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Dragon Age: Origins

Bioware has certainly developed quite the following for themselves over the years. With titles such as Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and Mass Effect being their most recent success stories, itís safe to say they have a segment of the RPG market covered. If youíve never played a Bioware RPG before then all you really need to know is that each gameís story is well-crafted, the worlds are immersive, and thereís a trademark branching conversation system (more on this later). Dragon Age: Origins represents all of those traits and more.

The most recent success for Bioware, Dragon Age: Origins has been tearing it up on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. The game takes players to the fantasy world of Ferelden which is currently on the brink as an evil force known as Dark Spawn begins to stir. In t he past the Dark Spawn have surfaced only to be shut down by a group known as the Grey Wardens. Unfortunately their numbers have dwindled over the years and the support they enjoyed from the people of the land has diminished as well. Now that a Blight is nearly upon Ferelden the people may have no other opportunity for survival than to turn to the Wardens once again.

Dragon Age puts you at the center of these events and allows you to pick the Warden you want to be. Your selections dictate many events in the game and the story unfolds around you largely based on the choices you make at the beginning. Itís an engrossing tale that keeps you going for the majority of the game, but what really draws you in are the interactions your character has with the world. Through the conversation system youíll be able to sway events for better or worse and every situation has multiple outcomes. Do you kill someone and take their treasure? Or do you help them out and receive a reward? Little things like this come up constantly as the game forces you to pick and choose what to say or do.

Aside from the extensive dialogue system and immersive world, the main draw for Dragon Age is undoubtedly its gameplay. If you played the other Bioware RPGs I talked about at the start of this review then Iíd compare this gameís combat system more to KOTOR than anything else. Itís not run and gun like Mass Effect, but rather a quasi-turn-based system. Basically when you come upon an enemy the game highlights them and automatically targets the closest one. From that point you can initiate combat with that enemy by pressing the attack button or selecting an ability to use.

The battle system is very easy and straightforward, but there are complexities that take some time to master. For instance there are close and ranged weapon sets for each character. Thereís also a command wheel you can open up to select spells, mix potions, use items, etc. These can be assigned to hot keys for quick access as well if you donít want to constantly open up the wheel menu and select something. Youíll still have to do that quite a bit though, and in all fairness it can be kind of a minor inconvenience at times.

One thing that Dragon Age also does is gives you three other people in your party (so you have four total). These characters are controlled by the AI, but you can take manual control over them by using the shoulder buttons. When you arenít manning them, thereís an extensive amount of tactical options you can convey. Given certain situations you can dictate what their actions are, what abilities they use, and how helpful they will be. Understanding these tactics is key in many battles and will go a long way to making your life much, much easier.

Discussion of combat and conversations aside, the thing there are several other factors that drive Dragon Ageís gameplay. For instance the game is quest based, much like an MMOPRG, and every location has several missions you can undertake. These vary in difficulty and some have useful rewards, so itís always a good idea to look for them. The quests also extend that sense of immersion this game has to offer and they will triple the amount of play you get out of the game. Sure the main quest is always there, and you donít have to do these side missions, but if youíre playing this game then youíre an RPG fan and optional quests are in your blood, right?

Now, like other Bioware RPGs there are some skills, attributes, and abilities you can learn as you gain experience. Rather than having a set class direction youíre given room to customize each character to a great extent. For instance I started out with a Rogue. From there I unlocked the Ranger sub-class later in the game, and took my character through dual-wielding and archery proficiencies. Every main class has four sub-classes and beyond that there are different traits and powers. The possibilities are virtually endless so thereís a lot of room for experimenting.

As far as presentation is concerned Dragon Age comes with 1080p output and looks absolutely gorgeous in most instances. The world is rich, detailed, and character models look very good as well. Animations can be a tad stiff at times and instances of dialogue are even more awkward with facial movements. The camera angle is somewhat problematic for the 360 version because itís fixed behind the character your controlling. This restricts your view in battle sometimes and doesnít necessarily allow you to see around you as well as the PC version does.

The sound quality in Dragon Age is downright awesome. Audio filters through every channel with great detail, the soundtrack is booming, and the voice cast is super strong. Iíd say the effort put out here mirrors the quality found in Mass Effect and fans of fantasy games will get a tingle from the clanging swords, roaring dragons, and blasting spells.

From top to bottom Dragon Age: Origins is a quality adventure thatís worth checking out. The story and scope of the game are epic, the rich customization is appreciated, and the gameplay is a mix of familiar and new. There are a couple hiccups here and there such as the camera and wheel menu, but these are mere minor annoyances and hardly diminish the overall quality. If you love Bioware RPGs then chances are good you already have this one in your collection, however, if you donít consider it highly recommended.