Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dragon Age Origins: The RPGDesign Review

So I've been covering Dragon Age pretty extensively around these parts. It's arguable that it's the biggest RPG release since Fallout3, so for a gaming and RPG focused blog that seems only natural.

After about 60 hours, I've now completed my playthrough and feel comfortable giving my thoughts on the game.

I'll start by saying I think Bioware has delivered the best RPG I've played since the original Diablo.

One thing I like about the game is its potential for replayability.

Though I spent 60 hours in the game, I've done less than half of the content.

There are party members I didn't get to know, quests I didn't do, and of course, 5 different origins, besides the Human Noble I picked for my first playthrough.

This is a big plus. It makes the world feel positively huge.

Another strength of this game is the way they've integrated downloadable content. I know this is a sensitive topic among many gamers, so let me say I am pro-DLC.

I like coming back to a game later.

I felt like Fallout 3 and Oblivion have set the bar for this continuing commitment to their games. Bioware has announced 1-2 years of support for Dragon Age. If we get a year, or even more, I will be quite happy.

Certainly they seem to have a solid apparatus in place for such support.

Bioware is a challenging game, which is really the only negative I can place at its feet.

Not the hardness per se, but rather the lack of tutorials and the way the difficulty spikes at times. In short, this game has a steep learning curve and even for someone like me, there were frustrating moments in the early hours of my playthrough, as I figured out more or less by trial and error how to manage my party and how the AI responded to various commands.

Dragon Age is also a remarkably stable piece of software, at least on my machine. I had one Crash to Desktop in my 60+ hours with the game.

Compared to Fallout 3 and Oblivion, that's pretty amazing.

Now of course, what I always look for in Bioware games in the story, and here Dragon Age really outdoes itself. While there aren't many "gasp worthy" twists in the story, it's a fairly traditional RPG tale, the story is engaging, well put together, and extremely well-voiced.

In fact, with almost everyone being voiced, it was a bit disconcerting at the end of the game, where they gave the results of my character's choices in text. With all the voice work, they couldn't get Ron Perlman to do his gravelly Fallout 2 ending spiel?

But I digress. Along with the story, something else Bioware games have traditionally excelled at is player choice. Here again, I think they do this very well. The "dark side" and "light side" versions of Knights of the Old Republic felt almost like different games.

Here, Bioware deals with shades of gray. Sometimes, the evil choice (or the "non-good" choice) looks like it will lead to a greater good down the line.

You're a man on a mission: to stop an archdemon. Sure, preserving a dwarven artifact that makes golems (with human souls) might seem horrible, but having golems at your back when you go to take on an archdemon and his raging hordes might bring about more peace and stability in the long run.


This to me, was a marked improvement on traditional moral choice in games, where your choices are Lawful Good or Chaotic Evil, with little room in between.

So there you have it: apart from an overly steep and at times unforgiving learning curve, Dragon Age is a note-perfect fantasy RPG.

It's vast, complicated and engaging, both from a mechanical and story standpoint.

I'm going to give this game a perfect 5 out of 5 rating.

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