Dragon Age: Origins—Initial Impressions

Alright, Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins (DA:O) has been out for a couple of weeks now. The reviews are in (87/7.2 on MetaCritic) and the bulk of the gaming industry has since moved on, leaving DA:O in the dust like so many prom queens.

There is probably no real point in yet another review, but technically that’s not what this is. There’s no way I can give it a fair shake in the limited amount of time that I’ve had to play. Since I picked up DA:O from GameStop on November 3rd I’ve logged a little over 9 hours of play, for a massive RPG that is said to take 80–100 hours to work through I feel I have barely scratched the surface. Normally, I would play the shit out of a new game, especially one as engrossing as DA:O, but me and the missus just bought a new/old house, and my time outside of Snitily Carr has since been divided between buying literally hundreds of dollars worth of paint, applying said paint to the walls, and spending a few precious hours a week relaxing beside the fireplace with Ivy and PT. I hope to post some before and after shots of my progress on our house in the next week, so be on the lookout. Needless to say, I’ve been busy, but not so busy that I wouldn’t forgo a couple hours of sleep here and there for some game-time.

Before I share my initial thoughts thus far I’d ask that you take this post for what it is, some observations about the game. I’m not bitching, nor do I regret my purchase—in fact I’m happily looking forward to Dragon Age keeping me occupied until Mass Effect 2 comes out in early 2010. So my initial thoughts in no particular order are:

  • I’ve heard a lot of complaining about the shoddy quality of the graphics on the console versions of DA:O—especially when compared to a fully loaded gaming PC with the latest graphics card. While this is a legitimate gripe since the 360 version does have the lowest quality graphics by far, as is illustrated in this Gamespot article. I can honestly say the graphics don’t bother me all that much. The textures, and curves are a little rough, but the character models feel solid, unlike some games that completely break the immersion when the characters look more like puppets on a string.Sure, it’d be great to have crisp detailed graphics up on my HDTV, but if I have to make a sacrifice between story depth and top-shelf graphics I’d choose story any day of the week.
  • Which I suppose brings me to my next point, and maybe the only thing that really bothers me about the game. One of the few negatives in G4TV’s review was the cliched plot line, and yeah that’s true to the extent that it follows a similar path that 90% of science fiction and fantasy stories follow—i.e. bad stuff happens and a hero must save the day. That’s not actually what bothers me.What gets me is too-close-for-coincidence similarities between DA:O and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. I admit that I’m probably extra sensitive to this at the moment since I’m currently in the middle of reading this series, but the more I play the more it feels like Bioware had started out by creating a video game adaptation of A Game of Thrones and decided halfway through developing the story that instead of fighting The Others, wildlings, wargs and giants, the Grey WardensNight’s Watch should be fending of a Blight of trolls, zombies, and arch-demons. I know I know, nothing is original blah blah, but if you are going to go around telling people you’re game pays homage to the dark fantasy of Robert E. Howard and George R.R. Martin you might actually make an effort not to cut the cloth so closely to one or the other.Granted Dragon Age’s ripped off story is nothing to make me put down the game, in fact DA:O does have a far better story than most D&D type RGPs. The story is only a slight ding in my book.
  • I enjoy a good hack-n-slash as much as the next guy, in fact those are some of the most fun 360 games I own—Conan, Star War: TFU, Prototype—but Dragon Age needs to make up it’s mind. Should I storm into a fight swords flailing, or should I stop and think about what’s going down before I happen upon a swarm of hurlocks? The more I play DA:O the more I yearn for Mass Effect’s combat pause and radial dials. Sure, I’ve tinkered with the tactics screen a bit, but mostly just to get the party members to heal themselves before they are turned into a pile of pulpy giblets and ringmail. It is nice that you can control any of your party members, which keeps you in the game even if the main character is down. I does get confusing though when you are in the midst of a 9-sword pile up and you suddenly die and jump to a new character.Although, the more I play the more I feel like I am getting the hang of the combat system, slowly but surely. In the mean time I’ll keep revisiting the tactics screen and tweaking the AI until I get it right.
  • Which brings me to another point, the time I spend managing the party members’ equipment, and glomming through quest descriptions, notes, and the codex is far outweighing the time spent interacting with the world. Of course, this could be my own anal retentive need to stat-tweak. I’m not saying this is a bad thing either, I wouldn’t tinker with my equipment so much if I didn’t enjoy it a little bit. Since I’m no stranger to computer RPG’s, I know that the first half of the game is generally spent equipment whoring. Trying to find the perfect set of armor and just the right weapons and charms to create a truly bad-ass character. Killing and looting is a necessary component of RPGs, and the equipment slot limits in DA:O does encourage you to think strategically about the equipment you carry. Plus, the ability to create different equipment sets and quickly swap between them is very handy.It would however be nice if you could somehow view your codex and quest notes outside of the game. Perhaps tying into your EA Account to read them online instead of wasting so much time in-game just trying to figure out the game-world.My advice to anyone who doesn’t want to spend hours reading instead of playing is to pick up David Gaider’s companion novels, The Stolen Throne, and The Calling, that Bioware has published. I haven’t gotten around to reading The Calling yet, but The Stolen Throne did a pretty good job of laying the foundation of the world and the current political climate that you as a Grey Warden must untangle.
  • Alright, one last thing I need to mention is the DLC salesman that happens upon your camp, tantalizing you with a chance a avenge his family’s name and score yourself a sweet-ass castle where you can horde all of your treasures. I totally understand why people are bitching about this pushy salesman, especially since he comes into play relatively early in the game, while you’re still feeling the burn of having just spent a chunk of change on the core game. I will however argue that I’d rather have this content available early on, unlike Fallout 3’s DLC which was strung out for months, so that by the time the last two pieces dropped, I had gotten bored and moved on to something else. All I can say is get used to it, in this new age of micro transactions gamers can fully expect to be beating back more of these sale-beyond-the-salesmen in the future. As for myself, I really don’t mind paying a few bucks to squeeze more hours of play out of a game that I’d already invested so much time into, so long as the gameplay remains an enjoyable experience. I haven’t committed to the Warden’s Keep just yet, I’d like to get a few more hours in before I make the leap, plus I only had 100 M$ points in my account when I ran into him.

So that’s it. Not a review, just a few (hundred) words regarding my brief taste of Dragon Age: Origins, so far I am genuinely enjoying the Dragon Age experience. It’s been pretty much what I expected it to be, and I plan on keeping it in the ol’Xbox at throughout the holiday season—and most likely a bit longer. One thing I enjoy is that it reminds me so much of Buldar’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights, two computer RPGs that I loved, but never got around to finishing for some reason or another. This time I plan on seeing this through to the end.

Last, but not least, I’ll share the re-cut of the Sacred Ashes trailer that Bioware did along with pop-alt-rockers 30 Seconds to Mars’s new track This is War, for no other reason than because Ivy thought Jared Leto was ever so dreamy back when he was a teen drama star.

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