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Dragon Age: Origins (Xbox 360) artwork

Dragon Age: Origins (Xbox 360) review


"Don't get me wrong — I'm not saying the Darkspawn aren't a threat because they are (just saunter unprepared into an ambush of high-ranking ones for all the proof you need of that), but at least you know what you're getting with them — brutal, unreasoning aggression. That's a lot easier to deal with than the webs of half-truths and lies spun by the average member of Ferelden nobility. "



By the time I finished Dragon Age: Origins, I'd saved a tower of mages; solved various disputes involving dwarves, elves and werewolves; wiped out the hordes of undead besieging a town and saved the world from the forces of evil. I also stole a bunch of stuff, used threats and coercion to get my way whenever possible and looked at murder as a great way to solve simple problems. I might be a hero, but that doesn't mean I have to be a nice guy, does it?

Dragon Age: Origins does a decent job of providing you with the ability to make ethical choices as you progress through your quest to save the world. You start out by creating a character from three classes (warrior, rogue, mage) and picking one of six origin stories, ranging from a human noble to a dwarf commoner. Each of these introductions leads to your character becoming a Grey Warden -- one of an organization determined to eliminate the foul presence of the evil Darkspawn forces. And, as you might guess, this is a particularly tumultuous time to become a Warden, as the Darkspawn are planning a Blight, meaning that an ancient evil known as an Archdemon is about to lead them on a destructive march throughout the land. Within mere hours, all sorts of carnage has gone down and you and a couple of others are essentially fugitives from justice. Your task: unite four key factions into a cohesive force capable of ending the Blight and dispelling the Darkspawn threat.

This probably won't be a surprise, but you'll find that task definitely fits into the "easier said than done" file. Each of these four factions have all sorts of issues confronting them that you'll have to sort out before they can provide assistance. The Dalish Elves are locked in conflict with a neighboring clan of werewolves; evil spirits have taking over the Circle Tower, putting the land's most powerful mages out of commission; the dwarves of Orzammar are locked in conflict over who will be their new king following the death of the old and the respected Arl Eamon of Redcliffe has fallen deathly ill and pretty much needs a miracle to recover. On top of that, certain human powers are of the opinion that the Grey Wardens are neither needed NOR wanted. And, yeah, it is getting harder and harder to walk around without running into various Darkspawn. You've definitely got an uphill climb in front of you.

The bulk of the game involves you doing whatever is necessary to ensure the support of others in the fight against the Blight, with the opportunity to improvise from time to time. For example, you could decide that the werewolves were really screwed over by the Dalish, leading you to wipe out the elves to get their support. While some choices are considered good and some are considered evil, they all lead to the same conclusion -- a date with the Archdemon.

In a way, the Darkspawn are like the zombies in a Romero movie. The main problem is simply man's inability to get along and work together, while they're there to serve as the executioners. You really get the idea that if not for your party's efforts, the factions in this game would simply ignore the Darkspawn and continue with their infighting until eventually overcome by the Blight. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying the Darkspawn aren't a threat because they are (just saunter unprepared into an ambush of high-ranking ones for all the proof you need of that), but at least you know what you're getting with them -- brutal, unreasoning aggression. That's a lot easier to deal with than the webs of half-truths and lies spun by the average member of Ferelden nobility.

Dragon Age: Origins is a very deep game, which is its greatest success and, at times, failing. You'll be battling Darkspawn and other enemies frequently with a battle system that has a bit of a steep early-game learning curve, but wound up being pretty simple to get into once I figured out what I was supposed to be doing. To maximize the effectiveness of party members, you can set detailed tactics to them, so a fighter will use a healing potion when nearing death or a mage knows to use a flashy area-of-effect attack spell on a group of clustered enemies. You can even tell your party members to stand by while you enter "solo mode". My main guy was a rogue, so I found this to be useful at times. I'd enter stealth mode and go solo in order to get a nice and easy backstab before running back to my party to finish off the enraged foes.

But fighting is only one aspect of the game. You'll also spend a lot of time talking to people and obtaining quests and codex entries. This is where you realize the amount of time BioWare put into crafting this game's world. The codex details an immense amount of history. I'm not going to lie and say I read every entry discussing some historic figure or whatnot, but there is a lot of interesting stuff to be discovered. It's kind of like going into a big house in an Elder Scrolls game and reading all the books there. It might not mean anything as far as progressing through the game goes, but being able to do so is the sort of nice "immerse you in the world" touch that I like.

You also can take quests from a band of mercenaries, various local churches, a mages' group and other people and organizations. Some of these tasks are designed to appeal to the chivalrous sort of adventurer who believes in helping any less fortunate soul on his path -- others, such as killing various people for an assassin's guild, are a bit less noble. Other quests come from various party members after you've gained their trust to the degree that they're willing to open their hearts. Simply put, there are a TON of diversions that can result in you winning gold, items and equipment.

But there is a weakness to this game's depth and that is the simple fact that at times, it is very obvious that you are being led on rails to the final confrontation with the Archdemon. Depending on your class, you can get conversations to go your way by simply choosing any option that has words like "persuade", "intimidate" or "lie" next to it. The game is suitably immersive, but little things like that kind of ruin the moment, as it's all-too-easy to get any remotely important conversation to go in whatever direction you'd like.

In-party relations are even easier to maintain. Sure, the aloof and self-interested Morrigan would disapprove (lowering her views of me) whenever I accepted a quest that involved helping some poor soul, but it was no problem at all building her approval of me to the point where she giggled like a schoolgirl when I chose to talk to her (leading to a comically awkward "sex" scene between our characters). Why? There are a number of gift items you can find or buy to give to party members. Unless your actions are completely horrible in a person's eye (and a few party members do have "point-of-no-return" moments), a simple trinket will instantly cure any hurt feelings. Just like in all my real-life interactions.

"Rob, you got obnoxiously drunk and made out with my best friend!!! We're through!!!"

"Uh yeah...about that, here's a stuffed animal."

"Awww...you're the best!!! I love you!!!!"


If only...

But, yeah, party approval is a pretty easy thing to control and you don't even have to work at it. Early in the game, I spent much time talking to my allies to scrape out two "approve" points here and three there. And then I realized that I could just shower them with presents and they'd love me no matter how boorish I acted. Just like I was able to "persuade" any NPC to agree with me no matter how vehemently opposed they had been to my stance. BioWare created a world containing a million things to do for players to immerse themselves in...and then populated it with a slew of simple-minded people who are laughably easy to manipulate.

That could have wound up being my main memory of Dragon Age: Origins, but thanks to one particular thing BioWare did, it isn't. For quite some time, I've been turning into a grumpy old man of the gaming world, railing about how games today are too easy and I have to ramp up the difficulty level, find super-powered optional bosses, etc. to get the sort of challenge I used to experience daily in the eight-bit and 16-bit days. This game shut me up as I found myself saving after most battles because some foe capable of forcing me to reload my game could be around ANY corner. Werewolves, undead, dragons, cultists, castle guards -- they all wiped out my party. There were parts of the game where it seemed like a character would get knocked out on nearly a fight-by-fight basis, forcing me to burn through injury kits to keep them operating at peak performance. Hell, there were even a couple of times where, in order to not be stuck on a fight for too long, I even DROPPED the difficulty to the truly easy "casual" level. I'm a guy who complains that "normal" is too easy and here, I'm looking to make things easier? That's when I know a game truly deserves my praise!

Dragon Age: Origins isn't a perfect game by any means, but I had a great time with it. I
enjoyed this game to the degree that I opened my wallet to buy all of its downloadable content quests (for better or worse…) in order to keep the fun lasting as long as possible and it's easy to see why. There seemingly are hundreds of quests and the battling is tough enough that it can feel like you've truly accomplished something when you find yourself victorious, covered in blood and surrounded by the dead bodies of a horde of enemies that had gotten the better of you just a few minutes earlier.

Rating: 9/10

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (December 09, 2011)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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dagoss posted December 09, 2011:

I loved this game so much. I pretty much didn't play any games for about a year OTHER than Dragon Age. Even playing it on console instead of PC the way god intended, I still thought it was the only RPG of the past decade worth propping up next to Baldur's Gate II. If I had a rig that could actually run it, I'm sure I would have enjoyed it all the more.

I agree with most of your points except the bit about dialogue being easy to influence to whatever outcome you want. I believe you said you played as a rogue somewhere. Having finished both as a rogue and a mage, rogue had a far easier time in dialogue.

I didn't really like how the game shoe-horned you into certain play styles, depending on how you developed your characters (and NPCs generally had a "right" way to develop). There were also a few balancing issues, but fights always felt "winnable."

It's a shame they didn't make a sequel *turns back to the unworthy Dragon Age 2 that is dead to me*
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Suskie posted December 09, 2011:

Dragon Age II is a big pile of decomposing scrotums. My review was way too lenient.

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