By Daniel Robb ’10
Game developer Bioware has truly outdone itself.
The creator of popular and successful role-playing games like “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic,” “Mass Effect” and “Baldur’s Gate” among others, has once again raised the bar with its new “dark heroic fantasy” “Dragon Age: Origins.”
As the title suggests, you begin the game by choosing your character’s race, class and origin story, which you yourself play through. You have a choice between three races and three classes: humans, elves, dwarves, and warrior, mage, rogue.
The classes are fairly typical; warriors use melee and variations of weapons and shields, mages use variations of magic and rogues have a choice between melee and ranged weapons.
Within each class are branches of spells or talents which you can choose from, focused on different aspects of the class.
Then, as you advance, you can unlock and choose from several “specializations” for each, which grant you other abilities in a particular theme. For example you might choose to be a “Shapeshifter” if you’re a mage or a “Champion” if you’re a warrior.
The setting is a fairly traditional fantasy environment. You live in the land of Ferelden, where the Dwarves live underground, the humans live in their towns, but there is a slight twist; Elves were slaves, and are now treated as second-class citizens, quartered off in the human towns.
Ferelden, in a period of time known as the “Dragon Age,” is under siege by a blight of demonic creatures called “darkspawn,” the origins and danger of which are revealed to you in game.
Within Ferelden is an ancient order known as the Grey Wardens, who are tasked to defend the world from blights—and the Grey Wardens are recruiting.
The story telling is truly remarkable. Each origin story you choose and play for each class and race combination has its own unique effects on the story.
All of the dialogue is well-written and clear. Almost every dialogue option that you choose throughout the game will have either short or long term effects. Some will benefit you, some will harm you.
This is more than can be said for most RPG’s, and allows for an immense amount of re-playability. You can play through the game several times and find that the story might be very different from you original attempt.
Probably the most impressive part of this portion of the game: It is fully voiced. Each character you speak to has its own unique voice, which is a refreshing experience coming from some games where many of the different computer characters will have identical voices.
The combat system is real-time. There is a pause button which stops the game, and allows you to queue tactics and abilities for you or your three (at a time) companions.
Each of the fights you encounter is unique. A tactic or strategy that may have worked perfectly on a previous fight might spell your almost immediate doom in a subsequent one.
On the PC, you have a bar at the bottom of the screen that stores your useable abilities. In consoles you have a radial interface, which will be familiar to “Mass Effect” users.
The game has a huge amount of content. If you stay on the main quest-line, this game has a staggering 50 hours of game-play.
If you choose to do side-quests, you can extend that time to around 80 hours or more.
But despite the amount of content, it is completely manageable.
In some games, the amount of side-quests can be overwhelming, but in “Dragon Age,” you have an almost perfect balance of side-quests to complement the main one. You have enough to keep you busy, but not enough to drown out the main quest experience.
In a sort of side-game, rather than managing your good/evil level (as in most Bioware RPG’s), you have to manage your party’s “approval level.” Some decisions will lower your approval with some party members or raise it with others. This opens up interesting dialogue paths, as well as different romance options, or even betrayal.
Though the game works very well, there is a chance of some slight graphical issues. Some of the behavior scripts for your party members or enemies can be buggy or rather odd. But for the most part, the game works as well as any other.
If dark themes bother you, you have an aversion to violence, you don’t like a low fantasy environment or you could care less about story, then this game really isn’t for you.
But if you like fantasy RPG’s, you will almost certainly like “Dragon Age.” With impressive graphics to complement the amazingly well-written story, you will have an experience that will be hard to forget.