Product Type: Electronic Arts Xbox 360 games
Newest Review: ... engage in blood magic (necromancy) and in an effort to prevent this, Mages are kept in extremely restricted communities known as 'Circl... more
Dragon Age: Origins (Xbox 360)
Member Name: nevikrose
Dragon Age: Origins (Xbox 360)
Advantages: Lots of downloadable extra goodies, well written scripts, re-playability
Disadvantages: Graphics are dark and sometimes unpolished.
I'll be honest, ever since Neverwinter Nights, I've been a bit of a Bioware fangirl. When they started releasing the sliding scale morality games that they have built their current empire on, I was right on board. I still think Knights of the Old Republic is one of the best adaptations of the Star Wars universe.
Dragon Age Origins is a return of sorts to Bioware's D&D roots. They wanted a game that reflected the past environments they were so comfortable in with Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Old School European RPG. Swords, myths and magic, Tolkienesque fantasy.
I'm not really sure it was the right move.
Characters and Story
You have more options as a starting player than many of Bioware's recent games have allowed you. You may start as a dwarf, an elf or a human and additionally some of the starting zones have alternative options. The dwarf origins story for example, allows to to begin as nobility or as a commoner. Whichever option you choose, you will play through the starting zone until events lead you to cross paths with Duncan of the Grey Wardens and eventually to join him, where the game 'proper' begins and all routes feed into the same path. NPCs from your starting zone may pop up later in the game, and depending on your choices, your reactions to them may be friends or even adversaries.
Each ally you find in the story has a different background, they story is revealed through interactions at camp, which you can access between 'missions'. You travel together attempting to stem the flow of Darkspawn that threaten to overwhelm the world after a failed attempt at a military campaign leaves the traditional Grey Warden defences almost nonexistant.
These ally characters are not always obvious in their motivations., in fact sometimes it's not obvious why they stick around at all. They have a basic alignment, but you curry their favour with the responses you make to their stories, your actions in the field (which they will react to) and gifts, which you will unearth throughout the world.
Eventually you must face the big bad, and make choices based on your relationships fostered in the meantime.
You can interact with NPCs and storylines at each city, offering to take on missions and quests and favour with the characters in the town. The scripts relating to these quests are well written, the characters are a mixed bag of good and bad or somewhere in between, and unlike KOTOR or Mass Effect it's sometimes hard to see what reaction any of your responses will garner.
Some of the ally characters are missable, you can kill Wynne by mistake by responding to her a certain way at the mage tower, and Sten can literally be ignored. If you never speak to him, you never recruit him.
Most of the allies are worth picking up however, even if you never take them out with you, Zevran alone is worth it for his innuendo and wit. My favourite ally however, is Shale, a bitingly sharp golem who is overfond of sarcasm and killing pigeons. He is available through the Stone Prisoner Downloadable Content, which grants access to a new quest and the ally. He is hilarious, and I recommend you pick him up. His voice acting is superb.
You are accompanied into the world by two or three of your companions. You can choose which come with you whenever you leave camp. Whenever you act in the world, choosing to take sides or helping/killing someone, they will respond. Morrigan, for example despises anything that cannot stand up for itself and will chastise you for helping them, while Alistair will never refuse help to anyone, but will often become soppy or confused about the outcome.
Unlike previous games in this genre by Bioware, there is no scale for your morality, the choices you make will instead simply effect how people respond to you, the options available throughout the game, and eventually the outcome of the story. If you become despicable enough for some allies they will either leave, or in some cases actually attack you.
During combat you can issue orders to your allies, queue up spells or abilities, make use of specialised class abilities and use items. The differences between the classes is largely minimal in terms of combat options, although stealing and spell casting are obviously dependant on your class. Others are largely a combination of melee, long range or supportive skills, with no discernible advantage or disadvantage for each class.
Your class will effect how people react to you however, Mages, for example are feared in the world as magic is considered an unclean disease. Since elves are considered second-class citizens, an elven Mage doesn't have it easy. Spells can be combo'd though, creating interesting and unexpected mixes that often engage with the environment. However, nothing alerts you to this, if you're playing a spellcaster, learn to see your surroundings as an opportunity, rather than setting.
You upgrade your class, and that of your allies by assigning points, if you've ever played an RPG before, this will be nothing new, it doesn't break any virgin ground.
Using the camera zooming feature often allows you to spot danger before it spots you, also having the sound on will alert you to Darkspawn since they make so much noise it's a wonder they ever ambush anything.
The voice acting is exceptional. I cannot stress that enough, coming through the era of games where voice acting was basically a novelty and we were subjected to appalling, terrible dubs over Japanese games, it's a pleasure to say that they are now considered a viable career addition for self-respecting actors.
Joining the cast for DA:O is Tim Russ (Tuvok) Kate Mulgre (Cpt. Janeway) and Claudia Black (Aeryn Sun, Vala Mal Doran) all of whom do a brilliant job of bringing their characters to life.
The game also does a great job of providing you with enough options to really have to stop and think about what the consequences of your actions might be. It leads to some intense game play and some real "What just happened??" moments.
The other thing this game should be commended on is it's lack of fear when it comes to exploring mature themes. You have the opportunity to explore romantic relationships with a few of the allies, and there are same sex as well as hetrosexual options. A couple of the characters are bi-sexual.
This may just seem like pandering to the 'mature game audience' but actually with the end of the world possibly nigh it makes a lot of sense that your characters would seek a measure of comfort. Choosing to pursue a relationship actually effects the story in significant ways depending on who you choose. Bioware's choice to add the homosexual element actually caused a lot of controversy and although they came under fire they made a statement and stuck to their guns. Their line was, essentially, why shouldn't there be these relationships, we don't have a compelling reason to ignore the chance your chance your character might be gay.
Also, before you ask, yes, there are sex scenes. That 18 doesn't sit on the box for no good reason, it's certainly not all that blood.
The other highlight worth mentioning is that because the plot and choices/morality system works the way it does there is a serious amount of re-playability here. You'd have to try really hard to play the same game twice.
The blood is an interesting point actually. I don't think I'll play this game again for a while. That decision has nothing to do with the playability, the writing or the sex. It has to do with the graphics.
When I first bought an Xbox 360, it came with Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, and I never finished it. I think due largely in part to the graphics. When game designers try too hard to make textures as lifelike as possible I struggle to enjoy the aesthetic I think. This game is dark. I don't just mean that in terms of the plot and the choices you're forced to make, although dark certainly is one way to describe them. I mean that sometimes I have to shut the curtain to play this game. Everything looks a little rusty, there are too many dark tunnels where you can't see the entrance in front of you, the water is murky and often indistinguishable from the rock....and so on, it's dark.
The blood doesn't help. In an effort to make combat more realistic or whatever, bloodspatter has become something of this game's trademark. Don't get me wrong, it's not grindhouse, but look at the box art, it's right there on the front cover. What happens in battle is that you often end up looking like three slightly rusty mud monsters that have been dragged through a hedge backwards...and their dog. (Sorry, can't leave the dog behind, he's too damn cute) and even the dog is brown.
I really wish someone would just turn on the lights, and then remind Bioware that while they have excellent rendered graphics and their lip synch algorithm is very very impressive, their overall aesthetic is reminiscent of the old early 90's rendered 3d models, with imported textures. In truth, we're just not there yet. I get what they were going for, it just doesn't work for me.
This game is now subject to two sequels and a ton of downloadable content. That means you can pick it up very reasonably priced indeed. I would still recommend you buy it. It may be Bioware's weakest offering in my eyes but you may disagree, Jade Empire was so unpolished you spend one scene having a conversation with a barrel, my point is, it's still Bioware, and it's still a bloody good story.
Summary: Still worth picking up, especially as you can get it cheaper now