Rating: M for Mature
Publisher: EA / Bioware
Release Date: November 3rd, 2009
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I read the Dragon Age prequel novel early this year, and then had the opportunity to see the game at E3. I was impressed with the novel by David Gaider – but wrote it off, thinking that maybe video game books are better when you haven’t played the game. At E3 when I had a hands-on with the game on the Xbox 360 I was nonplussed. The controls seemed a little complicated based on the guy’s instructions, we were playing on small monitors so the graphics didn’t seem that great, and I was plopped into the middle of a complicated fight and no one was talking about how the book’s story line might fit into the game’s story.
But, by launch, I was determined to play it. I’m very happy to have been wrong in thinking I wouldn’t be too impressed. This game has consumed all my free-time recently, more so that any other game I’ve played in a long time. I’ve never been a huge Bioware fan, I never even finished Mass Effect. This game though, it gets me. It plays the way I want it to, and though sometimes I’m not a fan of the radial menu, I can figure it out quickly enough.
The world in Dragon Age: Origins is high fantasy: with elves and dwarves, mages and rogues, demons, zombies, ogres and of course, dragons. Upon starting the game you get to pick your character: their class, race, and gender with a decent slider system for figuring out how your character looks. I started with a female Elven Mage (City Elf specifically).
Before you think this review is all sunshine and rainbows though, let me talk about some of the things I don’t like. Glitches! This game is littered with them. Sometimes you’re talking to someone and their moving around on screen, but there’s no words. Or sometimes, your menu to reply pops up but it takes FOREVER before the captioning of whatever they just said to you shows on the screen. There’s a lot of artifacts (not the good kind) in the graphics – stupid edges that look shiny so they’re always catching your eye luring you over thinking they’re an herb to be picked. And of course, there’s any number of wonky poses, armor overlapping in weird spots or just a poorly done section.
The other glitch I really have come to hate comes when you’re saving your game. If you save your game looking at a door (with the little door icon hovering above it) when you load your game, you might not be able to go into that door. Meaning you have to try and walk into another room, and possibly resave your game so it can figure out what it’s supposed to do with that door – or hope that you’ve moved far enough away that it’s gotten itself squared away. This issue has made me super cautious of how I save my game; don’t look at the doors – never look at the doors!
This game is beautiful though. It’s got a great storyline, one that ties in well with The Stolen Throne (but doesn’t rehash old information), great graphics: things are easy to spot, easy to identify and the backgrounds are amazing, and a pretty good control system. Now, I’m not typically a fan of radial menus, at least not if I have to use them all the time. I’ve found that you can make it through most regular fights just using the abilities you’ve got mapped to the basic ABXY keys. Tough fights will keep you in the radial menu for the majority of the time, but it doesn’t slow you down any. And thank goodness for games that actually pause when you go into a menu, it’s a lifesaver.
I’ve had some other frustrations, especially with crafting or enchanting. While the game is pretty good at giving you good care and feeding instructions for your characters – how to level and where things are, it doesn’t do that for the Craft abilities: Herbalism, Poisons, Trap-Making. It’s mostly trial-and-error to figure where things are or what you need to do, or you just have to talk to every single vendor in town until you finally find out where you can buy some stupid flasks to get rid of all the Elf Root you’ve collected in your travels. (Ahem.) Since some characters start with this abilities (like my City Mage started with Herbalism) it would’ve been nice to get some more information on what in the world I could do with it.
And you know, even in the really tough spots in this game (fighting with Kolgrim, or against a nearly invisible party) I still want to keep playing. Sure, I die a lot, and it’s frustrating to try and figure what combinations of what abilities are going to work best, but I still feel like I want to keep playing – to push through to the next part of the story. Mostly, when I hit a tough spot, I have to set it aside, and kick myself for not picking different party members, and then wait a bit for the frustration to subside. But it’s a mark of a good video game, when you get frustrated like that, but still want to come back for more. It’s the ultimate example of a bad video game relationship.
Speaking of relationships, let me also say that this is one of the first games in a long time to also get me invested in not just my character, but in those that are in my party. Sure, it’s probably a lame girl thing to say, but I really do love Alistair’s character. If you’ve got both Morrigan and Alistair in your party, there’s some great quippy moments between the two of them when you’re wandering around different places. Sometimes, you have to hit just the right spot for them to start talking, but it’s worth standing around and waiting for them to finish their conversation.
Overall, this game isn’t so much a BUY as it is a MUST HAVE. When you’re done playing through the first time, you’re going to want to start right back up to try out a different combination, not just for the achievement points, but for the great story that’s waiting for you. And when you buy the game, don’t forget to grab the recently released second Prequel novel: The Calling, also by David Gaider.