DA: Origins is an original and true RPG. It's one of the best made in its class, but it's also a pearl within a clam.
Zeatrix wrote this review on .
Now why would I start a review of this extraordinary game with a metaphor and say it's a pearl within a clam you may wonder. I'll explain throughout the review. First, I must say I had a hard time deciding whether this game should have 9.0 or 9.5, but in the end decided to give it 9.0 due a big factor.
When I first heard about this game, I had no doubts it'd be worth playing when made by Bioware considering its genre. Bioware has pushed the RPG genre to a new level, a level that defines RPG with a much greater essential value. You could say that FPS and RPG isn't much different in regards of the name, but today's RPG regards social values much more, and while you may very well play as a role when playing FPS, in reality, you're generally just hands with a gun. Bioware (though definitely not only) infused this role you take in an RPG with life, and I knew Dragon Age: Origins would be another exemplary proof of their success.
So is the game everything it sounds like? Generally speaking, yes! This game is one of the most sophisticated games in RPG history. One of the most outstanding futures of Dragon Age: Origins, is its unique story & lore. For example, you're probably used to elves being tall and respected in general society; but in DA: Origins, they're a total opposite. Bioware challenged the regular foundation of this form of fantasy idealism (I.E. magical beings, dragons, ogre, sword, magic etc.). Through this notion, they radically and successfully changed it into an innovative philosophy of a different and darker fantasy universe.
But why is the game a pearl within a clam? While DA: Origins is a sophisticated game within its own universe, it's also incredible isolated. The pearl, a perfected, fine and admirable object representing DA: Origins lies hidden within the clam deep at the bottom of the sea. Like the ring in Lord of the Rings, it wants to escape to exercise its full potential. DA: Origins has a whole lot of interesting events to offer, but they all happen within areas that are major parts of the great main quest. There aren't many areas to explore in DA: Origins, because you've already been there before. When you accept a side-quest, the related material to that quest will simply spawn in an already visited area. You could say the game is a house with a lot of rooms, and while you have the liberty to choose which rooms you want to enter first, the house has no door to the outside. This is unfortunately a trend Bioware has started to take since the creation of Neverwinter Nights I. It gives them more resources to develop and polish the game since they only have some "rooms" to work with, but it's a big missing element in the RPG genre.
Although the pearl is trapped in the clam, it still shines with its beauty. Like in Mass Effect, the game is very focused on sexual and social content. NPCs are no longer simplified creatures programmed to tell you the same thing regardless of current circumstances and events. Throughout the game you'll find companions helping you with the ultimate goal. All of these characters have personalities, and what decisions you take, what you do and what you say shape their interest in you. If you prefer compromising your ultimate mission in order to save a few innocent people, some of your companions will either like or dislike these type of actions. Eventually they'll even love or hate you, consequently having a major change in behaviour and attitude with you.
But to talk more about the objective part of the game. DA: Origins has six origin stories. Basically your roots - where you come from. Which of these you choose decide first of all which race you are, but also your position in the society of your race. Each origin has a unique beginning, and it also changes the entire game to some extend. For instance, greater opportunities are open for you if you're an elf and having business in elven society. Shortly into one of the origins you realize Ferelden (this is the kingdom where the game takes place) is under a threat of an old enemy known as the Darkspawn. Unlike other games where hostile creatures often appear out of nowhere, these Darkspawn are not much different from your own race(s). Their appearance, purpose and existence are well documented within the lore of DA: Origins.
During your beginning origin story, you'll be met by a high member of the Grey Warden. The Grey Wardens is an independent and ancient organization dedicated to fight these Darkspawn. Due to the limited amount of Grey Wardens currently stationed in Ferelden, the reason of his presence is because he wants to recruit you into the ranks of the Grey Wardens. Don't worry, this is not a spoiler, as you'll pretty much encounter him during your first few minutes of the game. Being a Grey Warden is what defines your role in DA: Origins, and the game is centered around your ultimate quest to save Ferelden from this threat.
You could say that this sounds very standard and not very original, and while I may partially agree to that, the game is nevertheless very well made, and the complexity involved makes the game overall very original. You'll encounter a whole lot of social, political and ethical situations throughout the game, and you won't save Ferelden by merely wiping the existence of everything with a pulse. You have to shape and renew alliances, and as a consequence often have to choose side. Whether you decide to make the world a better place to live in, or decide to sacrifice this aspect for greater personal gain, there are consequences to both decisions. There are an incredible amount of inevitable choices to be made DA: Origin, and each one will shape the foundation of your path towards the ultimate goal, this path is a road of trust, support and leadership; everything forged by your decisions, either through words or action.
The combat and character advancement are brilliant. Some might say the combat is dull and non-exciting, but they have wrong expectations for this type of RPG. The combat system is based around teamwork, as you're rarely alone. By teamwork you'll have to tactically defeat your enemies, and not just out-righteous march into battle in pure ignorance (although at low difficulty this is certainly possible). You can manually configure how your companions react, tolerate and response in combat. Through the act of variables you can change a companion's behaviour, like for instance ordering him/her to heal you with X spell when you reach Y amount of life. You can also simply choose to use a build-in behaviour. If you click space, the entire game will pause, and give you opportunity to carefully issue orders for you and your companions; everything from using spells or abilities to movement. Once you click space again, you resume the game and all the issued orders will execute. This strategy is essential if you play on highest difficulty.
All the spells and abilities with the exception of a few powerful ones are instant, but almost all of them have a cool-down after use. Spells cost mana, and abilities cost stamina. The trick is to maintain and handle the portion you have at your disposal well, as the regeneration is very low in combat. The character advancement starts with three base classes. Mage, rogue and warrior. As you progress in the game, you'll increase in level, so this is pretty standard. However, each class has several talent trees, and you have the flexibility to mix these trees with talent points you gain through levels. During level increase you also gain attributes you freely decide to place yourself. On top of that, at mid and end game, you'll get access to specialization; these specializations open for new abilities, extra and some times unique attributes and talent tress. So while it sounds very standard with only three classes, you can customize each one with great flexibility and dedication, making them very unique to your own play-style.
But the true beauty of this games lies within the detailed and inspiring universe. DA: Origins has been infused by social aspects of top level, and Bioware has written and coloured Ferelden masterfully. Story and tales reaching from the Circle of Magi, ever watched by the templars of the chantry, down to the dark hearts of men, blindly concerned about political influence and power; out to the forest of the Dalish people, self-exiled from the world of men, protecting and preserving knowledge, still ever-grieving their lost homeland while they wander their nomadic lives throughout Thedas; to beneath the very ground to the dwarfs, worshipping their Paragons who guide them to success while they protect one of their last kingdoms, Orzammar, from the Darkspawn rising from even deeper grounds. All of these races never really at peace, buried with concerns and trouble from themselves and other races. However, they are obliged to answer to some – The Wardens. You will quickly realize that it's not the race of Darkspawn being a problem, it's the races of your own.
There is so much to grasp in this game. The game is worth every little cent, and even if you complete it once, there's still un-played content, as it's virtually impossible to complete the game 100% in one play-through. I originally wanted to give it 9.5, but the reason I gave it 9.0 is because your own character has no voice like for instance in Mass Effect. Every character in DA:O comes with a voice to their words except the most important – you. It was a very big let-down, but besides that the game is extraordinary.
Are you able to unite the races of Ferelden under one banner against an ancient rising threat? You will gain many supporters and companions, but it's up to you if you want to walk behind, side-by-side or in front of them into the very battle for freedom.