Thursday, May 6, 2010

Video Game Assessment: Dragon Age: Origins (2009)

Dragon Age: Origins is an RPG video game (obviously) by Bioware, the makers of games such as the Baldur's Gate series, KotOR, and Mass Effect. Dragon Age: Origins is a game that came out not too long ago (I think November or so) and became an instant classic to the gaming world. Sure, it may not be the best RPG ever made, but with it's stunning visuals, great gameplay, and memorable characters this is a game that should not be missed.

I guess my mind was made up in my first playthrough. I thought this game was awesome. The characters stuck out in my mind the most, being the best part of the entire game. Characters like Morrigan the swamp witch with a cynical attitude and Oghren the drunken dwarf who loves to flirt with anything even remotely female became not only amazing characters in this game, but some of the best characters I have ever seen anywhere. Even the characters who turn out to be a bit less in the powerhouse character department are still excellent. And this is where the game absolutely shines. These characters help create a world that is not only believable, but as cynical and snarky as our own world and the people in it. Different characters have different likes or dislikes obviously but the characters never feel one-dimensional or one-sided. They all feel real within the confines of the story. Each is complex in his or her own right and you will find yourself liking some characters as friends and confidants and disliking other characters whose personalities rub you the wrong way.

The gameplay is fun, but can get tiring after a while, especially whilst playing on the X-Box 360 (which is how I've played it). It seems to be a game made to be played on the PC, but it does play well on the 360, just, I believe, not as well as it plays on the PC. The difficulty can be painful as well. Painful and demanding. There was one point in the game that I ran into some bounty hunters. No matter what I did I could not get past those bounty hunters. They weren't even named. They certainly didn't seem important... and yet, those damn bounty hunters had me stymied. I had to lower the difficulty to get passed them, which I almost never do in games unless I'm playing at the highest difficulty, and I wasn't in this game. I was playing on Normal difficulty. Dragon Age: Origins is unforgiving in its difficulty. If you take your eyes from the battle just once or use characters in the wrong way, you're going to pay for it.

As for the settings, they were mostly very well done. I thought visually that the Deep Roads (think Moria from Lord of the Rings) and the Fade (a kind of dream world) were absolutely beautiful. They also seemed to be some of the longest areas, probably because they were so stunning in terms of how they looked and the feeling they gave off. Some of the other settings were perfectly fine, but none were as gorgeous as those two were. None of the others had the weight and beauty of those two areas. Their realism and grittiness surprised me and caused me to want to see even more of those areas.

As for the plot, it was fine, but not great. The plot is not why you're playing the game though. The Darkspawn (the main enemies) and their threat is interesting, but just not the holding point of the story. I was much more interested in the storyline with the Landsmeet and Loghain. It made much more sense and was much more emotionally fulfilling. The Darkspawn threat just seemed more like, "Oh, these orcs are evil and they must die." and then I would hack them to pieces and get bored. I guess an "evil" species is just not as interesting as the evil that men do even whilst they call it "good". My point is that most of the game is more about the Landsmeet and Loghain. It isn't until the very end that the Darkspawn really become an important issue to take care of. And the Arch-Demon (the main baddie) just didn't feel satisfying to kill... actually the whole end battle and even the ending just kind of disappointed me, feeling more tacked on than meaningful. Overall the story is very good, but it does seem to fall apart as the game gets past the human evil and get into the creature evil.

The real staying point is the characters though. I can't stress that enough. The characters are wonderfully done. My personal favorite, Morrigan, had such a deep personality that she felt like a real person. Her story, as well as the stories of other characters, became the highlight of the game for me, and the game is worth it just for those character's stories.

Well, I think I got down all the stuff I wanted to say. The low point of the game is the the Blight storyline (the main story), but the high point is certainly the characters. I did enjoy this game quite a lot. It has a great amount of replayability (although you can only play it so many times before the gameplay gets kind of old), but the choices given to you in game with each character makes the game worth playing multiple times. The game becomes very different depending on how you play it and what you do or even what kind of character you are. There are six origin stories all with the two different genders and three different races (elf, man, dwarf), all of which are unique and different and create a character worthy of the Grey Wardens in different ways.

Overall I think it's a solid game, better than most, but has some fundamental flaws in its execution, gameplay, and plot. It is one of my favorite games on the 360, but that's not saying much as most of the games seem intent on being for douche-bags. My point is that Dragon Age holds up against the 360 games admirably and even holds it own against other RPGs quite well. It is a solid game and definitely worth your time.

(Edit: Did an updated version of my first review here."

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