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Critical Reception: EA/BioWare's  Dragon Age: Origins

Critical Reception: EA/BioWare's Dragon Age: Origins

November 4, 2009 | By Danny Cowan

November 4, 2009 | By Danny Cowan
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More: Console/PC, Columns



This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to BioWare's Dragon Age: Origins, which reviews describe as "the best RPG of the year -- and maybe the best of the HD era." Dragon Age currently earns a score of 91 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.

1UP's Jason Wilson gives Dragon Age an A grade. "Championed as the 'spiritual successor' to Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn (widely considered one of the best fantasy role-playing games of all time), Dragon Age: Origins carries a great deal of expectations," he notes. "Dragon Age not only lives up to its pedigree, and it also shows that BioWare remains the preeminent developer of RPGs in the West."

Wilson finds that the game's "origin" sequences present one of the most significant additions to BioWare's RPG formula. "Each origin, which is based on your character race and class (and similar to the Pre-Service History and Psychological Profile aspects from Mass Effect's character creation), effectively introduces the player-character to the realm of Ferelden," he explains. "I played as an Elven mage for this review, and in my origin, I learned how Ferelden keeps its wizards under tight rein, and some of the history behind this draconian treatment."

Though Wilson praises Dragon Age's character development, he wishes that parties could be bigger. "As you seek to defeat the Darkspawn, you pick up an assortment of characters determined to help you defeat the threat -- or seeking to accomplish other goals," he writes. "Some are do-gooders looking to make the world a better place. Others are banishing demons of their own. And one harbors their own plans. While none are as memorable as BG2's Minsc or HK-47 from Knights of the Old Republic, each character leaves a stamp on the story -- and some are downright integral to its plot."

Wilson continues: "Unlike some party-based RPGs, where you can play through the campaign without exploring certain characters, I found myself sadly constrained by only having three other characters in my party. While I admit that tactical advantages are a good argument for six-character parties, I honestly wanted more characters in my party in order to experience them, as gamers did in BG2."

"The folks at BioWare have shown that they're always looking for ways to make their games better -- each of their RPGs builds upon the previous title," Wilson notes in conclusion. "Dragon Age displays this refinement, and while the story may not be completely original, it's told in a way that enthralls and enchants the player. It's the best RPG of the year -- and maybe the best of the HD era."

Kevin VanOrd at GameSpot scores Dragon Age at 9.5 out of 10. "When was the last time you felt totally lost in a fantasy gameworld?" he asks. "When was the last time you played a game with such a well-crafted and enjoyable story that you knew you’d remember it for a long, long time? Dragon Age: Origins is that kind of game, so rich and involving that you are powerless to resist its wiles and whims, so touching and triumphant that your mind and heart will be moved."

VanOrd finds that Dragon Age's plot succeeds largely because of the strength of its characters. "The shocks, the joys, and the disappointments spring from the repartee among a number of remarkable characters," he asserts. "They lurk within books of lore and stories of martyrs; and they burst forth during spine-tingling moments when you must choose from a selection of difficult choices that affect the tale's direction -- and the way your associates interact with you."

VanOrd also notes that the combat system will be a natural fit for players who have experience with previous BioWare titles. "By clicking on your target or pressing the attack button, you don't just swing a sword, but you approach your target and queue up your attack," he explains. "Once your party has gained access to a good number of spells, stances, and skills, battlefields explode with bright colors and raucous sound effects, and it's a lot of fun to switch back and forth between party members, managing your abilities and taking advantage of various spell combos to wreak havoc."

The micromanagement aspects are also handled well. "The flow of loot and pace of leveling are both highly satisfying," VanOrd says. "The tempo is even quicker than the Dungeons & Dragons games that preceded Dragon Age, thanks to important tweaks that minimize downtime. For example, you do not need to rest between encounters to replenish your health and recharge your spells. Instead, health and stamina are replenished quickly once the skirmish ends, allowing you to string encounters together without unwanted breaks in between."

"Few games are this ambitious, and even fewer can mold these ambitions into such a complete and entertaining experience," VanOrd praises. "Like the best fiction, Dragon Age will sweep you up in its world, so much so that when you're done, you'll want to experience it all over again."

GameDaily's Robert Workman rates Dragon Age at 9 out of 10.

"Like other works that Bioware has released over the years, Dragon Age: Origins is a compelling RPG that will stir even your strongest emotions, even if it's over the smallest of choices," Workman says. "You can turn into an all-out evil character in it strictly for profit and looting, or stand for the last shred of nobility your homeland was once known for."

Your character's moral choices create a unique experience with each new game. "It's neat how you can mold your character's attitude and moral stance over the course of Dragon Age: Origins," Workman notes. "You may unexpectedly turn royalty on its head, as they expect someone of noble blood and instead find someone even snobbier than they are (if that's possible). Your kinship with fellow party members also changes over the course of your journey, to the point that romance might even be involved."

Workman also praises Dragon Age's control scheme, which he claims is well-suited for consoles. "A comprehensive yet user-friendly control scheme works great here. You'll modify two item wheels using triggers on your control pad, enabling magic spells, healing potions, weapons and other gear, switching to six of them on the fly using both the D-pad and triggers," he says. "It's right in tune with previous BioWare games of this nature, and it works incredibly well on a controller."

Workman cites unimpressive character models and occasionally sloppy dialogue as being minor detriments to what is otherwise an exceptional RPG. "The bottom line is Dragon Age: Origins is a fulfilling, involving adventure that is worth picking up," Workman concludes. "This is one adventure you'll keep coming back to for months to come, even as you patiently wait for BioWare to button up the latest chapter in its Mass Effect saga."


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