I review my personal favorite game of 2009.
There are occasions when a game presents itself so majestically that writing a review becomes an overwhelming challenge. Dragon Age: Origins is one of those games.
BioWare’s AAA effort (there’s another, Mass Effect 2, right around the corner) is an epic dark fantasy that leaves room for plenty of play-throughs.
The dialogue is the best I’ve seen in a game all year. The options for interaction between characters are seemingly endless. Different combinations, scenarios, emotions…I wish BioWare would publish their full, enormous text of every dialogue tree expanded. Instead of skipping through dialogue in a massive RPG title like this (which, I must confess, I often do--because face it, much of the dialogue in average RPGs is inconsequential, recycled junk), I hung on every character’s every word. So amazing was the voice acting that 90% of the time I waited for characters to say the words out loud that were printed on my screen. For me, a serial text speed reader and audio skipper, this is a huge deal.
Part of what makes the dialogue so captivating are the characters. By the time your journey comes to a close, you won’t want to finish the game. I’m trying to avoid cliché here, but I want to fully express that I avoided finishing the game for several weeks because I was sad to see it end. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but there are some characters in need of praise here. Morrigan may be the most compelling character in a video game this year. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is for you to decide.
You yourself have a deep, compelling origin story, whether you elect to be a noble dwarf, common dwarf, noble human, human/elf mage, Dalish elf, or city elf. I’m nearing my third play-through just to be able to take in all of the character origin stories. My first go around, I played a common dwarf. At every turn I was met with discrimination from outsiders because of my race, and discrimination from my own people because of my caste. I’m being completely serious when I say that this demonstrates the potential of the medium for tolerance education. Maybe the world doesn’t need dwarf awareness education, but applied to different groups, video games could really show players what it’s like to literally walk in another person’s shoes.
But if I empathized with everyone around me, the brutally awesome killing in the game wouldn’t be as fun. Splashing bystanders with blood and gore as I swung a hundred-pound battle axe at an evil entity didn’t stop being satisfying after thousands of kills. I spent hours trying to rack up gold for the last piece of armor to give me a set boost. I squealed with impish delight (in the privacy of my own home, of course) when a rare loot drop turned out a sword with a legacy as powerful as its blade. Part of what compelled me to engage in this irregular behavior (you can usually find me leveling up in Modern Warfare 2, not basking in a fantasy RPG) was the rich background given to every person, item, event, and location in DA:O. The more you explore Ferelden, the more you’ll want to continue unearthing every secret the land has to offer.
If you act quickly, new copies contain codes for two free downloads. First off is the Blood Dragon Armor, a code which entitles you to a suit of armor in DA:O as well as in ME2 (obviously, they look a bit different from one another). Though Mass Effect 2 isn’t out yet, I wore the suit in DA:O and it’s the sharpest looking of the bunch. It’s also the second or third most-powerful suit you’ll find, and you won’t outdo it until the very end. Second, The Stone Prisoner adds a new location and a new quest to the game. It also gives you a new character to join your party in the form of Shale, a stone golem. Suffice it to say that Morrigan may finally have met her match in terms of sheer mouthiness. Unfortunately you’d probably break your hand on this guy’s jaw if you tried slapping him.
Even if RPG games are new territory for you, go on and give this game a try. If it converted me, it can convert you.
Dragon Age: Origins scores 9.5/10