Dragon Age: Origins Review
If you've been watching TV at all over the past couple of weeks, you've probably seen the commercial for Bioware's new RPG Dragon Age: Origins. The slick rendered video is enough to catch anyone's eye, as it shows off not only some pretty cool fighting, but also an enormous dragon landing to challenge the game's heroes in a stark, snowy field. After seeing the commercial more times than I could count, I started to get interested in what the renowned company's new epic was all about. I also noticed one huge red flag - the commercial, at no time, actually shows the game being played. Not even for one second. Uh-oh. Well, I was right to be concerned; flashy commercial and gorgeous cut scenes aside, Dragon Age: Origins just isn't all that much fun to play.
If you've ever experienced a Bioware RPG before (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect), you should have a pretty solid handle on what to expect in this game. You begin by whipping up a totally unique character using one of Bioware's trademarks, an EPIC character creation system. With the PS3's capabilities and Bioware's know-how, this system is easily the most customizable I've ever come across. I had no trouble at all creating a warrior that looked identical to myself, which is a testament to just how intricate the system is. As an added bonus, you must also select one of a handful of races and backstories for your new character, and these choices determine where you start the adventure and even how the other characters in the game will react you. Like I said, the character creation is very robust, but sadly things go south from that point.
Once you do begin the game, the first thing that will strike you is exactly what I had feared - for a PS3 game, the characters and environments are a bit dull and dare I say - kind of ugly. We aren't talking last-gen ugly, mind you, but after playing recent games like Uncharted 2, Modern Warfare 2 or the world-shatteringly awesome Demon's Souls, everything in this game looks very 2007. Well, except for the pre-rendered cut scenes, of course.
When Dragon Age: Origins truly stumbles (we all know by now a game doesn't have to be pretty to be great) is the gameplay, more specifically the fighting. While the game gives you a number of options on how to do battle, only the clunkiest and most boring method will get you anywhere. To understand what is expected of you, it is necessary to know that you are not solely responsible for your solitary hero. Over the course of the game, you'll acquire a number of other party members depending on which quests you take and what path you follow through the game's overarching narrative. So killing off enemies relies on any one of three different methods - you can fight in real time, you can take a more turn-based approach and micromanage every aspect of the fight while the characters remain frozen on the screen or you can set up a series of commands and let your party fight automatically, according to your preset choices, of course. None of these options are fun or engaging.
The real time fighting is broken because your party members, no matter how you have them set up, aren't too bright. They often run around and do their own thing, leading to some encounters being nothing more than enemies piling onto your main hero while you party members watch and do nothing. Also, since this is an older-style RPG in terms of menus and commands, real time fighting is a fancy way of saying that you will just hit the "confirm choice" button over and over to attack. This combat method never gives you the feeling you have much control over your actions, and will more than likely get you slaughtered when facing even marginally tough enemies.