A-Z Challenge – Dragon Age: Origins

Think of Dragon Age as sort of like a fantasy Mass Effect.  Make your character and background, play through an Origin story (hence the subtitle), and embark on a grimdark adventure full of drama, sex, and the occasional drunken joke.

The first game of Bioware’s Dragon Age series is very in-depth, as you expect from the developers.  You have tons of options available to ask and answer questions, some depending on your background, others depending on how you feel like answering on a whim, and even more dependent on your stats and skills..  Also, unlike Mass Effect and earlier Bioware games, decisions don’t give you ‘points’ towards being good or evil; you don’t have to worry about such arbitrary things getting in the way of quests or endings.  Instead, you have to mind your responses when talking to everyone; tick off the general, and you might be out of an army when fighting the darkspawn.  It makes the game feel a lot more organic.  Add on the game’s little details and twists on typical fantasy society (dwarves and elves are both what you expect and refreshingly different), and it provides a nice, albeit very dark and somewhat depressing, atmosphere to discover.

The overarching story is good enough; I won’t go into detail, since it’s pretty self-explanatory.  Instead, I’ll go into some of the finer details, which elevate the plot from simply serviceable to very intriguing.  The party members you meet are pretty believable and unique; I found it fascinating to listen Leliana’s stories and to chuckle at Oghen’s obscene remarks.  Not only that, but party members will have chats with one another out on the field; most of it devolves into poking fun at Alistair, but some of it can provide some interesting insight on character personalities.  Also something that I found fascinating is that your party members can actually die, and they can also leave.  In fact, I went into the final area with over half of my party either dead or gone because they didn’t agree with me.  It can be pretty bad if your main party leaves, but overall it’s a nice concept you don’t see often.

For all that’s great about the story and setting, there’s just as much to be wanted from the game’s battle system.  The game does work best on computers; having a keyboard available for mapping actions is a great advantage.  However, if you’re playing on a console, it’s more more cumbersome.  Setting up attacks is a pain, and switching between characters in the midst of battle can be deadly. Some things are badly balanced… bows are useless, while most magic is extremely overpowered.  There isn’t a use for the tactics slots available… until the final battle, where it is incredible important to have the AI working properly.  The battle system is okay, it’s not enough to stop most players from enjoying everything else, but it can lead to points of frustration and leaves much to be desired.

Minus a few hiccups, Dragon Age: Origins is a great game.  It’s a long game, and there’s a few areas that seem to go on forever, but it’s worth slogging through the slower points to see everything the game has to offer.

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