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Dragon Age: Origins - A Retrospective Review
Dragon Age: Origins is dark fantasy. Well, that's what the developers Bioware described it as anyway. "Dark fantasy" is typically code for "we've got elves and dwarves, but we're also making sure there's some gore and sex too". So despite attempts to make Dragon Age so different and exciting, it was overall, simply a fantasy game.
Generic it may have been, but things weren't all bad. This was Bioware's game after all; a studio synonymous with quality, story-driven RPGs. Not to mention that fantasy settings are their speciality, considering they were responsible for the Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights series.
Set in the world of Ferelden (Middle Earth), players were sent on a massive quest to prevent the world being destroyed by the Blight (the One Ring), a catastrophic event that would unleash hordes of monstrous Dark Spawn (Orcs) to ravage the land. Ok, so Dragon Age wasn't especially original, but the developers did believe in the setting. Venture into any town or dungeon and you'd likely end up with a handful of codex entries detailing various things about the world, from its politics through to the religions that were practiced.
That "Origins" subtitle had an impact too. Each character would have a different origin story, formed out of a combination of a race (Human, Elf, Dwarf) and class (Warrior, Mage, Rogue). The origin stories were, in effect, little more than disguised tutorials that reflected player choice somewhat, but the fact that how your character started out could still have an impact fifteen, twenty hours later was a nice touch.
The combat system also relied more on tried and tested mechanics than radical changes. There were enough skills that each class could be built in a few different ways and your other party members allowed you to tinker with the classes and races that you hadn't chosen. The system could have done with a little more balance though. After levelling up a few times, it wasn't uncommon for a Mage to be annihilating every enemy with only a few spells, whilst the rest of your team simply occupied their time being punch bags and drawing the necessary aggro.
Still, even if you were left to do all the fighting legwork, you're companions were at least interesting to chat with outside of combat. As is standard in a Bioware RPG, each of the supporting cast came with their own emotional baggage and problems to solve. Whether it was do-gooder Alistair; a former member of the Templar order, or the snarky forest-witch Morrigan, they were an interesting bunch to talk to while simultaneously fleshing out the game world even further.
Not that there weren't problems with this, namely how ugly the whole thing looked. Running on Bioware's Eclipse Engine, Dragon Age: Origins compared badly to the developer's previous title, Mass Effect, which instead ran on the ubiquitous Unreal Engine 3. Between the stiffly animated walking, to the fact that each character seemed to be sporting gigantic shovel-hands which they would awkwardly gesture with, it wasn't the best way to immerse the player into a new world.
Neither, for that matter, was the somewhat gimped console ports. Whereas, the PC version plays like an updated version of Baldur's Gate, the console ports were left with poor quality textures and game stutters in what was already hardly a good looking game. Added to this were the awkward control wheel in place of the traditional layout of the PC version, and you have a console port, that whilst playable, was significantly worse than its computer counterpart.
Despite its problems Dragon Age: Origins did deliver on its aim to provide a sprawling adventure. With most of the game's main quests taking between three to five hours to complete, it was possible to clock in a runtime of forty hours, and that was before you added in the side quests and miscellaneous jobs. Bioware even managed to throw in a few player choices here and there, making you take responsibility for your actions. One quest gave you the option of desecrating a holy relic for a reward, but doing so would have repercussions with your more faithful companions.
Dragon Age: Origin's problems were both old and new. In many ways it was too stuck in its ways in terms of setting, with the Lord of the Rings/Game of Thrones influence hanging over the series far too much. Neither did it succeed in reinventing the mechanics of a western RPG. As a story however, it still remains entertaining, with a diverse bunch of characters and an honest attempt at creating a deep, intricate fantasy world. Its writing might sometimes be generic, and it doesn't quite live up to being the fantasy counterpart to Mass Effect's sci-fi, but beneath all the technical hitches and awkward animations is still a very playable RPG.
Bring on Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Dragon Age: Origins was released in November 2009 for PC, Mac, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
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