Review: Dragon Age: Origins for Mac

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Not too long ago Matt and I did a discussion review of Dragon Age: Origins, looking at the PC and console versions. While we were working on our review the Mac version was announced and released, and I started playing and said that I would come back to provide a review on the port at a later time. I have been waiting for a while before submitting a review; not because I couldn’t assess the game, but rather because of my experience a couple of years ago reviewing the port of Neverwinter Nights 2 immediately after completion only to have it languish with no support or ability to add expansion packs, and therefore most user-created modules left me feeling burned.

I wasn’t going to let that happen again, so over the last two months I have been waiting and attempting to get replies from anyone official about whether or not Mac users would ever see a patch, DLC, or the Awakening expansion. Having gotten absolutely nothing official, I asked Matt to intervene, and since he actually got some form of positive response I am of two minds as I struggle over how to rate the game. But in the end those email notes basically amount to ‘trust us’, and are nearly identical to responses given to others, so in lieu of anything public and official I am assuming THAT as an answer and proceeding with my review.

There are only a few things to consider when evaluating a Mac port of a PC game. First, whether the game runs reasonably well on comparable hardware as the PC version in terms of framerates, load times, and so on; next, whether the stability is similar to the PC version; whether or not there is ‘content parity’, in other words, have patches and expansions and so on been made available; and finally if there is support infrastructure in place for the game.

Dragon Age: Origins was ported by Transgaming using their ‘Cider’ wrapper system, which works by dynamically translating Windows API calls to Mac OS X, and links them to an optimized version of the Win32 APIs. Naturally, such a system has overhead and therefore there is some degradation in performance, but the trick is how to manage that performance. Some games, such as Neverwinter Nights 2, handle it poorly and run terribly on even high-end Macs. Others, like the original Modern Warfare, are well optimized and perform very close to the original speed, with differences only seen on lower end systems. (Note – thanks for all who mentioned that Modern Warfare was NOT Cider … I guess with some other games like Prince of Persia and Rayman and NWN2 being Cider I just for some reason assumed it was … )

In terms of stability, I have found absolutely no difference – I have more than 250 hours playing across both the Mac and PC versions without a single crash. Performance is also very well done for the Mac version – I simply installed and the game chose the highest settings for me and I have never had to worry about anything since. I have heard about some memory leaks, but even across multi-hour sessions I never had an issue on either Mac or PC. So in terms of being a dreaded ‘Cider-ized’ port, Dragon Age works very well.

In terms of the core game, everything is the same as the PC version of the game, so everything we said in our discussion review remains true. So, looked at simply as a ‘how does it play’ experience, Dragon Age: Origins is one of the best RPGs on any platform.

But … as I said early on, Dragon Age isn’t a simple ‘single play’ sort of game. From the very start Bioware has been touting this as a ‘multi-year game’ that would continue seeing content that rewards gamers with more detailed looks into the Dragon Age universe. Since release we have already been able to ‘return to Ostagar’ through DLC, and this week the Awakening expansion blessed us with even more content. There have also been two patches, both of which are required to play any of the added content.

There were concerns about the Mac version from the moment of release, because the nicely-done DLC purchase and DLC system used for the PC version simply didn’t work for the Mac version. For example, on the PC if you bought the standard version you could buy extra content such as the Warden’s Keep (normally included as part of the Deluxe Digital version) through an in-game vendor. On the Mac version if you didn’t buy the Deluxe Digital version you can never get the Warden’s Keep. Ever. Period.

Furthermore, the ‘content editor’ is unavailable for the Mac version. To an extent that is fine, as Bioware has never made their toolkits Mac-compatible. But since the tools are updated with the patches, it means that any externally created content will need the patch version of the toolkit … and since the 1.02 patch came out soon after the PC release, that means nearly all third-party content will need at least patch 1.02. So the Mac is therefore inherently excluded form external content.

As for newer content, the Return to Ostagar DLC was originally noted as being released for Mac, PC, X360 and PS3. When delays came, it was clear that the initial release would be on the XBOX360 and PC, with PS3 and Mac coming later. Immediately after that any mention of the Mac was pulled from further communications. Similarly there is a Mac logo on the Awakenings expansion page, but there has never been any clear indication one way or the other about if the Mac was actually a target platform.

So in terms of content parity, it is clear that the Mac version is restricted severely compared to other versions. But it gets worse.

I mentioned above that I had tried to get some info from EA / Bioware / Transgaming with no success, so I prevailed upon Matt to look into it, and he got a reasonably positive ‘we’re working on it’ reply. But there has been no further communication, and upon further inquiry, that is the exact same message that everyone has been getting since December about everything related to Dragon Age. And still it gets worse – this is the exact same message that folks have been getting from Transgaming since 2007, for games such as Battlefield 2142 and many others. There has been disparity of content, promised updates, and no follow through.

Finally, all attempts to get support for the game are being given the run-around. Bioware, EA and Transgaming all send you to a different place, and at best you will get a reply asking for you to copy your DXDIAG results (which is a Windows-only utility). In other words, no one wants to claim ownership of the support for the Mac version.

Sadly, as I looked back at how things transpired, it appears to me that the goal was to get something for the Mac out as soon as possible, and once the game was performing well enough they realized that the DLC system wouldn’t work and decided to just block it off and release it to get the maximum pre-holiday sales they could from the Mac platform … and possibly make a decision on whether or not to deal with any of those issues based on those sales.

Of course, there is always the chance that what Transgaming told Matt was accurate and there is a new DLC integration system coming, and all of the patches and DLC packs are coming and so on. I have stated in various Mac gaming forums that I will be very happy to eat my words and publicly state my mistaken assumptions, but for now here is my conclusion:

Dragon Age: Origins for the Mac is unsupported abandonware. If you want to be able to get the full Dragon Age experience, I recommend getting set up with Bootcamp so you can play the Windows version. If you need to play on the Mac, do so with the understanding that there is probably no content or patches coming ever, and that any support requirements will best be handled through other users on the usual Mac gaming web sites. And so sadly, since Dragon Age was one of my favorite 2009 games, my appraisal is:

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

Cons:
– Complete lack of support of any type for Mac version
– Same price as PC game yet complete lack of patches and ability to share modules
– No DLC add-on integration
– Gift system can be an exploit
– Intrusive DLC

Game Info:
Platform: Mac
Publisher: EA
Developer: BioWare
Release Date: 12/21/09
Genre: RPG
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!