|System: X360, PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: BioWare||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 3, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by J. Matthew Zoss
October 15, 2009 - Some video game developers build games. BioWare builds worlds. From the revered Dungeons & Dragons games of Neverwinter Nights and Baldur's Gate to the gritty political, science fiction of Mass Effect, BioWare has a history of crafting deep, involving universes that feel like real places with rich histories and vibrant cultures. Over the last few years, BioWare brought three completely distinct worlds to consoles with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and Mass Effect - all titles that broke away from the developer's roots of high fantasy PC games.
Now BioWare is returning to that territory with Dragon Age: Origins, an epic dark fantasy coming to PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 this November. Those gamers more attracted to the sleek sci-fi of Mass Effect than a world of sword and sorcery have nothing to fear; Dragon Age is a game for them as well as the longstanding BioWare fan. We were lucky enough to spend two straight days immersed in the world of Dragon Age and we simply cannot wait to go back.
It is difficult to convey the sheer size of Dragon Age with words alone. The game is so massive that after the initial character creation, the game immediately splinters into several directions. True to the "Origins" subtitle, Dragon Age has six separate openings, depending on which race and specialization you've selected. My character was a human warrior whose family was betrayed by an ally, setting me off on a quest for revenge. No matter what your origin, your character will eventually travel through a few key plot moments, including an induction into the ancient order of the Grey Wardens, a group devoted to battling Dragon Age's primary antagonists: evil, corrupted creatures called the Darkspawn. After you join the Grey Wardens, the world of Ferelden is open to you - Primary quests involve invoking treaties with the elves, dwarves, and humans to find allies in the battle against the Darkspawn, and each location you visit is loaded with optional side quests that reward you with experience, treasure, and other loot. Even if you were to avoid all side quests and stick to the critical path, you'll still find a massive adventure before you - the fastest anyone has completed the game so far is around 40 hours. BioWare estimates that it will take most players between 60 and 100 hours to finish the game.
On PC, Dragon Age's gameplay is designed to be flexible and allow the player to play it the way he or she wants. The default camera is a standard third-person perspective, but if you prefer the traditional isometric RPG camera view, you can simply move the camera out with the mouse wheel and view the world from above. In either view, you can steer your character directly with the WASD keys or simply click the point where you want him to go with the mouse. In traditional BioWare fashion, your hero acquires a party of followers over the adventure, and you can switch between them all on the fly. Every character has distinct special abilities such as spells, attacks, ability buffs, and more. All abilities and items can be mapped to a hotkey bar for quick activation, and you can issue orders to your group while paused if you need a moment to think. If you prefer to focus on just your hero character, you can even create customized AI routines for your squadron, telling them exactly how to behave in incredibly specific combat scenarios.
The console versions of the game play and feel a bit different, with good reason. BioWare redesigned several aspects of the game for consoles, such as the user interface and the camera. The PS3 and Xbox 360 versions look more like a standard third-person action game, with an over-the-shoulder camera and a speedier feel to combat. Players can map six abilities or items to the face-button, using the right trigger to toggle between two hotkey sets. Pulling the left trigger opens a radial menu that pauses the action and allows players to choose from the complete set of available attacks and items at their leisure. The difficulty has been altered as well, with the Normal setting on consoles roughly equivalent to Easy on PC. Despite these changes, BioWare is insistent that absolutely nothing from the PC game was removed from the console versions, merely tweaked so that players on every platform experience it in the best way possible.
Fantasy games may not be as popular as they once were, but even gamers who roll their eyes at elves and dwarves owe it to themselves to delve into Dragon Age: Origins. While many familiar fantasy elements are present, most aren't what you think. BioWare excels at turning the familiar on its pointed ear and presenting things in ways that are completely different than what you expect. The story we've experienced thus far is dark, bloody, mature, and surprising. Anyone who enjoys complex, compelling storytelling and deep RPG gameplay will find something to love about Dragon Age: Origins.
J. Matthew Zoss
CCC Freelance Writer