Review: Dragon Age:Origins

Few games have as bad an ad campaign as Dragon Age.

A sequence of comically bloody battles and a PG – 13 sex scene set to Marilyn Manson’s ‘This is the New Shit’ was the most prolific trailer in the campaign and it was a blow to many who expected Bioware to build upon their success with Knights of the Old Republic and nod to classics like Baldur’s Gate. Fortunately for most, it appears while there is plenty of new shit in this game, it acknowledges and plays upon its roots.

Dragon Age

is at heart an isometric turn based RPG, sure you can zoom in to an over the shoulder view as your character hacks and slashes at monsters and you’re perfectly capable of controlling battles in real time. A warning to those that attempt this though, the game is unforgiving even on its easiest setting. It requires spatial awareness, forward thinking and micromanagement skills to master.

Many will find themselves constantly hitting the pause button and cueing up skills in advance rather than risk relying on their own reactions. They’ll also need to zoom out to get an idea of their surroundings. This isn’t a criticism; the combat system is deep enough that even the Final Fantasy XII style gambit system can’t lessen how deep and complex the fights can be.

The real draw of this title however will be the dialogue. Every character you speak to is voiced and the developers have used skilled cast of voice actors to do so. Conversations between your different party members are of particular interest; you find yourself stopping whatever you’re doing just to listen to a back and forth between them.

Your party acts as an audience to your actions; instead of simply labelling you as good or evil the way you approach problems will alter the relationship you have with your comrades. This can either mean forming a strong friendship, romantic relationship or even having them turn on you at a critical moment. This works well as each character has a fleshed out back story and their motivations seem human even if they aren’t quite human themselves.

The overarching story itself is rather bland in parts: big bad on the way, nation divided and only you as a member of a special organisation can stop it by uniting the various factions to face it. The real draw comes from your character’s back-story, the smaller plot events and the history of the world itself.

A quick glance at the in-game codex yields pages and pages of history, stories and interesting facts about the world. It’s not compulsory to read the codex but it’s there if you’re interested.

The limited character creator is such because each background option provided leads to a vastly different look at the world. If you play as a city elf you start in a slum and follow a tail of racism and tragedy on a wedding day. As a mage you’re feared and treated as a ticking time bomb, because you pretty much are.

These scenarios and the few others available not only provide a couple of hours starting off in a different setting with different challenges they also colour the reactions of NPCs throughout the entire game.

Dragon Age

isn’t the greatest RPG ever made but in recent years it has been difficult to find one this well written and this polished. Truly immerse yourself in it and you’ll find yourself reluctant to come back out.

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