RPG fanatics have a new champion on the PlayStation 3 in BioWare’s epic Dragon Age: Origins. Quite simply, this is one of the best RPGs to grace Sony’s black box, and we are instantly reminded of why this genre is so popular. Origins boasts one of the most intricate, compelling narratives of any recent game we’ve played, and is packed to the rafters with intense action that helps pull you deeper in its immersive game world. The land of Ferelden is fully at your disposal, and throughout your quest you’ll encounter heaps of unique characters and horrible beasts. Indeed, this is a game that’s outcome has as much to do with your in-game decisions as it does combat. As such, Origins is not a hack-and-slash affair, rather; your combat requires thought, patience, and a bit of strategy.
The story behind Dragon Age: Origins is epic. You’ll start the game in one of six opening sequences, depending on the class and race you choose. All of these “origin stories” take you on a path to become an elite Grey Warden. The origin stories are all different, and while they lead you along the same path, the back-stories will certainly play into the plot. You are immediately required to make crucial decisions that will impact the story and your relationships. These relationships are a vital component of Dragon Age, and therefore it’s important to nurture relationships along your long journey.
Origins is a pretty good looking game, although there are some extremely annoying and noticeable visual and dialogue glitches. The world at times feels a bit thin, but what the game lacks in graphical splendour makes up for it with a compelling storyline, tight combat, and intriguing characters. Still, the visual glitches certainly draw away from the fluidity of the game, and are mostly conspicuous in the dialogue sequences.
Earlier we talked about the origin storylines, but the basic premise behind the story runs in line with the usual fantasy RPG. You control either a human, dwarf, or elf and will choose to play as a warrior, rogue, or mage. Once you become a warden you are set off on an epic journey to defeat the darkspawn. The darkspawn are a scourge to the kingdom and are essentially raised by the Arch-demon. History tells that the darkspawn emerge every couple hundred years, and, as you may imagine, the game takes place during one of their invasions. Luckily the darkspawn have a powerful foe – the Grey Warden. These powerful forces are strong opponent to the darkspawn. Early in the game you become a Grey Warden, through a gruesome task, and as such you become a part of an elite coalition of fighters. Unfortunately, the number of Grey Wardens drops drastically, and a series of betrayals leaves the remaining wardens outcasts, chastised by the general public.
Your quest is to gather armies to defeat the Blight. You are tasked with finding and convincing leaders of various kingdoms to join in your battle against the Arch-demon. Sounds easy, right? Of course, it would be easy if there weren’t a growing civil war among man. The folklore that ties this world together is ripe with classic fantasy adventures – think Lord of the Rings, but in a much, much more gruesome manner. Among such examples you’ll encounter include both good and evil blood mages, namely those who delve in the dark arts, as well as demon bosses that will send you in to the fade – the game’s equivalent of the dream world, or the world of death.
You won’t sit back passively and watch all these events take place; rather, you’ll engage the world in epic battles. Some of our favorite parts of the game were leading a siege on castles or the mage tower. These battles hold epic proportions, and with it, the weight of all man’s future on your shoulders. The combat is in classic point-and-click RPG style, but with a few additions. Combat occurs in real time, but you do have the option to pause the battle, and assign specific tactics to your party (you can have up to four party members at once). We didn’t use the pause option all that much due to the fact the AI remains incredibly polished, and knows how to hold its own in tight situations. For much of the game, you’ll travel with just two companions, allowing you to pick up an extra party member depending on the situation. While the combat system may sound relatively uninspired, it isn’t in the least. You have abilities or spells linked to different buttons, giving you the option to land massive combos or explosive blows. There are times, though, where the pace quickens considerably and you may feel overwhelmed by your opponent’s onslaught; rest assured, however, you will take down your enemies with time and skill. This style of combat steers away from recent RPG titles like Demon’s Souls, which opted for a style that has you physically swing a sword or fire an arrow. Dragon Age’s combat system works perfectly for its type of game, and never feels slow or unmanageable.
However, combat isn’t the most important part of the game. We were truly impressed with the depth of the relationships you’ll build in the game. In classic RPG style, you’ll have the option to persuade or intimidate NPCs, frequently leading to battles or new friendships. You will also need to manage your relationships with your fellow party members. Worst-case scenario, you piss them off and they leave – but that is easy to avoid by offering them gifts, even if that feels a bit like bribery. These relationships can lead to, shall we say, sexy encounters. BioWare is sort of famous, or infamous depending on whom you ask, for raising the bar of sexuality in video games. Sadly, the relationships between men and women are pretty thin. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not going out of our way for a bit physical action in our games, but when a sexual encounter does occur in Dragon Age, it feels decidedly awkward at best. The game is also very graphic in terms of gore, which we enjoy, but there doesn’t seem to be a strict rule for who and what gets bloody in a battle. At the end of a two-minute battle, the entire area will be covered in a bloody mess, and so will all of your party members.
BioWare has plans for a year worth of downloadable content for Dragon Age, meaning the game is nearly endless. Chances are you won’t need any DLC for a while, as the Blu-ray disc comes with more than 40 hours of gameplay, which you can further extend by undertaking side quests. Fantasy RPG fans will love Dragon Age for its sheer size; we love it because it has so much to offer. This is a game you can really sink your teeth into. Despite its graphical flaws, the game is well polished with a captivating storyline, intriguing characters, and intense combat. Overall, Dragon Age: Origins is a must have for any fantasy RPG fan, and we can’t wait to see what BioWare has in store for DLC over the next year.