Home | News | Reviews | Previews | Hardware
Dragon Age: Origins
Score: 88%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Bioware
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Ah, Dragon Age: Origins, the latest-and-greatest, highly anticipated role playing game from Bioware, is on the shelf, available for twitchy-fingered gamers in-the-know and looking for a medieval adventure with the grand scale of Bioware's Mass Effect. I have played Origins and I can happily report that it is everything gamers have been hoping it would be... or at least, it is for the most part.

For a "next gen" console this mature in its life cycle, and, especially when measured against other triple-A titles hitting the shelves these days, you would expect Dragon Age: Origins to be a bit... prettier. While the graphics could look better, it's not the general look of the graphics that bothers me; it's the graphical glitches that I experienced in the game. Several times, the animations would glitch during a conversation, resulting in a character moving their mouth with no audio or simply staring, without animation or audio. I didn't have subtitles turned on at the time, but, presumably, that would at least allow you to see what was said.

Score, on the other hand, is somewhere that Dragon Age excels. The music has a very epic and cinematic feel to it; nice orchestra pieces with haunting vocals that remind me of Enya at times. During the character creation and in menus, the music does a nice job of setting a scene without noticeable looping. When in combat, a more heart-pounding score will play and then will end when the enemies have all been dispatched. This sometimes causes an abrupt change in the music, when the music simply sort of stops, but I suppose that's more accentuated when you kill the enemies really quickly. The vocals are well done, as far as the recordings themselves, but there are some occasions when they lag behind the video, fail to play at all or somehow get surround-sound processed incorrectly, leading to muffled speech. These issues might actually have been less regrettable if the voice acting weren't so good.

Dragon Age: Origins features a deeply developed world, complete with a rich history to discover and more than its own share of bias-inspired cruelties. The Dwarves seek isolation from the "surface dwellers," Mages are feared and controlled by locking them all up in a tower as soon as they exhibit magical tendencies, and, well, pretty much no one likes the Elves. There is even dislike between the isolationist Elves and the city-dwelling Elves, who mostly act as servants to the humans.

Once you have selected and named your character, you will start off your adventure in one of six different "back stories" that do a good job of explaining how different characters from various different origins end up in the main plot of the game. That main plot is, in brief, to save the world from a demon-led uprising of evil mystical creatures from the netherworld. This uprising is known as a "blight" and has reoccurred throughout history. Each time, a secretive organization known as the "Grey Wardens" rise to the challenge of vanquishing this evil, with the help of kingdoms who have pledged alliance to the Grey Wardens. Regardless of the finer points of your backstory, you join the Grey Wardens (either by choice or via the rite of conscription) and seek to kill the "Darkspawn" and end this blight.

There are three races to choose from: Humans, Elves and Dwarves. Each of these also has different sects that you can choose, such as Dalish Elves (Elves of the Dale) or Elves that live in human cities and a Noble Dwarf or a Caste-less Dwarf who lives on the surface. Of course, your character can be male or female, as well. Also, there are three classes to choose from: Warrior, Mage or Rogue. There are, of course, limitations on who can be what; this actually boils down to six different playable race/class pairs: Human Noble, Magi, City Elf, Dalish Elf, Dwarf Commoner and Dwarf Noble. Each of these has its own benefits, so you'll want to try a few different characters out.

One surprising aspect of Dragon Age: Origins was just how in-depth the character creation tool is. You can adjust a myriad of facial aspects, from skin tone to eye style, size, height, distance and color; the selections of lip and blush color nearly rival Psibabe's own makeup supplies... and that's impressive. One thing I will throw out there, however, is that you will most likely want to select the quietest voice for your character. Although your character rarely vocalizes anything during the communication sequences, they will give a (unnecessary and annoying) vocal confirmation every time you tell them to attack. If you can't imagine what that would be like, think of being in a fight, mashing your (X) button frantically and hearing your dutiful character responding each time, "Right! I will comply! Attacking! Will do! Right! I will comply..." This can and does get old. Quickly. It only makes it more grating if you choose a more snarky character voice who says something like, "Well, I guess so" instead of "Will do!"

There are a lot of Darkspawn to kill. Also, there are various current crises in the various lands you will visit as you travel. There are even a few random encounters you will have in between cities. If you find time to do something other than killing things, there are also crafting skills. Specifically, there are talents (and systems) for mixing poisons, mixing potions, building traps and enchanting weapons. However, you will also need to play "counselor" and work to keep the peace among your companions. Each party member has their own likes, dislikes, goals and desires. They will either approve or disapprove of your actions when you resolve conflicts and complete quests. Sometimes you can end up in a situation where you have to choose between two choices: one that will upset on companion and one that will upset the other. This can be minimized by carefully choosing the party members that you stick together in a party, but it can also be offset by finding ways to increase the party members' affection meter. You can get them to like you more by talking with them one-on-one (well, saying the right things is important, as well) and by giving them certain items that are designated as being "gifts." These may be a bottle of wine, a flower, jewelry or the like. Choose carefully, however, as the amount that their affection increases in response to the gift will depend on how much they like the gift. It would be wise to talk to them first and to listen carefully, since learning about each party member gives you insights as to what gifts they might best appreciate.

There are three different difficulty levels to choose from, but you can actually change the difficulty on the fly, so you can change after you've been playing for a while, if you find that you've set the difficulty level too low or too high for your liking.

I found the most difficult parts of Dragon Age: Origin were deciding how best to upgrade the characters when leveling up and how best to set up the action buttons with the various skills and attacks I would select. There are only three buttons used to select/activate these effects: (Square), (Triangle) and (O). Additionally, there is a "second" bank of actions accessible by holding down (R2) and then selecting one of these buttons. Still, that allows for only six different actions to be mapped. Because of this, I tend to favor the "Passive" Abilities. These are always active once you upgrade to them and they don't require that you activate or select them in any way, freeing up hot-key slots for other Abilities and Skills.

The key to battles in Dragon Age: Origins is to efficiently manage your party. Each person has their talents and weaknesses, and these work better in different types of tactics. You can select from different types of tactics for each character, as well as creating custom tactics that are, essentially, A.I. programming reduced to a few selections of conditions and actions. Also, you can, at any time, switch between characters in your party, allowing you to take direct control of one of the secondary characters and let the selected tactics decide how your primary character behaves. This can come in handy during battles, especially in cases when characters are fighting well, but are taking damage and not healing themselves. In these cases, I will switch to the character in need, take a health potion and then switch back to my main character.

Game Mechanics:
First, let me get my gripes out of the way. The graphics, overall, could have been better; they're pretty, but not as much as would be expected. This, however, is a fairly small complaint, in my opinion, since the story and the world received so much development. It's not the prettiest game out there, but there's a lot of other aspects that keep it interesting. The occasional glitches, however, are difficult to excuse. Videogames are simply software and software has bugs - mistakes in the code that cause unexpected results. Part of the process of making software is searching for these bugs and fixing them. There are some bugs in Dragon Age: Origins that either weren't found by the testers or simply weren't addressed. One that is seared in my mind is a room that, when entered, has a graphical glitch that causes half of the room not to be rendered, instead displaying the blue and black environment beyond the tower walls. Since all I had to do was walk into the room and it occurred, I find it hard to believe that this bug would not have been reported. This leaves us to assume that it was reported, but deemed too small a bug to fix. This is frustrating, since it should be an easy bug to fix (usually the repeatable ones are, since you can more easily watch what's going on). This seems to indicate that either there were a lot more severe bugs that needed to be addressed and they didn't get around to fixing issues that you could play through, or there wasn't enough effort put into bug-fixing or that they simply set a date by which they would ship the product and fixed as many bugs as they could, then released the game in whatever state they could get it to within the time constraints. Any of the above is equally disappointing, I suppose, given the result doesn't change. The flip side of this issues, however, is that there is so much content in this game you can relatively easily ignore these issues, since there is so much more to do.

The communication issues I encountered, where people didn't have audio or simply stared for a while, could be helped, at least to some degree, by using the subtitles, but these glitches were disturbing and confusing when they happened. The (very) rare occasions that your character actually speaks is a bit surprising, as well, since it occurs so rarely. And this fact, itself, is a bit strange, since you select your character's voice as part of the character design. Instead of having your character actually speak your parts in the communication trees, only statements that don't rely on a selected statement option are ever vocalized by your character. This is quite strange, since Dragon Age: Origin comes from the people who brought us Mass Effect, where your main character speaks all of his responses.

The main issue I have with these glitches, truly, is that they break the suspension of disbelief. This is also true of the rather distracting buy-downloadable-content-from-a-merchant system that is tried out in Dragon Age: Origins. This might, conceptually, work on some level, but when it interrupts the game to send you to the PlayStation Network to purchase the DLC, it's like having a game of Dungeons and Dragons with your friends interrupted by your mom sending you to get milk. Not cool, mom. Not cool.

While there are parts that will get in the way and distract you from enjoying Dragon Age to the fullest, they are, quite literally, here-and-there. It's not that the game has low production quality overall, but rather that there are a few spots in the armor that are a bit rusted. If you can get past these few spots, you can enjoy a wonderfully rich game with a well-developed storyline and hours upon hours of playability and replayability. It just seems that the few rust spots could have been easily polished out, leaving what would have been, without question, the game-of-the-year.

As it stands, Dragon Age: Origins is not for everyone. It is, after all, an RPG. If you're not into leveling up characters and completing quests, then this isn't the game for you. Assuming we're all on the same page and you're into role playing games, then I would only share one other caution: Dragon Age: Origins has no Multiplayer mode. This is an RPG in the same vein as the old school single player RPGs that existed before MMORPGs were born. The online connectivity is only used for downloading new content, which, as of this writing, includes at least three things: The Stone Prisoner (a playable character), The Grey Warden's Keep (including a dungeon crawl and an upgraded camp including a box to store your extra gear) and Blood Dragon Armor (special armor included with some copies of the game via a redeemable code). You should check your box before purchasing these downloadable content items, however, to make sure that you don't already have a code to redeem for it. Some boxes will contain a card with codes for certain DLC. Mine, for example, had codes for The Stone Prisoner and Blood Dragon Armor. If you can overlook the glitches and you don't mind playing with yourself, run out and pick up Dragon Age: Origins today.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

Related Links:

This site best viewed in Internet Explorer 6 or higher or Firefox.