Dragon Age: Origins, The Meatshield Review

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I know there are what seems to be limitless reviews of this game out there, so I will try to make this one slightly different by breaking down the game into its core elements. For reference, I have not yet completed the game, but I have logged 30 hours or so and the game says I have completed 28% of the content and explored 59% of the world. I imagine this keeps track of all the side quests so I am more than likely 70% through the main story arc. I started as a Human Noble Warrior. I will make it simple and either give a thumbs up, down, or sideways for each review point.

STORY

This is a single player RPG and thus the most important factor to whether the game is good or not (at least in my opinion) is the story. In that vein, as has been expressed countless times over, this game hits a home run. You truly feel a connection to the story and develop feelings about the characters within. You may love ‘em or hate ‘em, but you tend to form real connections to the characters portrayed in this game. The cur scenes are interesting and voiced excellently. Pleasingly you actually participate in the cut scenes. My complaints with the cut scenes though is that they are a little long, and they voice act all the characters except yours. This is minor, but it does kind of break the immersion as all the other characters speak out loud and then you speak in text. If they could spend all that money on voice acting for all the other characters, it would really make the wow factor increase tenfold if they could voice the player dialog. By and large thought the story is excellent and really makes you think before you pull the trigger on some of your responses. Regardless of anything else in this game, it is the storyline that makes you load it up again and again, and lose sleep in the process!

Result: Thumb up!

GAMEPLAY (mostly about combat)

The gameplay for this game is in my opinion not one of its strong points, unless you are really into taking a very long time on most of the encounters. I am by no means a rookie to RPG games and have played most of the Bioware games (I did miss Mass Effect) but the normal difficulty seems to be a little too challenging. I am all for having difficult settings for the die hards and those that really like challenging themselves, but I believe that the normal level should allow you to play 75% of the battles without having to reload. It seems that this setting is closer to having to reload after every other battle to every third battle if you don’t micromanage every one of the party members. Also, depending on which order you choose to complete the missions in, you don’t get a healer character possibly until late in the game unless you have your battle mage start dallying in healing skills.

The way the battles are laid out is very similar to Neverwinter Nights 2, but the camera doesn’t seem to be the pain that it was in that game. You can pause the battle whenever you want and switch between any of the party members to focus on. As a warrior character there is not a lot to do really and you will often find yourself switching to the mage to cast the right spell at the right time.

The AI of the party members is controlled by a system of tactics which allows you to program specific responses at certain situations in a battle i.e. cast heal when an ally is below 25% health or switch to a melee weapon if being attacked in melee. In theory this seems to be a good idea, but characters start with very few tactics slots and slowly gain more. Additionally, the characters will now deviate from there tactics to cast a different spell or have a different response even if it is clearly obvious to you that one is needed.

One of my biggest gripes is the rate in which your mana or stamina (essentially mana for non-magic users) replenishes. My character essentially got to use three maneuvers per battle and if it was an exceptionally long one, I might be able to eke out a fourth. The battle just really isn’t all that interesting if you are just standing there watching your character swing his sword once in a while with no skills to use. Some form of skill queuing would be a great boon here, or even a turn based system option.

Result: Thumb sideways

GRAPHICS

I won’t go into too much detail here, but the graphics for this game are very good for the genre. They are not Crysis good by any means, but for an RPG, which typically are not known for their spectacular graphics, the game is very pleasing to the eye. There is some serious clipping with certain armor sets, but that is to be expected with all the different item sets available in the game. It was only really annoying in one cut scene that I remember in which Alistair was sitting down and his arm kept disappearing into his legs. The combat animations are very fun to watch even if they do get repetitive after the umpteenth battle. It never gets old to see your character push a foe off of his sword with his shield or watch a 2H sword character do a reverse two-handed stab into a darkspawn gullet to finish it off.

The game does manage to capture the various feels of the zones that you traverse through very well. When you are traveling in the dwarven areas, it feels cramped and dark. When you are in the open areas, the flora and fauna are well done. There are four main quest arcs and they take you into four unique feeling areas.

Result: Thumb Up

BUGS and Etc.

There is a major bug in the game that apparently only effects computers with an AMD quad core processor. In any event, there is some form of memory leak in the game that makes the game performance slowly ebb to the point where it is unplayable. There is a workaround for it that helps the situation, but it definitely still rears its head the longer you play. Aside from this I really didn’t see anything else that was memorable. Also not really a bug with the game but rather an annoyance, I wanted to include some screen caps in the review, but I uninstalled the stand alone character generator from my system and it apparently deleted the screen shot folder from the full game…along with all of my screen shots. Doh!

Result: Thumb down for AMD users, otherwise thumb up.

PLAYING TIME and REPLAYABILITY

The game is vast and even after the time I have invested in it, it seems that I have quite a bit of playing to go to finish the main quest arc. I have been trying to do most of the side quests that I find, but have not gone out of my way to finish them. I imagine the game is very time consuming on higher difficulties and as the game wore on I switched to easy mode just to plow through in a timely fashion. As I mentioned before, the story is what makes this game a gem and not so much the gameplay. The game is to the point where I am getting anxious to finish it and just “Git er done” to borrow a phrase.

While I have not even completed the game once yet I can see that the game is definitely worth a second play through. Also each origin story is different so you may want to play each beginning just to see the differences. I typically play through these types of games at least twice. The first time through I play without using any outside help like walkthroughs and I typically try to stick to the same NPC’s in my party. The second time through I typically play following a walkthrough guide from GameBanshee and try to play a character with the opposite demeanor than the one I played first. So my next time through I will play a rogue or mage that is a total jerk to everyone. Sounds like fun!

Result: Thumb up

DOWNLOADABLE CONTENT

I preordered the game with access to some of the DLC. I have played one of the two DLC zones and while it was well done it seemed tacked on to the main game. As a result I haven’t made the second area a high priority. I originally played the keep DLC to get the storage chest, but later a dev at Bioware provided a mod to add a storage chest to your camp making the one at the keep obsolete. There is a suit of plate available in the keep that is very good for tanking at lower levels, but other than that, I could have done without it.

Result: Thumb sideways

FINAL THOUGHTS and SCORE

Despite the performance issue I have on my computer, I have had nothing but fun playing this game. It has a compelling story and an interesting game world. RPG veterans will be very pleased with the game though it really doesn’t make any groundbreaking leaps in the genre. Notably though, the game is aimed at a mature audience which makes it atypical from the norm and a bit of a change of pace as the content delves into some mature moral situations. This is to the game’s credit though as it really gets you to “feel” the game rather than just observe it. I definitely recommend the game to any RPG fan although fans of open ended games like Oblivion might find themselves a little too pigeon holed into the story arc. There is enough freedom to tackle the story in whichever order you please though so it is not completely on rails. Rookies to the genre might find the game a little tough to succeed at as they begin, and I suggest starting on the easy setting if you are new. All in all it is a very memorable and fun game that has hours of content. I highly recommend it.

Final Rating: Thumb way up!

-Pid

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2 Responses to “Dragon Age: Origins, The Meatshield Review”

  1. A Bard’s Tale « Says:

    […] has been quite some time since I finished the game and wrote this review, and while I stand by my review, I must add that I have not gone back to play it in a long time. I […]

  2. Dragon Age Contemplations « Says:

    […] in the genre. A number of things that are mentioned in the post contradict what I was saying in my review of the original game, but seeing them from this point of view makes me wonder if I was one of the many folks that […]

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