Dragon Age: Origins Xbox 360 Review

When this game was first announced, I was very excited. Bioware has a great rpg pedigree, ranging from Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic back in 2003, Jade Empire back in 2005, Neverwinter Nights, which was my first serious brush with the company back in 2002 and the Baldur's Gate series that got its start back in 1998 and is to this day one of my friend's all-time favorite game series. Given their more recent successes such as Mass Effect, War Hammer and the Dragon Age series, I feel it's safe to say they know their way around the genre.

They began to advertise the game as a 'dark fantasy' with videos that showed plenty of blood and some pretty mature themes. I believe the first Neverwinter Nights game was the first rpg I had played where your choices made a noticeable impact on events and characters around you, as well as potential 'love interests' for your character. I'm sure there were others before, but Neverwinter is the first I can really remember. These elements are carried over and expanded upon in the Dragon Age: Origins game, which gives you a good deal of customization to start. You can choose from multiple races and classes as well as a gender and appearance. Each of these race and class combinations give you an Origins story (hence the subtitle) that you get to play through that sets the stage for the overall storyline that comes along later as the story bottlenecks to a specific plot point and then opens up again quite a bit to allow you a good deal of exploration and freedom.

The game has been out for awhile, and I've played through it twice and started it a few other times. I have a very Dragon Age heavy review theme coming up this weekend though now that I completed part 2 last night, so here is stage one of this weekend's theme.

Graphics - 7:

The graphics don't really hold up great, and honestly that's kind of been a theme for some of Bioware's games in the past. For all their game-depth, some of their graphics engines are a bit underwheling and that is the case here as well. Colors are a bit dreary at time, and getting odd tears when the framerate struggles to keep up with some of the more intense action. Character animations are okay, but not great. The variety of landscapes is nice however, as you venture from one location to another. That said, there is a rather nice style to things, with the blood splatters on characters post-combat, and splash of red on the maps - things like that.

Sounds & Music - 8:

There is a lot of voice acting here, and most of it is pretty solid. There's pretty good variety to the sound effects as well. My favorite part however was the music - something that Bioware usually hits on the head with its games, and this one was no different.

Gameplay - 8:

Characters control fairly well, and the menus are pretty easy to navigate. The ability to map common items and skills to specific keys is handy and a real time saver, and I thought the radial menu was a nice way to handle the menu options on a console game like this. There are some interesting glitches from time to time, but seldom are they a real issue - none ever prevented me from finishing the game in any way. There are plenty of conversations that take place automatically, and lots of loot if gathering it is your sort of thing, though I'm not real fond of the 'gifting' mechanic used to help raise your party members' opinion of you.

The combat is something of an odd blend though, and worth mentioning. It's probably a bit more action-oriented than PC gamers are used to from their rpgs, and a bit more tactical on the console than it 'looks' to be at first glance. I found myself pausing and assigning duties fairly often in fights, and not all classes are created equally. You pretty much need a mage in your group for healing, but I didn't really care for playing one as opposed to the more entertaining (in my opinion) warriors and rogues.

Intangibles - 9:

There are choices you make throughout your adventure that leave you going: What if I had... I cannot oversell how much that helps this game's replay value. Some of the Origins stories are more interesting than others, but they too help add some variety to what is generally the most boring part of a roleplaying game - the early hours as you get your feet wet. It's a unique way of getting you engaged all over again. Add to it that you can wind up with different combinations of party members (I completely missed one on my first play through), and that your choices will often cause them to react accordingly (some will leave your party for good or even fight you if their approval drops too low or you make a choice they really can't abide by). There's a variety of endings handled in much the same way other games like Fallout 3 does where certain choices or characters are commented on at the end, giving it sort of a customized and satisfactory feeling. There is replay value aplenty.

There are also quite a few downloads for this game. These can add to your adventures and are generally well-done, but it's up to you to decide if you think they're worth buying - everyone's mileage may differ a bit (or you can acquire the recently released ultimate edition which includes all of this original content as part of the package).

Overall - 8:

I've played this game a ton. I'll probably play it again. I trade in about 80% of the games I buy, and put them toward new games. Bioware however, tends to make games I hold onto. Mass Effect and Dragon Age are going nowhere. A few technical problems with graphics and bugs can hold this game back with some players I'm sure - but if you enjoy roleplaying games where you actually feel like you are playing a role and your decisions have real weight to them, the experience is a lot of fun and one I have to recommend.

As a footnote, the content may not be real suitable for younger kids. A lot of roleplaying games are pretty kid-friendly, but this isn't one I'd like my youngest play. There's some language and some themes that are a bit more mature than most rpgs out there.



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