Engaging if not unique story line coupled with competent RPG elements and an overall great value.

User Rating: 8 | Dragon Age: Origins (Collector's Edition) PC
There has been much made of the DAO storyline and given the AAA pedigree of Bioware there was indeed much to expect. However, if you have spent any time playing fantasy RPG's or watching movies of this ilk, you will find nothing new here. That certainly doesn't mean the experience wasn't enjoyable, but nor was it particularly creative or transcendent which is required if you are going to start giving out 95%+ scores. If you have seen or read LOTR, you will recognize much in DAO; so much so that one wonders of Bioware/EA doesn't owe the Tolkien Estate some royalties....

From a graphical point of view, DAO is a throw back to an earlier time. It is disconcerting that games such as Oblivion released several years ago still look better than DAO just recently released. Ostensibly both have been in development for some time, so there really isn't a great excuse for DAO to not look much better than it does. Having said that and graphical prowess isn't really what the RPG experience is about. DAO's graphics are not horrible and the cut scenes are pretty good, but overall with all graphical sliders set to the max, DAO never looks better than average at best.

Ambient sound is good and again at parts reminiscent of the LOTR movies. The voice acting though is really superb across the board. A great mix of accents keeps dialog interesting and overall offers a very professional presentation. Your character does not speak which does make the dialog a little strange. You are given the choice to give your character a voice style during character creation, but sadly it is only used to provide extremely annoying snide remarks when you have your character do something like open a door or chest.

Combat is a bit of a mixed bag that unfortunately does not elevate the genre nor even match some of the genre's better titles. The combat seems caught between the notion of real-time and queue based. Personally I think they should have chosen queue based combat to eliminate all the stopping and starting that invariably you will need to do. You really have to fully commit to one style or the other otherwise you suffer a sort of indecision that hampers the playing experience. I found it very difficult to really understand which skills/talents were the best to use in differing circumstances and the game offers no help in figuring this out. DAO does offer an interesting tactical programming option for NPC's that allows you to setup an "if/then" structure to better guide them. Unfortunately it then goes on to limit the number of tactical slots which you can upgrade over time. If you are going to have rudimentary to poor NPC AI, then the least you can do is really let the player setup the NPC to fight as they should and not have to wait forever to set things up properly. Additionally, since these slots are so precious, it does force you to manually go to each NPC after a battle to disable some of their abilities as you don't want to waste slots with disable commands. Great idea with tactics, but not implemented to its full potential. In larger battles the screen can get very muddled and confusing of which the graphics don't help. Fortunately PC players can zoom out for an overhead view which is extremely useful and often necessary. This alone could be the reason to play DAO on the PC versus the console.

Weapons/equipment/armor is also not something DAO does particularly well. Very rarely do you come across anything that gets you excited to upgrade what you have. You will find some useful upgrades, but not very often and maybe once will you find something that offers a really big reward. You can upgrade certain weapons (but not armor) with runes and the good news here is that you can take out these runes and place them on different equipment later. Overall though there isn't as much joy in finding stuff that other RPG titles might offer. Towards the end of the game I simply had to start shelling out money for anything just so that I didn't finish a millionaire! The most worthy things to buy are ingredients basically. You can also buy books that elevate your stats, but even these are prohibitively expensive early on when you might need them more. When you can easily afford them, you might be at a point where are no more interesting personal upgrades to really do.

Your traveling party can get very large and there were times I felt I needed a social coordinator to keep everyone in order. If you aren't playing as a rogue (I was a warrior) you really have to stock your away team (of which you can take 3 with you) with one if you want to open up any chests or locked doors. You will also really need a healing mage which then takes you down to 1 slot to choose from. Given the huge number of potential companions, and it was a little disappointing not to have use for the vast majority of them. That said and the NPC's were written very well and each has their own personality and detailed back story. You should spend much time in camp talking to all. You can develop a love interest as is typically the case with Bioware games, but in the end I didn't feel this added much to the experience. Perhaps it was because of whom I picked, but I was surprised at how little the relationship played out through the story. I found a much better emotional connection with the older Bioware title, KOTOR.

RPG's offer some of the best single player value in gaming and DAO is no exception. My first play through as a warrior on the "normal" level (mostly) took about 75 hours. 75 hours for a $39 game compared to say 5 hours for some FPS games (one recently selling for the PC at a grotesque $59) is tremendous value. You clearly get a huge bang for the buck making DAO a very worthy playing experience.

With regards to pricing above, I should mention that there is DLC available for prices somewhere between $5-7. I have played all the DLC (the game came with one), but did not find them to be of great value unlike the game itself. Both Warden's Keep and Stone Prisoner took maybe 30-40 minutes to complete with one potentially giving you some good armor and the other yet another companion. Those deliverables might be okay, but the content was very low for the dollar. I like the notion of expanding the game with DLC, but I expect better and longer content if I am going to make the effort.

From a stability point of view, I did have about 25 random crashes to the desktop over the 75 hours of play. I have no idea what caused them and I do not have this issue with any of the other many games I play. Compared to other games this is bad, but given the number to hours played and I cannot call this anything more than a minor annoyance. YMMV.

Overall I absolutely recommend DAO to any RPG fan. If you aren't a fan of RPG's, DAO will do nothing to convince you otherwise. However, if you are or have interest in trying one out, DAO will give you a huge number of playing hours in an interesting if very familiar environment. A strong effort by Bioware that while not reaching the lofty achievements of some of their past games, is still a very worthy play.