Dragon Age: Origins review
Definitely worth a shot!
Character relationship building
Main story is average at best
Characters need to be in your party if you wish to learn about them.
I'm more of a traditional RPG gamer. I'm a sucker for the old school turn based battle system and linear plot lines. I can't say I've played too many games of this style due to being mainly a console gamer over the past ten years. Dragon Age: Origins proved to be very addicting from start to finish and I believe it follows the path that most successful RPGs are going to take in the future.
The story really isn't anything special unfortunately. I could easily say it's one of the weakest points of the game. In a nutshell, an evil force called the Darkspawn are out to eliminate the surface dwellers (human/elf/dwarf races) for the first time in 400 odd years. Early in the game the main character becomes a Gray Warden, who are the only ones capable of defeating the Arch Demon, which will end the Darkspawn blight. To make things more complicated, a moronic power hungry ruler has decided it's a perfect time to start a civil war. So it's up to you to save the world. Your task is to gain the trust and alliance of the dwarves, elves and mages, save the country from destroying themselves, then save everyone from the Darkspawn. Really, there's not much else to it.
On the plus side, this simple story gives you much freedom. After a certain point in the game, you can choose where to go and what to do. While everyone will need to be allied with eventually, it's up to you when you do it, and more importantly how you do it. For example, the dwarves will only side with you when their new king is crowned. Through several hours worth of quests, you ultimately will dictate who will become the king. The player is presented with scenarios like this one many times through the game which really allows you to control how the game will pan out.
The main characters personality is designed to reflect that of the player. At the start of the game, you can choose to be a human, elf or dwarf of the warrior, mage, or rogue class. This allows for six different opening stories to introduce you to the game. From the very start, you can start constructing your character. Through an expansive range of conversation options, the player can select a certain personality type. While I’m personally not a fan of this main character style, it does it better than most games.
The other characters are quite interesting but there are two big downfalls to every main character (except for Alistair). Firstly, you only really get to know the characters if they’re in your party. I went through the game only using three characters and I know nothing of the others. On the other hand, this is good for replayability. The second problem is that 90% of the characterisation is displayed through one on one chit chat which can become very boring, very quickly. I would have liked to see more side quests directly related to these characters. Quests that show you what the character is like, rather than just directly tell you.
The system by which you build relationships with your fellow party members is the best I’ve ever seen. I’ll start by saying it takes time and effort to get your party trusting you. If you do the wrong things in front of them they will disapprove. If they are pleased by your actions then they will approve. The difficult thing is of course, is that the personalities of your party members are unique, and your actions will please some, and offend others. It really makes you think about how to act throughout the game.
Every party member has a numeric trust value between -100 and 100. Bonus’ in stats are dependant on this number (positive trust = stat increases and visa versa). Furthermore, if you really get on a characters nerves then they may leave your party. On the other hand, if they like you enough you will be able to undertake a personal side quest. Finally, and perhaps the most interesting of all, is the ability to form sexual relationships with certain characters. Apart from the sex scenes being quite intimate by video game standards, you also get a trophy for sleeping with your companions. However, much to my disgust, you can’t be sleeping with two people at the same time. I guess standards were different back in the Dragon Age (although homosexuality was A-okay!).
Next on the list, we have gameplay! As I mentioned before, this RPG style is somewhat uncommon to me. You can control one character at a time and click on an enemy to attack them while the other party members are fighting based on the tactics that you set for them. Each class (mage, warrior, rogue) has an expansive amount of abilities that they can learn through level progression. Building your character takes a lot of thought if you wish to tackle higher difficulty levels. To expand on this system, your characters can select a specialisation (when they have been found). Each class has four specialisations. For example, a mage can choose to specialise in Shape Shifting, Arcane Magic, Blood Magic or Spirit Healing. This unlocks even more abilities to select from. Ultimately, this makes for a pretty complex battle system with plenty of skills to use and strategies to adopt in battle. Below is an example of how the battle system works.
I found the game to be very difficult. Many times through the game I had to turn the difficulty down just to survive. Newcomers to the genre, such as myself, may take a while to adjust to the mechanics. A word of warning; if you rush through the story without doing any side-quests or don’t put any thought into developing your characters then the final boss will prove very difficult. With that said, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to rush through it since the game offers so much.
I’ll end the review here. No other aspects of the game really stand out enough to mention. All in all, it was a very addictive game with a great replay value. While the story is nothing out of the ordinary, you will still most likely find yourself eager to progress, if not for the story, then just to continue building your characters and learning more about your party members. The non linear structure of the game gives the player a high level of power over how story based events will unfold, and this always keeps things interesting. Dragon Age: Origins is probably the best RPG of 2009 and I strongly recommend to any gamer.
About the author
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