Console version review by Abhijit Banerjee
Bioware first introduced Dragon Age: Origins as a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate 2. I was equal parts excited and apprehensive about the prospect – excited because this is Bioware. They have some of the best role playing games in their lineup, including Neverwinter Nights, Mass Effect, Knights of the Old Republic and the legendary Baldur’s Gate 2. Apprehensive because they weren’t using the Dungeons & Dragons licence. How can you have a fantasy-based traditional RPG touted as a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate without D&D? Also, how would the controls feel on the console? Read on to find out why my excitement should’ve been higher and how my fears were wiped out.
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The first thing you notice about Dragon Age is blood. There’s blood everywhere – from the loading screen to the splatter on the characters to a new school of magic. That sets the tone for the rest of the game. This is a serious game – there are no venerated elves and dwarves don’t go “hi ho” in the caverns. Templars are not without fault, and your companions don’t follow you blindly because they believe in the greater good. There are politics, there is personal agenda, and there is pride and ambition and hubris. All this comes through in a well executed story backed up by an outstanding script and great voice acting. The land of Ferelden is under threat by an evil force, and an old order is out to stop it. The player character is recruited as a member of the Grey Wardens and the story plays out from there. The setting is generic but the execution is not.
You start off by playing one of six Origin stories depending on your selection of race (Human, Elf, or Dwarf) and class (Warrior, Mage, or Rogue). Each of the stories is different and takes place in a different part of the world with its own back story, characters and quests. And as you progress through the game, you realise that your Origin is tied in with the game. At no point did I feel that the conversation was generic to any character. I was referred to as elf or a mage, and characters from my origin story remembered the actions that I had taken earlier. This is no mean feat and Bioware has executed it well. This helps in furthering the illusion that Ferelden is a real living world with its own problems – villagers spoke to an Elf rather than a Grey Warden, and a deserted dwarf doesn’t care that the surface is being overrun with Darkspawn. After all, he thinks of it as a respite from his fight.
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This is a far cry from the usual storyline where the whole world revolves around you and everyone knows that you’re either a friend or an enemy. Here people may or may not care for your mission – usually they don’t unless they get something out of it. Over the course of the story, you will visit various kingdoms to enlist their help and learn more about a world where you are only a pawn trying to advance in the ranks. You can play the mediator, the kingmaker, the destructive force, the lover, and a host of other roles.
Along the journey, you will pick up a great set of companions. There’s Alistair the disillusioned Templar, Morrigan the disapproving Mage, Zevran the uncomfortably frank Assassin, and others who are equally entertaining. Each has their agenda, their own quirks, their own likes and dislikes, and great voice acting. The script and voice acting will take you by surprise because the game lacks in the pretty pixels department. Think of games with great script like Planescape, Baldur’s Gate 2 and you can put this game in that league. Couple this with excellent voice acting and it all comes to life. Managing your companions is no easy task since they are at odds with each other, and with you. There’s no good or evil slider to guide you this time – you will have to wing it and do what you think suits your character.
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This brings me to the conversation aspects of the game. I have already mentioned that the script is brilliant – but it ties in with the gameplay as well. I lament that in recent times RPGs have been very action-oriented and there are rarely options to go the non-violent smooth-talking way. Dragon Age doesn’t disappoint in this area. Bioware has thought of nearly all options that a conversation may take and you can take any branch – that includes tying in with the Origin storyline. It’s possible to persuade, lie, and intimidate your way through many situations. I love games which offer so many choices – this is what role-playing games should be. All quests do not need to be ‘fetch’ or ‘kill’. There are numerous options to explore in conversation trees and you will usually find a couple of choices for the non-violent way. I love a game where you can double cross and philander, causing people to react accordingly.
Next page: Controls and graphics