Dragon Age: Origins User Review
- Just Right
- Time Spent:
- 40 to 100 Hours
- The Bottom Line:
At first glance, Dragon Age: Origins is every fantasy lover's dream. Massive armies, epic battles, a variety of races, huge cities, legendary swords, magic, and dragons. It passes the eye exam with flying colors and just screams, "BioWare Gold!" And, in many ways, it succeeds. BioWare is known for delivering high quality RPGs, so why would Dragon Age be any different? You create your own character with your own skill preferences and jump right into an epic fantasy struggle before you can even snap your fingers. The game is heavily action-based, and you probably won't find yourself constantly bored like you would in other wide-open fantasy RPGs. But does Dragon Age truly take full advantage of its potential? Origins is a great game with some of the best fantasy combat seen in quite a while, but a great sense of déjà vu and other lacking aspects keeps it from being the best of the best.
You're given many decisions right from the start, though for the most part, they lead to the same destination. There are six different "origin stories" to play, including the human noble and the Dalish elf. Each of these stories has their own little twists that allow you to see a bit more of the broad scope of the story and see all the characters from different perspectives. It adds replay value for when you have completed the game a first time, no doubt about that. But for the most part, each path leads to the same place. Whichever story you choose, you're thrown into some good combat almost immediately, and then you're on your way to being inducted in the Grey Wardens. But that doesn't mean you have no meaningful decisions on your plate. The side/companion quests you undertake, the sides you choose to aid during the main quest, and the way you treat your companions can definitely affect how the story progresses and exactly what occurs during your ending. The heavy amount of choice and consequence is what really adds replay value to this game, though much of this is still often the difference between fighting through hordes of enemies or talking your way past instead.
Once it's time to become a Grey Warden, you really begin to get clued in to the storyline. Once every few hundred years, a blight strikes the land of Ferelden. And only the Grey Wardens have the ability to stop it. The blight is on its way again, and the armies of Ferelden are marching to meet the darkspawn: the demon horde on its way to overrun the land. You're immediately thrown into an epic pitched battle and begin your adventure soon after. It's up to you and your companions to stop the darkspawn invasion, and the story of Dragon Age delivers many twists and turns along the way. However, it's hard not to see overbearing similarities to The Lord of the Rings, similarities that border on derivative. For one, the darkspawn just resemble a variety of the nefarious enemies of the Tolkien books: goblins, orcs, trolls, etc. They're led by a single creature, a dragon, that if destroyed, like Sauron, will bring an end to the evil. The enemies are coming in overwhelming numbers, and humanity is hopelessly outmatched, meaning it's up to a group of heroes to save the day. Outside of a few changes like the caste system, there are stubborn dwarves. The elves have been badly suppressed by mankind, but still bear the suspicion and self-righteousness of the elves in Tolkien. A scene in which the Warden looks over a bridge at the encroaching darkspawn armies seems completely ripped out of the Peter Jackson movies; the dragon even roars overhead like the Nazgûl on his winged mount. When you approach the elven forest for the first time, it's quite predictable to watch your party held at arrow point like Frodo's party in the Tolkien books. There are even sentient trees. While the story has its share of great moments, it was moments like these that kept knocking it back down to a typical WRPG cliché.
You might also be annoyed with the combat at first, depending on how much you like MMORPG click-on-an-enemy-and-watch style combat. Early, especially before you get many spells, that's exactly what you will be doing. It is quite slow at that point, but as the game progresses and you gain more powerful spells and techniques, the combat can really grow on you. You'll be constantly strategizing what techniques and spells to attack with, and this will be happening so fast in the hectic battles that you soon won't be so aggravated with the point-and-click. There's also strategy as far as being able to tell your party where to hold and lure enemies out one at a time, creating/purchasing and setting up various traps for your enemies to run into, creating/purchasing poisons to hit your opponents with, and choosing who will attack head on and who will sit back and heal, use offensive magic, or shoot arrows. As you'll find yourself in many dungeons and corridors with constant attacks, it's easy to find the fighting repetitive at times. However, there are enough twists to keep you off-balance and plenty variety in the environments and enemies to keep it from ever getting truly boring. There are many insanely epic battles in this game, so don't be off-put by my back-and-forth comments. If you want huge fantasy clashes, you'll get them. Some of these fights, especially against bosses, can be quite difficult. So once you've won, you'll definitely fell like you accomplished something. Once you've vanquished your foes, there's always plenty of loot to pick up. As is expected of a BioWare game, you can hold a huge amount of gear, and there are many great item drops as you progress.
BioWare has also given us a huge cast of characters with unique abilities to keep us on our toes. This is excellent from both an atmospheric and a combat perspective. While I have mentioned that the story tends to derive too heavily from other sources at times and is too WRPG-typical, the characters themselves almost make up for that. They all have distinct personalities and backgrounds that makes talking and learning about them incredibly interesting. Because of their different personalities, the decisions you make will affect all of them uniquely, meaning you have to think extra hard about the decisions you make, assuming you care about their opinions in the first place. But getting them to like you can unlock several things, like specials quests and even romantic drama. Origins has a very interesting cast with well thought-out stories that might make you forget all about the many clichés of the main plot. And, of course, they all have their own abilities, some of which they'll be willing to teach (assuming you get them to approve of you!). For instance, Morrigan has more offensive magic while Wynn is a better healer, Alistair has Templar abilities, while Shale has abilities unique to a golem. You can also use your characters' abilities together for combo attacks, like drawing an enemy to a grease slick and igniting with Morrigan's fire. As always, choosing which techniques to learn when you level up is tricky, but understanding your characters and what you need most to defeat your enemies is always part of the fun.
For those of you hoping for a great adventure to go along with the epic combat, you might be the ones most disappointed. Origins uses a map for you to get from destination to destination, meaning that there is no wide-open exploration for those of you looking for an Oblivion-esque adventure. The most that can happen is a random encounter on the world map. The rest of your exploring is done at the actual destinations, though most of them are very large. There's still plenty to do at each place: shops to spend your hard-earned money, side-quests, people to help, secrets to uncover, and interesting places with their own histories, but it's hard not to feel disappointed about the lack of true exploration. Like with an Elder Scrolls game, there's so much to read about each of the places you visit to help greatly in immersing you within the world, but the hole created by the lack of adventuring just can't be filled. This is especially true since there is so much corridor fighting to be done. That sense of freedom would have been incredible after hours underground in the Dwarven Deep Roads.
Dragon Age: Origins looks good for the most part, though it won't blow you away in that regard. The textures, while lacking in many of the environments, are mostly sharp, and highly detailed on the characters. The character models and most of the armor is stunning for the most part, and even though the environments are inconsistent as I said, it's hard not to admire the great draw distance and clarity of the lands around you. The lighting effects must be praised, especially those of the higher-level spells, though more could be expected of a late 2009-released game. At the same time though, technical hiccups and even some minor glitches are not rare, and slow-down isn't uncommon when fighting the most intense battles, especially those with dozens of fighters on screen at once (or a very large enemy). My main problem was with the lack of any creative art direction whatsoever. The cities, forests, underground areas, wild lands, you name it, were bland and banal, making the lack of exploration even more obvious. I've seen all of these styles before, and there wasn't a single moment that I wanted to stop and enjoy a view.
And on top of graphical inconsistency stands sound inconsistency. The voice-acting was superb for the most part, which is completely expected from the company that made Mass Effect, though some voice-overs were dull. The sound effects were more unwieldy: screams of dying men during battle were realistic, spells cracked and sizzled, though weapons, while sounding good when being drawn and making fatal contact, could've sounded better with a more metallic bite when hitting armor and other weapons. The lack of much sound in cities was also unsettling. I mean, sure, the world is ending and everyone is frightened, but I never got much of a feeling that people were actually living in those areas. The low number of NPCs was part of the problem, though more talking, environmental sounds, and people working would've helped exponentially in creating an authentic atmosphere. These are minor additions, so why not add them? The soundtrack, on the other hand, is phenomenal and does help greatly with the game's mood. The opening song is beautiful, and there are many new tunes that match the environments and pace of the combat. Epic music meets epic battles in a combination that makes for some of the most epic moments of this generation.
A surprisingly deep combat system meshes well with the epic scope of the story and its wonderful soundtrack. This alone results in a game that fantasy fans won't want to miss. There are weaknesses however. The lack of exploration hurts greatly in a fantasy RPG, as people looking for the high-octane adventuring that they would find in The Elder Scrolls won't be seen here. The load times are very long and can get annoying if you're having trouble getting past a certain fight. The lack of interesting design from an artistic perspective and the derivative nature of the plot also stick out like bloated pimples, though intriguing characters and enormous boss battles stand as a counterweight to these flaws. But a good amount of replay value and scores of hours of quests and side-quests means that Dragon Age: Origins is well worth your money. And while the flaws do keep it from living up to its mountainous potential, there is no doubt that BioWare has crafted yet another enjoyable experience. It's not one of the best games ever, but it is a very good game.
More User Reviews
- Player Reviews: 203
- Game Universe:
- Dragon Age: Origins (PC, PS3, X360, MAC),
- Dragon Age: Origins - The Stone Prisoner (X360, PC, PS3),
- Dragon Age: Origins - Warden's Keep (X360, PC, PS3),
- Dragon Age: Origins - Return to Ostagar (PC, X360, PS3),
- Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening (PS3, X360, PC, MAC),
- Dragon Age II (X360, PS3, PC, MAC),
- Dragon Age: Origins - Darkspawn Chronicles (PS3, X360, PC),
- Dragon Age: Origins - Leliana's Song (X360, PC, PS3),
- Dragon Age: Origins - Golems of Amgarrak (PC, X360, PS3),
- Dragon Age: Origins - Witch Hunt (X360, PC, PS3)
- Number of Players:
Dragon Age: Origins Navigation