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10 November 2009 @ 11:05 am
Game review: Best computer/console based RPG I've ever played!  
Dragon Age: Origins, that is.

And I say that as a veteran of:

Baldur's Gate I and II
Icewind Dale
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic I and II
Neverwinter Nights
Mass Effect
Fable II (which isn't quite in the same category, really, being very linear and focused.)
Fallout 3

Of the top list, my stand out favorites up to this point were definitely Morrowind and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (the first one - the second one felt really rushed at the end, and was therefore a let down.)

Dragon Age: Origins combines some of the best of both of these games (which is odd, considering they're by two different game companies). Morrowind, with it's gorgeous graphic vistas and open world play capable of providing hundreds of hours of entertainment, was a revolutionary game. I happily played in that world for hours and hours...but it was so open, I never got around to completeing the main quest. KOTOR, less than graphically stunning, had a great storyline that even incorporated a decently written romantic subplot (Bioware knows how to appeal to their female fans.) Unlike Morrowind, KOTOR had good voice over actors, and it didn't get repetitive with the NPCs. But the stryline was extremely linear - no open world gameplay there! I was very sad when I finished. Sure, you could replay and go dark side, but that was the only replayability factor.

By comparison, Dragon Age is not very visually stunning - it doesn't make your mouth drop open in awe, but at the same time, the graphics aren't terrible as some people are saying. They're good graphics, just not great, and I'm okay with that. Because if I have to choose between mouth dropping graphics or a wonderfully written, fantastically voice acted immersive storyline, guess which one gets my vote?

And that's where Dragon Age is strong - it has a fantastic story and characters, with more open world game possibilites than previous Bioware titles, but not so much, like Morrowind, to lose sight of the main storyline.

First, you get to pick between six different "origin" stories for your character. You pick your race/class, and your origin story is unique to that choice. That means the first level of the game can be played six different times, and actually be totally and completely different. And that difference carries over into the rest of the game. Various pieces of the story later on intercect with your old life. For instance, how an elven mage MC experiences the quest to free the mage's tower from evil will be quite different from the very same quest for a human noble. Slightly different cut scenes, different dialogue with NPCs, different dialogue choices.

As you play, you gather allies/party members that can help you in combat, and also interact with both you and each other in unique ways. For example, Alistair is among the first you find. Like you, he is a young Gray Warden, sarcastic and funny, he uses humor to deflect things he doesn't want to deal with. Morrigan is a witch, dark, wary, and mistrustful, with a definite low opinion of most of the male species. Put the two in your party together, and listen as they banter back and forth while you're running around doing side quests. You interact with them and create the sort of relationship you want to have. Party members can choose to leave, betray you, romance you, or become your BFF, and the way you interact with them dictates that. Each has their own unique story, which you might never discover if you don't choose to speak with them, or you choose the wrong dialogue at the wrong time, or you don't have them in your party at a certain point in the game.

I can't count the number of times I've been AMAZED at the way cut scenes - which I'm accustomed to being static things - have taken on a unique twist based on either my MC, or the party members with me. One, for example, is a test your MC must go through. You must decide if your character regrets some past action. Mine, being a mage, had to do with choices she made during that origin story. While I decided that no, my MC did not regret her choices, the questioner moved on to each of my party members, and revealed things about them - and their regrets - that I never would have known, had I not had those specific NPCs with me at the time. In particular, one NPC was hiding something in his past that I did not expect, and now I plan to pursue dialogue with him asking about that revelation. It also makes me wonder - what are my other allies hiding??

I've heard it takes about 40 hours of game play to beat the game. What's exciting about Dragon Age is, I can go back and start a new game with a new origin, and sure, while I'll know how the main quest goes, I will still have a very different play experience based on that origin and the choices I make with that new character, not to mention the different party build I'll have to have playing a different class. I'll find out about different NPCs! Things I never experienced the first time around will be available.

It is so far, THE most exciting, satisfying computer-based RPG I've ever played. The romance subplot, far from being cheesy, is actually very well written and well voice acted. And NPCs comment on it! Things like wanring you not to hurt the guy you're romancing, or accusing him of staring at your bum. :) And you don't have to pursue the story entirely. As you play and they like you more, it triggers certain things, like him approaching you with a gift, or asking for a kiss. I have no idea how it works if you're playing a male MC, but I assume it's very similar in terms of being well written, etc.

Bioware has even included the option for gay romantic pairings. Yes, ladies, there is optional slash in this game. Does Bioware know their audience, or what? LOL.

To give you a clue as to the voice acting and how good it is: Claudia Black voices one of the main female NPCs. Also, one of the actors from Crossing Jordan voices the main male NPC. (I didn't really watch that show, so I'm uncertain of his name, but I've seen him in other stuff, too.)

And Zevran's voice sounds just like Antonio Banderas to me, even though it's not him, more's the pity.

I don't play MMOs. I know myself well enough to realize that they could be addictive, so I've never gone there. Plus, I don't want to shell out more money a month to pay to play, when I'm already paying Xbox about $50/year for my Xbox live membership. I don't really play on my PC anymore. Why keep upgrading the video card, etc, or using the small 19 or 21 inch screen, when I can play on the Xbox and not have to worry about upgrades, and use my 42" TV?

But, Bioware is working on Star Wars: The Old Republic. They're combining the very best of their RPGs (story, characters, voice actors, etc) with the best of MMO (playing online with other people). No word yet on whether they'll release it for the Xbox, but if they do? I am seriously going to have to reconsider my "no MMO" policy. One, it's Star Wars, two it's Bioware.

The people who did KOTOR.


Also, playing Dragon Age has rekindled my interest in Mass Effect 2, due out in January. I may just have to pick it up, after all. I have to have something to play while I'm waiting for Dragon Age 2. :D

In the meantime, I am spending far too much time playing that dang game. But it's fun. I haven't been this into playing a video game since...Morrowind, I think. Good times.
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