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Dragon Age: Origins review

Excellent
AT A GLANCE
  • About 80 hours of RPG goodness
  • Memorable characters
  • An excellent combat system
  • Difficulty can be frustrating at times
  • Story feels a little generic at times
  • Doing it in your underwear

Dwarves. We already know what dwarves are. Dwarves are short, but strong. They make for good warriors and live underground. We already know all about dwarves, elves, mages, and dragons. So we thought we already knew all about everything Dragon Age: Origins could possibly throw at us while browsing through the unsurprisingly wide selection of beards for our upcoming dwarf warrior in the character creator. But after crafting one of the most generic dwarves of all time, the familiarity of Dragon Age’s typical fantasy setting quickly faded, and it quickly blossomed into one of the most engrossing role-playing games we’ve played in a long time.

dwarf
Pronunciation: \dworf\
Function: noun
History: From Modern English dwarf, and that time you read Tolkien, played Dungeons & Dragons, or did anything remotely geeky between the age of 12 and 37
Definition: 1 a: a mythical creature of small statue who dwells underground; excels at metallurgy, forging battleaxes, growing beards, and holding a mob’s agro


Above: A dwarf. You can totally play as one. Of course, there’s much more 

This is high fantasy at its finest. So how does this title set itself apart from other RPGs that have done elves and dwarves to death? As with previous BioWare RPGs, like Mass Effect and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, it has to do with the game’s detailed lore, memorable characters, and an excellent combat system. But it’s the bounty of meaningful choices you have to make that really makes you feel like you own your story in Dragon Age - and it all begins when you create your first character.


Decisions, decisions, decisions

We rolled a dwarf warrior and opted to give him the background of a commoner. These seemingly superficial choices dropped us off in the slums of the dwarven capital city, Orzammar. As a low level commoner, we found ourselves doing dirty deeds for an underhanded crime lord just to survive. We exchanged harsh words with our alcoholic mother. We abandoned our poor sister. We lied. We stole. We murdered. And if we rerolled this character, we’d probably do it all again.


Above: Blood flows like wine in Dragon Age: Origins

That’s because Dragon Age doesn’t make you feel like a scumbag for acting less than chivalrous. For every problem there are several solutions, each with their own set of pros and cons - and deciding the best course of action is great fun. Had we chosen a different race and background, we would have experienced a completely different introduction to Dragon Age’s world. There are six origin stories in total, all unique and equally compelling.

The story

No matter which origin story you get based on your seemingly innocuous choices when creating a character, you’ll soon learn that the land is beset by a Blight. It’s a rare occurrence where vicious creatures, known as darkspawn, gather in large numbers and make every castle in the world look like the battle for Helm’s Deep.

Enter the Grey Wardens, a group of hardened darkspawn slayers who helped stop the last Blight ages ago. You’ll soon find yourself initiated as a member of these elite warriors before the task of reuniting the humans, dwarves, elves, and mages under the same banner to drive back this new Blight, is thrust upon you.


Above: The bad guys

The story feels a bit generic and overly predictable at times. But only the most coldhearted fantasy expert will fault Dragon Age when it dips into the well of familiar fantasy scenes and tropes. As you explore new lands, recruit new characters, and complete quests, Dragon Age keeps giving you more lore, more drama, more loot, and more reasons to keep on playing. There’s a good 60 to 80 hours of gameplay to be enjoyed here.


The combat

Like Baldur’s Gate and other BioWare RPGs, combat takes place in real-time, but can (and should) be paused often so you can switch between your party’s characters, assigning new targets and queuing up actions. Real control freaks can (and should) take advantage of the ability to fill each of your characters’ Combat Tactics slots, which automatically assigns specific reactions to certain situations. These automated commands can be simple, fixing it so that your archer always targets the enemy your main character is attacking. Or they can be more complex, making your warrior switch his stance whenever his stamina drops below a certain value.


Above: There are no easy fights in Dragon Age, and that’s how it should be

You have an incredible amount of control over what your party does each second they navigate the battlefield. And you’ll need this control. You’ll want to position heavily armored characters carefully so they can bear the brunt of enemy attacks. You’ll want to maneuver rogues so they can flank and backstab. Archers should be placed out of harms way so they can cripple targets, and you’ll want to watch your spell caster’s mana so you can keep the group buffed and healed. There are no easy fights in Dragon Age. Each battle demands your full attention but never feels like a repetitive grind.

Characters you’ll love and make love to

You can have up to four members in your party. But you’ll have the option to recruit many more and will enjoy filling out your party each time you’re ready to dive into a new area. The dialogue and voice acting for the caste of your ever expanding crew is topnotch. Their battle cries and witty banter also helps keep the game moving along at a fast pace whether you’re in the midst of combat or exploring a dungeon.


Above: You’ll want to visit your camp to talk with you comrades often. This is where your party members really open up

Each character reacts differently to the decisions you make. For example Allistair and Leliana tend to like it when you stop to smell the “good guy” quests and help NPCs in need. Supplement noble deeds with gift items and time spent getting to know them in your camp, and their affection for you will grow. Get them to like you more, and they’ll start receiving bonuses to their stats as their loyalty increases. Get them to like you a lot, and they’ll reveal more about themselves and even teach you some new skills if your character’s class can learn them. Continue to earn their admiration and trust, and you’ll eventually have the option to get intimate.


Above: Morrigan is a mage shapeshifter (left). Leliana is a rogue bard (right). You’re probably going to have sex with one of them

Sex in Dragon Age is just as clumsy and silly as it usually is in RPGs. Despite its “M” rating, Dragon Age is set in a world where warriors make love in their underwear and quickly suit up in their plate armor once the deed is done. It’s really a rather insignificant part of the game. But you know you’re going to do it, so we figured we’d at least mention it.


Above: Interacting with your war hound at camp also helps you separate the dog people and cat people in your party


But wait…

There’s still the part in the review where we have to list the things you won’t like. Some battles feel way too difficult, even on easy. The way encounters demand your constant attention keeps combat engaging, but sometimes it’s too easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated when you keep dying on the same boss.


Above: Maybe we just suck, but we had a nightmare about this boss and its many nipples after she strangled our party a dozen times

Console owners also won’t get to experience the true elegance of Dragon Age’s combat system. Clicking on targets, activating skills with your number keys, and pausing the action with the space bar, just feels more fluid with a mouse and keyboard. The console versions make the most of a competent radial menu to deal with all the options at your disposal, but it’s just not the same.

360 and PS3 owners also won’t have as much freedom when it comes to zooming the camera in and out. The PC version lets you use your scroll wheel so you can zoom far out and get a nice Baldur’s Gate-like view of the battlefield. Unfortunately, the console versions keep the camera locked relatively close to your selected character. That’s a shame because playing with the camera to view the action from all angles and distances in the PC version is great fun.


Above: You won’t have as much camera freedom on the console versions. In the PC version you can zoom all the way out till it looks like an RTS


Above: The radial menu in the console versions feels clunky at first. But once you get used to it combat works fine


Is it better than…

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic? Yes. We love ourselves some Star Wars. But Dragon Age: Origins is the better RPG.  There’s more story, more action, more character development, and a much larger world.

 



Mass Effect? Yes. Mass Effect may have seemed huge when it released. But as with KOTOR, a journey that spans the galaxy is still a drop in the bucket when compared to Dragon Age’s truly grand adventure. And while Dragon Age reuses some graphical content to populate its gigantic world, you won’t encounter as many déjà vu moments as you did when exploring the same space cave for the eighth time in Mass Effect.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion ? Yes and no. If you haven’t played either, it’d be a tossup between the two due to how polished and grand both games are. But Dragon Age: Origins just isn’t going to rock your RPG world as hard as Oblivion did when it released in 2006.



Just for you, Metacritic

Dragon Age: Origins is high fantasy role-playing at its finest. Its detailed world, memorable characters, meaningful choices, and engrossing combat system makes Dragon Age the sort of game you’ll want to replay from start to finish several times. RPG fans won’t be disappointed by this truly epic adventure.

Nov 3, 2009

More Info

Release date: Nov 03 2009 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC (US)
Nov 06 2009 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC (UK)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: BioWare
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Intense Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes
PEGI Rating:
18+

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28 comments

  • darkraven1414 - March 26, 2010 5:02 a.m.

    In my opinion this one of the worst games I've ever played and the gameplay is just horrible and lazy i would give it a 4.... Crap!
  • volrath46656 - February 13, 2010 5:01 p.m.

    Definitely not better than KOTOR, but there are years of nostalgia behind that sentiment... While Dragon Age might not stick out for any one particular feature, the game is about as polished as a game can be. I had to admit I was also expecting a Mass Effect-like experience, and was a bit perturbed when my character chose not to speak and when I discovered the combat was all tactical. However, after having put about 80 or so hours into the game (almost done with second playthrough and planning a third), I realize just how ridiculously deep this game is. The narrative still isn't quite on the level of either of the KOTOR games, but the game will still suck you in. This is one of the most detailed games I've played in my life. Confusing to me is this: ME1 and ME2 are essentially the same game. How can Dragon Age be better than one and not the other (according to reviewers on this site).
  • noobeater - January 21, 2010 9:13 p.m.

    the story and the ending for me made this one of my favourite ever games, and in many ways it is better then oblivion, tho oblivion when i first walked out of the sewers will always be one of the greatest games ever. However i recommend all to play this, the characters actually have emotions in this game and i personally feel that my decisions made a big difference which no other game has manage to do: I'm looking at you fallout fable etc
  • PiscesIscariot - December 31, 2009 3:54 a.m.

    Just got it. I think CreeplyTuna said it best. The action is boring to me, you press A and stand still for a bit and hit people. Your character doesn't talk which annoys me. The graphics aren't as great as I seen (not that thats bad, but still..). But my biggest complaint is that I thought it would be mass effect. It's not, and that's why I don't like this game. From the short time I played it, I guess I can see it's some peoples kind of game, but it's not mine.
  • onthursday963 - December 28, 2009 4:56 p.m.

    This is a very solid RPG. If you enjoy character and dialog heavy RPG's, this game is a must-have. The graphics aren't quite as polished as Mass Effect's, but the characters are just as fleshed out. I like being able to give them gifts to further their disposition toward me. The codex is also a very nice feature. It tells you all about creatures you encounter, history and lore, magic, characters, and a million other little things. The combat is more akin to Neverwinter Nights than Mass Effect. You select a target to attack and then select special moves from hotkeys while attacking. The combat menu pauses the action automatically, which is very helpful. Switching targets is very easy and feels natural. My favorite part of this game is the sound. The music is unbelievable. It's very moody and quite beautiful. The voice acting is some of the best I have ever heard in a game. The characters are very believable, so much so that you genuinely feel like you are getting to know them. All in all this game is fantastic. If you love RPG's, you will not regret buying this game.
  • EchoFX - December 15, 2009 6:14 p.m.

    This game OWNS, but it will take over your life. Don't buy unless you have time to devote to your new obsession.
  • AlexMercer1337 - December 13, 2009 7:37 a.m.

    I'm pretty sure the underwear thing was to avoid another lawsuit.
  • feeheelee - December 7, 2009 4:10 p.m.

    This review is obviously based on the PC version which plays like a dream compared to the retarded step child that the 360 version is. I purchased this based off of this review, saw it on the cheap at amazon and snapped it up! Better than KOTOR, you're 'avin' a laff! I'm gonna give it more time and see if I can find the depth of which you speak. I'm sure it is in there beyond the awful graphics, wooden voice acting, clunky combat and static camera... I'm giving it one week...
  • noobeater - November 30, 2009 5:17 p.m.

    lol for you who are too illiterate the article claims that it WONT have the same wow factor oblivion had eg Akiba and alex mercer im considering it, hence why i came on here, and even now still sligjtly divided, what with the fun of cod and assassins creed atm, maybe after xmas when iv probs completed assassins creed, but then there are loads more by then,so im divided
  • kor2disturbed - November 29, 2009 7:33 a.m.

    I got this game and I have been playin it for about 2 weeks now and I'm not done with it yet this is my favorite RPG it took the place of mass effect I loved mass effect but I love sword fighting and shields though I pefer the combat in the elder scrolls IV Oblivion
  • CreeplyTuna - November 14, 2009 9:37 p.m.

    i bought it... not wat i expected (in a bad way). action is slow and the graphics really arent as great as the screen shots make them out to be. i was expecting something like mass effect with swords but...no. just isnt doing it for me
  • GamerTagsSuck - November 13, 2009 2:54 a.m.

    I got a bunch of free dlc even without the collecters edition... The actual game is great, but the fact that your person never talks gets kind of annoying.
  • aKiBa55 - November 9, 2009 5:26 a.m.

    I've just started playing it. Pretty darn good, but I don't think it knocks Oblivion out of the park. It's definitely bigger than Mass Effect that's for sure.
  • Mar27w - November 7, 2009 10:04 a.m.

    still not sure about this,keep hearing that the combat is excellent but are they talking in RPG standards because the videos ive seen the fighting looks pretty poor with characters just standing swiping a sword that isnt even connecting with the enemies and constantly doing the same moves a bit like marvel alliance
  • MagicalSarai - November 6, 2009 9 p.m.

    I bought the collectors edition preordered and I have more than enough codes to get things from items to DLC with a new character and all I have to buy myself is the warden's keep. I played the online flash game and got even more items... I love this game (even though I had to pack it away after staying up and almost missing work on tuesday) and I want to play the heck out of it this weekend... my only complaint is that it tends to jump during close up face shots during dialouge... but that's a minor complaint. The graphics are descent the story is phenomenal... and I love the character customization.
  • scotchtape27 - November 5, 2009 10:50 p.m.

    it's a great game, but of course a few days after I get it my Xbox gets the red ring of death
  • jar-head - November 5, 2009 2:17 a.m.

    I wish Kotor2 wasn't rushed towards the end...so much potential...but, back to Mass Effect 2...
  • allthegoodnameswheretaken - November 4, 2009 5:14 p.m.

    Ehhhh Still waiting for Mass Effect 2,Bioware are you listening I want to shove all my money and guns to Mass Effect 2 !
  • AlexMercer1337 - November 4, 2009 12:11 p.m.

    Finally! I've waited forever. I'm gonna go out and buy this Saturday. Better than Elder Scrolls is saying a lot for me.
  • LordRevan111 - November 3, 2009 11:47 p.m.

    Better than kotor and mass effect? no way ha ha, gotta check this out. . .

Showing 1-20 of 28 comments

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