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  • My February Obsession – Dragon Age: Origins

    Posted on February 8th, 2010 Simon 2 comments

    This winter I find myself obsessed with one game in particular, Bioware’s suitably epic “Dragon Age: Origins“.  By epic, I mean it’s truly “Lord of the Rings-ian” in scale.  DA:O is a deeply complex, story driven RPG for the PC and XBox 360.  For the hardcore enthusiasts, this is Baldur’s Gate 3 without the Dungeons & Dragons licensing to weigh it down, and instead contains some very creative writing to keep the story moving forward and provide a fresh perspective on hack & slash roleplayers.  Dragon Age is anything but predictable and has a handfull of major plot twists that will lead you to multiple endings.

    Welcome to the world of Felderen, one that is in critical danger of being overrun by an unending horde of demons called The Blight.  Your army is defeated and your friends and family are all dead.  Your mission is to raise an army by any means neccesary to battle back the cadres of undead and evil minions.  Along the way you will encounter all the modern RPG trappings:  Companions, leveling, spellcraft, looting, dungeons, crafting, and inventory management.

    You play the role of a young Grey Warden, a new initiate to a warrior tribe that is charged with the defense of the realm against the Blight.  There are six unique origin stories that setup the rich storyline.  Each origin is entirely unique but ultimately unites you with the same starting companions, albeit through entirely different means.  For example, starting as a Human Noble has you fleeing from your home castle as it is being raided by rogue mercenaries, while starting as a Mage has you taking on the trials of the “Harrowing” which is the final test that all mages must survive.  Origin tales lead the character to the first major battle at Ostagar where they meet certain defeat.  After the conclusion of your Origin, you are uncerimoniously deposited in Ferelden with a long list of quest options ready to explore.

    What you do from that point on, is what makes this game very compelling indeed.  Should you choose to seek out more companions, it will comfort you to know that you won’t be lonely on this journey,  you may recruit almost a dozen characters to join your cause, some of them are inherently good and righteous, and others are dark and evil to the core.  The world is ‘open’ but not exactly a ‘sandbox’ – you are not free to explore every inch of the realm (like in Elder Scrolls: Oblivion) but there are a large number of locations to visit on the main map.  More sub-locations open up as you visit each major city and discover new areas.  You won’t feel lost, but the maps can feel a bit claustrophobic sometimes, particularly when battling more than 10 enemies at once in some of the narrow corridors.

    Combat is strategic, and is conducted in realtime for all characters in the battle. You must always control one of your party in combat.  The rest of your party’s actions are governed by “Tactics” which are a set of commands that each member follows before doing something.  The use of Tactics in the game are what make the combat interesting and challenging, but they require a large amount of experimentation and trial-and-error to get the characters to perform at their best.  Rather than have your party constantly charge into battle, you can use Tactics to cast buffs, heals, and support your tank characters instead of attacking the closest bad guy.  Frequently you’ll be wondering why they are standing still, as it’s easy to set a command that they cannot actually complete due to one condition or another.  Don’t get me wrong, it sounds more difficult than it really is, there are lots of default tactics that you can quickly switch between and they all seem to be effective on some level.  Tactics are what make the combat unique and challenging, and is most of DA:O’s true appeal.

    The voice acting is another one of the game’s biggest attractions – Tim Curry, Claudia Black, & Kate Mulgrew.  Bioware never fails to attract some intriguing and talented voice actors. I’m a huge fan of all three Stars:  Trek, Wars and Gate – so an extended scene featuring Vala Maldoran (SG-1) and Captain Katherine Janeway (Voyager) was quite memorable.

    There are two final things that I find noteworthy.  First, your main character can have a romantic encounter with most of the main companions, and quite a number of NPC’s.  This trend began in Bioware’s “Mass Effect” and has appeared in all of their games since, and while there are no pre-rendered XXX cutscenes to be seen, the sexuality can be very overt at times and therefore this is not at all safe for a younger audience.  Secondly, and this is more of a warning for younger players,  DA:O contains explicit, over-the-top blood and gore that often covers your party from head to toe, even in the cutscenes (yes, the gore is persistent).  Almost all of the death animations are hyper-exaggerated to include graphic dismemberment with fountains of blood covering everything on the field.    I find this to be excessive and detrimental to the story pacing, but not enough to want me to turn off the option.

    I picked up this game in January at Electronics Boutique, trading in two titles (Call of Duty 4 and Civilization Revolution) and paying an additional $19.99.  Bioware has included a few nice rewards for being the first person to purchase the game, both of the rewards are free DLC in the form of a quest addon & companion (The Stone Prisoner) and some unique armor (Blood Dragon Armor, also works in Mass Effect 2).  You can get a further headstart for free, by playing and completing the mini flash game, Dragon Age: Journeys, which will net you a few more helpful items in your starting inventory.  I was so impressed with the ‘bonus’ items, that I also chose to pick up the additional DLC as well for 960 points, and I probably would not have done so without the incentives that came in the retail box.

    Dragon Age: Origins will soon have its own expansion in the form of Dragon Age: Awakenings which is released in March 2010.  This is a full expansion with which you can continue your adventure with your original characters from Origins in an entirely new area in Ferelden.   Bioware is quickly becoming famous for loading savegames from previous titles and reviving some of the choices you made in the new game (like they have done with the Mass Effect series) so it should be interesting to see some of the original characters and locations from Origins make an appearance or reference in Awakenings.

     

    2 responses to “My February Obsession – Dragon Age: Origins” RSS icon

    • Simon, I may have to pick this up once I get far enough through Fallout 3 to take a break. I have pretty much given up on killing the final boss on Prototype (but will at some point get back to it), and spend my non-Rock Band time with Bubble Bobble Neo and Fallout 3. DA:O sounds compelling for me, though I don’t see Mrs. MyGGGo digging this one.

    • Good luck, wastelander. You have until November 2010 when “Fallout: New Vegas” comes out, it sounds like it will surpass Fallout 3 in every respect.

      Fallout 3 was the best game I played in 2009. I’m happy to say that the 110 hours I spent chasing the Enclave was one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had. So I’m a bit jealous that you are just now experiencing it all for the first time. I hope you have half as much fun as I did in Fallout 3. Don’t forget to feed Dogmeat!

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