Review by KillingProdigy

"Compelling, Addictive, and Entertaining...Too bad the battles are poorly designed"

INTRODUCTION

Ahh, Dragon Age. It first sucked me in with its' trailer promising epic battles and...okay, I only paid attention to Morrigan turning into a spider and attacking things, but I knew that I wanted this game. It looked like a promising RPG that put effort into detailed things such as vast amounts of dialogue options, acute character customization and even the ability to be in a romantic relationship with your party members...even those of the same sex as you. So when I finally sat down with the game, did it turn out as amazing as I had expected? Well, yes and no. Let's go into detail.

GAMEPLAY: 7/10

The game basically gives you a map where you choose locations for your party to venture to, saving a lot of time you'd otherwise spend walking around. Once you choose a place, you basically have control of your entire party, as you can switch between whichever character you want to control. When you're not controlling a character, it will just follow you or behave based on whatever tactics you set up for it in the tactics menu (for battles). Although you can set up some pretty elaborate tactics, the AI is pretty stupid and often cheerfully rushes characters to their doom, forcing the player to constantly have to switch characters just to save them. The tactics menu is only useful after constant tweaking and figuring out what keeps your characters alive. Even then, characters may unexpectedly die in even the simplest of physical encounters. The actual battle system isn't really that bad. You can tell this game is made for the PC though, because there's not enough room or buttons for all of the skills. You will spend a lot of menu surfing to get to whatever skill you want, especially for mages, who often have a ridiculous amount of spells at their disposal. Why is this bad? It breaks up the flow of battle and requires way too much tedious micromanagement. Despite this, the battles actually turn out still being moderately enjoyable since there are so many options. They seem enjoyable until…

…Until you suddenly run into a difficulty curve. Dragon Age seems to think it's a good idea to have certain hordes of monsters suddenly a lot stronger than the last. You can be going through a dungeon and abruptly walk into a room of oddly powerful monster. After that, it'll be normal again. The spikes in difficulty make every battle unpredictable and unfair, and your stupid teammates don't really make things better.

Shoving the clunky battles aside, Dragon Age has a lot of other redeeming qualities. It has lots of little side-quests to do which...do nothing except get you money or maybe armour, but are fun nonetheless and great for involving you even deeper into the history of Ferelden.

Dragon Age has a lot of dialogue options, allowing players to make moral decisions and try to win over their party to either get stats bonuses or get them in bed. Or both. The dialogue options are actually very well implemented, so that there is no obviously bad or obviously good response - yet your decisions will heavily affect what happens at the end of the game and with your party. Do too many nice things? Well, Morrigan hates you. Choose to side with the werewolves? Zevran isn't going to react nicely to that. Pick the right flower for Leliana? She'll gush and you'll worm your way closer to her heart. Your decisions will also affect who dies and who will betray you. Although this means you'll be doing a lot of talking, you'll start to become obsessed with all the options and this completely immerses you in the world of Dragon Age.

STORY: 8/10

Admittedly, the actual storyline of the game is by no means genius. Evil creatures called the Darkspawn are rising again to try to kill everyone in Ferelden, oh no, we must stop them! It's nothing special. However, all of the character's each have personal stories and histories that you slowly begin to uncover, allowing you to unravel their personality bit by bit. Not only that, there is a lot of detail into Ferelden's history, and you can read about it in things called codex that you pick up along your journey. Each race has a backstory and there are so many subplots and subwars going on, you kind of forget the main plot and get lost in the other stories.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND: 7/10

The graphics are by no means life-like and gorgeous, but considering how big Ferelden is and how each and every armour you equip is shown on your character...it's good enough. It's hard to put detail into graphics when the maps are so expansive and there are so many different types of armour. If you're watching someone else play, you will definitely notice a lot of what seems to be lag or choppy movement. It's not as annoying when you're actually playing, but it's still annoying. Dragon Age could be a lot smoother.

The sound is great. Dragon Age boasts a huge cast of voice actors who all (surprisingly) know what they're doing. The actual music is pretty good. Nothing memorable that you'd want on your iPod, but definitely suitable background music and sound effects.

PLAY TIME AND REPLAYABILITY: 8/10

Usually when you finish an RPG, you do NOT want to start again from level 1 and go through the same dungeons over and over. However, because of the morality system, you often wonder how certain story arcs could have gone if you had acted differently...This is enough to make me want to replay the game and choose alternate options. There are many other things to do, and there's a different origin story (the first opening hour or so of gameplay) for every race. You may even just want to woo another character, because you're tired of Alistair and want to get Zevran in your bed on your second run. Because each playthrough can be distinctly different from the last, Dragon Age becomes a very replayable game.

The only downside to first beating the game, is that there is no “New Game+” option where your super strong character can keep going after you beat the game. Nope...that's just...it. It's the end for that character. It's sad, really, after spending so long on that one character.

Dragon Age isn't playable online; something that is extremely disappointing yet bearable. Online play would have added a lot more play time to the game, but it doesn't leave you feeling cheated or left out of anything. Dragon Age works just fine as a single player campaign. Multiplayer capabilities would have just been the icing on the cake.

OVERALL: 8/10

Dragon Age is by no means a perfect game. There are some pretty obvious gameplay flaws (menus break up the action of fights, unreasonable difficulty spikes, horribly suicidal AI) and some odd technical issues (freezing, lagging, long load screens). There are also some great pockets of detail (interesting characters you can thoroughly interact with, excellent dialogue choice/morality system, ridiculous amount of character customization, superb voice acting) that make the game addictive.

The biggest problems you're going to face are in battles, but they are problems that are bearable. In the end, your frustration will be proportional to how stupid your party members end up.

The game gets an 8 because it turns out to be a really fun game with some very well-thought out gameplay amongst the bad. I really recommend buying this game and giving it a try. Dragon Age is an experience every RPG player should have.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/16/10

Game Release: Dragon Age: Origins (US, 11/03/09)


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