Dragon Age: Origins – Early Impressions

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So, fellow Grey Wardens, how go your adventures in Ferelden?

Mine are going great! I drank my vial of darkspawn blood yesterday and have proceeded to log 4-5 hours with BioWare’s new high-fantasy RPG epic Dragon Age: Origins, and since it’s probably going to take me a good couple weeks (at least) of focused play to complete the game, examine some of the other origins and finish up a full review, I thought it prudent to report in with some early impressions (I am playing the PS3 version, just so you know).

As I already mentioned, I’ve played roughly 4-5 hours thus far — I did everything I was able to do in the Ostagar camp and Korcari Wilds, I completed the Joining ritual to become a Grey Warden, and I am now in progress working my way up the tower to light the beacon during the battle of Ostagar. I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what this gargantuan game has to offer, but what little I have seen has been just splendid.

To simplify things here, let me just list out my early pros (+) and cons (-). Afterward, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the game (and your thoughts on my thoughts) in the comments.

+ Choices That Matter (I think): OK, so I haven’t played long enough to know this for sure, but in all the character interaction and dialogue trees I’ve experienced so far I can already tell that decisions I’ve made are going to have a significant impact on how my character evolves within the game world. This has me very, VERY excited!

+ Rich Fantasy Setting: Dragon Age‘s fantasy setting is definitely cliche, however, there’s such a great depth to the game world’s lore that originality really isn’t all that important. Ferelden feels like a real place with real people, real history and real dangers. I can’t wait to explore it more!

+ Intuitive Interface: In-depth RPGs like this can be trouble for console gamers given the limitations of console controllers, but BioWare really did a wonderful job tailoring the game’s robust menu systems and party management options to console play with an efficient and effective pop-up radial interface. Learning where everything is and cycling through some of the sub-menus takes some getting used to for sure, but that’s to be expected in a game this deep.

+ Nicely Polished: Frankly, all the talk of the console versions’ technical woes (at least in regards to the PS3 version) seems way overstated if you ask me. Clearly the PC version looks and runs much better than the consoles, I don’t even need to play it to know that. But so far I haven’t noticed any major glitches or frame rate drops in the PS3 version that should frighten anyone into thinking it’s some gimped console port job. The frame rate does some stuttering when you sweep the camera around and I have encountered a couple minor things like environmental pop-in and an occasional line of dialogue missing the accompanying voice over, but that’s about it. Dragon Age runs far better than what I thought was a pretty glitchy Xbox 360 version of Mass Effect — with the PS3 version getting delayed and un-delayed prior to release and all the complaining that’s been going on since release, I actually didn’t expect the game to be as polished as it’s been so far. I hope that holds up…

+ Sharp Combat: I am loving the combat system in Dragon Age. Even without an overhead view, there’s still good tactical depth and tense action to be found in every battle scenario. In a lot of ways, the way Dragon Age has been adapted to console play reminds me of Final Fantasy XII (and that’s a good thing). The way you engage enemies in real-time and set up AI tactics for party members you aren’t manually controlling all feels very similar in style to me. I also love the un-sanitized violence — blood spatters all over your characters’ faces, weapons and armor and actually remains visible during dialogue sequences thereafter.

– Limited Exploration: While trudging around the Korcari Wilds I was disappointed by how much of the map was blocked off by invisible barriers and how little “off the beaten path” exploration there was. Ferelden seems like such a vast world, so I hope the environments open up more as the game progresses.

– No Tactical View: I’m playing Dragon Age on the PS3, and that means no Baldur’s Gate-style overhead tactical view (same goes for the 360 version). You can still pause the game and issue orders from the traditional third-person perspective, and as I mentioned in the pros the console interface is excellent. But it’s still not quite the same, and as a diehard Baldur’s Gate fan (the first two are my favorite RPGs ever made) I do miss having that “spiritual” correlation.

– Limited Character Options: I’m sure things expand with progress, but early on I’m not seeing as much depth to the character development as I expected from a BioWare game and spiritual follow-up to Baldur’s Gate. I spent a good 45 minutes creating my hero, which was great, but since then the Talent trees haven’t seemed all that expansive so far and in the early goings I don’t feel like I’ve had much choice in terms of skill selection and stat distribution beyond that of any basic RPG.

– Ho-Hum Graphics: By no means does the game look bad, nor does it run as shoddily as others may lead you to believe, but in a lot of ways it does look dated. Compared to another contemporary RPG like Demon’s Souls, the textures look faded and the facial modeling and animations on the characters a bit wooden. I just don’t see any progress here from Mass Effect, and that’s a little disappointing.

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!