was suppose to be the spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate which I loved so I thought, "Why not?"

Well, upon first playing it I actually did not like DAO. I played as a Human Noble Warrior and from the start it felt like Mass Effect again, a bunch of characters I just couldn't stand in a cookie cutter fantasy story (The Human Noble Origin I mean) and I just didn't want to deal with it. I made it through the Origin story and a little further but couldn't bring myself to play it much more.

I had been feeling the need to give DAO another chance over the last few months, I don't know why, maybe it had something to do with the sequel coming out, I'm not sure. But I ended up reinstalling it and last night after 63 hours of game time I finished DAO.

I went into DAO this time with a different attitude, what if I was wrong? What if this game was as good as everyone else said it was and I was to hasty in my initial judgement? Well I can tell you right here that I was to quick to judge and DAO is not only one of the best RPGs I've ever played it's one of the best games.

The story, taken from the Dragon Age Wiki...

"The player character—'the Warden'— is a new grey warden recruit within Ferelden, and begins his/her journey to halt the inevitable blight as one of the six origin stories. The origin chosen determines who the Warden is prior to the main events of the game's story. By the same measure, it also affects how NPCs (party and non-party) will react to the Warden. Elves, for example, are often viewed as second-class citizens. The last warden will be given the task of building an army to match the blight and gather companions along the way to support him/her on this onerous task. As the last grey warden within Ferelden, the actions taken, both indirectly and directly, will decide over the course of one year, which factions align with the warden to build this army and halt the blight, as well as the fate of those met on your journey."

Bioware did not use the Dungeon and Dragons license for this one, instead going with a well made world and fiction of their own. The world of DAO is very dark, the game takes place during a possible invasion and under the possibility of civil war but you get the feeling that even before all this is was a "dark" place to live. Mages are looked down upon as freaks of nature and are closely controlled, Elves are seen as second class citizens and often times are slaves to the Humans. Dwarves aren't really concerned with the surface problems, only what happens down in the underground. Those are just some of the bigger examples but there's more and it all comes together to make a world of it's own.

You start out at the beginning of the game able to choose from three races and three classes, Human, Elf or Dwarf then you can choose from Warrior, Mage and Rogue. Dwarves cannot be Mages as there resistance to magic does not let them use it. Depending on the combination you pick you'll get a different Origin story to go through. In total six Origins are available to go through, Human Noble, Dwarf Outcast and what I did, a member of the Circle of Magi. Personally the Circle of Magi origin was pretty good but the only other one I went through was the Human Noble and that one was garbage.

AS you progress through the game you'll learn specialties that you can use to customize you characters even further. Think of them as sub classes for each of the main three. I went through the game as a Mage but my subclasses were Arcane Warrior and Blood Mage, those together are almost to the point of being over powered it was great.

DAO is a pause and fight RPG, if you've played Baldur's Gate 1 or 2 you will be familiar with most of the mechanics presented here. You control a party of 4 all of whom you can choose from a pool of people you pick up during your travels. No matter what class you choose to play as you'll get a good group of people to complement your abilities in combat. You can view the battle field from a number of different perspectives with the PC version (The version I played) allowing you to pull the camera way up for a birds eye view of the fight. Space lets you pause combat to issue orders to your party but you can only issue one order at a time, you can't queue up a few attacks like you could in other games like Knights of the Old Republic. You have a hot bar at the bottom of the screen, numbered 1-0 then the rest are only clickable. The bar can be increased to the entirety of the bottom of your monitor which I really liked, I never had to leave abilities off the hotbar.

I had some problems with the combat though and I don't think that was a fault of the game but it was the game just not clicking with me. I had a problem getting the flow of combat and I don't feel like a ever fully grasped it. After finishing it I felt I could eventually master it if I played again but who knows. I had problems with Baldur's Gate when I played it too so I'm not surprised by this one.

Even with that said I did have some issues with the game that weren't my fault. The main thing was the areas of the game are meant to be gone through in a specific order as this game doesn't really have scaling level enemies like a lot of newer RPGs. Each area has a range of levels the enemies can be and if you go to a higher level area and you're not powerful enough you'll get slaughtered. Now I don't have a problem with this as a mechanic but the game doesn't really make any effort to tell you thing, I only learned about it reading the wiki after I was having such a hard time in one area. I wasn't in the right place for my level and I was paying for int hardcore. I don't want to game to hold my hand but a little hint would of been great or just don't let me go to the hardest area first because the player may not figure out that's why they're loosing. Another thing with the combat is you can destroy the enemy one time then reload and nothing really changes and you get slaughtered. It's just sometimes the fights get away from you, it happens through out the game, so while you're in a tough as nails area you may not know that's why you're losing.

Another thing to note are some of the NPCs. I know this in a RPG and talking to people for information is core to the game but it seems like Bioware's writers are getting a little full of themselves. Some of the basic NPCs take forever to get to the point, when you go to a shop the shop keeper shouldn't give a huge speech every time you visit. Some shopkeepers make you go through two or more dialog trees before you can get to the goods and this is on follow up visits not just the first time. Also some people just take to long to say what they need to, I can't remember the amount of times I thought they could of cut big chunks of dialog out and still get the same point across. You can skip the dialog if you finish reading before the NPC is done speaking but it can ruin the experience.

And lastly I hated it when you'd go through a long talk with an enemy and it would end in a fight without a save point. So if you lose the fight you need to go through the whole conversation again. Sometimes it saves right after the talking so you can just get back to the fight if you lose but it doesn't do it all the time and it should.

Dragon Age: Origins is an amazing game, I didn't think so at first but as I played through it recently it was just so much fun. The world and story with the help of awesome characters really bring it all together. If you're a fan of old school Bioware and you've been on the fence about this one do yourself a favor and buy it!

Dragon Age: Origins - 9 out of 10 The way the game handles enemy levels and forces you down a path without telling you and some of the extremely long winded NPCs is really what keeps this from being a 10.

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