Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Review: "Dragon Age: Origins"

Dragon Age is possibly one of the most highly anticipated games of 2009. Everywhere you go, you'll see reviews and sites singing praises for what a great game Dragon Age is. I would only go as far as to agree it's a 'good' game, just not 'great'.

Maybe because I was expecting something like Baldur's Gate? Maybe because I play enough Bioware games to see that Dragon Age reuses the same formula that was used with Bioware's previous games? I honestly don't know. There's alot of things to talk about Dragon Age, good and bad, so I'll divide them accordingly;

The first part of the game
When I first created my character and entered the game, I was rather overwhelmed. The graphics, the scenery, the ambiance of my surroundings, the voice acting and the plot building up; it was all done very well. Eagerly, I did whatever I was told and eventually entered combat.

At that point, combat seemed fun. When I leveled and actually took a glance at my skills, I felt there could be so much potential in this game. In fact, at this point, I could already feel myself replaying the game once I completed it. Maybe I should play a tank next? Or maybe form a mage party? To put it bluntly, at this point, I felt that all the things I've read in all the positive reviews are coming true.

Unforunately, it didn't last that long.

Being the cocky guy I am, I decided to set the game to 'Hard'. It wasn't very bad, until I faced my first enemy spellcaster, hiding behind a bunch of archers and traps. It's still okay, since it is common RPG strategy sense to try to disable the casters first.

It's not only until later in the game where enemies hit a lot harder and where 1 caster getting off a "Chain Lightning" or "Fireball" spell can change the whole tide of the battle field towards their favour. There's only 4 of us after all, and 10 of them. Fireball flies in and I lose 2 melee guys while they lose 4 of theirs (rest are ranged characters all spread out). Suddenly the odds don't look so good since my tank is dead, or almost dead.

Once in the middle of my first major quest, I sheepishly switched back to 'Normal',

Mages are incredibly incredibly incredibly broken in Dragon Age. So much that a team of 3 mages and 1 super tank can easily run through the game, possibly in 'Nightmare' mode, without breaking a sweat. Spells like 'Forcefield' can make every battle easy. Basically, that spell prevents something/someone from doing anything as well as render them immune.

So every battle, you just run in, pause, and 'Forcefield' as many mages as you can. Once you do that, everything should be a piece of cake. Also mages can heal. Spirit Healers can mass heal. On my first run in Dragon Age, having my first Spirit Healer effectively made my subsequent battles around...50% easier? Since I don't have to rely on potions anymore.

And don't even get me started on Arcane Warrior specialization. Anything more broken than a mage is a mage in plate.

When John mentioned to me how itemization sucked in Dragon Age, I didn't really realize it until I killed some boss character. So far, of all the boss characters I fought, I think only 10% of them actually drop good stuff that I will actually use. By the way, I haven't seen any items whose names are worth remembering, aside from the most powerful weapons in the game of course. I don't think I actually saw a ring that made me go "holy crap!".

Why is that so? I don't understand. Isn't basic RPG sense that every end of the dungeon lies uber lewt? Why take it away? Why take the only motivation for anyone to try a quest away? When I was sidequesting, I thought, "Why am I doing this when I know that the loot is shit? Am I just doing this to level up?" With that question, every quest and dungeon I do suddenly ceased to become interesting.

Also, why are some of the best weapons bought off merchants? What is Bioware trying to be? Unique by killing off an important aspect of RPG?

Reused formula
Well, this isn't really a good or a bad thing for the game, more for Bioware. Thanks Bioware, I know how to make an open RPG that you preached now.

Implement character origins -> go through the tutorial stage -> brief player on major quest -> give the player 4-5 places he needs to go but can go in any order he wants (open choices, you see) -> meets with party members, some evil, some not, some a bit weird -> eventually needs to do one more chain of quests -> enter last dungeon -> kill BBEG.

Hmm...I wonder if I've played any games by Bioware that goes like that?

Outside of the mechanics, this is where Dragon Age truly shines. A forest that feels like a forest, a bustling city that feels alive, I think they managed to capture the essence of each area they created. You can feel the amount of effort they placed to each area of the game.

Overall, Dragon Age is still a game worth buying and trying out. It's been a while since there was a fantasy-setting RPG and Dragon Age manages to capture the feel of the setting itself.

I'm upset only because they destroyed the feel of 'killing monsters for loot', and that it felt like I'm playing Mass Effect or KOTOR on a different packaging. However, looking at it as a game itself, it isn't too bad and definitely worth a runthrough.

1 comment:

  1. I really like the personal feel and easy reading style of your article. I think Dragon Age: Origins was also good but not great.

    After I got fell into a maze that was submission 5 from my original mission, I gave up