Fantasy RPGs, most notably Dungeons & Dragons, have been a main source of ideas and inspiration for video games since the early days of the industry. From storylines and hero classes to the battles and random encounters, video games have paid homage to the D&D tabletop RPGs. Video games like the Elder Scrolls series, Baldur's Gate, Everquest and many others have taken elements of D&D and incorporated them into their own such as resistance checks, damage checks and etc. Bioware, the developer of great RPGs games such as Knight of the Old Republic, Baldur's Gate and Mass Effect, and EA have come together to create one of the most epic dark fantasy RPG this year and a nominee for RPG of the year, Dragon Age Origins. I myself have just started playing Dungeons & Dragons and I have to say I'm really getting into it. When I heard that Dragon Age was coming out, I was interested in how they would pull this off. Now with any good dark fantasy RPG, an epic story is needed, and Dragon Age Origins does that and much more.
The game starts off by telling the tale of the Blight. This is an event that has creatures called Darkspawn travel to the surface and wage war with anything that tries to fight them off. Four times this Blight has occurred and each time it was stop by the alliance of men, elves and dwarves led by warriors know as the Grey Wardens. It has been 400 years since the last true Blight and Duncan, current leader of the Grey Wardens fears that it is much closer than though. So he journeys out to find new recruits for the Wardens. This leads up to the Origins part of the story.
What is really unique about it is that the player can chose their character’s origins. These origin stories determine the background of the player’s character. Each of the races (human, dwarf, and elf) have different origins that the player can choose from when starting the game. For example, picking the dwarven race will give the player a choice of starting as a noble or as a commoner and can be any class except mage, due to their natural immunity to magic. With elves, the player can be either a city or a Dalish (wood) elf, and humans can be either commoner or noble. Now when either human or elf class is a mage, instead of starting off at their respective homeland, they will start off at a tower called The Tower of Magi. After going through the character’s origin story, the player is then thrust into battle in the fortress of Ostagar, as the Darkspawn are sighted marching through the area. This is what is really great about Dragon Age’s story. They take the character building elements from Dungeons & Dragons, adding in an epic struggle for the survival of the races from the Darkspawn and making the player care about their character.
Dragon Age Origins, as I stated earlier, is Fantasy RPG that has various D&D elements. The majority of the game is takes place from third person view. After the initial origin story of the character is finished the main goal of the player is to defeat the Darkspawn and to end the Blight once and for all. Dragon Age plays almost like an MMO, giving commands to the character through shortcuts on the face buttons or by bringing up the command wheel by pressing the left shoulder button. By bringing up the command wheel, combat pauses for a bit as you can look through the actions that can be taken. They range from activating skill buffs, choosing inventory, taking health/mana potions, casting spells and etc. This just doesn’t just apply to only your character; this also works for the rest of your party. Along the way you will be able to have other NPCs join your quest, and even control them. By pressing the right shoulder button, you can gain control of any one of the three other NPCs and choose their actions as well. Once the actions are picked, the game un pauses and the action continues. Using this feature is a key gameplay component. There will be times that the enemy will swarm around your party out of nowhere causing for an early death.
Now what’s interesting about Dragon Age is the traveling. With most RPGs, when players travel, they usually have to take their character to the next town/city. With Dragon Age, all travel is done through a map of the country. When the town/city of choice is picked, a trail of blood starts to move from the current to the new destination. During that time in-between, there will be some random encounters that you and the party will have to fight through to make your way through. I have played plenty of RPGs and I have never seen something like this done, except only in D&D. In fact a lot of the elements that Dragon Age has are similar to D&D. To me, I think this is really great and really gives a nod to the grandfather of RPGs.
The graphics of Dragon Age Origins are amazing. From the forests and marshes, to the castles and underground fortress, there is a lot to take in. Character models are also really great too, the attention to detail on their clothing and armor is really something to admire. But there are a few flaws with them. In some parts the NPC’s mouth will be moving but no words are coming out. It happened a few times, but not enough to take me away from enjoying the dialogue. Another minor flaw is that the game is dark, as in I can’t see where I am dark. This caused some annoyance, but was easily fixed by adjusting the brightness.
Audio in the game are basic sounds; wildlife noise, townspeople talking, merchants yelling, the blood curdling scream of your enemy after slicing their guts wide open. So there is nothing new, but it is done really well, making you feel like your right there. Music wise, the score was also done with much great care; picking up when fighting, building up during a cut scene, and going at a steady pace when just walking around. What I like the most was the party’s dialogue with each other. For example, two of the party members, Alistair and Morrigan, do not like each other. They make this apparent when there is no action at the moment. Stand in a place long enough and they will start to talk to each other. This goes for the same with any other character you have in your party at the time. I found this to be really funny when not on a mission.
There is not really much of an online multiplayer in Dragon Age, but it does have a tracker provided by Bioware where friends can see how far along you are and what choices you have made on the quest to stop the Darkspawn. However, there is plenty of replay value. After finishing the main quest, I went ahead and played the game over again, but starting a different origin story and getting a different perspective of the game. Overall time that it took me to complete the main quest was about 25+hours. And that’s including doing a lot of the side missions. Bioware also has released DLC to include new areas, weapons and a new party member to add. For the PC version, they have release a dev kit to the public so that PC users can create their own dungeons and quests.
In a year where there is no official numbered Final Fantasy, RPGs like Dragon Age Origins have been popping up to satisfy gamers. Already the game is picking up nominations for game of the year and RPG of the year. For fans of Bioware games, D&D style games, RPG fans or anyone in general, this game is a must have. Other than for a few minor glitches, this is one of the best RPGs that I have played this year.
- Mike V.