Discussion Review: Dragon Age: Origins

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Oh yes, the day you’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived! Mike and I have finished comparing notes on the PC and console versions of Dragon Age: Origins — Mike played it on PC, I took on the PS3 version — and after nearly two hours of editing our final discussion review is now complete. I know we’re coming a bit late with this one, but hey, it’s a huge game and deserves an equally epic review. So I hope you don’t have anything to do for the next hour or so, because that’s probably how long it’ll take you to read this bad boy. Kick back, read along and enjoy. And as always we’d love you to join in on the debate in the comments!

Mike: The other night I was watching VH1’s ‘100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the 80’s’, and was thinking about Bioware and the whole ‘spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate 2’ thing surrounding Dragon Age: Origins. Baldur’s Gate 2 is the 2000 classic PC RPG that is not just one of the best RPGs ever but one of the greatest games in video game history. Put into that context, it is hard to ever live up to the massive hype and expectations. But Bioware has never stopped trying, and didn’t shy away from this challenge.

For me, buying Dragon Age was not even a question – it was a foregone conclusion months ago. I have bought every Bioware game at day of release for years, and the prospect of a novel fantasy game from them was thrilling. But that doesn’t mean all signs were positive for me. First off, I am of the opinion that Bioware’s games have consistently declined in terms of quality and role-playing depth since Baldur’s Gate 2, with Mass Effect representing my least favorite of their games. Also, the marketing campaign seemed to be selling ‘blood and boobies’ for teenage boys, and quite frankly it would have turned me off were it not a Bioware game. Finally, I just wasn’t thrilled with the whole ‘day of release DLC’ thing, and it was a pain to navigate through the various configurations and decide what to buy. I knew I wanted as much as possible, so I grabbed the ‘Digital Deluxe’ Steam version, which had the Warden’s Keep DLC, the Stone Prisoner, and a variety of ‘trinket’ DLC items.

Before I get too heavily into characters and gameplay, one thing I thought was really cool was the concept of ‘Origin Stories’. After going through and building your character, you are launched into a backstory adventure that takes you up to the moment you join the Gray Wardens. Unlike most games, this isn’t a cutscene or slideshow or scrolling text, but rather a fully fleshed out adventure that will take from a few to several hours, and involve a number of characters and small quests. My first character was a mage, and I was amazed at the depth and breadth of his origin story. But I was even more amazed as I started a new game with a female noble fighter and also had a great introductory experience. I have since played all of the Origins, and found all of them very well done and highly immersive.

So Matt, before we get into the meat of this massive game, what did you think about the marketing, the DLC stuff, the Origins, and what is your history with Bioware and the Baldur’s gate franchise?

Matt: As I’ve talked about many times before over the years, Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2 (and their expansions) are basically 1a and 1b on my list of all-time great RPGs. Both games came out in what I consider the golden age of RPGs — other classics of that period included the likes of Planescape: Torment and Fallout 1 & 2, and I’d throw in the Diablo and Icewind Dale games as personal favorites — and were the cream of that crop for me. So obviously when BioWare put the whole “spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate” tag on Dragon Age: Origins my interest and expectations instantly shot through the roof. And fair or not, my love of the Baldur’s Gate games has probably led me to examine Dragon Age with a more critical eye than I would have if this was just “some other fantasy RPG.”

First, I need to preface my comments by saying that I have not been able to complete the game in its entirety. Unfortunately my PS3 died when I was roughly 30 hours into the game, so I’ve had to start all over from scratch with my new PS3, and being as backlogged as I am after both of my consoles died during the fall rush I’ve had a hard time getting back into the swing of things. Normally I don’t like to review a game without completing it, but in 30 hours (and additional hours spent starting over from scratch and experimenting with a couple other origins) I think I’ve seen more than enough to provide fair analysis, and should there be any details I missed Mike can help clarify.

Before I criticize a few things that may spark a heated debate, I would also like to say that my overall opinion of Dragon Age is very, very positive. It is a worthy successor to the Baldur’s Gate franchise for sure and is by far my favorite BioWare games since BG2 — I’m with you on Mass Effect being my least favorite (though it was still a great game), outside of Sonic Chronicles on the DS of course!

That praise aside, I do have some complaining to get off my chest real quick. The one beef I have with Dragon Age is with elements of its storytelling. I’m a fantasy nut so I don’t mind a bit that the setting, characters and plot are all pretty generic and unoriginal as far as a fantasy universe, but many of the things I didn’t like about Mass Effect’s story crept into Dragon Age and really hurt the experience.

For the most part, the writing and voice acting are solid. However, there is something about their delivery that has prevented me from fully involving myself with the narrative. Like Mass Effect (and Final Fantasy XII too), the character’s all have this lifeless, wooden look to their facial animations, and, for me, too much of the voice acting, while certainly adequate considering how much dialogue is in this game, is equally emotionless on the whole. I also haven’t found many of the characters to be all that likable (or unlikable in a good way). In the BG games I felt more attached to the members of my party, and when I did something to piss one off or cause one to leave my ranks it very much impacted my adventure. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to experience this with any of the characters in Dragon Age. If I upset one and lose favorability I feel bad initially but ultimately don’t see any lasting impact since I can just give them gifts to make them feel better.

I’ve also discovered some serious holes in the way characters relate to you based on your chosen path through the game. For example, in one of the main quests I started in one location, reached a certain point that led me to another area to find a solution to the first problem, and then when I did so and came back one of my party members (Alistair) got upset with my decision and told me I should have tried something else to solve the problem. Thing is, I was being bitched at for not going the path I had actually just been through, yet he acted as if none of what I did ever happened. It made me feel as if everything I’d accomplished over the past 5-10 hours was for naught. You encountered anything like this?

As for the origins stories, I too love the concept, but I’m not sure the execution lives up to the hype. From what I had read, the origin stories were described as these elaborate, multi-hour introductions that would shape how your character evolves into the main quest, but I don’t think they delivered on that all the way. So far I’ve completed three of the origins, and while they’ve all been intriguing starting points to the game with many key choices that determine the makeup of your hero moving forward, not a one has taken me any longer than two hours to finish. Maybe I just didn’t understand exactly what the origins were supposed to be, but I was expecting them to be more in the five hour range at the least, so I’m kind of disappointed that they are such a small segment of such an enormous game.

OK, I think that’s enough for you to chew on for now. Jump back in here, Mike!

Mike: Thanks for recapping – I know we’ve discussed your love of the Baldur’s Gate franchise , but it never hurts to have put this stuff into all of these reviews just to immediately diffuse any confusion readers might have based on the context accompanying comments in the review.

Oh yeah, Sonic Chronicles … let’s just call that a rookie effort and be done with it!

One thing I have always found with Bioware games after BG2 was that there was a moment when things started to fall apart, but then they come back together, then get really good, then threaten to unravel, and then end on a crescendo. That is absolutely true here, because while I found this to be an amazing game and right up there with the best games of the decade, it is far from perfect. I’ll detail some of my complaints in a bit, but I did want to talk more about the Origin stories.

I was never under the impression that the Origins would be epic in and of themselves, but rather that they would help you define your character and see where they were coming from before entering the service of the Wardens. In that regard I highly enjoyed them. As I mentioned, I found the Mage Origin story to be meaty and worthwhile and took me ~5 hours or so – and heck, there are ENTIRE GAMES recently released that (one that sold millions, no less) took me less time than just the Mage Origin story! The other stories all took at least 2 – 3 hours for me to work through, but I was also intent on developing my characters as much as possible. Most importantly, upon completing each story and proceeding to Ostagar, I felt completely connected to my character in a way too many recent RPGs have ignored. As I said, where many games offer a CGI cutscene or a simplified tutorial sequence, Dragon Age shows your backstory in much greater detail, which for me produced a resounding effect that remained as I made critical decision throughout the game right up to the end.

Speaking of getting to the end … Dragon Age: Origins is a MASSIVE game, especially given how I tend to play these. I estimate that I have spent well over 200 hours so far, and I am still enjoying myself. As such, there are bugs you will hit along the way. I have seen quirky actions, out-of-sync dialogue, minor quests fail, and so on. But after all of these hours I have yet to see anything nearly as serious as what you mentioned. It is amazing in that regard looking back at a game like Baldur’s Gate II, which is every bit as big as Dragon Age but had many fewer bugs. But it was also less complex in many ways, so perhaps it isn’t such a fair comparison. Have you run into other major bugs since that one?

I guess we disagree a bit about the influence system. Bioware has been playing with this for a while, with some characters back in the Baldur’s Gate games having issues with your good / evil choices – even to the point of leaving. Same thing happened in Knights of the Old Republic, and Obsidian moved even further as they made the first modern influence system in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, in which your actions had impact on relationships and paths available. Yet that was also incomplete, and gained more depth in Neverwinter Nights 2, particularly the excellent Mask of the Betrayer expansion. Now in Dragon Age: Origins you have a much broader range of possibilities in terms of how your actions might impact a relationship, which goes together with the move away from the typical Bioware ‘Good / Mercenary / Evil’ dialogue choices. You alluded to it, and some have complained that the ability to ‘gift your way’ out of negative influence negates the impact of choices, but since in general a negative choice will cost you 10 – 15 points (some can reportedly cost you even more!) and gifts will earn at the very most 10 points and usually 2 – 5, it is not really a viable way to play the game. At least not the way I tend to role-play.

That said, I really did like the Gift system. It at once incentivized thorough exploration of every area and frequently talking to all characters. You find items marked as ‘gift’ and try to figure out who might like them and then offer them as a gift. Some will refuse, others will get a small boost, others a larger boost, and occasionally you’ll find something that will advance the relationship between characters. And, yes, those relationships can lead to romance if you have gotten to a certain favorable status.

My final thought related to all of this gets back to what I said about moving away from the typical Bioware ‘Good / Mercenary / Evil’ dialogue choices. In games like Knights of the Old Republic, it was pretty easy to tell if you were going to get ‘Light Side’ or ‘Dark Side’ points based on a dialog or action. One of the things I loved in Dragon Age was that you would frequently encounter situations where none of the choices you were given were exactly what you wanted, but you could see that you had to ‘make the best of a bad situation’. There is a plot involving a possessed child, for example, and you can actually take a few different paths which will have an impact on the overall game as well as your relationships with a few different characters. That sort of thing reminds me of The Witcher, where sometimes repercussions weren’t immediate – and unlike Baldur’s Gate II or Knights of the Old Republic, where the impact was immediate. Did you also like the vague morality of Dragon Age?

One thing I’d like to discuss is what you thought of the overall role-playing system. Bioware has created a fantasy party-based RPG, but moved away from the D&D system. How do you think they did in terms of the core rules and inner workings of attributes, skills, and so on?

Matt: It’s quite interesting how you describe your experience with the game as being so up and down, because I honestly couldn’t agree more. For the first ~15 hours of my initial play I was hooked into this game — I’d say I put that much time into it within the first couple days of play — but since then it seems there’s been this weird ebb and flow to my play cycle as I lose interest in certain areas and then all of a sudden get to a point where I become hooked again and can’t put the controller down. It’s something I really can’t pinpoint, but I guess it goes back to my reservations with parts of the narrative and the lack of a bond with any of the game’s characters (well, I did like Duncan, but he doesn’t hang around long).

For me it’s also really eerie how Dragon Age reminds me of my time with Final Fantasy XII from the PS2. I loved playing FFXII, but many of the same things we’ve already hit on also applied to it. The way the two games play is also very similar, but I’ll touch on that more later.

As for the origin stories- I guess I should dive into the Mage story. The three I’ve played — Human Noble, Dalish Elf and Dwarf Commoner — took me maybe two hours (the Dwarf maybe more like three since it was my first character), and as far as I could tell I did all the quests and talked to everyone. It’s really not a big deal, I’ve just enjoyed the origins more so than parts of the main quest that I wish they lasted longer. I also just haven’t seen that they are as integral to the game as they were hyped.

Unlike you, I still haven’t really formed any special connection with my characters. The origins and much of the rest of the game is well told, you do get to make a lot of choices to shape your character, and I too also appreciate the “vague morality” behind many of the choices you have to make. But to me I’m not particularly fond of how the player character is presented throughout the game. I typically don’t mind playing a voiceless hero, but it seems to stand out more in Dragon Age than in other games. Juxtaposed to everyone else speaking, I found the voiceless emotes distracting in a way that breaks the immersion. The character animations during dialogue just look so old and clunky!

I too like the gifting system…at least in some respects. While I haven’t connected with any of the characters, the closest I have come is when finding special gifts that unlock optional quests and conversations when given to the proper party member. I loved that part of the gifting system in that I cared more about learning about my companions than caring how much it would increase influence. However, it is an exploitable system. Sure, most of the gifts have minimal influence as you say, but gifts aren’t exactly rare if you loot every nook and cranny, so even if you do goof up with a certain character you should have more than enough gifts on hand to give them a few to make up some of the loss. If you are a true role player you don’t have to take advantage of the exploit, but for me just having the option left me not fretting over my choices as much as I would have liked. I loved how in the BG games if you made a decision and it didn’t sit well with a party member there was no turning back – I actually lost one of my favorite party members this way, and although it was sad, the fact that it impacted me so much proved just how well the made the game was. That’s real choice and real consequence!

As for the switch from the D&D rules, I really don’t mind either way. I love how BioWare handled their D&D-based RPGs, but I also really like how they handled Dragon Age’s inner workings. I guess the most notable change is how the game uses a more conventional health/magic system in that you have health and mana pools that refill rather than having limited castings of spells and constantly having to make camp to refresh. Both work fine by me, they’re just different.

Other than that, I think the way the skill trees and attribute distribution are handled is similar to any other RPG, and the party-based gameplay, though now in 3D, definitely has the same feel to it as the Baldur’s Gate games. It is a shame BioWare couldn’t find a way to implement the overhead strategic view in the console versions, but unless you have a BG background like me (and I’m guessing most of the console audience doesn’t) you won’t know what you’re missing.

Fortunately, it doesn’t make much difference because the game plays so well from the standard behind-the-back third-person perspective. I’m not sure what the PC interface is like, but for the console versions BioWare built an incredibly intuitive radial interface. By holding/tapping the left trigger you can pause the action and pull up a radial overlay to access spells, abilities, items and other menu options with ease, with the center of the radial menu serving as a targeting reticle for assigning attacks if you choose to play the game strategically by micro-managing every action of your party.

If you prefer a more hands-off approach, you can assign automatic AI tactics to each of your party members in much the same way the gambit system works in Final Fantasy XII. Basically, the combat tactics work in a simple “if X happens, execute Y” fashion. So, for example, you can have a character automatically heal when health drops below a certain percentage, or set up similar conditions indicating when companions should use specific attacks or spells.

Hotkeys are also handled efficiently. Three of the face buttons are used for hotkeys and you can assign two abilities to each button, with the right trigger functioning as a shift between the two. I take it the PC version allows for many more hotkeys than that, but for console play six is plenty.

Beyond the interface and rules, my favorite part of Dragon Age is the combat. Every battle, whether it’s mopping up wolves and other typical RPG fodder or confronting nasty boss beasties, is surprisingly visceral and intense. Unlike most fantasy RPGs, Dragon Age does not pull any punches when it comes to violence. The characters may be wooden in dialogue sequences, but in combat their attack animations are so fluid and so satisfying. Blood gushes, squirts and splatters liberally, and occasionally you’ll land critical hits that trigger these finisher animations that are incredibly brutal. Some may find the excessive blood spatter somewhat silly, but I thought it added depth and realism to the experience. I mean, in real sword combat it’s safe to say you’d have blood splattering all over you, and I don’t think you would stop after each kill to clean off. So I thought characters having blood spatters on their clothes and faces in dialogue sequences after combat was a nice way of maintaining immersion.

What are your thoughts on the combat? And how does the PC version’s interface perform? I know you’ve had trouble with “console-ized” interfaces in a lot of recent multi-platform games — did BioWare do right by PC gamers this time?

Mike: Before I get to some of the stuff you mentioned, I had one more thing to bring up in detail: DLC. It is clear what the publishers are doing – they are trying to maximize the return on investment for these big games without raising the initial cost. That is the obvious standard that involves using a small group to make small add-ons with minimal interactions to other content (therefore less chance for problems) that can be sold quickly and cheaply. The obvious gamer concern here is that some content originally intended for inclusion with the main game now becomes extra paid content (the ‘Horse Armor’ argument). Publishers are also trying to kill off the used game and game trading market. How are they doing this? Specific to Dragon Age, anyone buying the game new gets ‘Stone Prisoner’ for free, but if you get the game used you’d have to buy it, making the used purchase less cost effective.

Both you and I were playing the ‘deluxe’ version, meaning we are loaded to the gills with included DLC. Indeed I made a spreadsheet of the various digital download offerings to maximize my ‘gill loading’. The biggest thing we got was the ‘Warden’s Keep’, a $7 DLC. For us, we went to camp and got the quest and off we ran. But for buyers of the standard game, they got someone waiting in camp to present them an enticing sounding quest and then break the fourth wall to ask for money. This has really annoyed some folks and I definitely understand that – I am on the fence about DLC in general because I think to many companies it represents easy money from a captive audience and greed attracts companies like flies are attracted to … well, you get the picture. I want to support these guys and understand that they can’t have in-game billboards like some games, but breaking immersion like that annoys me. What about you?

I think I have talked enough about my misgivings as to how Bioware utilized blood all over the place, from combat and cutscenes to the map to pretty much every chance they had to draw graphics. But I completely agree with you about it in combat. It was clear that this would be an M-rated game from early on, so why NOT make full use of the content? It isn’t gory or gross – it presents a dark tone to combat consistent with everything else in the game. I do think that at least once or twice they could have put it into context – there are times you come into a peaceful area and talk to people, with your whole party dripping blood and there is no mention or reaction made. I think it would be too much to expect a fully dynamic reaction / dialogue system based on your health / injury status, but once or twice to have someone remark about it would have really worked it into the game much better.

I wanted to highlight one thing you said about gifts:
“If you are a true role player you don’t have to take advantage of the exploit, but for me just having the option left me not fretting over my choices as much as I would have liked.”

To me that statement really sums up how some games can move the genre ahead without most folks even noticing. I have just been involved in a lengthy discussion in a forum about the ‘quest compass’ – some reviewers have started seeing it as a necessity, while others see it as a lazy gamer crutch. I don’t think either one answers the question fully. The same is true with gifts and the influence system in Dragon Age. Personally, I tend to archetype my characters to a Paladin morality / law system regardless of the fact that I typically play as a mage. So immediately I work well with some characters and struggle with others, and am put into a conflict of doing what my character SHOULD be doing and also wanting to advance every angle of the plot.

That is a struggle for the ‘true role player’, and is something many modern games avoid by basically saying ‘to heck with morality and consequences, DO IT ALL!’ I won’t single out a particular game, but when you can be the leader of two groups that are enemies of each other and defeat the entire game at level one, you are pretty sure that the game has NOT been designed with the ‘true role player’ in mind. Recent games such as Risen and The Witcher are on the other end of the spectrum, where a single choice can haunt you throughout, and where your quests send you in a general direction and you are left to hunt around.

Bioware clearly didn’t want to completely leave you hanging, but neither were they trying to allow Dragon Age to become a silly shallow action-RPG. In that regard I applaud many of the choices they have made. The gift system allows you to really focus on advancing relationships with characters, but it also allows you to be sloppy and clean up the damage by giving trinkets. Some will call the latter an exploit, as you say, but I honestly see it as simply an alternative gameplay method that the developers allow. Another one is the combat system.

Like you, I am a big fan of the combat system. I really like how several games have had no problem amping up the difficulty of combat recently, and have found both the challenges and the tools you are given makes Dragon Age one of the most rewarding combat games I’ve played in a while. As you mentioned, you can micromanage all of your party if you choose, placing them in strategic positions, setting their attacks and making sure to keep them alive and so on … but that takes a fair amount of work and is still no assurance of keeping everyone alive.

That is why the Tactics system is so nice. Once again it is something that many folks choose to ignore, others embrace wholly, and still others use as a bridge that allows them to focus mainly on their own character but still manage the broader actions of the party. Perhaps obviously, that is how I used it. I would try to get each character to have as many tactics slots as possible, then modify them so that character would be most effective. First I would generally issue a ‘generic attack’ tactic and a ‘please don’t die’ tactic, and from there I would fill out the rest to make sure my melee crew was in the thick of things and ranged attacks tried to keep away from melee attacks. I know I never made full use of the possibilities, but even what I did use kept me out of trouble most of the time.

Beyond the Tactics system, there is a need for players to actually utilize tactics in carrying out battles – because your enemies will, and at higher difficulty levels it will make survival a real struggle. Archers and mages pick at you from afar, spread enough apart that an area-of-effect spell won’t just wipe them all out; meanwhile melee fighters crash down upon you working to take out your ranged support while your own melee warriors try to keep them safe. If you don’t make sure your party has a nice balance of ranged and melee attacks – and optimize your party by actually moving them around during combat – you will be constantly buying up ‘injury kits’. These are what are used to treat the critical hits that knock a party member out of combat – if you don’t handle them, the negative effects (stuff like -3 to defense and so on) can really stack up and your characters become a bunch of cream puffs waiting to be wiped out.

As for the PC versus console, I was actually more interested in hearing YOUR perspective. That is because Dragon Age: Origins is pretty clearly a PC game ported to consoles. Everything about it just FEELS like a PC game, and all of the complaints I have heard from console gamers in terms of performance, appearance of characters, some animation glitches, no strategic view and so on … just aren’t there in the PC version. The core game offers plenty of logically assigned hotkeys, including those you can specify for spells and items, and also the standard ability to access your inventory, map, skills, and so on with individual keys. Once again, Bioware provides choice as they allow you to get to those panes either by using the hotkeys or bringing up your inventory and clicking the appropriate indicator. Alternately, you can simply click the page you want to visit at the top of the screen. Choices … such a wonderful thing!

Along with choices come consequences. I spoke about trying to play my typical Paladin archetype regardless of class, but Dragon Age makes it tough – you are often faced with ‘lesser of two evils’ sorts of choices. These are things that can push people to ‘game the gift system’ as stated above, but regardless present a very tricky challenge for role-players of any type. But then again, it is a much better representation of how things really work, where not everyone will survive a siege, where there isn’t always a ‘good’ choice, where not everyone gets to live ‘happily ever after’ even if they really deserve to.

So I wanted to wrap up my thoughts by discussing how choices play into the game itself and eventually into the ending. I have now reached the ending twice, once as a human noble female warrior and once as an elven male mage. I think we’re pretty clear that I have gotten much more emotionally invested in the characters than you have, which has made some of the choices I had to make tougher and the endings quite emotional. I love how you get to see the impact your choices have had throughout the world, that is a nice throwback to classic games that I always love to see. I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice it to say that you can come up with a wide variety of endings that reflect the choices you have made throughout the game, and even if you try to power-game the main quest you’ll still have more than one way to finish up.

For me that is just the crowning glory of Dragon Age – not only do I love nearly every aspect of the game, I also love how after finishing it a couple of times I am thoroughly enjoying a new play-through as I contemplate my actions and consequences from the prior runs. I have often lamented the many ways I feel gaming has taken steps backwards in the quest to be more ‘HD’ and ‘cinematic’, but games like Dragon Age show how classic gaming and modern gaming can work together to produce a tremendous game that is satisfying to folks raised on PC classics as well as those who are only familiar with controllers. And THAT is an epic achievement!

Mike-BuyIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Beautiful graphics
+ Tons of quests
+ Great combat and tactics systems
+ Choices and consequences
+ Great character development system
+ Epic story

Cons:
– Gift system can be an exploit
– Intrusive DLC

Matt: Dragon Age, for me anyway, is an RPG where the gameplay actually rules over all else. I know I’ve been critical about some of the storytelling elements, but all of that is really coming from someone who blindly loves the Baldur’s Gate games and perhaps can be a little unfair when examining other games that come along and attempt to top them. Dragon Age does weave an intriguing narrative and does force you to make many moral choices along the way, some of which will make you stop and think for a few minutes before you decide which way to go.

All of that is great, but ultimately I feel like something is still missing. While there is a good fantasy plot at the heart of the game, none of the events or characters are resonating with me in a memorable way like my cherished Baldur’s Gate games before it. Perhaps once I’m finally able to complete the adventure in its entirety and witness the culmination of all my choices I’ll have a greater appreciation, but it hasn’t quite happened for me yet.

However, even though the story hasn’t enveloped me completely, Dragon Age’s phenomenal combat, compelling quests and deep character development keep me coming back for more. While I would like to have seen BioWare get a bit more ambitious with their level designs in terms of providing more “off the beaten path” exploration – most of the environments constrain you to a set path with invisible barriers – the settings are atmospherically immersive and rich with believable lore.

Some parts of the game do look dated, but overall the graphics are great. Contrary to most impressions, the console versions actually perform very well. I think a lot of the complaints about the frame rate and other technical snafus have been somewhat overstated by reviewers and picky technophiles comparing side by side with the PC and honing in on every little graphical flaw that may appear.

Yes, it’s true. The PS3 version is not blessed with a consistent frame rate, and I have no doubt that the PC version running at max spec puts it (and the 360 version) to shame in terms of detail and smooth engine performance. However, the PS3 version is perfectly playable, and if you haven’t played the PC version to know what you’re missing, any complaints you have with the rough edges quickly fade away as you dig into the meat of the game. Honestly, I remember the original Xbox 360 version of Mass Effect being much buggier and running much choppier than Dragon Age, so if you could put up with the flaws in that game you can surely do the same here.

As for the whole DLC debate, I’m always skeptical of publisher and developer motives with DLC, but I don’t have any particular quarrel with BioWare’s implementation. I do find the pre-order schemes annoying and it was somewhat unsavory that so much DLC was available at launch – it seems kind of cheap to launch a game and already have optional content on sale – but in the end none of the DLC is required to enjoy what is already such a massive base game, so it’s up to each consumer to make up their own mind on whether or not they want to pay for additional scenarios.

Really, though, the DLC doesn’t even factor into my thought process with Dragon Age, because frankly it just isn’t that important. What is important is the quality of the game’s makeup, and Dragon Age is without question an expertly balanced, finely crafted RPG. I do have certain complaints and by now I think I’ve made them clear, but when it comes down to it there are very few games capable of matching the role-playing depth and satisfaction Dragon Age brings to the table. I’m not sure how it stacks up in recent PC history, but even with the criticisms I’ve made Dragon Age is right behind Demon’s Souls as the finest RPG experience I’ve played this console generation.

Matt-BuyIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Exquisite combat system
+ Realistic blood effects add immersion
+ Deep character development
+ Excellent console interface
+ Origin stories are well told and unique in concept
+ Well realized game world
+ Detailed graphics and spectacular combat animations
+ Truly epic in scope

Cons:
– Main plot and characters aren’t particularly memorable
– Distractingly clunky character animations during dialogue
– Origin stories, while good, aren’t as extensive as I expected
– Gift system makes it too easy to offset impact of choices
– Console versions lack strategic view and complete polish

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC and PS3, also available on Xbox 360
Publisher: EA
Developer: BioWare
Release Date: 11/3/09
Genre: RPG
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1
Source: PS3 review copy provided by publisher, PC copy was user-purchased

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!