Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review: Dragon Age (Origins)

This is the first time I played a party RPG. And it was awesome.

You arrive at Lothering
It took me a while to get into the interface. When it started (I chose a human mage) the movement controls (ADSW) felt awkward - different from other first person games, even though the scene was drawn at first person. It didn't take long though to get used to it. But before even I got used to it, the story had already began. I met the mouse and the bear in the Fade. Was already curious to see how (and if) I will escape Fade (which is sort of the dreamworld in the game, also where spirits reside) to pass the test posed to me. I think there is something in the storytelling which makes you get addicted to it from the start. I encountered the Fade demon and defeated him - was surprised by who he was and how I could defeat him without using any offensive abilities. Immediately I got hooked.

Though started out smoothly (where in the first encounter you don't even have to fight to win), the fighting in the game paces up surprisingly fast. I soon found out that the game is not like taking a walk in the park - at times, the combat needs to be carefully planned making full use of the "pause and strategise" feature.

Meanwhile the story continued on. There are some rather surprising turns that happened in the first part of the game, and after that you get a kind of free roaming ability - i.e. you can choose which area (and hence quest) to cover next. When you have covered all the primary quests, you then get to continue the main storyline to the end of the game. It takes a hell lot of time to reach that stage, and it never gets boring. That's because all the primary quests are crafted with lots of details, characters, locations, environments - and a very long story unique to them. Each one of them seems like a game on its own. I am pretty sure, looking at the vast variety and spectacular difference in all angles between the primary quests, that BioWare had different teams working on separate primary quests.

Despite the length of the game, it never feels dull. There are a lot of satisfying turns and twists to keep you fully engaged in the story. And in the course of the game you will meet some very memorable characters. Some of them will join your cause and fight with you - depending on your actions. Most of the companions also have their own side quest. You will need to unlock the side quests through the course of the game - mostly by gaining their appreciation towards you by giving them gifts, or doing things that they respect.

The game also has multiple endings depending on what you choose. Perhaps because my character died at the end of the game saving the world, it was a rather emotionally charged ending for my story. And after it ends, there is a treat - which took me by surprise. It has a slide show which details the impact of your actions on Ferelden for years to come. Since most of these are tied to specific choices you made over the course of the entire game, it is quite a feast.

The "Landsmeet"
The game offers many addons, of which two add new capabilities (along with small a quest each) which you can spend your money on. One is Warden's Keep, which adds a tash for storing your equipments - otherwise you will have to sell your stuff to make space for new items, as you cannot carry unlimited amount of them. The second is The Stone Prisoner, which unlocks the most unique companion - a golem called Shale. He is very well integrated in the rest of the game's stotyline - so once you unlock him, you will never feel that he is a companion that comes from an addon.

Let me pause here and mention something, rather an alert if you have not played the game yet so that you don't miss out on content. [Spoiler Alert] There is a character called Leliana in the game. I was aware of this since the game advertises an add on campaign called "Leliana's Song", though I wasn't sure exactly at which point she would join the game. After a lot of the story passed, I became suspicious and one day read more on her. And to my dismay I found that she is supposed to join in a scene that is only triggered if you visit a particular pub in Lothering, a village which gets obliterated early in the game. And once it is gone, there is no way to get her there in your group (unless you'd like to download dev-tools and use a crude hack to modify your save file, which I didn't want to do). So if you play the game, visit all houses in Lothering till you find Leliana, before Lothering becomes inaccessible!

Pros -
+ Engaging story
+ Your actions can change the course of the missions
+ Challenging fight system
+ Lot's of spells and abilities, but smooth learning curve
+ Very long game which never became dull
+ Companion characters are good, you are bound to take liking to some of them

Cons -
- Graphics is solid and nice, but not spectacular
- Sometimes certain important items are not clearly marked, which can cause you to miss certain experiences, as serious as a companion in your quest. It may be impossible to fix later on if you don't want to start from a previous save, which may not be a great option considering the length of the game.
- Party stash needs to be unlocked by buying Warden's Keep, this should have been a native feature in the game

Overall, this is an excellent single player game - definitely one of the best that I have played. You are bound to have hours of fun playing it - in fact I will be surprised if you don't loose couple of day's sleep due to this game. Excellent and recommended.

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