90 hours, I have poured into this game. This has to go into my personal record of one of the longest enduring gaming journey in the category of anything-but-world-of-warcraft. I seldom complete games these days. 50 odd hours into Mass Effect 2, I thought I was obsessive. 90 hours into Dragon Age: Origin, I reckon I could have read Iliad or Odyssey perhaps once.
You know how I am like when I get excited about something. Of many whom I have talked to – strangers and friends alike – some are into role-playing games (better still, Baldur’s Gate), just like Dragon Age: Origin, waiting for that one final push to jump down the cliff. Yes buddy, think no more. I’ve jumped. Now it’s your turn. Some have no clue what this game is about. Like my mother. One evening she tapped onto my shoulder and asked, “Is this a game? It looks like a movie.” I took off my headset and replied, “Yes mom. Computer gaming has certainly progressed since the day you and dad got me that Apple machine when I was a teen.” Some come from the world of Mass Effect and ponder if they would too love this franchise. And some have completed the game, like I do, and are eying on the expansion Dragon Age: Awakening, like I do.
In Short …
… Dragon Age: Origin sets in the fantasy backdrop of human and elves, dwarves and golems, dragons and dark magic. The beauty of gaming versus reading or watching a fantasy story is that you get to shape the story the way you want it to be, within the framework provided. You decide the beginning: a noble or a commoner. You decide the role you want to play: front-liner or supporter. You decide how the world should be explored, how to influence the people around you. There are sub-plots that keep on distracting you, that you may choose to ignore. And finally, a multitude of endings that you have to decide based on the little things you have done along your journey. Some gamers may prefer a clinical approach in researching online prior to what is to come in order to shape an outcome that they want. As for me, I prefer to shape my story according to my own decisions, even if there are sacrifices to be made along the way. Bearing and living with the consequences is part of the game.
Coming from the action role-playing game background (like Mass Effect franchise), I was apprehensive if I would find the frequent game pausing to issue commands to four party members a turn off. Neverwinter Night turned me off. Curiously, this game does not. Though, when I showed it to Cynthia, she went “eeeewwww” because she swears by the real time game play of World of Warcraft. I guess the reason is that not every encounter requires us to pause and strategize. And if we do pause, it has to be something extraordinary that can turn the game to our advantage.
Another thing that took me a short while to get used to is that the conversation options chosen by the main character (a.k.a. you) are not read-out-loud. Like Mass Effect. Some say Mass Effect is an exception. I could also loop in The Witcher (by the way, the sequel is in the making) to argue my case. In any case, the conversation in Dragon Age: Origin has much depth and in a way, I am glad to click my options through.
The Things I Love Most
Character development is one. It is memorable and you get to hate and love certain characters, love and even more in love with others. Both the indoor and outdoor scenes are beautiful to look at. The control is smooth (not sure how the console players can live with only two sticks and that many buttons on the controller though) mapped nicely to recent popular games of similar genre. The learning curve is steep but one can persevere by trying out different strategies. The game mechanic appears simple with three distinct classes – warrior, rogue, and mage. But with different deployment of skill set and specialization, a rogue can play like a hunter and a mage can play like a priest or a warlock. Lots of reading within the game of course, in the form of codex.
From my research, Dragon Age: Awakening is the largest DLC (downloadable content) to date. Despite the price tag that is comparable to the original game, it will likely to take nowhere near to 90 hours to complete. Much faster. But if you are already a fan, shouldn’t you dive into Awakening right now? It turns out that for the PC gamers, you may be better off to wait for a bit due to reported game crashes caused by the latest patch 1.03 that you must apply in order to play the expansion. Some gamers suffer more than their fellow PC gamers. And for the console gamers, there are still in-game issues that may worth the wait to see if the developer BioWare is going to do something about them. When in doubt, check the BioWare forums.
Personally, I wish the experience was as epic as the one with Mass Effect 2. Unfortunately the experience was somewhat ruined due to the bad patch I have applied towards the end of the journey (if you are still playing the original game and if you could, stop at patch 1.02a). Game modding is a powerful tool, given to the community. But to rely on the community to fix some of the game issues using mods is just too strange for me to accept.
So what’s next? When all fails – and if BioWare doesn’t get the game fixed – we can always look forward to Diablo 3, can’t we?