Developer: BioWare / Publisher: Electronic Arts / ESRB: Mature (Blood, Intense Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content) / Played on: PS3 / Price: $59.99
BioWare is no stranger to the role-playing game business with hits like Baldur’s Gate, Mass Effect, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic under its belt, so expectations were high for Dragon Age: Origins, its newest franchise that builds off the success of these games. Does the game live up to these precedents, or has it been left out for the Darkspawn to feast on?
Dragon Age is not the best looking game out there as it doesn’t have the detail quality found in games like Uncharted 2, but what it lacks in visuals it makes up for in other areas. Everything in the game looks as you would expect it to: forests are thick with brightly colored trees and brush, swords and armors shine in the sun and get dirty after battle, and each character has a unique character model. One of the most impressive aspects of the graphics in Dragon Age is seen when talking to a different character. A lot of detail was put into the emotion each character has as they deliver their lines. You can actually see a character’s face look happy when you do something they like and turn to disdain if you do something they disapprove of. Equipping new armor or weapons will actually appear on the character as part of their model. So a character wearing templar armor will look drastically different than one wearing elven armor. These touches only add to the experience as they are so well done throughout the game you’ll be yearning to play just to see how the next suit of armor looks when you put it on.
As with many role-playing games Dragon Age is all about story and it has a heaping amount of narrative to dole out. The entirety of the game revolves around the character you create and how they interact with other characters and NPCs to stop an evil traitor from taking the throne, as well as putting an end to a coming invasion by the demon-like creatures known as the Darkspawn. The game functions just as several other RPGs do with battles, leveling up, and character interactions. Gameplay can be broken down into three distinct types of play, with the first concerning the player’s interactions with other characters and NPCs. Much like other BioWare games, the player is presented with a multitude of dialogue choices to respond to questions and actions from other characters. Each of these choices has an effect on how the character feels towards you and your choices will even effect how the members of your party feel about you. Helping out the people of Redcliffe with their weapon shortage problem will appease the people of Redcliffe but will be looked down upon by your party member Morrigan. These moral choices and dialogue options make up a great part of the game and really let the player feel like they are in the world of Ferelden and each choice they make has consequences.
Battles play a big part in Dragon Age, and the game handles this aspect extremely well. Your class determines what type of fighter you can be with your choices being warrior, mage, and rogue; which class you choose will affect how you will act in battle as rogues will need to be sneaky to take down enemies while warriors can run headfirst into battle. Players can take control of any member in their current party and can choose the actions they do manually. Other party members are controlled by the computer and the computer does a great job handling how each other member plays. This is thanks to the game’s tactics system which allows players to input prerequisites in order to have computer-controlled characters perform certain tasks, such as when to cast a heal spell or when to high-tail it out of battle. The battles are dynamic and fun while never getting monotonous. Customization makes up the last aspect of the gameplay allowing for just about everything to be changed and edited in order to fit the player’s needs. From the start of the game you can create your character any way you’d like, whether it is a male elf with really bright red hair or even a female human who specializes in magic. Leveling up gains the player skill points which can be used to increase base stats such as strength and constitution as well as earning ability points which can be spent to learn new skills to use in and out of combat, like potion making or new battle abilities. The point of a role-playing game is to create an experience where the player feels they are in control of the character they are playing, and through customization and development, the world of Ferelden comes to life by your actions.
The game handles as well as you would want from an action role-playing game. Character movement is tight and responsive and even when engaging in battle it is not difficult to move around between enemies on the field and menus for attacks. The camera can be adjusted at any time using the right analog stick which is a nice aspect because sometimes the camera can get stuck behind objects in the scenery like a door or tree. There are many menus and dialogue boxes to sift through in the game and even in the midst of battle it’s easy to find the skill you’re looking for. Controls feel precise and handle well for most of the game with only a few grievances coming from how many talents and abilities are available to each character. When each character in your party has over ten or twelve skills to use during combat it can get confusing what symbol means what and how each attack will affect the enemy. It can also become frustrating when trying to switch targets in battle as the game doesn’t always recognize when you are trying to change targets or keep attacking the one already selected. Even these problems only occur on rare occasions and the overall control of the game is fantastic.
Drawing a lot of elements from the worlds of Tolkien and Jordan, Dragon Age sounds just as good as it looks. Suits of chainmail will make more noise when walking than leather armor, footsteps sound different when walking over leaves as opposed to in water, and the voice acting is top-notch. Almost every NPC can be talked to and will respond with spoken dialogue. The dialogue itself is actually well-acted with genuine emotion expressed in most of these situations. The player’s party members, especially, talk with witty banter, oftentimes in the middle of passing through a town to discuss things amongst themselves. The game script is well written and fits the context and story of the game. It is refreshing to see a game that uses voice acting and dialogue so well on top of superb sound effects and music.
There’s something for everyone in Dragon Age: Origins, whether it’s the amount of customization the game allows or the attraction you will feel for the characters in the game. BioWare has created another superb role-playing game that should not be missed by any fan of the genre. All of the elements in the game from the fantastic voice acting and graphics to the compelling story and characters come together to make a thrilling experience that is sure to please gamers of all types.