Dragon Age: Origins – Ultimate Edition
Difficulty played: Medium
Time : Idon’t know exact time because the damned pause button doesn’t stop the in game timer, but we’ll say 2 weeks
I’ve never been a big fan of traditional American style RPG’s, but I’ve heard good things about this series and it was probably the best buy that I could see at GameStop at the time. This version includes the original Dragon Age: Origins, the Expansion Awakening and 7 DLC missions and storylines that help tie together loose ends and mythology of the land. That being said, I jumped head first into a 2 week long journey that left me EXTREMELY engrossed many times over and satisfied with my purchase. So, travel down the rabbit hole with me as I tell you about my journey to eradicate the Dark Spawn Blight of Ferelden.
You start Dragon Age out almost the same way that you start any other ARPG, or even a game of D&D; you choose between 3 (yes, only 3) initial job classes (Warrior, Mage or Thief), Sex (Male or Female), and then between 6 race/classes (Noble/Commoner Human, Dalish/City Elf, or Noble /Commoner Dwarf). There is are a LOT of social prejudices in this game and which items you choose for your character impacts how people interact/react to your player and their actions. This being said, my journey through this game was played as a Female/City Elf/Mage and I think that it might have been the most rewarding combination to play through the game.
I’m not going to go too deep in to the actual story line because what does and doesn’t happen is entirely up to you and the decisions that you make. What I will say is the basic premise of the game. You are constricted in to an order of fighters called the Grey Wardens (this happens no matter what you choose and Grey Wardens can and will constrict anybody that can undergo the joining to become a Grey Warden). The Grey Wardens only reason for being is to help defeat the Dark Spawn (a cross between the Orks from LotR and zombies) and the Arch Demon that leads them (a giant fucking Dragon) whenever a Blight occurs. There are been 3 previous blights and the last one took place 400 years ago, according to the game’s timeline. Ending this Blight, which has already begun by the time you start your game, is pretty much your sole purpose and end game of your quest. There are many side quests that you can undertake to expand the story and even main story points can be jumped over to get to the end quickly. Since I am a good little gamer though, I did EVERYTHING in the game before even attempting to move to the end.
The original Dragon Age engine seemed quite polished at initial glance, and rarely disappointed my throughout the game. Sure there were some times that my character was unresponsive in attacking or casting a spell but that only required me pressing the button an additional time. This got a little annoying in big battles, but overall wasn’t too bad. Since I don’t have a lot of experience with ARPG’s, I could have been easily overwhelmed, however I received unbeknownst experience from an unlikely source…Final Fantasy XII (yes, a JRPG). If you’ve played FFXII or any MMORPG’s, a lot of the mechanics will quickly fall in to place and you will be able to easily traverse many of the battles. You can hot key assign 6 frequently used abilities/spells to the circle, triangle and square buttons on the controller and use the R2 button to switch between the 2 sets of 3. Being a mage made me go in to the radial menu often to cast a large area spell, but that’s part of the perils of choosing that particular job (but I’m not complaining because that just meant that I had that many great spells to choose from). You can easily setup automatic assignments to the other characters and quickly switch between them both while traveling through the world and mid battle. Switching became very handy as you need to have a Thief with you to pick the locks of most of the treasure chests throughout the game.
Graphically the game pretty good and only had a few hiccups during cut scenes. Since the only issues happened during a section that was adjusted with one of the DLC, I have a feeling that the changed code may have been have been at fault. The standard landscape of the game is muted earth-tones, giving it a real medieval feel, there are many areas that use bright colors as well and a pretty believable fire effect is prevalent throughout as well. This game is also very bloody! I don’t mean lightly either, there is blood EVERYWHERE! Case in point, one of the first spells that I learned for my mage, walking bomb, infects an enemy and causes incremental poison damage for the duration of the spell. Good spell to have, and works pretty much the same as any other poison spell, right? WRONG! If the enemy dies while this spell is in effect, they explode in a geyser of blood and almost fills the entire screen (a later evolution of this spell can cause that explosion to infect other enemies in the area and they too can then explode and infect other enemies). You will also be quickly spattered with blood after every battle. You don’t know how many times why wife walked in on a cut scene after a battled and ask me why I’m always covered in blood in this game. It’s everywhere, your face, your hair, your armor, your weapon; you’re literally baptized in blood by this game. You have many facial characteristics to choose from but somehow your choices are also used for some of the main characters in the game. This was a little disheartening for a bit as a few hours in to the game I defriended a Human/Thief that looked exactly like my Elf/Mage only taller. The bad part was she ended up being a character that kept through entire game and was always in my party of 4. The only other problem I had was that when one of you characters fell in battle there was nothing that highlighted where their body was located so that you could cast revive on them. Since the revive spell is an area effecting spell and not a direct character spell, It then becomes a guessing game of where their unconscious brown and grey body is located in the piles of brown and grey corpses that you have littered all over the battle area. Granted, if you set up your parties auto-skills well this rarely happens, but it’s a pain in the butt when it happens in a huge boss battle and especially during the end of the game.
The main story, with the 3 added in side-quest DLC, took me about a week and a half to complete and is by far the main meat of the game pack. The side-quest DLC adds a lot of depth to the game and delves deeper in to the story of the game. I’m not a big fan of micro-transactions so I’m on the fence as to whether people who bought the original game should or shouldn’t have been charged for them. However the expansion Awakening and the 4 mini stories do seem to be worthwhile and deep enough to warrant payment. Slamming all of this together in to a $30 pack, $24 for the bargain hunting used bin buyer, makes this easily one of the best values I’ve ever experienced (I dare say even better than when I finally bought Arkham Asylum for $8 on Amazon). Awakening is a mini sequel of sorts that takes place in a section of the country that you never visit during the original, giving you completely new surroundings. I’m very glad that they billed this as an expansion pack though because its smaller world and shorter story would have left me wanting for much more compared to what I had just completed. You can carry over your character from the first game to the expansion, but drastically limited a lot of the carryover. You only keep 1 party member from the main quest in your group and it’s a character that I didn’t really ever use or like in the main story, and anything that was equipped on your characters at the end of the game is gone forever. The equipment thing pissed me off a bit as you lose a lot of great weapons and I lost the Blood Dragon armor which was part of the DLC pack for the game because it was equipped on the main warrior in my party. Sure you kept your experience and spells, but I worked damned hard for the items that I lost.
The additional 4 story’s you get with the DLC are pretty good and 3 of them help delve deeper in to back story of one character, the mythology of the Dwarves, and an explanation of why one of your characters disappeared at the end of the game. The only one that I didn’t find as great was The Dark Spawn Chronicles. It was good to play as the enemy in the final battle of the war, but it just didn’t really add anything to the story only an alternate ending of all of the main characters dying. They bill them as having item expansion to the main games, but I didn’t see my inventory expand after completing them.
Story and character wise there was obviously a lot of work done by Bioware to make this game enjoyable. Depending on which characters you have in your party, you will hear different conversations back and forth as you move on your adventure. If you have nice characters in your party, there will be polite conversation back and forth to learn more about each other. If your characters dislike each other though, now you’re talking about an entirely different and extremely HILARIOUS experience. The jerk in your party will antagonize everyone and press all of the right buttons to make their journey as excruciating as possible while you laugh your way through war. Your answers to questions almost always have at least 4 possibilities and your choices effect the progression of the mission and ultimately the game. You can also interact with each character many times over allowing you to learn a lot about their past, build relationships with them, and initiate side quests that will help you through the story. During these interactions, you can even build up sexual chemistry with the other characters be it straight or gay. Of course, me being a guy, I immediately prompted to have my character initiate a lesbian love affair. This is where having a character that looks exactly like your main character takes a very strange turn as that’s the one that I went to. It makes for a very interesting storyline is so urged that there are many trophies and even one for initiating one with every possible party member.
There are small flaws here and there that I have pointed out, and I believe that the game itself makes up for them with it experience and gameplay, but there is one major issue I have with this game that is unforgivable. Sadly, I am sure it is nothing that Bioware wanted to do and rests solely on the shoulders of EA. But Eric you ask, what could be so bad that it’s unforgivable? The institution of a DRM lock on your save data, that’s what. Sure, it’s a small flaw that most people won’t ever even encounter, but when I did it REALLY pissed me off. I bought the game during a hangout day with Jason and he wanted to see how the gameplay was while I was in his neck of the woods with it. I started the game up, made my character and then proceeded to play about 4 hours’ worth of the main story at his house, on his PS3. Ordinarily this would be perfectly fine because I could just take me save data to my house via a thumb drive, a simple task that pretty much every other game does seamlessly. Apparently EA thought that other game developers were stupid though and decided to fuck up this entire process by locking all save data to the HDD and not allowing it to be moved at all. This really pissed me off and I almost returned the game specifically because EA just made those 4 hours of progression worthless (I’m glad I didn’t though). Again, most people won’t be trying to go from 1 PS3 to another, but I can think of 2 other instances off the top of my head where locking the save data can mess a lot up. The first being the unfortunate gamer that has to divide time between 2 houses; I experienced this when I was growing up because my parents were divorced and I would spend a week or 2 at a time back and forth from houses. This was easy to overcome back then because save data was saved on the cartridge in older systems or on memory cards starting with the DreamCast and the PS1, but this has the potential of screwing over someone that is already in a potentially shitty situation. The second is if you have to expand your HDD capacity on your PS3, a process that Sony makes very simple. If I hadn’t already upgraded my HDD and lost my save data during the process, I would be EXTREMELY pissed off. This being said, I would like someone to give me 3 good reasons why there is even a need to have save data DRM as I just gave 3 good reasons why there shouldn’t be. And don’t get me wrong, I still loved the game, but… FUCK YOU EA!
Overall I had a lot of fun playing this game and thoroughly enjoyed the depth of the story and look forward to playing Dragon Age 2 in the future. Whether this foray will forever change my mind about ARPG’s or not will have to be seen at a later date, but at least 1 thing rings true… I BEAT IT FIRST!