21 December 2011
The Long-Awaited Dragon Age: Origins Review
Dragon Age stole me away from the Elder Scrolls games for...pretty much an eternity.
I'll attempt not to bore you with what promises to be a rambling love-fest. In fact, I'll try to remain *mostly* impartial, but considering I wrote a MANic Monday post about Alistair, I can't make promises. Also, since I've written about how it helps write deep setting and minor characters...yeah........
Where to start with this game? (I'm reviewing the Xbox 360 version.)
Here's the story: There are these critters called Darkspawn that just will not go away. Most of the time, they lurk below ground in an area called the Deep Roads. Sometimes, however, they come up.
You play as The Warden, a member of the respected (and sometimes reviled) Grey Wardens who fight to keep the darkspawn underground. But every hero has an origin, right? Well, in DAO, you get options that affect your standing in the world and how other characters view you.
As a human, you choose between being a noble or a mage. If you're a noble, you start out at your estate in Highever and deal with the betrayal of a family friend. If you're a mage, you start in the Circle of Magi--a means for mages to be collared.
As an elf, you can be a Dalish elf (an elf that lives outside society), a mage, or a city elf. The Dalish keep to nature and are incredibly history-oriented. The Keeper is the one who maintains knowledge of elvhen culture before they were relegated to living outside society. The mage story is the same as above. As a city elf, you start in the Alienage, which is a section of major city (in this case, Denerim, the capital city).
As a dwarf, you have two choices: noble and castless. As a noble, you have high standing in the city and come from a well-known and respected family, but you have to deal with the ruthless politics of noble life. As a castless, you have to deal with being invisible and living in Dust Town, the basement section of the dwarven thaig Orzammar,
Regardless of your origin choice, Terrible Inciting Event happens, and Duncan, the leader of the Ferelden Grey Wardens comes to save the day by evoking the Right of Conscription the Wardens enjoy and hauling your ass to Ostagar, where you meet Alistair *sigh*.
Combat is pretty easy. You attack things with X and the other buttons allow you to access assigned talents/spells, etc (think Zelda64). DAO's system uses an in-game menu, accessed by the right bumper, to house your other spells/talents, poisons, traps, etc. This is also how you switch between primary *typically melee, like sword, club, or mace* weapons and secondary weapons *usually ranged, like crossbow or longbow*. I'm not a huge fan of it because it interrupts combat, but honestly, I'm not sure there's another way to go about it, since all your other buttons are in use as well.
Also, the weapons/armor are a bit confusing because there's SO MUCH. A lot of options and a lot of materials. Keep in mind that I'm playing on a boxy 19 in tv, so I can't see very much unless I'm sitting directly in front of the screen. Each item has a description, but that doesn't make it any less taxing.
There are a few points when the dialogue cuts out or the frame rate drops (specifically when awesome-slaying an ogre since it goes into slo-mo). It's not really that much of a big deal. You can enable subtitles (which I ALWAYS do), and the whole ogre-slaying is only problematic if your person gets stuck in repetitive stabby mode, in which case you just need to switch to another character.
One of the game's best features is customization. Not just your character's appearance but specializations within your chosen class. You can unlock extra specializations through character interactions.
The plot is interesting and complex, and the characters...omg, the characters are FANTASTIC. Apart from Alistair, who owns my heart forevermore, there's Morrigan, an apostate mage and your second companion; Oghren, a dwarf from Orzammar; Dog, a mabari war hound who imprints on you at the beginning of the Ostagar campaign; Sten, a Qunari warrior you have the option of freeing; Leliana, an Orlesian immigrant who takes up in one of the Chantries; Zevran, an Antivan assassin (who would totally own my heart if Alistair didn't exist); Shale, a golem (available through DLC); and Wynne, a mage of the Circle of Magi.
These aren't just cardboard characters. Each one has his/her own backstory, They have in-game dialogues while you're walking around, and some of them are absolutely hilarious. Anything concerning Oghren or conversations between Alistair and Morrigan are completely worth the price of admission on this one.
Four of your characters are available romance options. Leliana and Zev can be romanced by either gender. Alistair's is the best *ahem, biased, ahem* but I had a lot of fun pursuing Morrigan, too. However, everyone but Mr. Free Love Zevran get pretty possessive. If you try to romance two people at once, one of them will demand you break it off, and that's pretty much the end of it. Also, I accidentally broke up with Alistair once because I made fun of him. My bad, Al. My bad.
DAO is one of those games where every choice matters. Choices can affect how your companions view you and can also affect the world you're shaping. That's my second-favorite part of the game. Knowing that whom you support, whom you kill, what you say to people matters. It makes for an interesting and realistic gaming experience.
I would give this game all the stars in existence.