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.