A (Partial) Review of Dragon Age: Origins

Dragon Age is Pretty, But Dull as Dirt

I played a fair piece of Bioware’s latest RPG, Dragon Age, (probably 3/4 the game) and although excessively long (last time I looked, I was at about 34 hours) I believe it was probably many times that, and long enough to know a few things.

Such as: It is a very ‘old school’ single player party RPG.

It is also what I might call – for the hardcore, as it requires increasingly more effort as the game continues, even on “easy mode”. When the bosses start to arrive, well – be prepared for 1/2 hour or greater fights that will challenge you, whether on ‘easy mode’ or not. It is still good, although, initially, it seemed pretty dull on “easy mode”, as in too easy. The result is that it was also dull.

Like, painfully dull, easy. But, it got harder, I assure you. At some point, even some minor bosses were giving me grief.

Out of 34 hours immersed in the world of Dragon Age, 28 of them initially seemed to have been staring at cut scenes (well, maybe not, but it sure seemed that way). Granted, you can skip some stuff, and get “straight to the pounding”, but will probably miss important info (like WHY you are talking) and any further rewards, quests, etc. But that was very early.

The cut scenes in Dragon Age often feel forced, of the forced perspective “conversational” type. I believe this is why the game took so long to make, but the actual amount of game play remains (to me anyway) debatable. Many cut scenes are also forced into being when you encounter someone. So, even more hours of game play get chewed through by the ‘crack infected squirrel’ (sigh). Suffice to say, it is very similar to Mass Effect in many ways, just with a butt-ton of cut scenes. But, typical maps to explore remain a bit linear, with one path through, basically, to the end, even if you can chose other cities to go to whenever.

Add the micromanagement of every detail of your party, making healing potions, traps, poisons, adding runes to weapons, leveling up party members, changing gear… and at some point…it’s a bit over the top. I will add here that you can also pre-program your character (and all party members) to behave tactically in battle specific ways, and you can customize that too. Or, you can easily switch to them and fight using that character. When switching to them they often say “What?”, “Again?”, “*SIGH!*”, etc.

Resolving quests is not so simple as making a ‘black & white’ choice – on one – I decided to go get help, which of course opened up another massive can of worms. I should have just done “x” and left. Suffice to say – all the cut scenes and running back and forth for crap + micro side quests (which can make you feel like someones “errand boy”, sometimes) were getting old and boring. I was (early on) just about ready to quit out of boredom! When was something going to happen? SOMETHING INTERESTING?

Maybe it was because of the “set up” in the story, which although good, smacks a bit of Tolkien in a Steven King train wreck of needless, excessive exposition and detail. Or, maybe it was because so many of the dungeons were derivative, typical and therefore perceived as lame and old hat. Note: One potential member of my ‘crew’ – (minor spoiler here) well, he tried to assassinate me (and the crew) so, I killed him. Later I realized he was a potential “joiner”. Oops.

Although – in some ways I like that – choices have consequences.

In an area called the fade, Bioware at least branched away for a bit, and offered the lone player (no party!) a chance to play multiple characters who were different: like an arcane horror, burning man, a stone Golem and even a mouse. Although, the ogre seems to know you are a fake mouse from far off, it was still novel, and had puzzles, and there are more than just one puzzle in the game. I really preferred the Golem, and proceeded to punch the monkey stuffing out of any Ogre that got near me with maybe a bit too much glee. Muah ha ha ha ha!

The monsters of Dragon Age. Well, there are a great many in terms of variety, and there seems nearly always something new. I don’t mean as in different from the usual “Zombie, monster, demon, terrorist,etc.” (no Nazis, thankfully!) Granted, I just played Fable 2, and battled werewolves, but not talking ones. Made it more interesting somehow, but the Darkspawn seemed dull to me. By the time I got to the Deep roads, everything looked alike to me, and when Big bosses arrived – I was done, and B-O-R-E-D. Yes, capital letters.

Sidebar:
In one area – I encountered some types that wanted me to die or cut a deal (a reoccurring theme here) and I pounded at them right away, but the game insisted I could not win, no matter how close to that I was, my team always died, suddenly. So…I was forced into the damn conversation. (I’m sorry – If I cannot win, why offer it again? That’s stupid. Aren’t we done with the whole “learn via endless failure” bit in games?) Well – enough on that.

Again, it’s a very long story, many side quests, and you simply cannot finish this in a few days. I liked the Elven quests the best, although I am not sure why. All the maps are very linear, as is the game play in many respects, but at the end (or backtrack to the beginning) you are free to go where (to an open map anyway) that you wish. I played a Warrior, and had another warrior, and two mages… which meant that any nice treasure chests I found could not be opened. But, if I brought a rogue, well then she required USE of the contents (often arrows) just to survive….which sort of mooted the whole point of looting for me.

Money seems impossible to come by in Dragon Age, and I had a difficult time amassing any real amount. Who knew Bioware would be so stingy with their 1’s and 0’s? An archer will always be poor, I found early on, because arrows cost large amounts of cash (even party members run out of them). There is special armor and weapons available at various merchants to buy – but you will find plenty of stuff on quests that is as good or better, although it won’t have much gold value.

In camp – you can sell stuff to the Dwarf, and he will actually keep it, which was nice because I had no way to store stuff I might want someday, again. His son also enchants items, something I never found – as in: anyone else who could. Merchants are around as you wander, if you get weighed down – but backpacks cost money (extra space = gold loss) as do tomes of “skill”. Plus, by doing specific quests, you can gain specialized skills.

I suppose before I clock out here I should mention that the voice over quality in Dragon Age: Origins is very good, and there are many voices you will instantly recognize from TV, movies or anime. Cowboy Bebop’s Spike Spiegel, (Steven Jay Blum), Star Trek’s Tuvok (Tim Russ) and many others. If they are not those people, they sure did a great job of imitation. In the graphics dept. – it’s a bit lacking on the 360, (still, not enough to matter much) although the sound is very good.

Conclusion
All in all Dragon Age was fun, though tedious and draggy at times due to the sheer chattiness of characters determined to tell you their life stories. I still found the game somewhat obsessive, playable and fun, if overly long. But, I have also played Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout, Fable (1 & 2) so, I suppose in some way I liked it… mostly. This was the first “party based” RPG I’ve played, however. Whether you like that sort of thing or not is largely a matter of preference, and I expect your experience with Dragon Age: Origins will be reflected in that.

Review: Dragon Age: Origins
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