Friday, November 27, 2009

Bioware Has Done It Again

Game: Dragon Age Origins

System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC

Release: November 2009

Dragon Age: Origins is another fantastic rpg from Bioware. This time the development team has set aside the far reaches of space and returned to the land of Tolkein like fantasy. So if you’re looking for another KOTOR forget, and if you want another adventure with Commander Shepard then you best wait to next year. If, however, you want an epic fantasy that will suck you in for hundreds of hours, then look no further.

One of the first things players will notice about Dragon Age is the vast selection of origin stories. There are a total of six starting zones that differ significantly and affect certain scenarios throughout the game. Players can choose their gender, race, background, and class. The races are as basic as it gets with the human, dwarf, and elf trio. In this fantasy land called Ferelden humans rule all, and they are their usual greedy arrogant selves. They are also very religious following their Christian like belief via the Chantry. There is only one background story for the human race involving nobility, but I have yet to play through that opening. Dwarves have their own kingdom, but are constantly warring with themselves and the Darkspawn—evil orc like creatures. There are two starting areas for dwarfs that resemble the classic tale The Prince and the Pauper. The elves are the least prosperous of the races. They are either ex-slaves trying to get by in the city slums, or nomadic Dalish elves who attempt to bring back the glory days. Each of these lifestyles represents the starting areas for elves. The final background story is not dictated by race, but by class. All mages begin at the Circle of the Magi; a school/penitentiary for all law abiding mages.

The other two classes in Dragon Age are Warrior and Rogue. Some may criticize Bioware for being so generic, but I personally found the common terminology a relief. I’ve memorized enough useless information in my life, and the last thing I need is another term for armored badass who swings giant weapons to kill things. Anyone familiar with Dungeons and Dragons or World of Warcraft will quickly realize the proper roles for each class. Mages and Rogues are support and damage classes while the Warrior is an agro hogging meat shield. There is no all powerful class, and each has its own unique advantages/experiences. The combat is set around a squad of four so pick your favorite class for the main character. By the time you finish up the first segment of the game you will have a rogue, warrior, and mage to party up with.
Customization is the name of the game in Dragon Age. After selecting their gender, race, background, and class players get to shape their hero to their liking. The same facial customization features used from Mass Effect are found in Dragon Age. Now players can create ugly dwarfs and elves in addition to humans. There are also voice options that dictate basic battle chatter for your main character. This is a great feature, but sadly pales in comparison to Mass Effect which has voice acting for the main character—something rarely seen in rpgs of this nature. In addition to basic looks and class talents players are allowed to customize characters with specializations. There are four for each class, and they have to be unlocked through quests and in-game books. Once a specialization is discovered it becomes available across all playthroughs. Each build plays differently and unlocks unique abilities. Rogues, for example, can become Duelists/Assassins who focus on melee combat, or Bards/Rangers that better compliment an archery build. This extra layer of customization improves replay value, and overall enjoyment of the game.

Sticking to the fundamentals is the middle name of the game for Dragon Age. Like other Bioware titles the writing and gameplay are familiar and solid. Every bit of dialogue or text is entertaining to absorb. The plot is generic but it works. There are also dozens of hard choices and adult scenarios throughout the game. Sometimes you’ll be stuck with a bad or worse decision. SPOILER START—During one quest you get to pick between the life of the mother or child.—END SPOILER These aren’t your cookie cutter good or bad scenario. You’ll be forced to make tough decisions that may not sit well with your high morals—if that’s the type of role playing you enjoy. Your companions will also judge your actions harshly, and if they disapprove significantly they’ll leave. When I went through the game as a big jerk I ended up with only six out of nine teammates.

Gameplay is very similar to Mass Effect and KOTOR. Combat is in real time, but can be paused at any moment to dictate a characters next move. It is essential to figure out proper tactics for each class. The default AI is pretty dumb, but can be molded into a brilliant fighter. As mentioned early each class has their own role or style of play. Melee Rogues should always attempt to backstab opponents. Mages work best from a distance, and warriors charge into battle. There isn’t anything new to combat in Dragon Age, but everything is done well.

Bioware manages to uphold their awesome reputation for great writing and solid gameplay. They also, unfortunately, continue to release games full of bugs. So I guess you can say, shipping a game with numerous bugs is the last name of the game. Throughout your adventures in Ferelden an observant player will notice numerous art issues. Clothing textures disappear frequently around the neck and shoulder. Fingers lack collision and magically phase through forearms. The level of detail, or LOD, is also sporadic with backgrounds suddenly popping in and out. In addition, cut scenes will repeat themselves if a player interacts with a NPC before the proper script is triggered. The quest helping the templar in the Alienage orphanage being the worst offender. Audio bugs are also an issue. There is more then one occasion where the dialogue cuts out, and with no subtitles on you tend to miss important information. Finally each playthrough has resulted in at least one progression stopper. These issues are not enough to discourage purchasing this game, but they are an unwelcome distraction.

Hundreds upon hundreds of hours can be spent playing this game. There are numerous possibilities for each scenario, and character customization is gynormous. The combat is solid and the writing fantastic. Bioware has released the quintessential fantasy rpg for this generation of consoles. Take away the bugs and this game receives a perfect score. Unfortunately I can’t simply ignore so many small issues, and as a result Snerts Snazzy Score grants Dragon Age Origins a respectable 4.6 out of 5.

No comments: