Well it's been a long time in the making - I remember hearing about Dragon Age's development several years ago - just to show I'm not lying, it was apparently showcased as early as E3 2004. So thankfully it's finally here and Bioware plus EA are marketing it as a dark fantasy spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate. Usually, when I hear "spiritual successor" nowadays, it usually means that the game is in no way shape or form similar to the predecessor it refers to and it's just milking off its predecessor's good name to beef up sales. Having only played a little bit of Baldur's Gate I cannot say if this really captures the essence of it, but it does seem similar in that's it more like a D&D RPG (well, a cut-down D&D RPG with no D&D background story at least).
Anyway having not been a fanboi of the original Baldur's Gate I have perhaps the rare opportunity to review this game solely on its merits as a stand-alone Bioware RPG.
Dragon Age: Origins - Character Creation Video
There's top quality voice acting in this game by famous TV stars and some veteran voice actors. Claudia Black (of Stargate and Farscape fame) voices Morrigan and Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek: Voyager) voices her mother, Flemeth. A favourite voice actor of mine (and a prolific one), Steve Blum (Cowboy Bebop, Guild Wars, etc.), also plays a part as the dwarf, Oghren.
There's nothing to fault with the other sound effects in the game either meaning Dragon Age gets full marks in the Sound department.
At first I couldn't really get into some of the music in Dragon Age since it was too ambient. Sure the main theme was excellent and the many celtic/angelic tunes that were similar to it were marvellous. The Dwarven City/Noble theme also happened to be a favourite of mine. However, the atmosphere that is created by Inon Zur, who is no stranger to composing for Bioware (e.g. Icewind Dale 2), is truly magnificent and it melds so well that I just had to give the game full marks in the Music department as well.
Dragon Age: Origins - Female City Elf Origin Story Part 1 Video
While the graphics are an improvement over previous Bioware fantasy RPGs I actually don't think it looks much better than Mass Effect (and in fact probably used a very similar engine, you can tell by the model animations). Maybe (in an ironic twist) by making the game look more fuzzy with the film grain effect, Mass Effect turned out seeming more realistic? Also, I suppose the blocky buildings and machines you get in sci-fi can easily look real as opposed to the natural curves you need on flora and fauna in fantasy.
I also happened to have issues with artifacts in this game which I found surprising, apparently the game can really tax the video card!
Bioware should get top marks for trying to make a darker fantasy game and they've more or less succeeded, the only thing is, in the end it's still a typical fantasy story. After completing your Origin story you soon find out that you are destined to be a Grey Warden. The Grey Wardens are an ancient order of darkspawn slayers - the darkspawn being evil transformed zombie-like creatures (they pretty much act as an Orcish horde in this game). The aim of the game is to recruit as much help as you can in defeating the darkspawn befor they take over the land of Ferelden.
The strongest points in terms of plot is the fact that each Origin Story is interrelated with each other. You will meet characters that were introduced in other Origin Stories, and by playing the Origin Stories you'll learn more background story on those characters.
Dragon Age: Origins - Female City Elf Origin Story Part 2 Video
Surprisingly I probably didn't have as much fun in this Bioware RPG compared to previous ones. My main frustration with the game is that it can be too challenging at times even though a friend of mine obviously thinks the opposite since he has to resort to Nightmare difficulty in order to challenge himself! I suppose when it comes down to it, I'm probably not an expert RPG gamer, or at least a power gamer - but then again I've never really played the D&D RPGs much anyway, having played the likes of Jade Empire, Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, which are arguably RPG-lites. You can change the difficulty of the game if you find a particular battle difficult, but I refrain from using the feature (since it almost feels like cheating).
Perhaps another reason I find it difficult is because of the path I chose - rogues seem hard to play with if you want them to be archers and I've found mages to be terribly overpowered! Certain origin stories and class combos are obviously more ideal than others. Also potions aren't unlimited and I found myself quaffing them way to quickly (if you visit the Elves you can get them, but it doesn't help if you don't visit them first!). Having a healer which you meet later on helps but not if she runs out of mana (which comes back to the shortage of potions problem again).
Another complaint is AI pathing which seems pretty poor - seems like this has been a problem since the dawn of computer games and it hasn't got any better! However I should be thankful that the AI pathing is poor since it's saved my butt a few times, thanks to enemies getting stuck in walls!
There is also a lot of talking and reading in this game (and Yahtzee thought Mass Effect was bad!) which I guess they were able to all fit on one DVD by cutting out player character audio, unlike Mass Effect where you get to hear Commander Shepard speak.
Oh and while I'm on a roll with criticisms, the interface is also a bit fiddly too, at least when compared to other Bioware RPGs - however you can do a lot more in this game.
After all that negativity you'll be glad to hear there is one part of the game I like and it's the ingenious gifting system for companions which is a nice touch. Not only do items help your relationship with characters but particular items can even open up new dialogue or companion quests. A good character relationship can even give a boost to the stats of your characters, so there is good reason to keep them happy.
Dragon Age: Origins has a high replay value, thanks to several factors. Firstly, you have six origin stories to pick from plus you can play as a different class and race in some of them. This means that the start of each game can range from quite different to very different. Eventually it results in the same, you being recruited as a Grey Warden - but then the next phase of the game has you recruiting allies and there are plenty of opportunities to make decisions on who you'd prefer to ally with (which ultimately results in a different ending).
Dragon Age also wouldn't be a Bioware RPG if it didn't have romance sub-plots and there are a few to choose from here and this of course adds even further to replay value. The only thing I could fault is that even though the game is so replayable, its sheer length, being nearly 60 hours worth of gameplay, is a bit daunting and actually discouraged me from playing the game again! Well at least I won't be revisiting it for a long time...
Dragon Age: Origins - Combat Video
Bioware (or maybe EA) has created a major stuff-up with the social networking aspects in this game. Thanks to a new site created for Dragon Age: Origins (and any future Bioware games for that matter) - my old Bioware account which has bonuses linked to older games (e.g. Mass Effect, NWN2, Jade Empire, etc.) is now disjointed.
I tried going with my old Bioware account, with the correct e-mail address and password, only to have them ask me to create a new account. When I tried to use my username (which believe me, is quite unique) it wouldn't allow me since it was apparently reserved. I thought this must've been because of my previous Bioware account - but then I found that the previous Bioware account accesses a different part of Bioware's site and the Dragon Age one had its very own one - separate from the original Bioware site! I eventually settled for a new username and thought that was that. However, going to EA.com revealed I now had two EA.com accounts and the most recent one I had wasn't really associated with much - so I wanted to use the old one but instead link it to my new e-mail address. Alas I couldn't because now the new one was created with my new e-mail address and there was a conflict. I now for some reason also couldn't change my hard-to-type screen name login because somehow the site remembers the screen name you last used(even though I deleted it) and it doesn't allow you to change it!
To cut a long story short, I was extremely frustrated at this process and the sad thing is it effectively punishes loyal Bioware users since new ones of course wouldn't need to worry about this!
There were also some initial logging in problems when the game was first released which is also quite poor form, considering they warn you that unlocks are tied to a particular e-mail address, so if you assign it to the wrong e-mail address (remember, I have two and it's quite easy to make that mistake), then too bad, you've lost your unlock!
All the aforementioned stuffing around prevented me from playing the game for two days as I waited for EA.com to fix the problem (which in the end, they took too long to reply so I found a workaround).
Oh there are also other bugs which include occasional Crashes-to-Desktop and also an annoying minimising bug that I experienced with Dragon Age: Origins but not any other game (admittedly though I think this may have been a problem with an AVG anti-virus update - still strange why it only happened with Dragon Age though...)
And because of all the stress this game has caused me and other gamers I sadly have to give it a big fat zero for polish.
Overall - 76%
Bioware has made a solid dark fantasy RPG here but lack of polish and some fiendishly difficult battles holds it back from true greatness.