Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Jade Empire, Mass Effect, Knights of the Old Republic; for well over a decade, BioWare has been one of the leading names in the roleplaying genre. In its time, BioWare has worked with esteemed licenses from D&D to Star Wars while nurturing its own creative talents to produce original IP.
Hot on the heels of Mass Effect, 2009 saw the release of Dragon Age: Origins, a traditional fantasy RPG with a lot to live up to. Having just spawned a new AAA series and with fans pining for more Neverwinter, BioWare must have been feeling the pressure.
Thankfully, and just as many had expected, Origins turned out just fine. In fact, it was better than fine. As with Mass Effect, the studio crafted an organic fictional universe with the help of Dragon Age lead writer, David Gaider.
Set in the lands of Thedas, BioWare’s first instalment followed the journey of the last Grey Wardens. These ancient protectors – once thought redundant – are the last line of defence between humanity and an evil horde known as the Darkspawn. Given the amount of fantasy literature and video games already in circulation, Origins maybe didn’t prove as original as its sci-fi counterpart, but it still span a tale worthy of merit.
The overarching narrative may have been fairly easy to predict, yet Dragon Age’s lore has many facets for players to explore. Within the first few hours of Origins, the game had already laid out a number of conflicts and tensions that permeate Thedas’s history. Mages are policed by Templars, Elves (generally considered superior in fantasy novels) are treated as scum, and the Grey Wardens – as you soon discover – have a rather strange auditioning process.
To support such an enriching backdrop, Gaider and writing team populated the game with some truly memorable characters. Not only that, Dragon Age empowered its players, allowing them to manipulate the story based on a series of key decisions.
Sadly, where Origins came up short was in gameplay - at least where consoles were concerned. From the outset, it was clear that Dragon Age would be a spiritual successor to BioWare’s previous work with Dungeons & Dragons. This meant plenty of on-the-fly menus and giving players a sense of control over every combat scenario.
In the end, Edge of Reality did a good job in porting the game to both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 but, compared to the PC version, they felt noticeably inferior. All the options had been transferred over, but it just didn’t feel natural when holding a gamepad. Compared to its sequel (which copped some flak for feeling more “casual”) Origins often came across as a tad convoluted, forcing players to stop/start whenever they wished to issue commands and generally get the most out of combat.
Compared to a lot of the games I’ve revisited while running PlayBack, Dragon Age hasn’t aged particularly well either. Character models are repeated far too often and betray the game’s otherwise impressive art and sound design. When coupled with jagged textures and persistent dips in frame rate it makes for an experience that truly feels last-gen, at least in direct comparison with Dragon Age II.
With a third game on the horizon, there will no doubt be plenty of newcomers eager to spend time with previous iterations ahead of its launch later this year.
Though there is nothing fundamentally wrong with Dragon Age: Origins, and though this game is well suited for PC roleplaying veterans, I’d advise picking up the sequel on consoles, which proves to be just as good of an entry point to the series.