Dragon Age: Origins Xbox 360 Review
Whether it’s science fiction or fantasy, Bioware have a tremendous skill of crafting memorable and rich universes and allows you, through your choices, to have an effect on them, be it a profound one or not. Dragon Age: Origins is a fresh new world for Bioware, but is also, in more ways than one, a return to the developers Baldurs Gate and Dungeon and Dragons roots.
The new big bang (metaphorically speaking, obviously) in Bioware’s headquarters has resulted in the dark world of Ferelden coming into being, and it’s yet another absorbing universe from the talented team. There’s plenty of scope to be drawn into Fereldan: speaking with its denizens and learning of their customs draws you further in and there’s also well written books to read, detailing both Ferelden’s rich history and current events. These are often optional, but, because of the developers efforts of attempting to draw you in, it almost feels rude not to investigate further.
Your first choice in Dragon Age: Origins comes in the form of the creation of your hero. You first must choose your class and race, which are crucial decisions that not only offer a different gameplay experience, but also effect how other characters respond to you. This is followed by a typically flexible creation tool for Bioware, allowing you to sculpt your avatar in whatever way you see fit, to the extent that it makes you feel as if you’re God hard at work on his production line.
The story of Dragon Age: Origins is the usual engaging fare from Bioware. It covers the blight, an army of monsters, terrorizing the land of Fereldan, and it’s your duty as a Grey Warden to encourage the other races to assist you in destroying them. There are a number of memorable characters, and choices literally allow you to have a say in the direction that conversations flow in and of how the inhabitants of Fereldan perceive you.
There’s also a relationship facet implemented that allows you to strengthen your bond or make enemies with fellow party members. By handing them gifts, conversing with them and behaving in a manner appropriate to them, you’ll improve your relationship with them. This will result in them being even more social and quests will also open up to you, allowing you to learn of their past and giving them an increase to a certain area of their stats, as well as, in the case of characters of the opposite sex, a potential love interest. Conversely if they don’t approve of your actions or you’re just downright nasty to them, their liking of you will drop. Often an action that will appease one character will not another, so those who want to keep in the good books of a particular team-mate must take care to keep them happy.
Obviously with these lot in tow you’ll be partaking in lots of fighting and the combat system to do so is strategic on every difficulty from normal (casual more or less plays itself, but is a great way to have a more relaxed experience). You can have a party of up to four characters, with direct involvement with only one of them, though the others are commanded by tactics.
In short, tactics are near identical to the gambits featured in Final Fantasy XII, allowing you to truly decide the role that each character plays in combat. For example, you can command a healer to heal when an allies health drops to 50% or less, or direct a warrior to protect a mage who is being attacked. Like Square-Enix’s game, it’s very deep and it can take considerable time and thought before you get a party fighting to their highest potential, but when you do nail it, it’s gratifying to say the least. With the only caveat being that occasionally your party are too slow to respond to your orders, resulting in some frustrating situations.
All this fighting is enhanced by the XP earned with every kill and through completion of quests. As is traditional when you amass so much, you’ll level up. In Dragon Age with this process you’ll win points, which you can spend in whatever way you see fit to improve a character’s attributes, for instance strengthening weaknesses or enhancing strengths. Depending on the level, you’ll also get a chance to attain a new skill. As any good RPG should attest to, all this character growth is an absorbing reward for all the fighting.
Less positive is the initially rather unfriendly and confusing interface that can be hellish to navigate to begin with, but after considerable time spent with the game, its layout will begin to feel more natural and less bewildering, but still not as accessible as it could have been. Also the side quests, of which there are an abundance of, are devoid of imagination.
The visuals are another lacking aspect. They’re adequate and there‘s flashes of brilliance here and there, but as far as drawing you into the world goes, the enlightening conversations and books do a superior job of sucking you in.
Dragon Age: Origins is an excellent and absorbing new world for Bioware, and the game mechanics, whilst not without their problems, are largely sound. The return to a fantasy world and additional complexity to the game will come as a delight to old school Bioware fans, whilst, for other western RPG fans, there will likely be more than enough to appease them for many hours to come.