Thursday, November 26, 2009

Being a Hero Sucks

The country of Ferelden is in a state of civil war. Amidst the tumultuous bloodshed and conflict, the horrid Darkspawn have waged a war against all sentient life. Seeking to plunge the world into ever casting darkness. You are a Grey Warden, a soldier who safeguards the world from evil. The nations of the world have fallen out of grace with your order. You are seen as sycophants and manipulators. It falls on you, however to sacrifice your life to save the world. You must lose all you love, all you cherish, to save the hypocrites of the world. Being a hero sucks.

Dragon Age: Origins is the latest game from Bioware. The company that brought you Jade Empire, Knights of the Republic, and the Baldur's Gate Franchise. I make note of this as Dragon Age borrows heavily from Bioware's past titles. It also still carries the numerous flaws of a Bioware game. The item management and quest log is as awkward and unwieldy as ever. Enemies die in awkward positions, coupled with the amazing frame rate hiccups and random game ending bugs. Yet even with all those problems, Dragon Age is an amazing game. It borrows all the great things from its past games, and improves upon them greatly. This is true fantasy Role Playing brought to life.

Taking its cue from High and Dark fantasy, Dragon Age is a tale of good vs. evil ultimately. Yet it moves into unfamiliar territory of the RPG genre; the morally grey. Dragon Age transcends the usual expectations of the series and diverts from the traditional angel v. devil points motif. You aren't docked points every time you commit an evil or good action. Instead, you simply face your consequences. Do you side with the crafty but beautiful Morrigan? or do you side with the ever chivalrous Allistar? Morrigan makes comments that are very true; people are petty and altruistic. What is a few of their lives worth in the end? You don't have time for their petty squabbles, you have the world to save. Yet Allistar and the others of your party tell you that you must act with civility and grace, save those who are in need, be a hero. The world of Ferelden is the embodiment of your choices, selfless or otherwise.

With that in mind, Bioware has truly created an amazing fantasy world. Ferelden is a land awash with its cut-throat politics and its seedy underbellies. Prostitutes proposition themselves to passing onlookers, thieves run unopposed through the streets. The true accomplishment is the well written dialogue and rich history. It breathes life into the world and adds weight and dimension to player choice and character development. The lore and background history breathe to life the essence of the game. Every character is multi-faceted, each pertaining to very human flaws. They are people, not lines of code, mirroring your decisions. Some believ in a higher power, many have hopes and dreams. They have experienced war, famine, poverty and devastation. It is not the fantasy world you imagined when you were a child, but rather the one that exposes the faulty lines within the modern world that we inhabit.

Akin to the overall story is the game play. The game play follows traditional RPG mechanics. You control one member of your four player party at a time. You may switch between any of them, at any time. Combat is handled in real time, or you have the option of pausing. You are allowed to pause at any point during the combat. Which means you can cue up one action for your party after every pause. This allows you freedom in deciding how each battle plays out and furthers your understanding of the game rules. After combat, each of your characters recieve experience points. Earn enough, and you level up, unlocking new abilites and spells. The stronger the enemy you face, the better loot and gear you gain for that fight.

Pretty standard fare for an RPG game. Yet there is absolutely nothing wrong with this formula. There is absolutely no grinding in Dragon Age Origins, opting instead of letting your prowess in combat rely on your skills as player. Bioware has trimmed the fat of the needless time sinks found in RPGs and show you the more combat driven side. You as a player determine all your characters strengths and how well they do in combat. The tricky nature behind the combat is ultimately what determines the "fun" factor. At its most base form, you can simply move your character around the room and press the A button until your party does all the work. On the flip side, you may opt to completely plan out the course of every battle. Learning to use your characters strengths to their full advantage. Understanding all the weak spots and blind points in a boss. Using the vast compendium of spells at your disposal to better dispose of your enemies. Or simply equipping the strongest armor and the most powerful weapon. Subsequently the combat is as deep or as simplistic as you desire it to be.

Dragon Age: Origins is an amazing experience, from start to finish. It is a wonderfully crafted RPG that you'll play through multiple times. Yet Dragon Age is not for everyone. It is an old school Role Playing Game, a game so deeply entrenched in its own lore and history. If you are willing to look past that, you will find a complex world full of betrayal, honor, loss and love. A world where you can indulge in fanciful dream fulfillment. Or you know you can slay Dragons, that's pretty cool too.
9/10 (I dont personally believe in score attachment, but it is here for those that do not wish to read the full review)

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