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Dragon Age: Origins Review

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On 12/10/2009 at 10:57 PM by Jason Hillhouse

Bioware reminds us what the bar is with their latest RPG.

Recommended for Western RPG fans.

Over the years, I’ve played my fair share of RPG’s. From the turned-based action of Final Fantasy, to the real time mechanics of Oblivion and Fallout 3, this genre has always kept me coming back for more with its epic story lines and ever-changing game play. Bioware games are no exception either, with Knights of the Old Replublic and Mass Effect being among my favorite games of all time. That being said, I had high hopes that their newest title, Dragon Age: Origins, would give me the same great experience I’ve come to expect from the studio. And that happens to be exactly what I got, with “same” being the keyword here.

Dragon Age: Origins starts off with the usual assortment of deep character creation tools that give you the power to customize your avatar. Everything from eyebrow height to jaw size is changeable to get just the right look. Class and race selection is somewhat limited, with only 3 races and classes to pick from: a human, dwarf, or elf that can be a warrior, mage, or rogue. After selecting from a couple “beliefs” that your character chooses to follow, players are given a specific opening storyline depending on which character options they picked.

The plot line for Origins is the standard Tolkien affair of a massive evil army trying to take over the world, with only the main character and company available to embark on a great quest to stop them from succeeding. Choosing to be a human mage, I was thrown into the life of a newly inducted member of a group called the Circle of Magi. As a new recruit, I had one final test to complete before being considered a full blown mage. This required me to travel to a sort of nether realm, called The Fade, where I was introduced to the combat mechanics of the game.

This is where the game really just fails to impress. The first thing that I noticed is the striking similarity to what can arguably be considered the genre standard: World of Warcraft. The player gets a large range of abilities to use, which are all placed on a tool bar at the bottom of the screen. Actions are activated one at a time with set casting times for more powerful spells that can be interrupted by damage. There are "area of effect" spells, where the player drags a circle to indicate the hit zone. Rogue combat is largely based on abilities which stun the enemy for a certain amount time, while Warriors are tanks that can draw enemy fire towards themselves.

While most RPGs do take a lot from previous systems like Dungeons and Dragons, Origins seems to derive its combat mechanics entirely from its massive multiplayer counterpart. While this alone doesn't mean the game play was bad by any means, I was just constantly getting the feeling that this has been done before... and better.

One notable mechanic includes the ability to pause combat at any point, allowing the player to strategically queue the next action for party members. This was absolutely mandatory for any difficulty above easy as virtually every fight in the game is quite challenging, with the party being severely outnumbered by the enemies the majority of the time. To alleviate this need to constantly stop play, the game includes Tactics Slots for party members, which work as simple AI instructions to perform a particular action under specific conditions. Members can only get a handful of these slots, however, and when there are tens of actions available for characters later on in the game these slots simply don’t do enough to keep the player from having to micromanage every aspect of their party members. This made the combat somewhat tedious, as it morphed the real-time action gameplay into a meticulously calculated turn-based strategy affair just to keep yourself and teammates from constantly killing off the whole party.

The gameplay also includes the renowned dialogue systems that Bioware has managed to standardize at this point. Players talk their way through massive trees of text that can actually effect later points in the story, such as whether a party member will continue to follow you, or what characters die in the plotline. This works as well as it always has, with the dialogue being well written and entertaining. There is actually a massive amount of this in the game and players will probably be spending about a quarter of the adventure just talking to other characters.

Questing in Origins is done like previous Bioware titles, as the player will be constantly going person to person until you’ve completed the main quest in that area. There are also tons of secondary quests, so many in fact that players can be easily overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of things to do. I spent a lot of my time forgetting where I was in the story as I flipped through the multiple sub-menus of quests for each area I had visited.

Though quests were plentiful, the objectives are not quite varied. Players will do things like kill all of a particular enemy, solve situations between two parties, and go out and search for some specific item.

The usual RPG skill sets are represented as well. Characters can be upgraded to be more influential in conversations, poisons can be applied to weapons to give additional stats, herbs can be collected to be made into potions, and lock picking can be upgraded to unlock particular chests.

To sum up Origins, the game does nothing wrong, while doing nothing really amazing either. It has all the elements that make up a Bioware RPG with nothing else to set it apart from other games in the genre. Players looking for a good RPG with no reservations about originality will surely love Dragon Age: Origins and play it for the 60+ hours of content it holds. For those looking for a little something extra from their action RPGs, there are simply other games out there with more innovation that still offer the same kind of experience found in Dragon Age: Origins.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.

Side By Side - Origins of Bad Frame Rate

While Jason covered Dragon Age on the PC, I (Nick) was able to play the PlayStation 3 version of the game. As far as my own personal opinion goes, Jason's review is spot on with how I felt about the game.

Dragon Age: Origins is utterly par. It takes no risk, it has no deviation from the standard formula they put forth, however many years ago.

What's more troublesome, is the PlayStation 3 frame rate. Absolutely everywhere I found that the game's core frame rate was about 20 fps. Whenever extra characters were brought on screen, that number would greatly vary at numbers below the base 20 fps rate.

On top of the game's poor frame rate, the graphics were quite bad as was the animation, and the lip-syncing. The cinematic direction of the game was largely defeated by these factors alone..

I'm not certain how the PC version held up in this regard, but I will say that avoiding the PS3 version of the game is in your best interest.




12/20/2009 at 12:24 AM

A little to hardcore RPG for me although it looks interesting. The lead platform for this was the PC and isn't a game really meant for consoles.


01/09/2010 at 05:54 PM

This review totally mirrors other reactions I've seen --

salivating before the game's release, bought it immediately upon release, and ... after a few days said that it was actually kind of boring and they had started playing other stuff...

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