Dragon Age: Origins is a glorious amalgamation of every RPG I’ve ever played. I mean, really — all of them.
Of course it’s taking things right back to Baldur’s Gate with the party control and the pausing, and then putting the Neverwinter Nights direct movement control and pulling the camera around with the mouse, just like Drakensang. Also like Drakensang is the infinite plot-items inventory, that is apart from the main inventory. A part of me really likes this; it means you don’t have to worry about dropping loot for quest items, you don’t have to worry about them being too heavy, you don’t have to worry about them generally cluttering the place up. But another part of me is railing against having an infinite inventory, which goes completely against my realism sense. Yes, yes, it’s not meant to be real, but… It’s a tough one. I think the majority of players will call me nuts for saying that.
The plot is laid out just like Mass Effect. You do a little bit of starting quest (your chosen “origin”, and then some other stuff), then you get given four missions to complete in an order of your choosing. Once those are done, you lock back into one big mission to catch up with and kill Sovereign– Hurrrrrr.
The origin stuff is relatively slick, but by the time I’d chosen “Human” and “Warrior” I only had one option to pick from. Robe Cousland was born — looking absolutely nothing at all like his parents or his sibling(s?), indeed, hardly even dressed for his station. He’s bald and has a small beard (delightfully similar to my real beard, no less), but I’d have thought even worse for a noble, a huge face-tattoo. To quote Paul Denton of Deus Ex, “I’m pretty certain we don’t have a stitch of DNA in common with either of our supposed parents.” Couldn’t they at least have modified their facial features to match me just a little bit? I’m quite sure such dynamism is possible.
The conversation system is pretty much Mass Effect too; people pace about occasionally, lips are synched (but nobody has yet solved the shouting issue — there are plenty of shouting moments where the serene face is warped into a grimace but the mouth remains moving calmly), responses can be chosen (though the radial menu is exchanged for a classic list of responses). Very Deus Ex, really. All dialogue is voice-acted except your character’s lines, which I find somewhat annoying — you go through the entire game never once being addressed by name, by anyone. My noble father called me “pup”, Shale from the DLC (we’ll get to that later) called me “it”, but that’s the best you get. Even after sleeping with Leliana (we’ll get to that later), she never called me by name. Yes, yes, voice acting increases immersion and whatever, but they could at least have given me a fixed nickname to go by. Insert rant about the need for quality speech synthesis in games to replace real actors.
The world map reminded me a lot of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, with the little “clay” tiles to represent places. One thing that really got me about the map, though, was the presence of large sub-world-maps; upon entering Denerim, for example, you get another world map with more little tiles floating about on it. Slick.
There are more little things, that have jumped out at me along the way as being from other RPGs, but those are the main ones.
I should remark that it took me a good thirty hours to complete the game. Dragon Age is fucking massive. To compare, a super-completist run of Mass Effect at a reasonable difficulty level takes about 20 hours (including Bring Down the Sky and Pinnacle Station). The game claims that Robe has only experienced under 50% of the game’s content. Since I’m an achievement-whore (and I’ve been told that achievement-points can be turned into DLC-buying points), there will be repeated playthroughs. Value-for-money ho!
Yes, downloadable content. Chicks seem to dig that shit these days; right out of the box (yes, apparently DA was delayed so much that two DLC packs were ready to go at release time rather than afterwards), I got The Stone Prisoner and the Blood Dragon Plate (which will come with me to Mass Effect 2 when that rears its beautiful head). The Stone Prisoner introduces a bonus party member, Shale, who is a golem that is generally quite fun to have around. Complete with weapon and armour crystals that only he can use, plus gifts and banter. The second DLC, Warden’s Keep, is hard-wired into the game but not present — it, and The Stone Prisoner, add achievements. But the worst thing is that after a while a little bastard quest-given for the Warden’s Keep story crops up in your party camp with a glaring exclamation “take my quest” mark over his head, and of course, I can’t take the quest without buying the DLC. As I mentioned earlier, achievement points can apparently be exchanged for DLC, so this mitigates the annoyance somewhat — but it’s still just a little bit underhanded. I wonder if people that didn’t get The Stone Prisoner out of the box have a similarly niggling prop slotted in?
The Blood Dragon plate is pretty useless. I spent the first ten hours frantically trying to get the 38 strength required to equip the breastplate, by which point the rest of the armour (which can be bought from your portable merchant) had been completely superseded. The breastplate was pretty bitchin’, though, and remained better than most stuff until level 17 or 18.
I want to complain about variety. There’s basically only one set of ruins props; green lighting and some tree roots, and you have the elven ruins in the forest. Blue lighting and some snow-drifts, and you have the Andrastean ruins in the mountain. There aren’t particularly many types of enemy either (I remember how Drakensang boasted that it had 70 enemies… I pulled more than that out of my buttocks for This Wreckage; maybe I’m just spoiled by Warcraft III, or is it a symptom of increased detail meaning there just isn’t development time to produce a lot of models?) — you get darkspawn, a few demons and undead, some spiders… Though I did thoroughly enjoy the little velociraptor-like dragon kiddies.
I said “want” to complain because I actually can’t — they’ve followed my value-for-money-squeeze-every-drop-out-of-every-resource philosophy to the letter. The behemoth that they have achieved is truly immense — I haven’t played a game this big since Morrowind. I am extremely satisfied with what I’ve been given for my hard-earned (heu heu) cash. I’ve paid £34.99 for far worse games.
Uni might not be so satisfied, since I basically spent my every waking moment playing Dragon Age since I bought it last thursday. I’m also proud that it’s an 18 and I didn’t get ID’d — remember how I got ID’d when I bought Loki, Tomb Raider: the Angel of Darkness and Sonic Heroes (a 16, a 12 and a 3 respectively)? The shop assistant tried to sell me a strategy guide, which I scoffed at, then a games controller. I told him I was a mouse-and-keyboard man.
Yeah, we need to talk about DA being an 18. The game is covered in blood. I mean, it’s everywhere. It’s on the loading screens, spreading everywhere while you wait. It’s on the map, dribbles of it marking your path as you travel (to be waylaid by quests, Baldur’s Gate II style). And, if you’ve even looked like you might have entered combat, it’s all over your party too. Persistent blood splatters on characters are hilarious, yes, but when it’s a uniform speckle all around (shouldn’t my front be dripping and the rest be relatively clean? Do rats even have that much blood in them? Shouldn’t spider blood green or something?) it’s a little bit silly. Not to mention nobody remarks on it when you walk up to them absolutely sopping wet with the stuff.
So it has bad (but really, what doesn’t?), and it has good. But the good massively out-weighs any niggling little complaints. This is what the PC gaming industry needed so badly — a massive shot in the arm that just couldn’t work on a console (apparently the XBox version is absolutely dreadful. I’ve got a full mouse and keyboard and I don’t know what’s going on half the time, though playing with a rumble-pack would be cool). It’s Baldur’s Gate, it’s Mass Effect, it’s Morrowind and Oblivion. It’s Deus Ex and it’s Drakensang and it’s Neverwinter Nights. It is a masterwork.
I think I’ve said everything I want to say.
The verdict: Dragon Age: Origins is fucking awesome. Buy it now… Unless you’ve got a lot of work to do.
The real test comes next: the editor.
I’m ready, sir.
Yes. Yes, you are.