STAFF REVIEW of Dragon Age: Origins (Xbox 360)

Friday, November 13, 2009.
by Brent Roberts

Dragon Age: Origins Box art Bioware. A company known for making solid gaming titles such as: Mass Effect, Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic, and Baulder's Gate have done it once again. Dragon Age Origins is Bioware's latest attempt at bringing a solid Action/RPG game to the masses; to which we all bow in thanks. Dragon Age Origins immerses gamers into a world where your decisions, actions and even interactions will truly make a difference in your world and your character's lives. This game is filled with moments that make the gamer "feel" connected in multiple ways.

From the incredible storyline, amazing character development, beautiful soundtrack, and very deep game play; gamers will rejoice to know that Bioware brings the gamers all of these and more in Dragon Age Origins. This is something that I will explain in greater detail later, but for now follow me through the wonderful qualities of Bioware's "bar setting" Action/RPG game, Dragon Age Origins.

Bioware's classic system of "target and fire" is combined with a traditional party system to lay a solid foundation for a wonderful title. In Dragon Age Origins however, gamers will experience one of the most "in depth" and detailed game play experiences ever. Gamers will have more "choices" or options in each and every battle than your traditional RPG. Multiple battle tactics to learn per character plus the options to fully customize your character so that you can set up your own "pre-determined" actions and bring the gamer to a new level of involvement and control in a RPG. Gamers now have a control system where they are able to designate the type of action that a "non-user" controlled character can perform in the middle of combat.

You can customize almost every single aspect of combat for your entire party in your "tactics" making the gamer feel for the first time like they are in total control over every aspect of every character in their party. A good example would be if you have mages in your party, you can map out your tactics so that while your user controlled character is in battle, you can have your mage not only attack the same enemy as you however, but you can also have your mage automatically heal your entire party when the character's health reaches a user defined mark (i.e.: 50%).

Another amazing feature is that you can also pause the action during the middle of combat which allows the user to automatically redefine what tactics they wish to use which means that gamers will always have the ability to control every single battle throughout the game and designate talents and skills in all aspects of every character in your party. Bioware also implemented brilliant ideas by allowing your parties health to auto regenerate once a battle is over, and if one of your party members has fallen in battle they will come back to life (however, they will receive a stat penalty which can be removed with an injury kit).

Auto saving as well whenever you enter another room or building also ensures that the gamer has the most recent spot to resume their game. Speaking of saves, I have to touch on this one part: SAVE OFTEN. You may have a very powerful party, however, one slip in your tactics or you try to be too brave and bold from the beginning and Dragon Age Origins will have you restarting from your auto save point. I personally save after each battle inside a building to ensure that I do not have to go through that battle again just to get to where I am now.

One flaw of the game play system is not the camera, which normally is a cause for concern with most games (the camera is actually good though not great) but a fundamental "bottleneck" problem. What this means is that if you try to draw your enemy to an enclosed narrow area such as stairs or a narrow hallway you will find your character will still attack your targeted enemy, however, only one of your party, or two if you are lucky, will be able to fit on the stairs which means that if you try to be tactful and utilize a "bottleneck" tactic by funneling your enemies toward a narrow area, the gamer will only be able to use part of their party to attack. Bioware however, has worked around this issue somewhat by allowing each party member 2 sets of weapons which means that using your custom made tactics you can have members who can not reach the battle with a normal melee weapon can switch automatically to a ranged weapon and fire away.

This seems sort of like a partial fix, but doesn't seem to fully address the issue as most of your battles will require you to use some form of tactic decision making and with gamers not always being able to fully utilize a true tactic system due to the fact that your options are far more limited in narrow areas. A minor setback in an overall amazing game play system.

To me this is a major factor in my determination for game of the year. Most games have a generic soundtrack that usually gets blended into the background and becomes unnoticeable. However, it is the music that sets the stage for the game and provides gamers with the emotion and passion that they feel at various points throughout the game. Dragon Age Origins has hands down one of, if not the best game soundtrack that has ever been compiled. From the opening menu music, gamers are blessed with a hauntingly epic theme which spills over into every area of the game. In the beginning for example of the noble hero quest you will be subject to a royal and noble soundtrack that will make the gamers feel like they themselves are of true nobility and an heir to the throne itself.

Gamers will hear the drums of war crying out for a charge on the battlefield, they will hear the soft whispers of a maiden's plea for peace and tranquility, they will also hear the thundering of trumpets as you emerge triumphant in your quests and battles. The voice acting is good at times, however, gamers will still hear the occasional stereotype of a character through their voice. The reason I say occasional is due to the fact that most of the time you are treated to voices that fit the mood and scene perfectly.

You will hear a king's command to attack as the Darkspawn army approaches, you will hear demons whispering promises to you in deserted castles, and more. The soundtrack is only half of the beauty when it comes to sound, as the sound effects as well are wonderfully tailored to match every aspect of every situation.

Case in point if you listen closely you can even hear the "twang" of the bow string as the character launches an arrow towards the opponent. Every aspect of the sound has been painstakingly done to perfection and with the orchestral music to back up the wonderful sound effects. Dragon Age Origins has set the bar for music and sound effects in gaming. If you have the chance to pick up the collectors edition, you are in for a treat as the entire soundtrack for Dragon Age Origins is on there.

The graphics in this game are very good. The general scenery is good, however, it feels a bit empty in places and I believe that was intended to keep the frame rate high. If you are in a field you can see some wonderful backdrop scenery, however also on the horizon you will not see trees or rock formations until your character gets close to them and uncovers the area on the map. The building models look very detailed and when you enter them, the attention to detail is very well done. In castles you will find various touches that show a lot of work went into the graphics such as illuminated torches and lanterns, fireplaces, bookshelves, and more. The character detailing is also very good, however, most of the armor types do look very similar in between sets.

What this means is that a basic chainmail chest piece made of iron looks very similar, if not identical, to one made of steel. While true that individual piece development is very tedious and takes up memory, it also allows a greater sense of individuality for each and every gamer.

The enemy modeling is highly detailed on some enemies, however, not all of them really feel or look that detailed. An example of this would be a wolf, just a basic generic enemy, however when you are in battle, the wolf's attack and animation look just average and the detail itself of the enemy looks ok at best. This however, can not be said for some of the other demons and Darkspawn that you will encounter. Some of the demons summoned by mages look absolutely stunning and hideous at the same time. Gamers will be able to see much more detail out of some of the more advanced enemies than the general ones.

For example, lets say you manage to run into some bandits. All of them will appear to be very similarly dressed even if they are wearing different armor, so don't expect much as far as a variation there, however, get your party near a spirit door and battle some mages and you will see that attention to detail stand out almost everywhere you look.

In summary; Bioware has delivered a title that will delight gamers for years and set the standard for other companies to follow. Bioware never disappoints in delivering a story that is unparalleled in its quality, a soundtrack that will stand the test of time, and an overall brilliant game play experience that will always excite and never disappoint.

Every aspect of Dragon Age Origins from start to finish combines high attention to detail and an unending love for providing some of the best gaming experiences. I would say that this is an essential part of any Xbox 360 collection.

If you are looking for a game that will keep your attention for days and months at a time, envelop you in a story that is all based around you, provide you with an amazing soundtrack and sound effects, and ultimately give you a gaming experience you will never forget.... pick up Dragon Age Origins.

Maybe figure out how to make the frame rate high while upgrading the graphics a bit. I wouldn't touch the sound quality, gameplay quality, or anything else except a tweak or two of the graphics.

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.1 / 10


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