BioWare has yet to let us down. The developer is focused on role-playing games, but, as most would agree, it's more accurate to say that the company focuses on epic RPGs. Every game that came out from under its development proved to be a jewel, stunning in beauty on every facade, but with a story and gameplay that are bright even in the dark. The game promised much along its pre-launch campaign, and it delivered on all: there was drama, there was action, there were morally questionable choices, and, of course, there was partial nudity. And before any of you even think about it, no, The Broodmother isn't the one in question on that last part. Story
The story of Dragon Age: Origins is a well-crafted one with a good, if maybe overused, base plot and many twists and turns in the story. Mages, with the power and knowledge of the mystic arts, sought to dethrone the gods themselves and become the new rulers of the world. But, instead, in the battles, they destroyed the heavens and were forever cursed for their sacrilege. Twisted and corrupted, they returned as the dark spawn, the offspring of greed, malice and arrogance. Charging in countless hoards from the Deep Roads, the dark spawn overwhelmed the dwarven kingdoms that lived within the mountains and quickly spread to the world above.
To stop the tide of death and destruction, a special order was formed, humans, dwarfs and elves, elite warriors and mages alike, willing and able to stop the threat. The Gray Wardens were the heroes of Ferelden, the ones that stopped the Blight and defeated evil. For four centuries, the dark spawn has been kept at bay, but evil cannot be destroyed, and evil never rests. And the Gray Wardens are no longer what they once were.
If you take a step back from this epic tale, you'll see that it's pretty much the same formula used in any fantasy RPG. A great evil encroaches the peaceful and oblivious society of man, with dwarfs locked away in their mountain halls, indifferent to the coming threat while the elves have other concerns than the ones of fleeting times. The only salvation lies in reforging the old allegiances of the races and countering with courage, honor and strength this glutenous blaze. Purely coincidental, this great evil is formed generally by orc-like creatures and the occasional undead. So, where is the brilliance, you might ask. The brilliance is in the execution of a story that starts in the same place, ends in the same way, but takes a different road every time.
| || |
|The hounds of war ||The beauty and the beast |
Like most BioWare RPGs, the game has its roots in the books of Dungeon and Dragons. But Dragon Age: Origins is one of those that dared stray from the formula and try something new. There are three main races, humans, dwarfs and elves and just as many classes. We have the warrior, the rouge and the mage and each will be able to choose two out of four class-specific specializations. Your adventure party is limited to three simultaneous companions, but that is more than enough to provide a versatile group.
There's weapons and armora, there are spell and skills, quests, XP, loot and bosses. But items are few, and bosses have poor if any loot at all, and it's completely unrewarding and demotivating to hunt down the “elite” monsters. There were supposed to be some spell combos, but it's not exactly what you'd expect or what it leads you to believe.
One aspect of the gameplay that stands out more in Dragon Age than in other RPGs is the actual battle tactics and strategies needed to overcome your enemies. It may sound trivial that you need to bring down the enemy caster as soon as possible or that, if you find a large concentration of enemies in a small area, you should bombard it with AOE spells ASAP, but these things are no longer optional. In most games, as long as your party is stronger than whatever you encounter, you'll always win the fight. That doesn't apply in Origins. Every battle can be won or lost, regardless of your party's setup and it's something that's decided in the first seconds of the fight.
| || |
|SubZero wins! ||It's not what it looks like |
A role-playing game set in a fantasy world in not exactly an innovative concept. The game presents itself as a dark fantasy, but the “dark” part is a bit elusive. The title has drama, tragedy and betrayal, but in the end the good shines through and the ultimate evil is vanquished regardless. There are no actual horror elements included and, as far as a threat beyond common understanding goes, that is pretty easily crossed off the list as well. The Blight is anything but new in the universe set by the game, being already defeated some 300 years prior to the game's plot.
But, if you peel away the “dark” facade of the title, what remains is still a decent concept. The “open end” isn't something new at all, but the sheer variety in choices is something not to be underestimated. True, some of the choices given are false to some degree, as the end result is pretty much the same, but the fact that the game offers enough flexibility in its story to guarantee multiple play-throughs is still something undeniable.
Companions can leave your party completely if you step on their toes once too many times, and you can completely fail to obtain some of them. Since you're told you have to go out and kill for the greater good, it's a little too easy to let some of them fall on your blade before you find out that they could join your quest instead. Still, freedom of choice is something the game relies on, so this is just a matter of suffering the consequences of you own actions.Graphics
As far as graphics go, the game looks solid. There are a lot of different environments to see, and not just your pitch-black dungeons and ruins. Not that you won't get plenty of those as well. You'll travel through large cities and lesser villages, but also through swamps, forests and snowy mountain peaks. The graphics really shine as far as the characters go and their animation, full-body, as well as in the expressions that can be read on their faces. The one thing that is awfully stiff, unfortunately, is the armor. Completely dead, unflinching no matter how much you run around and struggle in combat, be it cloth, leather or mail, your garments will forever be still. Also, the design for the helmets is absolutely hideous. Except for one or two massive helms, they all look preposterous, especially the cloth ones for the mages. You feel downright ashamed to wear those things.
Most spell animations are a little bit too arcade-like, and too shallow in their presentation. A fiery breath feels like it moves and scorches the air around it, but frost spells are a little bit too dull. Even in Neverwinter Nights 2, a cone of frost would affect the environment, leave icicles on the walls and statues and destroy chests if caught ”danger close.” Heal spells are trivial, nothing but a little bit of light and what should have been a display of gruesomeness from the entropy spell is nothing but a fizzle. Audio
The game's soundtrack doesn't really stand out through anything, but that's what music in a story should do. It's supposed to gently hold you by the hand as you glide through the telling, not take the main stage and distract you from the act. But the sound does have one undeniable gold medal. The voice acting is superb. The lines are spoken properly and there's real emotion behind them. True, some of the more generic voices feel a little bit off queue sometimes, but that will never happen with the leading characters. All of your companions have brilliantly spoken and written lines, and it's an absolute pleasure to hear them chat amongst themselves. It ensures the immersion in the story, it makes the characters seem real and makes you care for them.
| || |
|A clear case of shell-shock ||The inevitable death |
As a single-player campaign-driven RPG, the game doesn't really have a multiplayer. Instead, BioWare implements a feature to try and compensate for that. Dragon Age: Origins has a social network built in so that players can share their achievements, character development and progression, as well as the decisions they made that brought them to this point in the game. It may not sound like much, but RPG players do enjoy showing off their characters. Conclusion
As I sit down and look through the game, broken down in pieces and put under a scope, I realize that something is amiss. The title excels at nothing, and every aspect of it has at least one flaw. But Dragon Age: Origins is so much more than the sum of its parts, and the flawed gems that make up the game come together to form a perfectly shaped diamond. The title provides an enticing experience, binding you to the story, to the characters and to your sit, and it won't let go until it finishes the tale that it began to weave. Numbers, no matter how much they try, cannot convey an emotion, so, if the math doesn't add up, then know that it's the game's soul that makes up for the difference.