By Duncan Voice
Occasionally, I’ll sit back for a moment, wondering why I even play games in the first place. Sometimes I just burn through them in a few hours for the sake of collecting achievement points. Other times I’ll become bored fairly early on and they just become currency for my next trade-in.
During these times I lack a certain gaming muse. Something to stir a few emotions inside me other than anger when I fail yet another song on the latest cash-cow rhythm action game. A game that you can truly call an experience, and reminds you once again why you are willing to hand over forty notes for a small shiny disc.
One such game is Dragon Age: Origins, one of the greatest games I have ever had the pleasure to play.
Where to start with a game that promises 100-plus hours of playtime? At the beginning would probably be a good place… but which one? Origins has six possible introductions, all of which will completely change your game, the people you encounter and the story you experience. Does a life of a noble Human Warrior, son to royalty, take your fancy? Or how about a Magi? Does being distrusted by everyone due to the awesome power at your fingertips flick your switch? What about a City Elf rogue, living in the slums and looked down upon by everyone except your own kind? Each origin story will completely alter the game you play right from the offset.
I chose the life of a Human Warrior, Shagsmith to be precise, with a vow to wield a meaty two hander, get it on with as many lady types as possible (so they wield my meaty two hander as well…arf!) and generally make the right decisions for the good of the people. The one thing that really stood out for me were the choices you make, and the effects they have on the rest of your game.
Whereas in Mass Effect, everything was governed by the good/ evil morality system, here I can be a bit of a swine to a news reporter and it’ll take me that bit closer to being an official git, but won’t have much affect on the overarching story. Origins is all about your relationships with those directly affected by you. Deciding to kill a hostage might annoy some of the more angelic members of your team, but could gain you bonus points with the devilish ones.
One example that doesn’t give anything of the wonderful, engrossing story away was my serial womanising catching up with me. I’d been seeing the inside of Morrigan’s tent for a few nights (well, if you would walk around with your boobs hanging out love…) and newcomer to the party, the oddly spoken Leliana had been giving me the eye. Being the cad that I set out to be, I managed to turn her affections with a few choices words about her being ‘more than a friend’ and a few bouquets of her mother’s favourite flowers.
The time came, Shagsmith was about to do the rudies with his second companion (the barmaid he snogged in Redcliffe doesn’t count), then she revealed she’d seen and heard my exploits with Morrigan. Instead of being honest and declaring my undying love, I uttered the immortal words ‘we’re just friends’. Mouse back in the house, and could I find the key to her chastity belt for the rest of the game? Of course not.
This all might sound very fickle, but Origins is full of these conversations and the choices they demand. When the time comes and you have to make story-changing decisions I have to admit I envy you and wish I could experience them all over again for the first time.
Combat can feel like a mixed bag at first, particularly if you play on either of the consoles. RPGs are the haven of the PC gamer, and Dragon Age feels at home when played with action bars and hotkeys. On the consoles, skill and team management during battle is done via the use of a radial menu, brought up by L1/ left trigger. Whilst initially cumbersome and awkward to use, it soon becomes second nature and means console gamers are accommodated for.
Tactics can be set for each individual team member, so for instance you can set a dedicated tank-like character to soak up the punishment and then a healer to stand back and keep the team’s health up. Combat looks excellent, and feels really weighty. It’s all d20 dice rolls in the background, but watching an alcoholic dwarf jump on top of an ogre to bring him down never gets old.
The game looks best on the PC, with the PS3 version just pipping the 360 in the graphics stakes. This doesn’t mean to say it looks horrible on the latter console, it just seems to be lacking a few textures and looks a bit rough round the edges. It’s admittedly not the best looking game in the world, with some character models looking a bit dated, although there are some nice looking environments. You won’t care about these minor quibbles however, as you will soon become so engrossed in the story it could look like an old Mega Drive game and you wouldn’t notice.
The story is complex, thrilling, engrossing, shocking, sad, funny and a million other superlatives that I can’t think of right now. It is a tale of the land of Ferelden, the threat of an incoming Blight (think a load of angry orcs ready to get all up in yo’ face) and the Grey Wardens, an ancient breed of warrior who alone have the power to end the Blight. That’s it. All you’re getting. I don’t want to give anything away, because in all honesty I can’t. You need to experience it for yourself, forge your own friendships and make your own decisions.
My tale was rife with romance, humour, good deeds, betrayal and sacrifice. At the end of it all, I genuinely felt quite sad. Typically excellent voice acting and writing forces you to build genuine affections towards those you are adventuring with. Like at the end of an engrossing book, the investments you’ve made in the characters almost gives you a sense of loss when it’s over. The final few hours of my story invoked the exact same feelings, surely the sign of something special.
The only minus points are of course the slightly ropey looking graphics engine, and that some of the larger dungeons just feel massive for the sake of increasing playtime, rather than adding anything to the game.
It hasn’t garnered as much critical attention as Mass Effect for some reason, and I read somewhere that this should tide people over until it arrives. A completely ridiculous statement! Dragon Age: Origins is a truly wonderful gaming experience and deserves as many plaudits to be heaped upon it as humanly possible. Taking all of the above into account, it can now stand alongside it’s stable-mate as not only one of the best RPGs ever made, but also as one of the best games ever made. Completely engrossing.
9 OUT OF 10