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Dragon Age: Origins (PlayStation 3) artwork

Dragon Age: Origins (PlayStation 3) review

"A roleplaying game where you play a role. How novel!"

Dragon Age: Origins (PlayStation 3) image

Roleplaying game. It's an odd term because many modern RPGs don't emphasize the concept of playing a role. Rather than a control a personal avatar, you guide a random person and watch their drama unfold, detached from their world. You move Terra Branford through Narshe or force Victor Vran to chop up myriad spiders and undead, but you're not actually playing their roles. They have their own personalities and agendas, and there's little room for player creativity.

Dragon Age: Origins, on the other hand, asks you to commit to your role.

Most D&D-style adventures allow you to select a race and a class. Dragon Age takes this process a step further by allowing you to choose your hero's background as well. So in addition to being a dwarven fighter, you can also be a commoner or a noble. These options impact the game's introductory chapter and alter the protagonist's origin story. In my playthrough, I settled on an urban dwelling, female elf whose wedding day fell apart when humans crashed her ceremony, kidnapped her and murdered her betrothed.

Dragon Age provided me with the narrative tools necessary to build a history and act according to it. My protagonist lost her mother, lived in abject poverty, was the victim of constant racism and became an exile. Her further journeys saw similar heartache. She gained a mentor, only to lose him in battle. She fell in love with a royal heir who ultimately broke off their relationship for the good of the country. She found friendship in two women who eventually had to depart, one of them doing so suddenly and without a proper farewell. And yet she soldiered on, mowing down the undead forces of the darkspawn.

Dragon Age: Origins (PlayStation 3) image

For the most part, my responses to other characters' dialogue were civil, even respectful. However, my elf had no patience for nonsense, and viciously denounced horrific actions or criticized ridiculous notions. She didn't care if her abrasive nature sparked a battle, because sometimes bloodshed was inevitable. However, she preferred to persuade, coerce or lie to get what she needed because she was a smooth talker and a thief. Sometimes, you need underhanded tactics to survive, or so her upbringing had taught her.

Dragon Age bolsters creativity by offering multiple options when dealing with situations. For nice guys, there are diplomatic approaches to solving most problems. Confrontational or easily agitated individuals, however, might be more inclined to select responses that incite violence. You have to ask yourself as you're shaping your adventurer and remaining in character: Do I side with the woodland elves and eliminate the werewolves or work towards a peaceful resolution? Do I aid a corrupt prince in taking his father's throne or a noble, non-royal advisor in succeeding his king?

Your interactions with NPCs also impact your relationships with other party members. If you're overly sympathetic towards the mages within the tower, for instance, an apostate mage with whom you travel will lose respect for you. You must remember that you have a role to play as leader, and sometimes that means sweet talking your cohorts in order to maintain solid relationships with them. Of course, you could also be unapologetically honest and piss your teammates off, if it suits your character. Just bear in mind that strengthening a friendship unlocks skills that further boost your buddy's stats.

Dragon Age: Origins (PlayStation 3) image

You'll need to trust your troops, becauseDragon Age features an automated battle system, a la Baldur's Gate's. Rather than controlling all of your warriors directly, you fiddle with their AI routines and let them go to work. For many battles, you don't do much more than watch the brawl transpire and occasionally throw someone a potion. Meanwhile, you control one combatant--usually your protagonist--and use offensive techniques and buffs until the opposition lies bleeding before you.

Other altercations demand that you tinker with your party's logic in order to win. The good news is Dragon Age's logic system is so complex that you can adapt your squad to almost any situation. Sometimes you might need your whole crew to focus on one target at a time, while other occasions call for them to fall back while you handle an issue solo. You may need to aim for an opposing team's mage first and foremost, or instruct your party to use specific skills whenever certain conditions are met. That way your pals know to use heal spells when necessary, when to drink mana restoratives or when to apply the correct buffs or fighting stances.

Here again you must play your role to its utmost. When constructing your protagonist, you must consider which skills you want to invest in and how they mesh with your class and your build. My character was a dual-wielding rogue who engaged in dirty tricks to stun her foes, nailed them with simultaneous slashes and swung her blades in a semi-circle to help control crowds. Granted, she wasn't a great pick against massive enemies, such as the optional dragon bosses, but she worked wonderfully for most of the campaign.

Dragon Age: Origins (PlayStation 3) image

Dragon Age sounds like a perfect deal, but the PS3 edition bears some kinks. For one thing, it's quite laggy. Whenever you enter a battle, the game practically freezes. After you draw your weapons, it skitters back to life with choppy animation and horrible slowdown that almost kills the pacing. It only worsens when you factor in extra long load times. Perishing in battle is the ultimate punishment because you not only have to wait through a lengthy load screen, but also endure the sigh-worthy nonsense that is lag.

This might sound like a minor hitch, but these issues persist from the very beginning of the campaign until its bloody conclusion. Extremely difficult conflicts become all the more frustrating because of these flaws. There were times I found it difficult to press onward for a full session because I hit a tricky boss encounter and didn't want to sit through more loading and lag, and I'd turn off my PS3 and look for something else to do. Meanwhile, I found myself wanting to go back and try again because its worth abiding those painful waits just to continue the saga.

Obviously, Dragon Age: Origin's lengthy adventure makes up for a technical flaw that probably couldn't have been avoided anyway. That's because this long, fulfilling fantasy tale stimulates your creativity and inspires you to create your own head canons. You do more in this title than watch some other person unravel a plot. You play an actual role. Isn't that what the RPG genre is supposed to accomplish?


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (August 22, 2017)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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Great battles, interrupted by middling chatter.


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