Freakin’ Out in Ferelden

Hey… this game is pretty awesome!

Yeah, Bioware’s RPG opus and new original IP, Dragon Age: Origins, came out months ago. I knew it was hot stuff already back then, as I read the reviews and got into playing a couple of hours into it. However, some pretty crappy stat-placement made my first party a bit of a lopsided affair, with my heroic Grey Wardens dropping dead away in most fights, leaving a scant victory to be scraped by the faithful pooch and the bitchy Goth witch.

Well, lo and behold, I got some time on my hands recently, started off from scratch and wow… this game freakin’ KICKS ASS. Yeah, graphics-wise DAO never hit my as looking particularly awesome- at least, it didn’t hit me like Oblivion did a few years ago. The look and feel of the characters and environments reminded me a bit of World of Warcraft, which was utilitarian and not gorgeous. However, I do recognize that at least character models’ faces are better than the iffy look of the people of Tamriel. Also, the fight animations are better with nice death throes for enemies, including the occasional beheading or dismemberment of particularly loathsome foes.

But looks isn’t really where Dragon Age shines- it sparkles everywhere else. Particularly in the way it just sinks it’s dragony claws into you once you get past the first hour or so. The continent of Ferelden is a vast and lively land, filled with plots, subplots, threats and troubles that make for a lot of neat adventuring. And the characters that populate it… what a colorful lot. It helps too that the game’s culture seems based a lot on the works of George R.R. Martin– which all just sets well to make the ‘dark fantasy’ feel, all steamy and sordid as well as bloody, so pronounced. If this was a TV series, it would be something like that kick-ass HBO series, Rome. Ferelden is a land wracked not only by a demonic menace but by the plots and ambitions of flawed and fallible men and women, which makes for pretty gripping stuff.

Gameplay isn’t that hard- at least, compared to the PC version as far as I know. Console gaming in Ferelden is a lot forgiving (read: messy) since you’re always locked into a close, over the shoulder view of the character you’re controlling (who may be one of your four active party members). So instead of the very strategy-intensive, anal battle planning of the PC games, the console is more about straight up slap matches, with the liberal use of talents or spells to make the monster slaughtering a bit faster.

But really, what makes Dragon Age so awesome is the character interactions- like most of Bioware’s RPGs of old, you command a party of colorfully dysfunctional adventurers who aren’t content to just enlist and fight without nary a qualm. From your fellow Grey Warden and Templar pretty boy Alistair to bisexual elf assassin Zevram, Chic Joan of Arc-wannabee Leliana to amoral wilder witch Morrigan, every character has their own set of morals, principles, goals and ulterior motives you have to deal with, satisfy or stave off in the course of the adventure. Play your cards right, your comrade can become your best friend or a turncoat, or even a sparring partner in the tent on cold nights. But it all boils down to them being more bad-ass killers on the battlefield.

Oh, and the bickering! You just have to hear your party members talk as you run about towns or dungeons. The conversations are clever or insightful, often humorous and revealing, complemented perfectly by awesome voice acting and sharp, witty writing. Kudos has to be given to the cast and writers, and man, Claudia Black certainly made herself a gaming goddess last year with both Morrigan and Chloe Fraser under her belt. But best character voice in the game for me has to go to Steve Valentine, for his wonderful performance as your wry but often vulnerable fellow Grey Warden, Alistair.

Whereas Oblivion was an often lonely solo quest, Dragon Age is made great by the company- which is awesome in a single player RPG. You really do get to caring about your party and the world you’re romping in, and that is a totally awesome sign that the game works. Right now I’m juggling three characters (a Fighter, a Rogue and a Mage), and see myself continuing onto other paths once I finish with them, not only to see various endings but to hear all the cool bits of dialogue stuffed into this game. Hopefully I’ll be good and ready with some nice Save Data for the expansion, Dragon Age: Origins Awakening, set to drop in March. For now though, it’s a freakin’ blast.


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