Published on October 29th, 2009 | by prime0
Dragon Age: Origins
Summary: This gargantuan 80-hour tale will undeniably provide plenty of comfort on these long, cold winter nights
If you’ve been following Dragon Age: Origin’s development, you’ll no doubt have come across the promotional trailers released to date. Footage which promises ultraviolence, buckets of blood, a healthy dose of sex and – apparently – Marilyn Manson on the soundtrack. It’d be understanding the case significantly to describe those trailers as misleading. Because Origins, as its name would suggest, is all about BioWare going back to its roots. The nudity and lashings of gore are present, but not representative of the game as a whole – this is curiously old-fashioned swords-and-shields epic in familiar Tolkien-esque universe, more Baldur’s Gate than Mass Effect, despite owing a debt to both games. And while that might not sound like your cup of tea, by the end of this review you may well have changed your mind.
Dragon Age: Origins is a blend of old and new ideas that gels remarkably well, culminating in one of the most epic adventures you’ll ever experience on a console. Of for some crazy reason you thought Oblivion was too short, then this gargantuan 80-hour tale will undeniably provide plenty of comfort on these long, cold winter nights.
Character choice, so often little more than an aesthetic concern, is absolutely vital to shaping your experience here. You have three character classes, but six very different backstories which provide markedly different opening sections, while so affecting how characters react to you. This isn’t a case of merely adjusting a few words in dialogue sequences, but affecting whether people even speak to you at all. Sometimes, you’ll even come across characters who’ll attack you automatically – one of the elf classes detest humans, and will attack them should they venture within range.
It’s all part of a game world which has a remarkable internal consistency, a world which reacts to your actions, a world so rich in background detail it’s almost hard to believe. Major and minor characters have elaborate back-stories, as events in the universe go back hundreds of years. There are important socio-political considerations to take into account when accepting certain quests. It feels like BioWare has figured out every minute aspect of its world beforehand and referred to it constantly throughout development to make sure this tapestry is tightly woven together, and (thankfully) it never comes apart at the seams.
Amazingly, it works. The developer has really crafted a world you can believe in, and characters you’ll treasure. Having said that the voice acting is a mixed bag – naturally, the big names in the cast fare better than some of the minor characters – and the dialogue sequences are little too static, lacking the dynamism of Mass Effect. But the sheer number and variety of responses is remarkable and some are surprisingly amusing, because Dragon Age: Origins is a game with a strong sense of humour. Though for the most part it takes itself fairly seriously, there are often lighter options in the conversations you’ll have and a few sly asides or glib responses can provoke a few chuckles.
While your character choice and the development path you take affects how you’ll personally approach combat situations, you’ll also have to manage the other members of your team. In the PC game, you can do this via a pause-time mechanic, but here you’ll have to preset tactics through menus or take control of them yourself. This more hands-on approach reaps certain dividends, although it doesn’t really allow for the instant fine-tuning of the PC version. Elsewhere, though the game has been perfectly adapted for console play, with radial menus allowing you to assign certain attacks, potions and other items to face buttons, it’s a real challenge to micro-manage your team effectively, and though you can choose to get them to hold back, battles can often degenerate into hack-and-slash chaos, particularly when enemies get more plentiful in number. Battling single larger bosses seems a little more manageable somehow.
Yet these are minor niggles in a game that provides so many memorable moments, and totally unforgettable world, and a cast of terrific characters. These aren’t the potato-headed non-entities of a Bethesda game instead they feel like people in a real digital world. If you can cope with its foibles, Dragon Age: Origins promises to immerse you in a way very few role-playing games truly can.