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PLATFORM: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
ESRB RATING: M
DEVELOPER:
Bioware
PUBLISHER: EA


Yes, Dragon Age: Origins has been out for a little while now, but Bioware was kind enough to send me a review copy soon after release, and this is simply not a game that you can rush through.

50 hours of gameplay and stunning story later, I’m here to tell you that Dragon Age: Origins is simply the best RPG of the year, and in years. It’s not without its problems but you’ve never felt so much a part of a world, like your decisions had so much weight. It’s a crowning achievement for a company that’s pumped out great RPG after great RPG.
    
THE PITCH
 
Dragon Age is set in a typical fantasy world full of swords, spells, and creatures. It centers on the medieval country of Fereldel, a place plagued by humanoid beasts called Darkspawn that roam the world causing troubles. There are now rumors of a blight, a massive swarm of Darkspawn that occurs every so often in history and threatens to undo mankind. You start as a character from one of six different origins (more on this later) that eventually meets up with a representative of the Grey Wardens, a group tasked with giving their lives to fighting off the Darkspawn.
 
You’re eventually recruited into the group through a terrifying blood ritual (let’s just say it involves a “taint”) and are trained in the ways of the group, right before a catastrophic event occurs. From then on you’re left mostly on your own to pick up the tatters of the resistance, questing around the world to help people (or simply yourself) as you wish in this massive, sprawling RPG.


CHUDTIP-  Dragons are the hardest foes in the game. Don’t even think of fighting them till you’ve leveled up considerably.


THE PLAY

Note that this is a review of the 360 version- the PS3 version apparently has marginally better graphics, and the PC one comes with a couple of goodies, like a complete toolset and a better interface during combat.

Dragon Age is the kind of game that gives back what you put into it. If you allow yourself to be absorbed you’ll find a fully realized world, one with a massive history behind it and hundreds of characters to interact with. It’s a game that lets you play it the way you want, not offering up a simple good/evil karama system but offering every shade of gray. While the trend nowadays with games with karma systems is to give you an obvious choice (Save the child, or murder it in front of its parents?) there are moments here where you’re given multiple paths, and are simply not sure which one is the best. Take for example the possessed child you run across in your travels. Do you simply kill him to eliminate the demon inside him? Do you let his mother sacrifice herself in a blood magic ritual to save her child? Or do you travel off to find mages that can help him, a journey that will take you two days? I chose the last path and second guessed myself on every stage of my trip, wondering what I’d find when I returned, and if it was the smartest decision.

Throughout the game you will find yourself making difficult decisions like these, ones you’ll have to mull over and seriously consider the repercussions. There are many different paths the game can take that not only can change the ending but every aspect of the game for you. I played my character as a mostly good guy, always being nice to my party members and looking out for others. But by the end I had grown to regret some of the bad decisions I had made. Sometimes actions taken with the best intentions ended up cause other people harm, and while I managed to get a decent ending I can’t wait to go back and see how an evil character would have fared.

That’s right- after almost 50 hours of gameplay, I can’t wait to play through it again.



CHUDTIP-  You can sleep with plenty of characters in the game. Hint- Zevron’s the easiest.


It doesn’t hurt that there’s a total of six different characters you can start as. My character was a City Elf, a lower caste being looked down upon by humans and treated like garbage in the slum he lived. If you pick this character you have a completely different beginning of the game than the others, a unique 4-5 hour chunk of gameplay that will completely affect how you play the rest of the game. My guy was always wary of humans, and never scared to snap at them for insinuated racism. A Human Noble will have had a completely different outlook, and be treated completely differently by those he meets. There’s a robust character creation tool and depending on what class you pick (Warrior, Mage or Rogue) there’s dozens of different specialized classes, traits and skills that you can learn to mold your characters into whatever you want.

You’ll spend the game traveling through somewhat small areas where you’ll find characters in need, places beset by Darkspawn, and all kinds of goodies to outfit your party with.


CHUDTIP-  You can actually control a werewolf army in this game, or simply wipe them out. ‘Nuff said?


There’s a lot of combat in the game that can get frustrating if you don’t set tactics and plan ahead. It’s similar to Bioware’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic in which you don’t have direct control over every swing of each character’s weapons- you simply give them commands and watch them peform them.  You can pause the combat at any time to direct your characters to perform certain actions, from simple attack commands to spells, skills, items and even setting traps. The combat is bloody and satisfying, if it can get a little hectic at times.
 



CHUDTIP- This
is one bloody game. After battle the characters will stand around and
talk with blood dripping off their faces. If you find your dog
companion he can lick it off of you (blarg!)


One thing the game seems to have is a very bizarre difficulty. While
some gamers I know had no problem breezing through the game it seems
that if you don’t pick your quests the right order you open yourself up
for some truly brutal and uncompromising battles, leaving you to save
after every single fight, lest it be your last.

But this is a game that’s all about the fantastic voice acting, the story, characters in your party that you’ll grow to love (or hate). It’s about being completely immersed in another world and genuinely wanting to fight the battle to the very end to see what happens. Everything Bioware has done has been leading up to this game, and it’s an absolutely tremendous experience.
      
THE PRESENTATION
 
The graphics are nothing that’ll take your breath away but the character and enemy designs are great, even if there isn’t nearly enough variety among them. The interface can be a little clunky at times but once you figure out your way around the Radial menu things will get much easier- but the menus in this game aren’t too easy to navigate. The PC version probably fares much better in this regard, as there are only so many spells and skills you can quickmap to the buttons on the controller.



CHUDTIP- Wynne’s healing spells makes her one of the best characters you will find. Learn that revive spell as soon as possible.

 

As mentioned before the voice acting is stunning, although sadly you control a silent protagonist. I assume that with the amount of different characters you can play as it wouldn’t have made sense for Bioware to hire a dozen voice actors for the main role, but it’s still bizarre to see your guy or gal mugging while everyone else speaks. S/he does actually talk in combat, repetitive lines that you’ll get tired of about 15 minutes into the first battle.

The soundtrack is also amazing, and thankfully free of the bad metal that plagued early trailers for the game.
 
THE REPLAY
 
There’s so much to do that throughout you’ll wondering what else you could have tried, what you’ve missed. It’s no wonder the developers boasted hundreds of hours of gameplay. If a 40-50 hour playthrough isn’t long enough for you, you can play through it again multiple times for achievements and trophies and to see how else the game could have unfolded, and even purchase new DLC packs for even more quests.
  
THE VERDICT
 
Simply one of the deepest and most immersive RPGs in years. Get on it now, so you have time to finish it in time for Mass Effect 2 next month.

9.5 out of 10



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