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Ryan M. Eft has 8 chronicles

  1. Ryan M. Eft Review: Dragon Age: Origins

    Player Chronicle -- Posted on Dec 03 2009

    Review: Dragon Age: Origins

    By Ryan M. Eft

    A few years ago, Bioware had an unqualified success with Mass Effect. That sci-fi epic blended morally grey characters, a truly alien setting, and a vast web of interconnected places and events that required in-game records to keep track of. The combat got some knocks, but no one could deny the quality of the storytelling.

    Now we’ve got Bioware’s latest epic, Dragon Age: Origins. The “Origins” in the title refer to six distinct stories that lead into the main meat of the game. There are two each for dwarves, humans and elves, and then the game falls back on the main plotline.

    Almost all of Bioware’s efforts have been spectacular (hell, they even managed to make Sonic fun again). Anyone hoping for lightning to strike again in DA may be disappointed. DA is not bad by a long shot. It’s just that, unlike Jade Empire or Mass Effect, we’ve walked this path a few hundred times before.

    Let me establish this up front: taken on its own merits, the world of Ferelden is fascinating. Almost everyplace you visit feels like it evolved naturally, as though it were built and changed over centuries; these aren’t the set pieces we’re used to seeing in fantasy games. The people act equally realistic, although the lack of anyone not in perfect shape in these sorts of games is starting to become particularly noticeable. The dialogue flows as well as, if not better than, it did in Mass Effect, and the voices are superb. Small changes in tone and posture indicate changes in the mood of characters quite effectively.

    The most essential element of keeping Ferelden and its fiction consistent and interesting is the game’s codex. Like Mass Effect, this records everything you discover throughout the game for easy reference. It may even run deeper than Mass Effect did; there’s a lot more, it seems, to keep track of.

    The gameplay is, also like Mass Effect, acceptable. No more, no less. Combat strategy usually comes down to jamming the attack button and healing when you need to; this makes actually playing as a mage an exercise in futility (somehow, they’re a lot more effective when you aren’t controlling them). Occasionally, a character will finish off an enemy with much blood and gore, but you don’t seem to have control over these finishing moves. Beyond the battlefield, you’ll find yourself doing what you always do in RPGs: looting, visiting merchants and completing quests. The quests boil down to “go here, get an item or kill an enemy, and come back”. You’d think after three decades of games they could be a little more original, but it does the job. Bioware has provided gamers with a wealth of different talents they can utilize, though the extent to which you’ll actually need these is debatable.

    The world of Ferelden, as I said, is interesting. But from the moment the first cutscene fires up, you’ll be having some serious déjà vu. Whereas previously Bioware has taken us to the rarely-explored world of Japanese mythology and to the depths of a politically unstable universe, with Dragon Age they are content to take the easy path. Great demon hordes, check. It’s all man’s fault. Check. Giant set-piece battles. Check. Lots of talk of honor and duty. Check. They should be paying royalties to J.R.R. Tolkien’s estate.

    The one thing setting Ferelden apart from Tam’riel or Middle Earth is the amount of backstabbing that goes on there. DA’s story takes a pragmatic view of low fantasy. Rulers constantly try to one-up each other, and everyone has their own Machiavellian reasons for doing what they do. But it is the characters that are making the setting interesting, not the other way around.

    It sounds like I’m being pretty harsh to DA, and in a sense I am. But the almost total lack of originality doesn’t make it a bad game. If you can put aside the sense of having been there, done that, it becomes quite a blast. Just don’t turn to it looking for the fresh takes on familiar setting that have long characterized Bioware games. This one walks the line all the way. The subtitle implies that Bioware may not be done with Ferelden. I hope this is so, because I’d love to see this setting taken back to the drawing board and something unique done with it.


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Chronicle Comments

Ryan M. Eft has 2 comment s on this chronicle.

  1. Hobben Hobben
    Posted On Dec 04 2009

    Thanks for the review.

    It sounds like its what i was thinking it was, a modern baldur's gate. Nothing that new or fresh but a great story with modern day game play.

    Ill play it,


  2. JackDaniels624 JackDaniels624
    Posted On Dec 04 2009

    You have quite a talent when it comes to writing reviews! I feel like renting this game...