Games for Lunch: Dragon Age: Origins
Developer: Bioware Edmonton
Release Date: Nov. 3, 2009
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PC
ESRB Rating: M
0:00 I've been putting off loading up my copy of this one because I'm not generally a big fan of sword-and-sorcery RPGs, even if they're by the vaunted BioWare. Plus I was underwhelmed by what I felt was a boring eyes-on demo of this one at E3.
0:01 Overwrought fantasy music on the preview screen, along with a hooded lady shown in a crimson dragon emblem. Meh.
0:02 The bad news: The game requires new firmware to be played. The good news: The firmware seems to be on the disc, and doesn't require a lengthy download. The data is copied to the hard drive in a matter of seconds, but the actual install process crawls along slower than expected. I'll letcha know when it's done.
0:06 That was relatively painless. I spent the four-minute install playing some SkiFree on my laptop. Now THERE'S a fun game.
0:07 "There is not enough available space in the HDD. To create data, at least 901 MB more space is required." Of course it is...
0:08 So long, Haze game data. Your 3.866 gigs will be put to much better use in the future.
0:09 The game taunts me with a "File Progress" bar that periodically goes from 0 percent to 100 percent every few seconds. This while the "Total Progress" crawls along incredibly slowly, reaching 5 percent after a full minute. This ... could be a while. Oh well ... back to SkiFree.
0:13 I just barely miss setting a new personal record in the tree slalom. It'd be so easy if those trees weren't there! Oh, the install is at 28 percent.
0:15 I luck into an almost tree-free tree slalom course and end up obliterating my best time with a new record of 35.84. I wonder if there's a world record... (BTW: 59 percent.)
0:16 Twin Galaxies does not list any results for SkiFree, so I'm going to assume I now have the world record until/unless someone tells me differently (64 percent).
0:18 ARGH! I'm performing an absolutely perfect tree slalom run -- not hitting a single tree -- when I lose control and go outside a couple of gates, entailing a significant time penalty. I know I can get under 30 here (78 percent)!
0:20 After a bunch of quick restarts where I hit the first possible tree, the best I can manage is a 45-second performance. Screw this. I'm just gonna ski down the mountain a bit (87 percent).
0:22 The install reaches 100 percent just as the ubiquitous SkiFree monster finally catches me OK! Let's Age some Dragons, or whatever.
0:23 A bit of loading and some animated logos, then a plain title screen with two swords thrust blade-first into the rocky terrain, underneath a bleak, cloudy sky. Blood drips from one hilt.
0:24 Difficulties are Casual, Normal, Hard and Nightmare. I almost pick Casual, figuring the story is the whole point of a game like this, but I go with Normal instead to avoid feeling like too much of a wimp.
0:25 I immediately dislike any game that uses "poultices" as healing items, as the Option screen indicates. Then again, I like games that "enable persistent gore." Hmmm.
0:26 "And so is the Golden City blackened..." reads the obligatory introductory quote. Then comes the wizened old narrator: "The Chantry teaches us that it is the hubris of man that brought the Darkspawn into the world. They sought ... heaven, but instead they destroyed it." Cursed by corruption, returned as monsters, blight upon the lands, unstoppable and relentless, Dwarven kingdoms fell, "we" neared annihilation to ... blah blah blah. Cut from elegant calligraphy to a 3-D scene of people and golems defending a castle from Darkspawn. "Until the Grey Wardens came." They "sacrificed everything to stem the tide of darkness and prevailed." On screen, a mage casts a fire spell, an archer defends him with an arrow, a dwarf leaps in with an axe attack. Looks like something out of every fantasy movie you've ever seen.
0:28 Four centuries later, we've "watched and waited" for the Darkspawn to return. "But those who once called us heroes have been forgotten. We are few now, and our warnings have been ignored for too long." The narrator fears it may be too late to turn back the tide. He comes upon some people hanging from a noose, and another lying dead on the ground. Are they supposed to be Grey Wardens? Before I can figure it out, he's attacked by a Darkspawn, dispatching it easily. "Maker help us all." OK, it's somewhat cheesy, but it has some potential.
0:29 I get to choose my character's gender. "Men and women in Ferelden are generally regarded as equals," the game explains. "Both genders are evenly represented in most organizations, noble houses and military forces." Wow ... this really IS high fantasy. Still, I'll stick with a male.
0:31 Humans are "most numerous, yet the most divided." The elves are former slaves with no culture of their own. Dwarves have been defending their last stronghold for generations. Nice to have that backstory. Seriously ... it evolves the races past the Tolkien stereotypes. The oppressed elves sound like tons of fun to me.
0:32 I can be a Warrior, Mage or Rogue. Mage seems to fit the elven ways best. Plus, +4 to Willpower! BONUS!
0:33 I get to choose from one of six "backgrounds," but "Magi" is the only one actually available to me. Guess I should have made different choices if I wanted more options. I "anxiously await [my] Harrowing, the one chance to prove yourself against the demons lurking without and within. Succeed, or be slaughtered by the knights who ward against your kind." The who that ward against what now?
0:34 The game suggests I name myself Alim ... and who am I to argue? I can edit a whole bunch of facial and body features, but I'm in a hurry, so I just go with the first preset: a flowing robe with shoulder plates, and long red hair, with a wisp coming down the right side. The face is amazingly lifelike.
0:36 I get five stat points to spend on the standards: Strength, Dexterity, Willpower, Magic, Cunning and Constitution. I load them up on Magic, getting it to 22, letting stuff like Strength languish at 11. Balance is overrated! I can choose from a bunch of skills and spells, too. I choose Survival, which seems kind of important. Also: Arcane Bolt (a Mage exclusive) plus Healing and Flame Blast.
0:39 "Never enter battle with your bare hands!" the loading screen suggests. Words to live by.
0:40 A tower is home to the circle of Magi. It's the only place Mages can study their art with their own kind. It's "as much a prison as a refuge," though, since the templars watch over them, "alert for any sign of corruption. This gilded cage is the only world you know." Interesting. My character was torn from family and "grafted here as an apprentice." The apprenticeship is nearly over, and my final test is the Harrowing.
0:41 "Magic exists to aid man and never to rule over him," says a white-bearded mage, quoting an even older mage. Demons seek to use me as a gateway into this world, so the Harrowing sends me into "the Fade" to face a Demon, "armed with only your will." I can choose from three responses to this information: "I am ready," "Is there any other option," or "What happens if I cannot defeat the demon?" I choose the last, and I'm told I'll be turned into an abomination and destroyed. Gulp!
0:43 More blather about the Fade and Demons and Mages and I'm sent off to the Fade. The animation on these cut scenes is pretty awful. Everyone's incredibly stiff, and the faces are kind of crinkly as they talk. My character seems to squint a lot.
0:44 Finally in full control, only 45 minutes after putting the disc in the tray. I find a "vase of healing" with three health poultices and a "disturbing statue" that seems to serve no purpose.
0:46 My first battle is with a Wisp Wraith, a small purple spark that I can barely see. If not for the large red circle and the hovering name around it, I'd have missed it altogether. I lob a few fire and lightning spells with a couple of button presses and it goes down, damaging me a bit in the process. I don't like how the game pauses to confirm the direction of my fire spell ... kind of breaks the flow. Also, I accidentally used a poultice well before I needed it. I earn 29 XP for my trouble, anyway.
0:47 Two more Wisp Wraiths go down just as easily. "HAHA! It is a fine thing we've done!" my character says to no one in particular Uh ... who's we?
0:48 I run into a talking rat, who refers to me as "someone else thrown the wolves." When I respond with amazement that he's a talking rat, he's glib. "You think you're really here, in that body? You look like that because you think you do." Whoa. Heavy. He changes to human form anyway. "You can call me ... well, Mouse." He doesn't remember his real name, or anything from before his time in the Fade, but he knows enough to warn me that they'll kill me if I take too long to destroy that demon. He decides to join me. "My chance was long ago. But you ... you may have a way out." So I have a mouse in my corner. Yay?
0:51 "A dangerous spirit is not far! Don't go near it unless you are ready to fight," Mouse says. I'm ready as I'll ever be, I guess...
0:52 Mouse keeps warning that the big bad demon is gonna appear any second now. Instead, I run into another Wisp Wraith. "Our skill has won the day!" I say after defeating it.
0:53 I get 50 XP for finding a "twisted structure" just off the main road, and another vase of healing with more poultices. The game auto-saves here ... maybe the boss is actually coming now?
0:54 New enemy alert: A Spirit Wolf. It looks like a wolf made of pure yellow energy. I can actually dodge his bites, if I back up fast enough. So I do, turning to lob attacks as I go. I get off nearly scot free in the end.
0:56 I finally run into a Demon, but apparently it's not the one I'm supposed to fight. Instead, it's a Sloth Demon. He looks like a grizzly bear with spikes growing out from his torso. "A demon will get you eventually. Perhaps there will even be scraps," he says lazily. Mouse suggests he could learn to change form to look like him. But the Sloth doesn't want to teach. He agrees grudgingly, but only if I answer three riddles correctly. I love riddles! But if I fail he'll "devour us both." Gulp.
0:59 "I have seas with no water, coasts with no sands, towns without people, mountains without land. What am I?" I would have no idea, but when I get the six multiple-choice options the answer is obviously "a map." I won't spoil the next two riddles, but they're similarly easy once you have choices.
1:01 Mouse learns to turn into a normal bear, but not a spiked Sloth Demon. "Close enough," the Demon says before sending us on our way.
Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? I haven't even finished the first quest, so I feel like I owe the game at least that much. The gameplay isn't really doing it for me yet, but the story definitely has some potential.
This column is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
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