Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Video Game Assessment Revisit: Dragon Age: Origins (2009)

I have already reviewed this video game some time ago (It was my first review here.), but I thought that my review of the game basically sucked and I had not really come into my own as a reviewer with some kind of insane personality that I wanted so much. Well, continuing my apparent bunch of reviews about BioWare games, I am going to review Dragon Age: Origins as well as its expansion pack, Dragon Age: Origins- Awakening and all of the DLC leading up to the second game which I reviewed not too long ago.

So, this game's story is pretty simplistic, very fantasy RPG-ish. Almost every other fantasy story has a similar plot as this game. Well, really this game has two plots... both of which are very indicative of the fantasy genre of RPG. The first is dealing with an usurping "king" and putting the rightful ruler on the throne. The second is dealing with orc-like enemies led by a dragon and defeating this inhuman Blight.

The story frankly is regular and normal fantasy, which sounds like an oxymoron, but there you go.

So, the game has elves and dwarves and orcs (called darkspawn) and ogres and these things called Qunari and obviously humans. And humans are also obviously the greasiest and worst of the peoples, constantly being bad guys and being racist and such. It's pretty terrible. Why are humans always so bad? I know a lotof humans I... well, I know some humans that aren't so... okay, I know like three people I don't think would kill me in my sleep. That means that there are some good people. In this game, humans just seem so selfish and cruel and it's a pity. There are a few good ones, but almost all of them are either in your party or friends of the party characters.

Now, your companion characters are where this game really shines. You have the snarky Templar, Alistair, the snarky dark mage girl, Morrigan, the snarky old mentor mage, Wynne, the snarky elf assassin, Zevran, the snarky and ofttimes drunk dwarf, Oghren, the snarky stoic Qunari, Sten, and the bard Leliana... and your snarky dog for good measure. If snarky is mentioned in most of those characterizations, then yeah... snarky is what most of the characters in the game are. I have never seen such a collection of snarky people in my life. All they do is snark and become cynical and snark some more and become sarcastic or sardonic and... yeah... it's fine for a little while, but why is every character so snarky? Did I walk into s snarky convention while playing this video game? Seriously. And the only character who isn't snarky is the creepy female bard with the terrible voice who watches your character when he/she sleeps. It's creepy and weird and she's awkward and... why does every character have such emotional hangups? Why am I their babysitter/therapist? Why can't they help me out? Maybe my character is feeling a little down what with all the people TRYING TO MURDER ME... Maybe, just maybe, I don't want to her Alistair whine about how he's alone in the world when in my origin story, MY ENTIRE FAMILY WAS KILLED. Seriously, Alistair, I like you, dude, but you just have to stop whining constantly. And Morrigan, stop being overtly evil. Now is not the time when I'm trying to romance you or kill a GREAT EVIL. Can't you just for one second think about being a good person? Seriously.

I could go on and on about these characters, but I think you get the... DOG, NO! DO NOT RELEASE YOUR BLADDER ON THAT UNSUSPECTING CHILD!!!

Uh.... anyway...

The music of this game is fantastic. It really is. It sounds like a lot of music from The Lord of the Rings and I'm basically in love with LotR so there's that. The gameplay is annoying at times and the difficulty is impossible. Even easy enemies are insane to take down on NORMAL difficulty. It's almost as if the difficulty is actually broken. It sucks. I will admit there is satisfaction, a ton of it in fact, for killing big enemies though. There is nothing sweeter than a well-fought battle with an ogre or a dragon or something and plunging the warm, blood-soaked steel of a sword into its blasted throat. The gore elements are pretty well done, although I do wish my character had a handkerchief to wipe his face from time to time. I hate going into a cutscene looking like I just got caught in the flood of blood from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.

So, now going into the DLC (downloadable content) and expansion: The DLC can be anywhere from really good to really awful. The first DLC actually came with the game, The Stone Prisoner, which introduces a new companion, Shale, who is basically awesome. Shale is a golem and is about as hardcore and hilarious as can be. Shale is very reminiscent of HK-47 from the KotOR series and that just makes the character that much more awesome.

There are other DLCs within the game itself, but most only add new content and items rather than memorable story elements.

Outside the game there are, besides the expansion, four DLC packs. The first is The Darkspawn Chronicles that is a funny little alternate universe in which your player character didn't exist. You play as a Darkspawn and slaughter your entire companion team in the final Dragon Age: Origins battle. It's fun, but short, and has really nothing but combat.

The next DLC is Leliana's Song which is a prequel story for the worst character in the entire game of Dragno Age. Yeah, it's a fun little story, but it very little, if anything to the entire plot of the story. Leliana had mentioned her entire story at one point, and being a bard she wouldn't shut up about it either. I guess I don't really see the point of this DLC. It has some fun moments, but ultimately comes off as overdone and useless.

The third DLC is The Golems of Amgarrok, a very short side mission with some body horror to it. Ilove body horror. The story is interesting as is the gameplay. The only complaint I have is that it is short... and very difficult. Neither of which is a plus. I would have rather had more of this DLC than the two I mentioned previously.

The last DLC, and by far the best, is called Witch Hunt. It details a search for a witch, possibly a witch known to the player character. It's a fun and reminiscent look back at Dragon Age, really tying up loose ends of story and ending the entire story with a bang. I really like it. I think the characters in it are done well, the story is strong, and it ends Dragon Age: Origins in the way it should be ended.

Now I'll move onto the expansion pack, Dragon Age: Origins- Awakening. So, this is basically a new set piece around a third of the length of the actual game. It has new character as well as some old ones, and a new area to explore. It's fairly well done in terms of story and visuals, but falls flat for other reasons. The dialogue system was changed from the one I love so much that reminded me of the KotOR series, where you can just talk to any companion at any time, to  a system of only being able to talk with them when they have something to say. Kind of silly if you ask me. It's a change I don't like and it's a change that stayed around for Dragon Age II, much to my chagrin, although it's done much better there than it is here. Awakening has some great areas within it and has some of my favorite fights within all of Origins. Blackmarsh and everything that happens there is particularly memorable, as is the Architect and what he represents, and the Deep Roads of Kal Hirol, which are so different and much more awesome than the Deep Roads in Orgins. Everything here seems to try improving Origins, and with the exception of dialogue, it seems to. Characters are still a strong element of the game, and Awakening doesn't disappoint with that, having some of the more memorable characters in the series, like Nathaniel, Anders, Velanna (even though a lot of people hate her, I like that crazy elven witch), Sigrun, and Justice. Mother is insane and a pleasure to watch, really bringing body horror to the forefront, which is something I think needs to constantly be brought to the forefront... then again I'm a big Cronenberg fan...

Anyway, the Origins game as a whole is amazing and worth revisiting here. There's so much to it I don't think I could ever go through all of it, but I'm going to damn well try. I like the game a lot. It's great for any fantasy buff, or even anybody who really liked LotR. Check it out, but remember the combat sucks if you're not on a computer, and the Xbox 360 version (which I have) looks like crap.

So, be mindful of those things and have fun.

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