Dragon Age review

Dragon Age Origins is out now, and much like I had hoped, it’s RPG gold once again from Bioware. I was cautiously optimistic about the game going in, and had avoided digging too deep into the pre-release hype, really only setting up a character with the free character creator and playing Dragon Age Journeys to get some more backstory. I’m about 5-6 hours in as of this writing, and I’ll warn you now that the below can be summed up as just me repeating ‘that was awesome’ over and over.

First thing I want to mention is my experience with Direct2Drive and my preorder. As readers here know I’m a huge D2D fan (and greatly prefer it over Steam), and their execution for Dragon Age was spot on for me. I was able to pre-download it a few days ago, and thanks to their online countdown widget, I knew exactly when the activation key was being release to allow you to install and play the game. I got the key promptly, the install went smoothly, and in less time than it would have taken me to even put the physical DVD in, I was installed and ready to go. Very happy with this experience overall, as I usually am anytime I’m dealing with D2D.

I was able to fire up the game, download all the pre-order, special edition, and DA Journeys content after logging in to my EA account, get my pre-generated character loaded, and start playing. Just as with D2D, everything here was flawless, and really set the tone of an extremely polished and well thought-out execution. Hats off to Bioware and EA (yes, good job EA).

It took only a few minutes in-game to make me realize I’m playing 3D Baulders Gate, and I mean that as the highest compliment. It really was a ‘holy shit’ moment too, as I had to blink, stop, and just marvel at the fact that in 2009, with a gorgeous game on my screen, I really was looking at Baulders Gate. The adrenaline was flowing at this point as highlights of Baulders Gate flashed in my mind and I could only begin to speculate what Dragon Age was going to offer. Yes, I was hyping Dragon Age in my mind to an almost unfair level after only having played it for about five minutes, but so far it’s lived up to all of it and more.

I have a rather high-end system (especially now thanks to the 295GTX), and the game picked up on this and defaulted the settings to the highest level, which I’ve left as is and not tinkered with. At this setting, the game is just flat-out beautiful. Characters look amazingly real while somehow avoiding the uncanny valley, great details fill every shot, and the animations are both epic and fitting in combat. The engine is this amazing mix of hack-and-slash LOOKING action will PLAYING exactly like a slower-paced, pause-at-any-time, tactical RPG. It really is the best of both worlds here, and an amazing accomplishment for Bioware. The sound, voice acting, and music are all top-notch as well. I’ve had zero crashes or errors in the 5-6 hours I’ve played, which is just fantastic for keeping you in-game and focused on the story.

Gameplay is Baulders Gate. You have a party of four you can switch control of at will, pause at any time, and highlight interactive objects with the tab key. You have a hotbar for character skills and items, there is poison/trap/potion crafting, and your party members will gain/lose respect for you depending on your actions. You loot barrels/chests/sacks, you slay monsters, you talk to NPCs using dialog options, etc. Dragon Age has all the ‘basics’ you would expect, perfectly executed so that they become second-nature within the first hour or so of gameplay. So far nothing feels like it’s missing, and there is nothing that sticks out and makes me wish it was different. This is exactly how I expect a ‘traditional’ RPG to play.

One aspect that brought a huge smile to my face was when I lost an early encounter because I just stumbled into it and got overconfident, and then got defeated again when I went into it with a poorly thought out plan. Dragon Age is no push-over on Normal difficulty, and rewards smart strategy well. The first ‘boss’ encounter took me a few tries before I was successful, and that ultimately made the victory that much sweeter (not to mention watching the jaw-dropping ‘finishing move’ that happens without any loading or switching from the in-game engine. You don’t have a pulse if after watching that the game does not leave you impressed)

The story/setting so far has been very solid. I was half-expecting a Witcher-like world due to the mature rating, but Dragon Age is more NWN/BG-harsh than Witcher-harsh, think PG-13 rather than R. Which is not to say it’s all fairies and rainbows, it’s not, but it has so far lacked that very gritty tension that the Witcher had with it’s theme of racial prejudice and true ‘no right answer’ options, where most choices resulted in something bad happening, with the choice usually being ‘to who’. The Witcher really made me stop and think about some of decisions you had to make, and while the choices in Dragon Age are not always the clear-cut good/neutral/funny (there is never a true evil option) of NWN, I do wish they were a bit tougher/grayer at times. That aside, the story so far has been very interesting and well executed, while moving along at a good pace.

Obviously, I highly recommend Dragon Age to anyone with even a slight RPG interest, as so far it’s played as just one of those games that’s head and shoulders above the norm. I write this while sitting here excited to get back into it, and baring a complete 180 at some point, Dragon Age should put itself among the top RPGs I’ve ever played.

26 Responses to Dragon Age review

  1. smakendahed says:

    I actually wasn’t keen on how things looked while zoomed out but thought everything looked great while zoomed in.

    Otherwise, yeah, it’s pretty neat and the story/game world seems quite developed.

  2. Bronte says:

    Damn it! I hate Steam!

    Must. Stop. Reading. First. Impressions.

  3. Chris says:

    Well, Bronte, in this case I’d say, “Give in.” The game doesn’t reach the Platonic ideal but it is a truly enjoyable experience. Even the “origin stories” (read: tutorials) are really different in tone and execution. Comparing, for example, the mage origin with the city elf, the plots and mechanics are polar opposites. So far, the writing isn’t “Planescape: Torment” quality, but it’s quite mature and thought-provoking. The game is heavily biased towards combat, which I wish weren’t the case, but, really, monster slaying in the service of a good story is worth it. (Again, I liked P:T’s ability to beat the game with engaging in something like one combat, but that was an exception even back in 1998 and nowadays the thought of an RPG without any combat is laughable.)

  4. adam says:

    i’m about 6 hours in. completely hooked. i bumped the difficulty to hard because i have a tendency to make things too easy on myself if i allow it (saving, retrying if the outcome isn’t the way i like it) and i need to force myself into making things harder and more challenging because that inevitably leads to more enjoyment in the long run.

    i bring that up because it took me 3 or 4 tries to kill the first boss. after a couple attempts that ended in me getting waxed, i ended up realizing that i couldn’t go toe to toe with it, so i changed tactics (the guy getting attacked runs around like a crazy man and the others take ranged pot shots), used abilities i didn’t use before and finally won. i love having to consider ALL my options during a particular encounter. it’s frustrating to lose over and over again but it also forces you to actually utilize the terrain and your characters’ abilities, it gives the NPC shopkeepers and crafting a real purpose since you can’t find everything you need to plow through on the corpses of the fallen. the combat is deep; should i wear more armor at the cost of being able to fire fewer abilities? should i maneuver my rogue into flanking position at the risk of him being flanked himself? do i dare toss an acid bomb or a fireball into the pileup, hurting my guys as much as theirs? nearly every encounter takes some thought and plays out very differently depending on all the variables (where you were to start, your class loadout, your consumables, etc etc).

    awesome, awesome stuff. all that in addition to the fantastic storytelling and fleshed-out, compelling world. i’m sitting here at work and all i can do is think about what i want to do next. i never spring for DLC, but i’m going to get the Warden’s Keep DLC as soon as i get home. well done, bioware. now just hoping mass effect 2 lives up to its fantasy peer.

  5. adam says:

    also should mention that the folks at bioware write some tight code. the game runs wonderfully on my middle-road system (dual core 1.86 ghz, 2 gb RAM, 9600 GTX+) at 1440×900 at high-highest settings. so far i’ve yet to notice any really terrible textures or glitches. though the one thing that bothers me is the teeth. what gives? are EVERYONE’S teeth in ferelden gray-yellow? it’s weird for me to see the pretty red-head as attractive for my character when i see nasty dark lizard teeth trying to hide in there when she talks.

  6. willee says:

    This game looks good. If only i didn’t absolutely despise any kind of “turn-based” anything, especially combat, i’d try it.

    • syncaine says:

      It’s not turn-based, it’s real time. You can just pause at any time to issue orders if you want (you can also issue them in real-time)

  7. Bhagpuss says:

    Thanks for that review. The “I really was looking at Baldur’s Gate” bit pretty much means I have to buy the damn thing now, and a copy for Mrs Bhagpuss too. When the heck I’m supposed to play it, since I just subscribed to Fallen Earth last night, god only knows.

    I might try and wait til Christmas before I get Dragon Age. The good thing about offline games is you don’t really lose anything by waiting. Except sanity.

    • Adam says:

      Yah winter is long…January or February might be a better choice for Dragon Age… good to hear people like it though.

  8. Carra says:

    Reading Baulders Gate about ten times hurts my eyes.

    I’ve been playing it for an hour now and I’m already immersed and longing to go back and play. Those bastards are trying to rape me and killed my fiancee? I’ll kill them all!

    Also shows that it really is a game for adults. Fifteen minutes in the game and rape is on the menu…

    If it is really like Baldurs Gate I might give that game a try if I end up adoring Dragon Age.

  9. J says:

    Yeah, very much agree with the above comment. I would’ve thought that someone who is such a big fan of “Baulder’s” Gate would know that it is actually “Baldur’s”…. that’s not hardcore trivia or something, that’s stating the blindingly obvious. Oh well, such is literacy standards in the age of the iPhone. Never mind. At least the game sounds good. You had me at “rape”.

  10. Tio says:

    The game captured me with the 3-way involving 2 chicks in the merchant area (dwarf noble).

  11. [...] stops me from shamelessly singing praises about the it), I rest assured because industry veterans, reviewers, bloggers and players are awash with praise. Although BioWare is weaving a tale that the fantasy [...]

  12. Denise says:

    Oh great … Now I’ll have to go right out and buy it too.

    If there weren’t multiple positive comments here, I’d think you were a paid schill ;)

  13. Irish Rabble says:

    I’m not a gamer, though my SO got me hooked on Fallout 3 and then Oblivion, which I’ve played for hours and hours. I then tried to branch out but have not found BioWare games nearly as attractive. Thus far I’ve tried Mass Effect and Dragon Age and have enjoyed neither of them. I was intrigued by Mass Effect’s story, but the gameplay was so complicated and tutorials lacking and I gave up. Same deal with Dragon Age. I also don’t care for the abrupt switch back and forth from cut-scene to 3D play, which I dislike tremendously compared to Bethsoft’s 1D, immersive experience. So I read reviews like this and I just don’t get it. What am I missing?

    It seems to me that they’re not accessible at least to this casual gamer. For diehard gamers, that is probably a good thing. Eh well, not like I needed another time-waster…

  14. UK_John says:

    Irish rabble. Like anything, you get out what you are willing to put in. it would seem, for you, when the going gets hard you get going. Mass Effect and Dragon Age both had good manuals, and it you had actually read them, you might have been able to cope.

    I’d stick with Jigsaws and Snakes and Ladders if I were you, or at least, just play corridor shooters. They’re simple.

  15. Irish Rabble says:

    Hehe, thanks very much. Living up to that reputation of gamers being antisocial, I see.

    Indeed, it is a GAME. I’m willing to put reasonable effort in and I did in fact read the manual (jerk), but when it becomes too much like work and tutorials are sparing, I do find other things to do.

  16. Naticus says:

    I can’t possibly agree with the review any more than I do, it’s spot-on. I never played very much of Baldur’s Gate 2 (never tried BG1) because a friend tried rushing me through the story in multiplayer and I got overwhelmed by the information being told to me, but even in that brief amount of time, I could easily identify the elements from BG2 that were present in DAO. Now that I have the time to, without any rush, I literally have read every single Codex entry given to me. It’s that kind of element, explaining the back story of the world I’m living in, that really draws me in. I can see myself playing through this game repeatedly like I did in Mass Effect.

    As for the truly gray line in decisions, they definitely do exist. For example, when you get to the mage tower for the first time (or second time if your character is a mage) and encounter the desire demon and the templar, I’m sure most people immediately thought they’d be wanting to kill the desire demon. The option and reasoning I got from it though, I was happy to be dissuaded from doing so. I won’t spoil what the reasoning was, but I was very impressed by how something that, in other encounters, I have fought and killed without a second thought could convince me otherwise… this time.

  17. Irish Rabble says:

    Alright, I must eat crow (the “jerk” comment stills stands for UK_John however). I decided to give Dragon Age another go and put the difficulty on Easy and am enjoying it immensely. I admit I don’t like some things about the gameplay, but the storytelling outweighs the complaints.

  18. UK_John says:

    @Irish Rabble: I am proud to be called a ‘jerk’ by people like you. I hope to say more in the future that someone like you would consider ‘jerkish’! :)

  19. DragonAgeGarbage says:

    I’ve never wasted a $78.00 in my life. I should not have listened to EBGames Jerk who told me it is the best game. It is totaly garbage. Graphics sucks. Too much bs talking. Less action and the stupid so called worrier can only use one style of fighting. AT my xbox360 i had tokeep pressing A A A A A A A so this stupid character to fight. ahhhhh… i am so pissed right now. I had the impressin of GOD OF WAR when i picked up this game,,, but a complete garbzge.

    f…… a….. fooling people by introducing fake reviews…

  20. Naticus says:

    @DragonAgeGarbage: lol, you picked the wrong kind of game if you want no talking. This is an RPG, there is a story to hear, you are to be a part of it and to hear from both sides of a war. God of War is a much more action-oriented game, and lets face it, a much more dumbed-down storyline. You won’t find hours of reading to explain the world around you, you won’t find people of several different opinions trying to get your attention and sway your stance on the war on two fronts. What DAO has that GOW doesn’t is a nonlinear, lore-rich story that has more replay value for those of us that care more about the story than the action many times.

    It’s not a fake review because they have an opposing review from what you feel about it. So you don’t like it. Great. Stop playing. Most people that have commented before you disagree with you.

    BTW, if you are pressing only one button for your warrior, you aren’t playing it right anyhow. Warriors have a lot of abilities, and you can either be your group’s tank or you can be a very strong DPS class. Both of them have many abilities that are crucial to completing the game.

  21. UK_John says:

    @DragonAgeGarbage: People always blame someone else! It’s never them! Doesn’t this guy know what he likes? Doesn’t he read reviews, watch trailers, read interviews? I refuse to believe he didn’t know what DA was all about, and to blames the salesman is a total joke, IMO! Be a man and admit you should have invested more time in finding out what you was spending money on! If you don’t change, I have a bridge to sell you!

  22. slevvio says:

    I got this game and after days of the game crashing I finally got it working (by downloading the vista service pack).

    Its amazing! I chose to go a sword and shield warrior but focussing on damage dealing as opposed to tanking. Its not ideal but its so satisfying to whack some evil darkspawn behind with your shield. And the dwarf noble story is simply great, really interesting to see such an unusual depiction of fantasy dwarves

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