I have never understood someone who doesn't like RPG's. You create a character, face hordes of enemies becoming ever stronger as the story progresses, and save the day. What's not to like? I was disappointed with the last RPG I played on the PS3 in the form of Sacred 2, which promised much but delivered a flawed, shallow experience. I was eager to get my hands on Dragon Age as the developers Bioware created Baldurs Gate, which is an old favorite of mine. What they have produced is an engaging game, with different story lines and a true sense of character development and interaction with the world. As always, nothing is perfect though.
Set in the land of Ferelden, you begin the game on the eve of a Blight. This is an event that occurs every few hundred years where Darkspawn led by a powerful Arch-demon emerge from underground lairs in a plague that swarms the land. You are recently appointed to the Grey Wardens - a group of elite warriors that undertake the task of uniting the divided forces of Ferelden to defeat the Darkspawn. The game sees you pick a character out of a number of races and specialties in pretty predictable style. There is then a unique story that unfolds dependent on your character, which joins up with the main plot.
A good RPG has to have an interesting story with characters who add depth and aren't simply there to fill space. Bioware have done a great job here. The story isn't anything new for the genre, but what they have managed to do is give the player a real sense of control, and consequences to their actions. The playable and non-playable characters react differently depending on your decisions and conversations. This sounds like it's been done before, but Bioware have pulled off one of the more convincing iterations. Decisions in conversations can lead to new party members joining you, and current party members liking/disliking you and even leaving. Your actions also have an impact on the gameplay. An example is a town early in the game where you can choose to help the townsfolk avoid annihilation against an undead rising, or continue on the more important main quest. If you help, you then have the option of going straight into battle, or trying to entice the blacksmith to make weapons which give your allies more powerful attacks. You can also try and convince a seasoned warrior in the town to join the fight, thus raising morale. These interactions all effect how difficult the battle is. It made me consider what I said and did more than any other RPG I've played lately, and a tip of the hat goes to Bioware for it.
The other important aspect to an RPG is the fighting mechanics. Since most of your time is either spent in cities progressing the story and buying equipment, or out and about killing Darkspawn, I'm glad to report it's a solid setup. Controls are relatively easy to pick up and play, and changing between up to four characters in your party is a breeze. When engaging enemies you have a variety of attacks and spells to unleash and you can set your party members up to perform certain actions in battle. You are limited by endurance (or mana) for each move so some strategy comes into play as to what you use and when. The system generally works well. The only problem I came across was in boss fights where your team is dying faster than you can heal them! With each level up you are able to allocate points to different attributes (increasing strength, endurance etc) and you can also customize the skills your character learns. Having a well balanced party certainly helps against the Darkspawn and early on in the game certain skills give you a definite advantage.
The main quest is long and quite linear, but with the choices in conversation creating subplots it feels like you actually have control over the story direction. It will take seasoned gamers dozens of hours to knock this one off and the journey is satisfying. Throughout the game you find yourself wondering what the outcome would have been if you had made a different choice, and this bodes well from a replay point of view. For some, boredom might kick in before the quest is completed as it will take several weeks of commitment to drive back the Blight.
Finally, the environments and layout won't blow you away with their design. It's pretty standard stuff. Wandering through forests, villages, dungeons - Oh my. The internal environments are very restricting. There is a bit more freedom outdoors but don't expect to go wandering around the countryside like in Fallout.
This type of game can usually get away with less detail during gameplay, interspersed with some better cut scenes. On the PS3 that is pretty much what you get. Characters and environments look okay, the resolution isn't fantastic (I've read that the PC version is much sharper), and the colour and lighting is pretty basic but does the job. In particular the spell effects could have been more spectacular, they looked like you were performing a basic level spell and I was expecting something more impressive looking with each new spell but was always found wanting. The level of detail on the characters is much better in cut scenes, but there is still something about the graphics which I can't quite put my finger on. It's kind of like watching a movie on DVD and then comparing it to the Blu-Ray version. So the game isn't any Uncharted 2 in the graphics department, but that can be overlooked as the gameplay and story is great. What was a constant pain was the frame rate hiccups. I found issues throughout my experience as the game skipped frames or froze for a second. It happened fairly frequently and I thought it was something that should have been tidied up more prior to launch.
The soundtrack is suitably epic adventure like with an expected change of pace during fisticuffs reflecting the intensity of the situation. The voice acting by the main characters was kept to a good standard. There is a lot of recorded dialog given the number of responses you can give, and considering this Bioware have done a good job. I liked the banter between your party members while walking around, it gave me a few chuckles and adds to their depth and personality. Occasionally some of the NPC's sounded terrible like a B grade movie, but overall it flowed. The grunts and sounds of clashing weapons, battle cries and magic crackling onto your enemies is executed without fuss from the surround sound.
This isn't a game for shrinking violets. It will take even seasoned gamers over 100 hours to work through all aspects of the game. With different characters, experiencing different sub plots and the huge choice in dialog and character development throughout the game, not to mention DLC it will see you coming back for many months to come.
What Bioware have produced in Dragon Age: Origins is a solid game that rests it laurels on a good story with great character development. They have created a gaming experience where you feel in control of the story and that there are true consequences to what you say and do. There are a variety of races and classes each with their own subplot to keep you coming back. The fighting is fast and action packed and for the most part works well. The graphics won’t win any awards, but get the job done with the only real issue being some frame rate drops and loading freezes. If you’re looking for a game with a long campaign, some grit and plenty of blood then block off your holiday weekends because you have found it.
AAG SCORE: 8.5/10
-Fantastic character development
-True consequences to what you say and do
-Graphics could be a lot sharper
-Frame rate issues too frequently
-Main quest takes a long time to complete (depending on your patients as to whether this is an issue)
Reviewed and written by Khye Davey